Tidewater gets into a renewal phase


It’s a trio of firsts on the West Coast with the construction of the pushboat Crown Point by Vigor Industrial for Tidewater Barge Lines.  

Reinvigorating its fleet, Tidewater is adding the boat and two sisters to its lineup — the first new tugboats in 30 years, and the first specifically designed and built for service on the Columbia/Snake River system.

For Vigor, this is the first time it has built propulsion vessels at its Portland, Ore., yard since 1945, while for designer CT Marine this is the first foray into boats for the West Coast.

The first of the three Tidewater boats, Crown Point, has passed all its sea trials and begun work on the Columbia River.

“It was time to upgrade our fleet and these boats are part of our renewal process,” said Marc Schwartz, manager of maintenance and engineering for Tidewater. “Energy majors and grain co-ops are among our biggest customers and we want to provide the best service moving their products.” 

Kale Kramer, left, project manager for Vigor, and Marc Schwartz, manager of maintenance and engineering for Tidewater, stand in front of Crown Point shortly after sea trials were completed.

And, as American Tugboat Review has found out over the years, environmental sensitivities mean that oil companies and other closely watched industrial sectors insist on the safest and most up-to-date transportation system.

A far cry from 30 years ago, the boats not only have the most modern, fuel-efficient Tier 3 engines, but particular emphasis has been placed on vibration control, noise suppression and exceptional maneuverability. 

Comparing the crew amenities on Crown Point to those on earlier tugs is like comparing a cruise ship with a tramp steamer. Internet connections, computer plug-in points, microwave ovens and refrigerators abound, not to mention an exercise room. That’s not surprising when the typical voyage for the crew of three is 15 days on and 15 off.

“The vessel met or exceeded all specs on the sea trials (which involved six hours of endurance tests pushing loaded grain barges) and is at the upper end of the technology available today,” said Schwartz. “The amount of noise is no more than 60 decibels in the accommodation spaces under normal operating conditions.” All three new vessels incorporate floating floors and vibration control mounts. Polyethylene is being used to absorb sound in the machinery spaces. 

One of the deck winches in action. The newest addition to the Tidewater fleet uses seven Patterson 65-ton electric deck winches.

And in line with today’s emphasis on environmental discipline, the boat is designed for zero waste discharge.    

The pilothouse chair has multiple positions — the pilot stands forward when building a tow, which commands an all-around view of operations, and sits back when the boat is running. Controls are in easy reach. 

Seven Patterson 65-ton electric deck winches are installed, with pilothouse remote operation and local push-button control stations on the main deck. In line with the growing trend in the industry, synthetic line is being used. Sixty-five tons is now the fleet standard for line-haul vessels.

All three boats will be capable of being matched to any barge in the Tidewater fleet. Tidewater’s largest grain barge is 3,600 tons while the largest fuel barge is 50,000 barrels.

Samson 1-3/8-inch Turbo 75 synthetic line running through a deck chock.

Bristling with electronics, Crown Point incorporates AIS (automatic identification system), Furuno radars, Rose Point navigation system, VHF and SSB radios, LED navigation and deck lighting, BNWAS, Matthews Marine steering system, ZF Clear Command engine and reduction gear control system, satellite compass, swing meter, fire detection alarm systems and weather station, and is ECDIS capable.

For Vigor, this return to propulsion craft after almost 70 years has been a success, said Kale Kramer, project manager. “There were no big hiccups during construction and although we were a couple of months late with delivery, this was due to spec changes (mostly the push knee extensions). With the next two boats (Hulls 20 and 21) we will incorporate the changes and be able to get back those two months.”

When the project started, the Portland yard’s new construction group employed 99 people, which has since grown to 241. “We plan on keeping a balance between propulsion vessel and barge construction to ensure our current force numbers,” said Kramer.

Tidewater opted for Vigor partly because it is a local Portland yard and “because we were impressed with Vigor wanting to get back into propulsion,” Schwartz said. “We went into this project with our eyes open and, although Crown Point was slightly over budget, it was in an acceptable range.”

A control panel for one of the Caterpillar C7.1 generators.

Kramer said the use of 3-D modeling from Genoa Design of Newfoundland proved “incredibly helpful” and greatly eased construction. 

The 6,500 tons of steel Vigor is processing each year for new construction is all U.S.-made, with much of it coming from EVRAZ and some from JW Steel. Designer Corning Townsend said, “The steelworks and welding on the boat are as good as I have seen anywhere.”

Crown Point and its sisters are particularly rugged, using 1-inch bottom plate instead of the usual 3/8-inch. The double hull extends from bulkhead No. 9 to bulkhead No. 22, protecting the fuel tanks. Kramer said the boats are as strong as anything to be found anywhere. 

“To get the boat trimmed out we put a lot of weight up forward,” said Schwartz.

Handling ability is outstanding, with two steering rudders plus two flanking rudders for each of the CT28 nozzles.

Caterpillar C7.1 generator. The two auxiliary Tier 3 gensets are rated at 480 V, 200 kW at 1,800 rpm.

Schwartz emphasizes the differences in running conditions between the Columbia and the Western rivers. “We get high winds and big rolling waves that can toss a boat around, and the locks are much higher. Many people don’t realize the difference.”

Because conditions are so tough on the river, Tidewater opted for rudders rather than ASD. “ASD nozzles are very expensive — $750,000 — and rudders can be replaced easily,” said Schwartz.

Townsend of CT Marine certainly does appreciate just how rough the river can be, with places that can run 5 knots or more and routine winds of 50 to 60 knots. “The extra steering rudders give 35 percent more side thrust, which can be the deciding factor when attempting to top the tow,” he said. “Also you don’t want to mess with those locks. In the locks you cannot use power to maneuver the tow (dead stick) and that’s why we went with the four steering rudders. They give exceedingly good control.”

During the sea trials, the turning and handling really proved their worth. “The boat does things that the pilot had never seen done before on the Columbia River,” said Townsend. “We were downward-bound with two loaded barges in 30-knot winds and we made a U-turn without ever backing and filling.”

The Reintjes reduction gear.

CT Marine had to design the exhausts to clear the pilothouse because of the 100-foot-high lock walls on the Columbia. The exhaust fumes, while sitting in the de-watered locks, have to be kept away from the crew. 

The Coast Guard’s Subchapter M has been in development for several years. “We were fortunate to have Corning Townsend as our naval architect to help us design a vessel that will comply with the anticipated final rule,” said Schwartz.

Adds Kramer, “It would pass any inspection they brought in.”

The vessel is powered by Caterpillar 3516 main engines running through Reintjes reduction gears. “On the sea trials the vessel met or exceeded every performance specification that we set for her. She is a great vessel,” said Schwartz.

In naming the boat, Tidewater aimed at connecting “the vessels to our people, our unique service area and in some way to our heritage and history operating on the Columbia/Snake River system. Crown Point is a designated National Natural Landmark and is recognizable to everyone whether they are a mariner or not. It marks the western edge of the gorge and our vessels have been traveling by the point for over 80 years.”

By Professional Mariner Staff