New BayDelta Tug Rules the Fleet in San Francisco

Starting this past spring, a new tugboat could be seen assisting crude oil tankers making their way into San Francisco Bay. She’s the 6,800-hp ASD tractor Delta Billie, newest addition to the fleet of Baydelta Maritime at Pier 15, San Francisco.

Another new Baydelta tug, virtually identical, is expected to arrive on the scene before the end of the year.

“We’ve been waiting for this tug to arrive for a long time,†said Fred Henning, general manager for Baydelta. The newest tug is actually the third recently built for this 16-year-old company, but the first two were placed on long-term charter with Crowley Maritime before they were completed by Nichols Brothers Boat Builders on Whidbey Island, Wash.

Delta Billie is a 100-foot z-drive tractor that has tested out at 94 tons bollard pull both ahead and astern. She is Caterpillar powered, with Rolls-Royce US 255 z-drives and carries a Markey hawser winch on her bow and a JonRie InterTech tow winch on her stern, the winch intended for work with dead ships and barges in the San Francisco area.

The newest tug assisting crude oil tankers calling at San Francisco is the 100-foot ASD tractor Delta Billie, introduced by Baydelta Maritime.

She joined other tugs in the Baydelta fleet in mid-April and went right to work assisting an 895-foot Polar tanker for ConocoPhillips on her first night of availability.

Baydelta Maritime is the leading tugboat company that handles tankers destined for any of the five refineries in the San Francisco Bay area.

The company was founded in 1993 by three former San Francisco bar pilots, and now has about 50 employees. Baydelta operates a pool of five tugs based at Pier 15 in the downtown area. Three tugs in the Baydelta pool are z-drive tractors that the company owns, and two others carry the flag of Crowley Maritime, one at 4,400 hp and the other at 6,700 hp.

There is no lack of competition in the San Francisco area, but the half dozen tugboat operators seem to have divided up into territories with Baydelta, Crowley and Foss principally involved with tankers, AmNav Maritime and Starlight Marine mostly involved with containerships and two other companies, Westar Marine and Marine Express sticking mostly to barge work, construction and workboat projects.

“Last year was a good year for tanker traffic here,†said Henning, himself a veteran tug skipper. “And we just heard that tanker arrivals were up at the beginning of this year compared to the same period last year, so that is good news.â€

Henning estimates that Baydelta handles roughly 40 percent of arriving tanker business with Crowley and Foss splitting the remainder. Baydelta also has the largest share of the cruise ship business, according to Henning. Unlike many ports, cruise ships are much-loved by tugboat operators in San Francisco since strong currents and winds dictate the need for tug assistance for most maneuvers. In addition, the port has a newly refurbished dry dock suitable for repair and maintenance of the largest West Coast cruise ships — still more significant assignments for neighborhood tugboats.

Captains on the new Baydelta tug are Orrin Favro and Jim Horn. Henning and Favro acted as captain and mate as they delivered the new tug down from Washington in early April, following bollard pull tests in Everett, Wash. Baydelta officials seemed pleased that Delta Billie produced better numbers than predicted on her trials.

Deck equipment includes a Markey hawser winch and a JonRie InterTech towing winch on the stern, shown above.

Delta Billie and all four other tugs tied up at the Baydelta pier are equipped with stern towing winches in addition to the standard bow-mounted hawser winch. Two or three times each year ships will find themselves without power somewhere offshore within striking range of San Francisco Bay tugs. When that happens, Baydelta tugs usually get the call because they all have towing winches and they are generally available, unlike most other tugs that are otherwise attached to a barge or committed to other work assignments.

In addition, according to Henning, the company does a lot of dead ship towing and barge assist work within the bay area. “It’s always helpful to have a towing winch for jobs like that,†he said. Delta Billie’s towing winch has been loaded with synthetic soft line for use on intra-bay towing assignments, said Henning.

The last new tug operated by the company was Delta Deanna, delivered in 1999. She and Delta Linda are among the original tugs from the company’s first building cycle. The company, having been initially formed with five conventional tugs, chartered in its first two tractor tugs from Florida. Those first two tractors were returned to their owners in 1999, following the arrival of the first new tractors. In addition to three at its local pier (Delta Linda, Delta Deanna and Delta Billie), the company owns four tugs out on charter including three to Crowley and one to Foss in Los Angeles/Long Beach. The eighth Baydelta tug will be Delta Cathryn, expected from the Nichols Brothers shipyard in early July. •

By Professional Mariner Staff