Steve Proehl, following in the footsteps of Walter Blessey, for whom he worked for a decade, is off to a brisk start with his new inland barging company, Horizon Maritime, based in Houston.
Proehl, who resigned from Blessey Marine as its executive vice president, launched Horizon three years ago. With private financing and assistance from two experienced partners, Proehl has put together a company with 15 heated black oil barges and a half dozen towboats to handle them. More of both are on the way.
“Working all those years in the industry, I got to know the business, the operations, the players, the marketing and the regulations to the point where I felt quite comfortable with it,” he said. “Of course it’s always easy when you are doing it for somebody else, because you don’t have the capital and sweat on the line”
After leaving Blessey, Proehl developed a plan for a new operation in the black oil business, working with partners John Binion and Manny Seale, also Blessey operators.
“We saw the opportunity in the black oil business,” said Proehl. “There are a lot of big players already in the clean oil business. I just saw more of a niche for us on the black side.”
Proehl said he got a big boost at the start when he acquired the entire fleet of black oil barges from Cenac Towing Co., which wanted to get out of that segment of its business. Horizon Maritime acquired 10 heated black oil barges, eight of which are double hulled, and a half dozen conventional towboats from Cenac.
“These black oil barges are a different breed,” said Proehl. “When you start throwing heaters on and dealing with the vagaries of black oil and asphalt, a lot of companies are not set up to handle that, especially since it requires a different marketing approach.”
Proehl and his partners then arranged for the construction of five new 30,000-barrel, heated oil barges at Bollinger Shipyards, all of which were delivered in 2005. Each of the barges is 297 feet long with a 54-foot beam and 13-foot depth at the sides. The asphalt barges are built with a 3.5-foot raised trunk and all machinery installed in a recessed area at the aft end. Cargo in six separate tanks is kept warm and fluid with a six million-BTU Volcanic furnace and heating system.
All the barges are capable of getting in and out of the Chicago area without ballasting, explained Proehl. Chicago waterways are blocked by about 40 bridges over 30 miles, some with as little as 17-foot clearance, but Horizon’s new Chicago-ready barges have empty heights of about a foot less.
And that’s where the company’s newest towboat, Norman P. Proehl, enters the picture. Norman is Horizon’s first boat with a retractable pilothouse capable of clearing any bridge on the Chicago River or other waterways in the area.
“If you want to do business in Chicago, moving your barges in and out of refineries and tank farms in the area, you’ve got to have a retractable pilothouse,” said Proehl. “Either that or you can use one of the local tugs, which you can hire to move your equipment around, but that is neither efficient nor practical.”
Horizon Maritime also expects to take delivery beginning later this year of six additional barges being built at Jeffboat in Jeffersonville, Ind. These will also be 30,000-barrel, heated black oil barges, with two of them being Chicago capable. The company also has two additional towboats on order, one of which will have a retractable wheelhouse.
Norman P. Proehl, like all others of its type, is an unconventional-looking vessel with only a single deckhouse in addition to its wheelhouse. Most towboats on the inland river system have three or even four decks topped by the wheelhouse. With a retractable boat, the top of the pilothouse extends only a few feet above the push knees when in its lowered position.
The wheelhouse can be raised by a single hydraulic ram to a height of eye of 33 feet for optimum visibility over its barges. Built by Main Iron Works in Houma, La., the boat measures 100 feet in length and is powered by a pair of Cummins KTA50 diesel engines, each rated at 1,600 hp at 1,800 rpm. The engines are shafted through Reintjes gears to a pair of 80-inch propellers, each with a conventional steering rudder and two flanking rudders.
Norman P. Proehl is named after Steve Proehl’s father.
Lately, the 3,200-hp towboat has been pushing three barges made up in line-ahead on the run from Chicago to the Gulf Coast.
“We move black oils down the Illinois from the Chicago area up the Ohio River and down the Mississippi River to various terminals throughout the Gulf region,” said Proehl. “The run south takes about a week, while the return run might take twice that or more, usually with a return load,” he added. Senior captain aboard Norman is Paul Elliott, who has years of experience with retractable-pilothouse operations.
The towboat has crew accommodations for six or seven in four rooms with two full bathrooms. Wheelhouse electronics include Furuno radars, Icom radios and a DeHart swingmeter. The hull includes tankage for 31,500 gallons of fuel and 26,000 gallons of water. Patterson 65-ton deck winches help secure the tug to its three 300-foot barges.
With about 65 employees and new tugs and barges expected to be delivered over the coming year, Horizon Maritime is poised for further growth in the inland black oil business.
“We’ll go anywhere,” said the company’s founder and president. “We work hard marketing our services and we never lose the focus on providing efficient delivery in the safest possible way.”