New workboat replaces venerable NASSCO yard tug


When it came time to replace the venerable Mr. Ed, a yard tug that has served General Dynamics NASSCO for more than 35 years, there was no need to reinvent a proven performer — a couple of tweaks here, an equipment upgrade there and cleaner-burning engines filled the bill.

And the San Diego shipbuilder didn’t have to look far to find a production partner. Marine Group Boat Works, located less than five miles from NASSCO, built the new Workboat 38 at its solar-powered facility in National City. The 38-footer, designed by Jensen Maritime Consultants of Seattle, is unofficially called Workboat 38. It was still awaiting an official name at press time as it neared completion.

The new boat’s duties will be much the same as Mr. Ed’s: repositioning hulls into dry docks, moving barges, deploying booms and helping to control newly launched ships. Like Mr. Ed, Workboat 38 is compact and has a flying bridge. Unlike its predecessor, the new boat has flanking rudders in addition to conventional rudders for increased maneuverability, and there are closed chocks in the hull form.

The biggest change is in the engine room. Workboat 38 has a pair of Cummins QSL9M Tier 3 diesels delivering a total 810 hp, a bollard pull of 16,000 pounds and a service speed of 8 knots.

“That was one of the drivers, getting cleaner environmentally with the regulations that we have,” said Vincent Magers, dockmaster for NASSCO in San Diego. “With Mr. Ed, we have the older diesel engines and they’re being regulated more and more out here. What we have in there right now are 1979 Detroit Diesels. They’re workhorses, but they’re old dirty diesels.”

Magers said Workboat 38 has a slightly different hull form than Mr. Ed, featuring a more rounded bow. The designers also gave the new boat a 300-degree unobstructed line of sight from the pilothouse to complement the flying bridge.

“For what we do, flying bridges are great for visibility as long as you’re not out in bad weather and stormy conditions,” Magers said. “We tend not to go out too much in those, and in San Diego we don’t have that too often.”

Before the Workboat 38 project, Marine Group Boat Works had a brief history with NASSCO dating back to when the builder of naval auxiliaries, tankers and containerships tapped its neighbor for heavy steel construction, said Todd Roberts, president of Marine Group. The smaller yard has earned a reputation for superyacht refits but also is experienced in commercial work and the production of tugboats and dive boats for the U.S. Navy.

“When I first got to the yard in 2000, we were building the stack houses for the T-AKE (the Navy’s dry cargo and ammunition ships),” he said. “We did that because they were so big you can only move them by water. So we’d build them in our yard and barge them up to NASSCO.”

Roberts said both yards do a lot of Navy work but are also commercial-minded. The result is that that both companies “kind of look at things the same way,” which improved collaboration from the outset of the project, he said.

“It’s not a lot of boat, but it’s very unique,” Roberts said about Workboat 38. “Being a small builder, we were able to listen to what our customer said. The guys who run the boat around the yard and do a lot of work, they knew exactly how they wanted it, and we were able to take that vision and craft it into a design.”

NASSCO paid a lot of attention to the placement of the helm and chocks on Workboat 38, Roberts said, and all of the hardware that secures the fixed fendering is stainless steel and welded to the hull. “They were very specific about that,” he said.

The ability to build those ideas into a boat that is easy to operate and maintain can be traced to the repair side of Marine Group’s business, which accounts for three-quarters of the company’s work, Roberts said.

“People say, ‘The builder just can’t quite get my vision, they don’t understand how to do it.’ I hear that all the time,” he said. “We come out of the repair side of the house, so when we build our boats there is a way for the muffler to get out. We don’t stack a pump on top of something else — our boats are totally serviceable. When we showed the equipment layout to NASSCO, one of the first observations they made was, ‘Wow, we’re going to be able to get to everything.’ Well, that’s the way we build boats.”

Roberts said it also was critical for the new boat to be a zero-discharge vessel, a point of pride for both companies.

“NASSCO is just like Marine Group and all of us in San Diego, we run a very tight ship environmentally,” he said. “The new boat has fuel overflows for capture. Its sewage is all tanked — there is no valve, it can’t go over the side. It also has the ability to discharge its bilge water to the deckhead versus just going overboard. NASSCO definitely put forward their environmental stewardship as part of this program.”

Delivery of Workboat 38 is expected this summer. In May, NASSCO announced it was holding a contest for local schoolchildren to choose its permanent name.

Highlights: Tug will move hulls into dry dock, control launched vessels, deploy boom • Local children will choose permanent name 
By Professional Mariner Staff