Roger F. Wicker


Blessey Marine Services Inc. continued its fleet expansion and update with the addition of Roger F. Wicker, one of several in a series of 2,000-hp towboats from Verret Shipyard.

The Plaquemine, La., yard has been building towboats for Blessey for more than 30 years and has contracts for two more 85-footers and three 70-footers for delivery into 2014, according to company President Ted Verret, who is also a third-generation co-owner.

His uncle, Perry Verret, and late father, Murray Verret, followed in the steps of their father, Capt. C. P. Verret, who founded a small shipyard along the Morgan City-Port Allen Route of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway to build his own towboat in 1965.

The Verret yard has built about 40 towboats of various size and design for Blessey, which still operates its first Verret-built boats, delivered in 1978, according to Paul Taylor, who has been associated with the yard 46 years. The busy yard now has 75 highly skilled people building everything in-house with its own welding and pre-fab shop, machine, electrical, cabinetry shops and engineering department, noted Taylor, who is a part owner.

One of the two Cummins KTA38-M engines that produce 1,000 hp each. They drive Rolls-Royce four-blade 74-by-56-inch stainless steel props through Reintjes WAF562 6:1 reduction gears.

Blessey, based in Harahan, La., specializes as a “unit tow” operator in the transportation of liquid cargos including asphalt, black oils, lube oils, refined products such as naphtha, MTBE gasoline and petrochemicals, including benzene, toluene and methanol along virtually the entire inland waterway system and Gulf Intracoastal Waterway.

It was founded in 1978 by Walter E. Blessey Jr., who as an oil trader in the 1970s and early ’80s, realized the best way to find a carrier who would be honest and realistic with its delivery commitments was to form his own transportation company. The fleet now includes more than 70 towboats and more than 100 barges while employing more than 600 people.

Roger F. Wicker is the fifth in a series of 80-by-30-by-8.5-foot, twin-screw vessels designed and built for Blessey by Verret. It is named in honor of Republican Sen. Roger F. Wicker of Tupelo, Miss. Wicker previously served seven terms as a congressman. Earlier in his political career, he served in the Mississippi Senate, representing Lee and Pontotoc counties along the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway. Blessey has named several boats in honor of various political figures in recent years, including senators, congressmen and governors whom Walter Blessey Jr. considers “pro business.” The new boat was christened along the river wharf at the Hilton Hotel at New Orleans on March 25.

Roger F. Wicker is designed to operate with an 8.5-foot draft. Power comes from a pair of Cummins KTA38M diesels, each rated at 1,000-hp, supplied by Cummins Mid-South, in Kenner, La. The 12-cylinder, four-stroke engines are linked to 74-by-56-inch, four-blade stainless steel Rolls-Royce propellers through Reintjes model WAF562 (6:1) vertical offset reduction gears from Karl Senner Inc., of New Orleans. The propellers turn on seven-inch-diameter shafts through Simplan shaft seals with Thordon bearings and bushings from Johnny’s Propeller Shop in Morgan City, La., which also provided the deck fittings. The steering rudders are constructed with seven-inch stocks and the flanking rudders have six-inch stocks.

Both 85-kW Stamford generators are powered with Cummins 6B diesels, also from Cummins Mid-South.


The 10.5-foot deep hull is protected against the routine bumps and rigors of barge handling with fenders and pushknee bumpers from Schuyler, in Broussard, La. The main engines, gears and generators are cooled with conditioned water circulated through hull-mounted grid-coolers from East Park Radiator in Houma, La. Pneumatic requirements for engine starting, air horn and other onboard compressed air needs are met with two 5-hp Speedaire compressors with 80-gallon receivers from W. W. Grainger.

Constructed within the hull are reservoirs for 30,000 gallons of fuel, 16,800 gallons of potable water and 450 gallons of lube oil.

Tankerman Chris Martin and Pilot Chris Williams on the couch, and Capt. Jesse Shoemake at the table, pass some time off duty in the towboat’s lounge. To enhance crew comfort and reduce fatigue, the boat has thermal and acoustic insulation throughout the vessel.

The vessel’s twin steering rudders and four flanking rudders are independently controlled with a shipyard-designed, electric-over-hydraulic steering system with components furnished by Custom Hydraulics in Gretna, La.

The vessel’s twin 40-ton Patterson electro-hydraulic deck winches are from Donovan Marine, of Harahan, La., who also supplied the ZF electronic throttle controls.  

The Verret Shipyard is noted for its fine joinery, which is evident in the pilothouse console.

The aluminum doors were crafted by ERO of Baton Rouge, La. Sherwin-Williams of Plaquemine, La., supplied all the epoxy paint for the superstructure and hull along with the anti-fouling hull coatings.

Attractive and comfortable quarters accommodate up to eight crewmembers in staterooms located on the first and second decks. There are two double-occupancy staterooms with custom-built oak beds and adjoining baths on the second deck and two single rooms for the pilot and captain with adjoining baths. Another double-occupancy stateroom and bath are located on the first deck. Although adjoining rooms share a bathroom and marble shower, each one has its own sink and lavatory for added crew comfort and convenience. Each deck is heated and cooled with its own Amana central HVAC system and is illuminated with fluorescent primary and emergency lighting from Basin-River Electric in Plaquemine, La. The aluminum doors were crafted by ERO.

The attractive galley is forward of the engine room on the first deck and features high quality oak cabinets, built on site from lumber brought into the yard where even the moldings are crafted by Verret’s own skilled carpenters and cabinet makers. Equipment includes a four-burner electric range with oven, microwave, trash compactor and 20-cubic-foot refrigerator/freezer from Whirlpool, commercial grade Scotsman ice maker, a double stainless steel sink, and island with granite counter top for food preparation.


Crew comfort is further enhanced by the use of ceramic flooring and 100 percent mineral wool, acoustical and thermal insulation throughout. The electronics room beneath the pilothouse also serves as a weight room to further promote crew health. Sewage treatment requirements are handled with a unit from Ahead Sanitation Systems of Broussard, La.

Capt. Jesse Shoemake at the controls of the towboat.

The functional and ergonomically-designed pilothouse console contains a plethora of electronic navigation and communications equipment essential to the vessel’s safe and efficient operation. The impressive list of equipment supplied and installed by Wheelhouse Electronics of Baton Rouge, La., includes two Furuno FR8062 digital radars, four Icom M504 VHF radios, Furuno FA150 AIS transponder/receiver, Furuno SC50 satellite compass, Furuno FCV620 digital, color LCD depth sounder, Furuno LH-300 loud hailer-intercom unit and a Furuno F-150 weather system with wind direction and speed display plus a DeHart-Sigma 3000 rate-of-swing indicator from DeHart Marine Electronics of Memphis, Tenn.

Wheelhouse Electronics also supplied and installed its proprietary WH-1000 amplified TV antenna and Intellipath satellite TV system along with a Blue Box recording system from Innovative Marine Safety Inc. It records VHF radio traffic, radar, chart display and position, GPS coordinates and images from several strategically located video cameras for recall if needed.

Atop the pilothouse are two 1,000-watt Carlisle & Finch Xenon searchlights with electric controls and a Kahlenberg twin-trumpet air horn, all from Byrne, Rice and Turner Inc. of New Orleans, which also supplied the various pumps located throughout the engine room.

The attractive vessel features a Hiller fire suppression system, a fire alarm from Eagle Marine Electronics of Baton Rouge, and CSP fuel monitoring unit.

Another Blessey boat was launched in early April and the seventh in the series is scheduled for delivery in May.

By Professional Mariner Staff