Sause’s refurbished deep-hull tug can handle the Pacific

1 Blackhawk

“She is lively but she has a slow-motion roll. She feels like a racehorse sliding through the ocean,” said Capt. Scott Jacobsen of the tug Black Hawk. “The new tugs push through the ocean but this boat has a fine entry and a fine exit.”

Jacobsen had just towed the empty 80,000-barrel 374-by-76-by-29.5-foot double-hulled tank barge Commencement Bay from San Francisco Bay to Vancouver, British Columbia, for dry-docking. The 122-by-34-foot Black Hawk had been recommissioned into the Sause Bros.’ fleet a month earlier in mid-September. Built in 1968 at Halter Marine on the Gulf of Mexico to a design by L.R. Glosten and Associates, the tug had two well-known sister ships, Apache and Seminole. Sause Brothers’ naval architect Mark Babcock noted about the original drawings,“When this boat was designed, Larry Glosten also had J. Fisker Andersen and Ben Jensen working with him. Both of these men went on to become very influential naval architects in the Pacific Northwest.”

Black Hawk underwent a three-year rebuild at Sause Bros.’ Coos Bay shipyard. “They took her hull right down to the ribs,” explained Jacobsen. “Then they redid all the piping and put in new machinery.”

Capt. Scott Jacobsen in charge in the wheelhouse.

Company President Dale Sause bought the boat in 2012. He recognized the efficiency of the heavily built deep hull. The hull has a mid-ship molded depth of 16.5 feet and a maximum draft of 15 feet. The fine entry and exit, combined with rounded bilges that curve up aft, provide good water flow to the props. 

Sause knew that this would be a kindly sea boat and an efficient towing vessel. He subjected the hull’s lines to his own computational fluid dynamics analysis and his enthusiasm was confirmed. The gracefully rounded chines, often replaced by the less costly hard chines on boxy tugs of modern design, contribute to that smooth roll to which Jacobsen referred. 

With a solid and well-designed hull, Sause Brothers filled the engine room with several new engines. The centerpiece of the white-walled engine room is a pair of bright blue 12-cylinder MTU 4000 M53s. Although each engine develops 1,851 hp at 1,800 rpm, they operate at an efficient 1,550 rpm, turning 102-inch-diameter wheels with 81 inches of pitch. The marine gears are Reintjes WAF 773s with 7.454:1 reduction. 

Black Hawk tows the tank barge Commencement Bay outbound from the Port of Vancouver. The vessels can make 8 knots in this configuration.

Engineer Bryan Long is unstinting in his engine room pride and his praise of the engines. Long gives the centrifugal oil filter system special praise. “I’m pretty impressed,” he said. “It needs overhaul only after 20,000 hours compared with 500 hours for screw-on filters.”

At 1,550 rpm, Black Hawk makes 8 knots towing the loaded Commencement Bay and 9 knots light. In the pushing mode, an extra half-knot is gained with the loaded barge — a significant difference over the long haul. 

A pair of John Deere 99-kW generators meets the tug’s extensive electrical needs, including a 60-hp electric over hydraulic system to power the bow winch and a Pullmaster tugger winch mounted aft just below the main towing winch drum. The bow winch is loaded with 600 feet of bright yellow 2-inch Samson 12-strand jacketed Turbo-75 line for making up on the barge hip. 

The tugger winch is important to recover the heavy pigtail and surge chain onto the tug’s aft deck. The chain, with 3-inch stud links, each one about 18 inches long and weighing 98 pounds, includes two 90-foot shots of chain in addition to two more shots of surge gear. The barge bridles are 90 feet of the same chain on each leg. 

Black Hawk’s chief engineer, Bryan Long, with one of two MTU 4000 M53 main engines.

“The towing winch is the only piece of equipment on the tug that is not new,” said Jacobsen. There is a reason: It is one of the legendary Burrard Iron Works single-drum towing winches. Manufactured in Vancouver in 1967, it has, like others of that vintage, a reputation for being indestructible. The brass manufacturer’s plate has been polished up and is kept proudly in the engineer’s control room. The winch, loaded with 2,200 feet of 2.25-inch wire, is one of a series that has a reputation for strength and durability. While Black Hawk was laying alongside at the shipyard in North Vancouver, Burrard Iron Works, in continuous operation since 1912, sent a pair of technicians down to service the winch. In the engine room, a six-cylinder 265-hp John Deere powers the winch’s hydraulic system as well as a deck winch. Other hydraulics power the four 16-inch tow pins mounted in the aft bulwarks. These can be used in various combinations with the two outer pins designed to rotate their heads with an elongated side that allows the pin to be lowered against its neighbor to effectively “trap” the towline when maneuvering. 

Jacobsen explained that the tug pushes in a notch on the stern of Commencement Bay in sheltered waters and good sea conditions, but switches to towing in a heavy sea. “We have often seen the ATBs laying up, or just jogging, in heavy weather,” said Jacobsen. “But we can keep going in any condition.”

An “Orville hook” is mounted and ready on the Burrard winch. The configuration was developed by a former Sause captain, Orville “Bud” Fuller.

For pushing, the towing winch is used with lines running through the quarter bitts and up to the stern quarters of the barge. An elevated wheelhouse, called the “shaky shack,” gives the boat a 70-foot air draft and 45-foot, 6-inch eye-level visibility over the barge. The elevated wheelhouse has slaves of all the electronics and controls from the main wheelhouse. It is reached by a long set of steps.

Finished in a rich burgundy color and fine wood, the large and comfortable main wheelhouse is located in the tug’s third deck. It has space aft for a large chart table to port, a settee to starboard and, forward, a broad sweep of screens — two radar, two ECDIS — plus a closed-circuit monitor of the engine room and electronic engine monitors. To port and starboard there are jog sticks, engine throttle and clutch controls, and tachometers. From these positions there is excellent visibility aft through large windows on the rear of the wheelhouse. Jacobsen reports that, on start-up, the wheelhouse is so quiet that he has to check the tachometers to be sure the engines are running. An additional complete set of controls is located aft on the second deck atop the shelter deck over the towing winch. In the wheelhouse is one more piece of retained equipment — a well-padded and very comfortable barber’s chair. 

Black Hawk, inbound toward Vancouver, transits the First Narrows and the Lions Gate Bridge.

Jacobsen explained that, at sea, the wheelhouse watch rotates on a schedule of four hours on and eight hours off, but when in port for several days as they were at the shipyard, they go over to a six-and-six watch rotation. The tug works with a six-person crew composed of captain, two mates, chief engineer, assistant engineer AB and cook AB.

There is always work to be done. While waiting for the barge, chief mate Bradley Nyleen uses the time to splice up some lines for the tug’s “Orville hook.” This device, now used industry-wide, was developed by a former Sause Bros. captain, the late Orville “Bud” Fuller, who designed the earliest version in the 1970s. Employing a combination of floats, lines and a large flat hook, it can be towed through the water to catch the pigtail or bridles of a barge that has broken free. The Sause commitment to this technology is demonstrated not only by the hook mounted and ready on the side of the towing winch, but also by a large drum, mounted on the first deck, holding 600 feet of 10-inch line for deploying the hook and its rigging. Due to the light-sensitive nature of the line, the drum is covered by a red tarp. 

For splicing the synthetic line, Nyleen was using a hollow fid to make three tucks of two strands — over one and under two. The synthetic line opened easily and the metal of the fid allowed the strands to pass through quickly. After three tucks, Nyleen would cut one of the strands and do a couple more tucks with a single strand to give the splice a neatly tapered finish. 

While Commencement Bay is at dry dock, the tug sits alongside with its towing gear on the aft deck ready for the next voyage.

Crew comfort was not neglected in the refurbishment. The wheelhouse finish of burgundy paint and bright finished wood trim is carried down through the accommodation deck to the main deck. Accommodations include eight staterooms. The mess area is roomy and comfortable. The galley, separated from the mess by a storage counter, is bright and well equipped. Cook Roger Abbey has direct access to a walk-in freezer and large food storage area one deck down. This allows provisioning for voyages of longer duration if towing up and down the Pacific Coast or on one of Sause Brothers’ scheduled runs to Hawaii. 

For such offshore towing, Black Hawk has a total of 80,000 gallons of fuel in several tanks. Other tanks hold 5,000 gallons of potable water and 1,200 gallons of lube oil. Its raked white superstructure sits comfortably above a black hull that carries a fine shear line aft in steps, from the massively fendered bow to a low stern counter. 

Moored alongside the floating dry dock in Vancouver, it looked every bit the racehorse that Jacobsen described at sea. But it sat, impatiently, in the starting gate.

By Professional Mariner Staff