Portland Tugboat: Keeping the oil flowing north

Capt. Brian Fournier, president of Portland Tugboat, LLC, boarding the tanker Sea Lady, where he performed the duties of docking pilot. [photos by Brian Gauvin]

Portland, Maine, is the largest oil port on the Eastern Seaboard. Since 1941, oil has been flowing north from there to Canada via the Portland-Montreal Pipe Line, developed during World War II to avoid German U-boats. More than 200 tankers discharge crude annually at the pipeline’s unloading facility in South Portland.

Oil also fuels the job list of the five tugs owned by the Fournier family. “My father, Capt. Arthur J. Fournier, bought his first tug for a dollar in 1954,” said Capt. Brian Fournier, president of Portland Tugboat and director of Northeast Operations for McAllister Towing, which bought the company in 2001. “He worked in Boston constantly expanding and upgrading his tug fleet for many decades.”

“My two younger brothers, Douglas and Patrick Fournier, are still employed by my dad in the other two ports he still operates in,” said Brian. “Doug is in Belfast, Maine, which services the ports of Searsport and Bucksport. The youngest brother Pat works on the Cape Cod Canal, which services all of Buzzards Bay.”

The pristine Portland fleet is diverse, ranging from the powerful and nimble 5,000-hp

Capt. Fournier at the helm of the 5,000-hp assist tug Vicki M. McAllister

Vicki McAllister, to Brian’s favorite, a classic 3,000-hp single-screw named Stamford, built in 1951. In between is the 4,000-hp Fournier Girls (named for Brian’s step-mother, his wife and two daughters) built in 1968; along with the 1,800-hp Roderick McAllister, built in 1967, and the 4,000-hp Iona McAllister, built in 1981. Soon to join the fleet is the 6,000-hp z-drive Rosemary McAllister, now under construction at Eastern Shipbuilding, Panama City, Fla.

In 2010, the direction of the flow of oil will be reversed, filling the pipes with Alberta tar sands crude destined for Portland. Canada is producing more oil now, using its own oil domestically and looking for export markets. And the U.S. is a hungry market.

The tankers loading in Portland will be smaller, but there will be more of them distributing oil to coastwise ports. In 2010, Portland Tugboat expects to be busier than ever.
Clockwise from top left: Capt. Dave Mason at the helm of Fournier Girls; Capt. Brian Evenson on Vicki M. McAllister; Vicki M. McAllister nears the tanker Kareela Spirit at the sea buoy before escorting the ship to the Portland-Montreal Pipe Line terminal; Craig Lewis, deck hand on Fournier Girls; Ed Holland, engineer on Vicki M. McAllister; Vicki M. McAllister and Iona McAllister escort the tanker Sea Lady into Portland Harbor.
By Professional Mariner Staff