Longtime interest in Gulf-built tug comes full circle for Mohawk


The story of the tugboat Michael, acquired by Mohawk Northeast in 2015, began in Florida a decade earlier when the family-owned construction company decided to upgrade its fleet.

The process involved three family members: Allan Heinke, who founded the Connecticut-based company in 1968 and serves as president; Michael Heinke, vice president and manager of Mohawk’s marine division; and Michael’s brother Allan III, who is also a company vice president.

While attending the 2005 WorkBoat Show in New Orleans, the Heinkes met with representatives from Farrell and Norton Naval Architects and B&B Boat Builders, the designer and builder, respectively, of the tugboat Michael S. Later they met with Tony and Alex Savas, owners of Petchem Inc., a tugboat company located in Port Canaveral, Fla.

Second mate and deck hand Keith Church tends to Michael’s new JonRie Series 515 towing winch. As Michael S, the tug was outfitted with a forward bitt but lacked a winch.

In 2004, the Savas brothers had taken delivery of the twin-screw tug, which was rigged for ship-assist work with a forward bitt but had no winch. “We liked the boat and it looked like a good fit for what we wanted, so we had planned to have a similar one built,” said Michael Heinke.

In 2005, plans to replicate Michael S were thwarted because shipyards were busy and z-drives were on long back-order lists. As a short-term solution, the Heinke family decided to acquire the 57-foot Johnny C from Cable Ventures Inc. and rename it Judy M.

Seven years later, Mohawk — headquartered in Plantsville, Conn., with a marine services division in Groton — began working on repair and construction projects in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Two upcoming projects involve towing stone barges to rebuild breakwaters at Nantucket, Mass., and Hampton, N.H., so the Heinkes decided to upgrade the fleet again. Coincidentally, the Savas brothers were constructing a 5,000-hp z-drive tug, Christine S., at Gulf Coast Steel (formerly B&B Boat Builders of Bayou La Batre, Ala.). Michael S was for sale and Mohawk Northeast bought the 2,100-hp tug.

Capt. Fred Williams mans the helm of Michael on the Thames River in Groton, Conn. Mohawk Northeast has a marine services division in the city.

“We wanted it for towing, so we bought a JonRie winch and did all of the fabrication and fitting here at our yard,” Heinke said. “We have good fabricating facilities and skilled employees, so that was a good way to do it.”

Michael is powered by the original Caterpillar 3508 diesels with ZF W4400 reduction gears turning four-blade, stainless-steel fixed-pitch propellers. Mohawk replaced the original 40-kW Isuzu gensets with two John Deere 60-kW units.

The new JonRie Series 515 towing winch is wound with 1,700 feet of 1.5-inch wire. It has an independent-drive warping head, independent-drive level wind, and JonRie’s new 24 VDC abort system.

“We’re a construction company and the Michael is going to allow us to expand a bit,” Heinke said. “We can take the line-haul work away from the Judy and keep her here locally, and the Michael can be used for towing around.”

“We don’t move oil or dock ships,” Heinke said. “We evolved by supporting our construction business. We can do a lot of shallow-water work that other companies can’t do. And that’s where we thrive. The boat (Michael) has been good for us and we expect it will be busy over the next few years.”


One of the tug’s two Caterpillar 3508 mains.


Deck hands Cory Pieta and Keith Church, owner Michael Heinke and Williams.


By Professional Mariner Staff