New tug design goes against high-horsepower trend

Great Lakes Towing is building two  78-foot prototypes. The tugs’ propulsion systems will be in the 2,800- to 3,200-hp range. (Courtesy Jensen Maritime Consultants)

Great Lakes Towing is a century-old company that is undergoing a rebirth. At its well-worn shipyard on the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, it has built a new $4 million headquarters office building attached to the new 11,000-square-foot fabrication building. This venerable old company has new lines of business and will soon introduce a pair of new low-power tugboats — built on speculation — that it hopes will find a ready marketplace in the United States.

Of course this far-reaching company still has its mainstay fleet of roughly 40 tugs — mostly 2,000 hp or less — operating on the non-corrosive waters of the Great Lakes. Today, however, its owners figure the nation is ready for a new type of tugboat that leaves a small environmental footprint, goes easy on fuel burn and avoids many of the regulatory requirements that pester operators of larger tugs.

The new design is for a 78-foot ice-strengthened hull that can be outfitted with either z-drives or conventional propulsion backed by 2,800 to 3,200 in total horsepower, depending on engine choice.

The first two prototypes are midway through construction, with the first planned for delivery around Thanksgiving. These are the first new tugs to be built at the Cleveland shipyard in several decades.

Ron Rasmus, the company’s president for the past 25 years, hopes that success of this new tug design will continue to diversify this two-owner company beyond the somewhat limiting shores of the Great Lakes.

“What we are doing is offering a new tug that goes against the trend of constantly increasing horsepower. We are offering a design that is in keeping with the old Great Lakes Towing philosophy of getting the most bollard pull out of the least horsepower,” said Rasmus. Called “Handysize” tugs by Rasmus, the tugs are projected to produce about 36 tons of bollard pull, again, depending on choice of engines and propulsion gear.

The company has the capability of turning out new tugs in considerable numbers should the market respond with orders. Great Lakes Towing is no stranger to building tugs on speculation. Its fleet of five ASD tractors built in the 1990s, with names ranging from Z-1 to Z-5, has been successful. One of the five was sold, and the four others are consistently chartered out or otherwise employed. One of the new prototypes is being built for conventional twin-screw propulsion and will be operated by TugZ International, a Great Lakes affiliate; TugZ currently operates four ASD tugs, three of which are on charter to Harley Marine of Seattle and one to McAllister Towing of New York. The company also operates an ocean-capable Invader-class tug.

The other new tug is being built for z-drive propulsion and is being offered for sale or charter, according to Rasmus. Great Lakes has a good fallback position, however, in that its own fleet of small, conventional tugs scattered throughout the lakes is definitely not getting any younger. “If I had one of these new tugs available for use on the lakes, I have immediate need right here in Cleveland or in Chicago, Detroit, Toledo or Duluth — the list goes on,” said Rasmus. “These tugs are small and versatile and thus they are perfect replacements for elements of our own fleet here in the lakes,” he added.

Great Lakes Towing has been operating on the lakes since 1890, and its little green and red tugs — most are named after states and have a notable white “G” affixed to the stack — are today found in just about every port. The classic image of Great Lakes Towing vessels is a tiny tug stationed heroically at the bow or stern of a big lakes bulker, assisting it, perhaps single-handedly, in or out of a berth or around a tight turn in a river. Since these tugs seem to last forever — many of them are single screw and 50 years old or more — none of that is about to change.

With its refurbished shipyard, the company is in a position to begin turning out replacement or supplementary tugs to shore up its existing fleet. One might suspect, however, that Rasmus and his colleagues will soon be hard pressed to keep up with the demand for new tugs for outside operators, with little time left for the home fleet. Most U.S. shipyards are jammed up with orders for tugs and workboats of all kinds.
Many are taking orders for delivery in 2010 or have to turn away business. The folks at Great Lakes Towing say they are convinced that since most of the new tugs being built are in the 4,000- to 6,000-hp range, there is a need for shipyards that will build smaller tugs in the 2,800-hp range.

“We think there is a market for this type of mid-range, multipurpose tug and that many small operators can’t get the attention of shipyard operators who can take their pick of projects for much larger vessels,” said Joe Starck, Great Lakes’ vice president of engineering.

Starck and Rasmus both speak of a typical small operator, perhaps in the marine construction field or engaged in intracoastal or coastwise towing, or busy with ship-assist work in a low-volume port, where horsepower is not necessarily the name of the game. “We are hearing over and over again that the horsepower creep over the past 10 years has occurred purely because of competitive pressures, and we tend to agree. In many situations, that kind of horsepower is just not needed,” said Starck.

Valor, a 6,800-hp azimuthing stern drive, has begun operating for Crowley, under charter, in Seattle, Everett and northern Puget Sound. (Courtesy Brandon Durar)

Hoping to make their Handysize design appeal to a broad variety of operators, Great Lakes had their naval architects at Jensen Maritime Consultants come up with a hull that could be powered by z-drives or twin propellers with nozzles and double rudders. Aside from the addition of shaft struts, nozzles and rudders, most of the changes for conversion to twin-screw propulsion would take place inside the hull — steering compartment, engine beds, things like that.

Jonathan Parrot of Jensen Maritime explained that the z-drive propulsion requires beefed up framing in the stern section to handle the weight and forces associated with the azimuthing-drive units. The twin-screw model similarly requires strength in the stern section to handle steering forces, plus rudder and nozzle installation. The tug’s centerline skeg would be the same for both types of propulsion, but a twin-screw model would require installation of stern tubes and supporting shaft struts plus infrastructure for nozzles, rudders and steering gear. Engines for conventional propulsion would be horizontal or tilted down slightly by the aft end to accommodate a propeller shaft, while engines for z-drive models would be angled upward to accommodate a shaft leading aft to a drive unit in the lazarette.

“This is a relatively heavy tug,” said Parrot. “It is designed to last a long time and to be able to handle the stresses of a wide variety of work assignments.” Side-shell plating ranges from 3/8 to 1/2 inch in most areas, while the heaviest plating is a band of 3/4 inch that makes up an all-around sheer guard, said Parrot.

Rasmus stressed that the vessel is as much a workboat as it is a tugboat.

“The operators in this niche are small operators who happen to need a tugboat that does not come with a long list of extra costs,” said Rasmus, noting that his new tug could be had, fully equipped, for about $4 million. “Just picture this guy,” he added. “He’s a construction guy and he works on bridges and piers, he drives piles and he puts up revetment walls. This kind of operator may have no administrative staff, he doesn’t have a training and safety expert, and he has no way of facing the regulatory demands of the Coast Guard and other agencies. He just wants a small tug that can help him accomplish his work in a simple, low-cost way without all the complications.”
The Handysize tug, being less than 100 gross tons, would have minimal crew licensing requirements, according to Rasmus, and at 78 feet, it would not have to meet international load-line requirements.

Crowley charters BayDelta ASD tug

Crowley Maritime, moving to expand its ship-assist business on the West Coast, has negotiated a long-term charter for the newest tugboat to be built there. It is the third high-horsepower z-drive tractor to be chartered by Crowley in the last six months. Crowley has also agreed to charter an identical tug expected to be delivered by the same shipyard later this year.

The 6,800-hp ASD tug Valor was delivered to BayDelta Maritime of San Francisco in midsummer by Nichols Brothers Boat Builders. The first of a pair order for BayDelta, the tug originally was to be named Delta Billie. Instead of the black and white BayDelta colors familiar to tug watchers in San Francisco, the tug was delivered with Crowley’s colors — a red hull and white houses with massive black sections of fendering.

Earlier this year, Crowley acquired the tugboat business previously operated by SeaRiver Maritime in San Francisco, and chartered a pair of ASD tugs that had been engaged in that business. One of those tugs was the 4,300-hp Mare Island (ex-Delta Linda) belonging to BayDelta Maritime. This latest charter represents the 16th tractor-style tug in the Crowley tug fleet, which extends the full length of the West Coast, including Alaska. Those tugs include both cycloidal-drive and azimuthing-stern-drive types of tractors.

Valor, designed by Jensen Maritime Consultants, is outfitted with Caterpillar 3516C engines with Rolls-Royce z-drives. The tug is fitted with a Markey hawser winch on its bow and a stern-mounted towing winch provided by JonRie InterTech. Designed bollard pull is in excess of 90 tons. The tug’s JonRie winch is outfitted with 2,500 feet of 2.5-inch wire. Of the two tugs chartered by BayDelta to Crowley, one is expected to work in Alaska and the other in Seattle.

BayDelta Maritime plans to have two additional z-drive tugs constructed at Nichols Brothers, with the intention of operating them with its own fleet in San Francisco.

East Coast companies buy smaller operators

Three large East Coast tug companies recently completed acquisitions of smaller companies on three different coasts.

McAllister Transportation of New York acquired the business and assets of Providence Steamboat Co., Providence, R.I.; Moran Towing Corp. has acquired River Parishes Co. in the New Orleans area; and K-Sea Transportation of New York has acquired both Smith Maritime of Honolulu and Sirius Maritime of Seattle.

McAllister concluded its deal with Providence Steamboat in late spring, close to a year after the venerable fourth-generation family-owned company had been offered for sale. Duncan Mauran is a descendant of founder Frank Mauran, who headed the company for many years. He died in 2005.

As of mid-2007 the company was still operating under the Providence Steamboat name with its half-dozen tugs, including one 5,000-hp z-drive tractor tug and one 2-year-old 4,800-hp twin-screw tug, still wearing their traditional green colors. Michael Mariner, Duncan Mauran’s son-in-law, has recently been in charge of the company. He will continue heading up operations of the 100-year-old company, according to McAllister officials.

The last company acquired by McAllister was Portland Tugboats in Portland, Maine, which also still operates under its old name with the same management in place. McAllister has operations in 12 ports from Florida to Maine.

Moran, based in New Canaan, Conn., acquired River Parishes Co. in early summer, thus extending its operating territory to include 16 ports from Texas to New Hampshire. River Parishes Co. is one of four tug companies offering ship-docking services on the lower Mississippi River over a 200-mile stretch from Baton Rouge south to the mouth of the river. The company is based about halfway between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. River Parishes, with older equipment and the smallest market share, has recently been eclipsed by the larger companies E.N. Bisso, Bisso Towboat and Crescent Towing. As of midsummer it was not yet clear how Moran will set about upgrading the River Parishes fleet and competing in the busy and traditional New Orleans market.

On a considerably larger scale, K-Sea Transportation Partners of New York announced in June that it had agreed to pay approximately $205 million for the business and assets of both Smith Maritime of Honolulu and Sirius Maritime of Seattle, a move that expands K-Sea’s operations beyond the East and Gulf coasts. The acquisition includes 10 tugboats and 11 tank barges, giving K-Sea an additional 777,000 barrels of oil-carrying capacity, 86 percent of which is double-hulled, according to reports from K-Sea, a publicly held company. The move increases the company’s total tank barge capacity by about 22 percent, it reported.

Smith Maritime, a second-generation, family-owned company, had been controlled by Gordon Smith, who is also one of three partners in Sirius Maritime, along with Robert Dorn and Wayne Sundberg.

Meanwhile K-Sea continues to expand its own tank-barge fleet, having recently taken delivery of a new 28,000-barrel barge, and placing an order with Jeffboat for construction of four 50,000-barrel barges.

With its official filings, K-Sea reports that it is already the largest coastwise tank-barge operator in the United States, measured by carrying capacity. The company has more than tripled its tank-barge capacity since it was created in 1999 when a group of investors acquired its predecessor company, Eklof Marine of New York.

Tug company’s yard does commercial work

Colle Towing, the primary tug company in the port of Pascagoula, Miss., has operated a small shipyard at the same harborside site for about 125 years. Lately, the yard has been engaged in repairing and modernizing tugs for other companies rather than its own.

“We’re doing more outside jobs in the shipyard than we ever have before,” said Natalie Colle, one of several family members engaged in the company management. “We have never done this kind of volume before, and recently we’ve added a 400-ton travelift and soon we’ll be replacing it with a larger one.”

While construction of Colle’s next z-drive tractor tug, John Colle, has been postponed, the company has been working on refurbishment of an older tug for Crescent Towing of New Orleans — a revitalization that includes conversion from single to twin screw, all new power and new wheelhouse, controls, electronics and other vital improvements.

The 4,000-hp, 105-foot Margaret Cooper is expected to be redelivered to Crescent by early 2008, according to Colle.

“The people at Colle’s shipyard do great work, and they’ve been doing more and more commercial work since Hurricane Katrina,” said Keith Kettenring, Crescent’s executive vice president.    •

By Professional Mariner Staff