Kirby and Florida Marine active with new building programs: Archie Wilson, Robert G. Stone, Jr

Kirby Corp. of Houston and Florida Marine of Mandeville, La., seemed to get the most headlines for construction of new inland river towboats in the past year. Kirby, a large publicly owned company, is building its first new towboats in recent years, while a much smaller and more entrepreneurial Florida Marine is in the midst of a 25-boat fleet expansion.

Capt. Prentiss Pope is ready for maneuvers aboard the new Kirby tug, Archie Wilson. [Daniel Dennis and Brian Gauvin photos] 

The efforts of these two companies are reflective of an active inland towing industry that is generating construction programs involving 50 to 60 new towboats in a 12-month period. Most new towboats being introduced today are in the 1,000-to-2,500-hp range — smaller boats than the large and powerful line-haul towboats that move fleets of 25 or more barges up and down the Mississippi.

Kirby, which claims to operate the nation’s largest fleet of tank barges and towboats, most recently introduced the 90-foot Archie Wilson, the second of four identical boats being constructed by Quality Shipyard in Houma, La. The company reported that it is spending about $13 million on the four-boat construction project.

Archie Wilson is a 2,100-hp Cummins-powered boat with double bottom and elevated 35-foot pilothouse with visibility enhancements designed by CT Marine of Edgecomb, Maine.

The 2,100-hp tug has a 35-foot height of eye in the pilothouse. [Daniel Dennis and Brian Gauvin photos]

The new towboat contains tankage for 10,040 gallons of potable water carried in stainless steel tanks. The boat’s 22,000 gallons of fuel are carried in fuel tanks separated from the side shell plate in a double bottom/double side arrangement. The vessel is powered by a pair of Cummins KTA38M2 engines each delivering 1,050 hp at 1,600 rpm into Twin Disc gears with 6:1 ratios turning 82-by 59-inch Sound propellers.

As of this spring, Kirby reported that it was operating 904 active inland tank barges, 241 towing vessels and five fleeting areas. A decade ago Kirby was operating fewer than 100 barges.

While Kirby had not been building new towboats before the current four-boat program, the company has certainly been expanding its barge fleet by acquisition and

Kirby towboat Archie Wilson has all the galley comforts of home. [Daniel Dennis and Brian Gauvin photos] 

new construction. Kirby reported it spent about $58 million on new equipment in 2006 and early 2007 with orders for twenty-three 30,000-barrel tank barges.

Kirby history can be traced to 1921 when John Henry Kirby formed Kirby Petroleum Company, an oil and gas exploration and development company based in Houston. The company has been at least partly publicly owned since the 1950s.

Florida Marine, founded in 1994 by entrepreneur Dennis Pasentine, is midway through a 25-boat new-building program that will enhance its fleet of 40 towboats and about 100 barges that operate on the inland river system and Gulf of Mexico. All of the new towboats are being built by Eastern Shipbuilding, Panama City, Fla.

One of the 25 new towboats being built for Florida Marine by Eastern Shipbuilding of Florida. The 90-foot vessels are powered by Caterpillar diesels generating 2,600 hp. [photo courtesy Eastern Shipbuilding]

Like the Kirby towboats, these are slightly larger than the typical 72-foot push boat that is most commonly built on the Gulf Coast. The new Florida Marine boats are 90 feet long with 2,600 hp generated by twin Caterpillar 3512B diesels. Propulsion comes through Twin Disc reduction gears turning four-blade stainless wheels made by Rolls-Royce Naval Marine Inc., Pascagoula, Miss.

Auxiliary power comes from a pair of John Deere-driven 99-kW generators. These boats, which work the entire inland river system depending on assignment, carry 32,000 gallons of diesel fuel and 9,000 gallons of potable water. The boats are encased in all-around fendering from Schuyler Rubber Co.

By Professional Mariner Staff