Sause Bros. updates venerable Mikiona-class tugs


When Sause Bros. President Dale Sause ordered a pair of 128-foot offshore tugs in 2018, he had complete confidence in the finished product. It’s not often an owner can be that certain, particularly when working with a new shipyard.

The 128-by-35-foot Apache and Geronimo, still under construction at Diversified Marine as of mid-May 2019, are updated versions of the Mikiona-class oceangoing tugboats Sause engineers developed in-house more than a decade ago. The former J.M. Martinac Shipyard in Tacoma, Wash., delivered Mikiona in early 2007 and Cochise later that year.

The newest iterations feature twin Tier 3 2,000-hp MTU engines, Reintjes reduction gears and Nautican nozzles. They also have more advanced navigation electronics than their predecessors and updated Rapp winches fore and aft. But at heart, they are mirror images of the proven Mikiona-class vessels considered to be some of the best-performing and most comfortable in the fleet.

“When combined with this tug design — the Mikiona with the Bay- and Wind-class barges — we have achieved lower fuel consumption and faster towing speeds,” Dale Sause said in an interview.

Apache is tentatively scheduled for delivery around June 1, while sister tug Geronimo should follow about five months later.

Courtesy Kurt Redd

Apache, scheduled for delivery June 1, and Geronimo, due about five months later, represent a fleet expansion for Sause Bros., which has operations across the West Coast and Hawaii. Sause said both are being built specifically for Chevron and will haul fuel barges from the oil giant’s Richmond, Calif., refinery to distribution points along the West Coast.

Sause Bros. has a proud history in the Pacific Northwest that dates back to 1936. The company’s vessels initially worked log rafts and towed barges of milled lumber to fast-growing California. As the lumber business declined, the firm transitioned into growing its Hawaii operations, launching a regular container run between the West Coast and Hawaii. In 1976, Sause started moving petroleum and chemical barges.

The company relied mostly on traditional single-screw tugs for these routes. By the early 2000s, regulatory changes required the industry to modernize aging fleets. Dale Sause turned to company naval architect Jack Wilskey and vice president Mark Babcock to produce the design for a new generation of long-distance Sause tugs.

Babcock and Wilskey, who has since passed away, developed a long-distance ocean towing hull design optimized to tow barges at about 9.5 knots. Babcock, who still works for the company, said the single hard-chined hull is fairly traditional in design. It allows smooth flow of water to the nozzles and has a moderately sized fuel tank to maintain a consistent ride even when the tugs are running low on fuel.

Propulsion aboard Apache comes from twin 2,000-hp MTU Tier 3 engines.

Courtesy Kurt Redd

“A lot of times, traditional tugboats are very fully formed and hold a ton of fuel but have to push that hull around in the ocean,” Babcock said. “As the fuel burns down … it is going to be quicker and quicker in its roll. If you don’t have a huge fuel capacity, there is not such a drastic change.”

“When you build a huge boat to hold a lot of fuel,” he continued, “and don’t have a lot of fuel, it becomes a quick ride and a big roller.”

Given these vessels’ track record, there was no real urge within Sause Bros. to mess with a good thing. That’s not to say Apache and Geronimo are carbon copies of their predecessors; perhaps the biggest change was the addition of a bulkhead in the accommodations space in the forepeak to separate two staterooms from a storage space.

Babcock considers this and other tweaks relatively minor, and each was intended to address specific issues with the earlier two tugs in the class. Crew input drove many of the changes, including the bulkhead placement in the forepeak to make the space more hospitable.

The wheelhouse features Furuno navigation electronics and Rapp's Pentagon system for winch control and data.

Courtesy Kurt Redd

“When we knew we were going to build more boats, we just looked at the things that were functioning well and the areas the crews were struggling with a little bit, and we tried to modify it to make things easier on them,” he said. “But we (kept) the basics of (the Mikiona class) and the majority of it as close to the same as we could so we didn’t have to reinvent the wheel.”

Other changes were necessitated by upgrades in technology and equipment since the 3,750-hp Mikiona and Cochise were delivered. Those tugs, for instance, run on Tier 2 MTU 16V 4000 diesels. The 2,000-hp Tier 3 iterations on Apache and Geronimo run cleaner and are about 6.67 percent more powerful. Electrical power is provided by two 99-kW John Deere PowerTech 4045 gensets.

The transmission is another proven German product, the Reintjes WAF 873 reduction gears, at a ratio of 7.454:1. The 9.5-inch stainless-steel driveshafts turn three-bladed, 104-by-108-inch stainless-steel propellers mounted in Nautican nozzles with pre-swirl stators. The twin rudders pivoting on shoes aft of each nozzle are pre-fabricated by Sause Bros.’ shipyard, Southern Oregon Marine (SOMAR). Bollard pull is about 65 tons.

The lower wheelhouse is outfitted with a suite of Furuno electronics that includes two radar units and an electronic chart display and information system (ECDIS). The aluminum upper wheelhouse — with a 44.5-foot height of eye — has similar controls, and the vessel is equipped with a KVH satellite communications system. The tug also has steering stations on the port and starboard wings, as well as on the aft upper deck above the winch.

The galley on the updated Mikiona-class tugs is located on the 01 deck along with the mess and three double staterooms.

Courtesy Kurt Redd

Mikiona and Cochise were some of the first tugs in the U.S. with Rapp winches. By now, the company’s products have proven themselves in towing and ship-assist operations.

Rapp — now owned by MacGregor — supplied both new tugs with TOW-22031 winches on the stern that incorporate heavy-duty, multiple-motor gearboxes with four hydraulic motors designed to handle over 56 tons of pull tension on the barrel layer, Rapp President Johann Sigurjonsson said. The main drum holds up to 2,600 feet of 2.25-inch steel wire rope, and the brake handling capacity is about 120 tons on the barrel layer.

“The pendant winch, Rapp PW-4002-B, features a multiple-motor gearbox with three motors, designed to handle up to 17 tons of pull tension on the first layer, and a brake handling load of about 50 tons, while storing over 900 feet of 2.25-inch steel wire rope,” Sigurjonsson said. “Also incorporated into the same winch frame is a tugger winch and horizontal capstan.”

The Rapp TOW-4002-BB hawser has 13 tons of pull tension and a brake holding capacity of 60 tons, both at the barrel layer. It can hold up to 200 feet of 2-inch soft line, and likely will be used when making up on the hip of a barge. A 266-hp John Deere engine supplies power to the winches with a 60-hp electric motor as backup. SOMAR fabricated the four-pin towing pin system with 16-inch-diameter pins.

Apache and Geronimo are being built to haul fuel barges along the West Coast.

Courtesy Kurt Redd

Rapp’s Pentagon system in the wheelhouse features a touch screen with tension and wire length readouts, auto-tension capability, and automated haul-in and pay-out settings, as well as capacity for logging data, Sigurjonsson said.

With the exception of the bulkhead separating the two forepeak staterooms, the general arrangement of the vessels did not change. The 01 deck is home to the galley and mess with three double staterooms. Two more staterooms are located behind the lower pilothouse on the 02 deck. The vessel has berthing for up to nine with three heads and two showers.

Given the long voyages Sause Bros. crews often find themselves working, the Mikiona-class tugs were built with comfort in mind. The staterooms are placed as close to the tug’s centerline as possible to improve ride comfort. For the same reason, the entire house is located close to amidships. The blowers also are mounted aft in the fiddley, far away from crew quarters.

“They are very quiet,” Babcock said of the Mikiona-class tugs. “This makes the ride better so the crew will sleep better and have less fatigue.”    

Highlights: Built to haul fuel barges on the West Coast • Updated Mikiona-class design • First Sause tugs built at Diversified Marine
By Professional Mariner Staff