The very last boat is in the slipway, ready for delivery. It's the end of a long building program for Vane Brothers of Baltimore, Md., involving at least 20 new tugs and a passel of barges from several different shipyards.
Jim Demske, left, is supervising completion of the last tugs in Vane Bros. building program.(Photo by Brian Gauvin)
The 94-foot tug, Hunting Creek, is set to begin her service life this summer after delivery from Chesapeake Shipbuilding in Maryland, and that will mark the end of a program that has kept Vane's port captain, Jim Demske, totally busy for the past six or seven years.
Demske admits that he has been having trouble keeping track of all the new barges, but the tugboats, those that he has nursed into life at every stage of the program, he knows them down to the last detail.
Demske emphasizes comfort and workability in upper wheelhouse design. (Photo by Brian Gauvin)
In all there have been 15 new tugs from Thoma-Sea Boat Builders in Louisiana and another six tugs from the Chesapeake yard plus more than 20 new barges and a pair of ATB units that are the largest in the fleet of this century-old company.
The 15 Patapsco-class tugs built in Louisiana between 2004 and 2009 are all muscular looking 100-foot, 4,200-hp coastwise towing vessels with conventional twin-screw propulsion. Then came six of the Sassafras-class 94-foot, 3,000-hp tugs designed more for bunkering work and pushing barges into the shallow rivers and creeks of the Eastern Seaboard. Those tugs, including the last two, Oyster Creek and Hunting Creek, are named for coves, rivers and small tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay area.
All are Caterpillar powered with JonRie InterTech towing winches and capstans and designed by Frank Basile and his team at Entech & Associates of Houma, La.
During these years, Vane has also been taking delivery of eight new 52,000-bbl barges built by Jeffboat in Indiana, and 12 new 30,000-bbl barges built by Trinity Marine.
In 2007 Vane Brothers also took delivery of the first of two new 140,000-bbl ATB units, with the tugs Branywine and Christiana, and with both tugs and barges built by Bay Shipbuilding of Wisconsin.
Most of the new tugs can be grouped into two categories: the 100-footers from Louisiana and the 94-footers from Maryland. Demske said that these identical class boats are making work life easier for Vane Brothers crewmembers.
"Most companies don't have the opportunity to build so many boats all in the same way," he said. "The identical nature of the boats gives crewmembers at all levels an advantage in moving from boat to boat. This is especially true for engineers who find that all of the machinery spaces are all laid out the same way."
The 3,000-hp tug Charles Burton, launched last August, is one of the new Sassafras-class, 94-foot tugs built at Chesapeake Shipbuilding. (Photo by Brian Gauvin)
Those identical layouts can be a huge comfort when you've got to get a boat up and running at three in the morning on your first night aboard, he added.
Aside from being slightly smaller and less powerful, the newer Sassafras-class tugs are also different from the Louisiana boats in having open-wheel propellers without nozzles. These were considered unnecessary and an actual detriment to maneuverability on boats that are involved in bunkering and barge tending in confined areas.
Darren Grover, a Vane Brothers captain who was recently skippering one of the Sassafras-class boats, said the absence of propeller nozzles makes a huge difference.
"With these open propellers you have so much more maneuverability — you have more speed, more backing and less singing in the wheels. You can flank a barge right into a slip and she'll hold out at a 90. Plus they are Troost wheels, set up for speed and backing and we have larger barn door rudders."
Demske added that nozzled propellers can act like vacuum cleaners when operating in shallow water. "In shoal areas, the nozzles tend to suck up everything within reach and pull it right into the water stream going through there," he said.
With the newer Sassafras-class boats, Vane has also endeavored to make pilothouse improvements for both crew comfort and operating efficiency. Pilothouse windows are taller and there are more of them that open, according to Demske. Plus the angle of forward-facing windows has been increased to reduce nighttime reflections. In addition, an improved style to pilothouse overhang and installation of beefier support stanchions give the overall pilothouse a more substantial look, he said. As with other recent newbuilds, the company continues to use the unique-looking Lapeyre-style of ladder for access to the pilothouse.
"We've tried to make it a place where the captains and the mates are happy to spend their time," said Demske. "After all, on some jobs you can end up spending endless hours up there, so it's important to make it as comfortable as possible."