Starlight Marine escort tugs ready with high horsepower, control


The 100-foot azimuthing stern drive tug Ahbra Franco sparkled on a perfect San Francisco Bay morning. Named for the daughter of Harley Marine Services founder Harley Franco, the tug was delivered last September to the company’s subsidiary, Starlight Marine Services, to conduct general ship assist and escort duties in the Bay Area.

The tug was designed by Jensen Maritime Consultants of Seattle and built at Nichols Brothers Boat Builders in Freeland, Wash. The almost identical Robert Franco, the first tug in the two-boat series, was delivered last summer to Harley Marine’s subsidiary in Los Angeles, Millennium Maritime.

For Robert and Ahbra, Jensen upgraded its Valor-class design, from which five tugs were built at Nichols Brothers for Baydelta Maritime in San Francisco. Jensen maintained the big horsepower (6,890) and spacious comfortable crew quarters. The 40-foot beam allows for a sizable engine room, one in which the crew take pride.

The two new Harley tugs have been upgraded, primarily to meet emission standards, by the installation of Caterpillar Tier 3 engines to drive the Rolls-Royce US 255 azimuthing stern drives.

On deck is the boat’s DEPCF-52 75-hp hawser winch.

The only significant difference is Robert Franco is powered by two Caterpillar 3516s and Ahbra Franco is fitted with two C175 Cats. It is a big difference, according to Greg Zeligman, general manager for Starlight Marine Services.

“On (Ahbra’s) initial bollard pull test she pulled for 42 minutes and the engine temperature only rose 2° in all that time. That’s why the continuous hp is so impressive,” Zeligman said. “There isn’t another tug out there that is doing that. If a pilot needs high horsepower, there is no telling how long he will need it for.”

On Ahbra’s stern is a Markey TES-40 single-drum towing winch with 2,600 feet of 2.25-inch towing wire. On the bow is a Markey DEPCF-52 75-hp electric hawser winch with 750 feet of Amsteel Blue 2.75-inch synthetic rope. A Smith Berger tow pin rounds out the aft deck equipment. The winches are electric, a significant nod to California’s environmental concerns.

“This boat really walks,” Capt. David Cadiz said while maneuvering Ahbra sideways doing 2.5 knots against the current at Oakland’s Pier 38. Out of the current he was making over 3 knots. “And you have such great control of the boat. You can be within a foot of the ship. And she does really well at doing indirect pulls. You can keep at 90 tons of pull.”

One of Ahbra Franco’s two Caterpillar C175 main engines, powering a Rolls-Royce z-drive, above right.


Engineer Jack Matievich, above, works out some calculations, while Capt. David Cadiz, below, navigates the controls in the wheelhouse.

Deck hand Eric Vuoso, middle, out on deck with Matievich and Cadiz.


The split-style console, with Furuno electronics and Simrad Navico gyrocompass. The wraparound windows provide a 360° view.


By Professional Mariner Staff