Vane Bros. gets energized with Elizabeth Anne class


Even the Energizer bunny would tire trying to keep up with a decade of fleet expansion by Vane Bros. In the wake of building 24 tugs and a slew of barges, the Baltimore-based energy transportation company is building four more 100-footers and four more 94-foot tugs with options for two more in each class.

The spree began in 2004 when Patapsco, the first of a 15-boat run, left the Thoma-Sea Marine boatyard in Houma, La., and joined the Vane fleet in Baltimore. That spurt ended with the completion of Severn, delivered from Thoma-Sea in 2008. The Patapsco class, designed to push 55,000-bbl tank barges servicing ports on the Eastern Seaboard, is named for rivers feeding Chesapeake Bay.

Then in 2008, Chesapeake Shipbuilding of Salisbury, Md., delivered the 94-foot, 3,000-hp Sassafras, the first of nine tugs. That spurt ended in 2014 with the delivery of Fells Point. The Sassafras class, named for coves and tributaries feeding the Chesapeake Bay, is primarily designed to push 30,000-bbl tank barges and will ply the more shallow rivers and inlets of the Eastern Seaboard.

Later in 2014, Vane contracted with St. Johns Ship Building of Palatka, Fla., to construct four of the 100-foot vessels, with options for an additional two. Although essentially the same boat as the Patapsco class built at Thoma-Sea, they are now called the Elizabeth Anne class. The first boat, Elizabeth Anne, named for the mother of Vane Bros. owner Duff Hughes, will be delivered this fall. 

Both classes of tug are based on designs by naval architect Frank Basile, designs that have their origins in the late 1980s.

“There are a lot of them out there,” said the 90-year-old Basile, founder of Entech Designs LLC of Houma, La. “They’ve all been tweaked since the first one back in the late ’80s. There was also the tug, New Orleans, for Crescent Towing that we did up in a harbor configuration. They’ve been tweaked and Vane has rearranged the engine room.”

The original Elizabeth Anne was refurbished in 1989 at Allied Shipyard in La Rose, La. “We brought her back to Baltimore to start our tug fleet,” said Jim Demske, Vane Bros. port captain and head of new construction.

Vane Bros. donated the older tug to Kings Point Maritime Academy last year for training use. “Our owner decided to use the name Elizabeth Anne again for the first tug coming out of St. Johns in the late fall of 2015,” said Demske.

Chesapeake Shipbuilding is building four more of the Sassafras-class tugs with options for two more. The first, Kings Point, named after the United States Merchant Marine Academy at Little Neck Bay on the East River in Long Island, was delivered in mid-April. The second, Fort Schuyler, named after the State University of New York Maritime College at Throggs Neck in the Bronx, was launched the first week of April. The third tug is Fort McHenry, whose name pays homage to the fort famous for defending Baltimore Harbor in the War of 1812. The fourth tug is nameless for the moment.

A JonRie winch on the stern.

Each class of tug is essentially the same as its predecessor in appearance and mission, but there are differences. Demske has overseen the construction of all of the tugs and can virtually build them in his head at this point. He has worked closely with Basile over the years to improve them — tug by tug.

“Most companies don’t have the opportunity to build so many boats all in the same way,” he said. “They’re Entech’s design with input from me and the yards to refine and improve the boats from Frank’s originals. There are a lot of subtle changes from the first ones at Thoma-Sea and later Chesapeake and now at St. Johns.”

The repetitive nature of the interior arrangements of the machinery spaces, crew quarters and the pilothouse make it easier for crewmembers moving from one boat to another, especially the engineers working in engine rooms with identical layouts.

“Those identical layouts can be a huge comfort when you’ve got to get a boat up and running at 3 in the morning on your first night aboard,” said Demske.

The first run of tugs built at Thoma-Sea have nozzles and foil rudders. The 4,200-hp version of the tugs under construction at St. Johns will have open wheels and foil rudders. All of the Sassafras-class tugs built and under construction at Chesapeake are open-wheel boats with large barn door rudders. Demske considers nozzles unnecessary and an actual detriment to maneuverability on boats that are involved in bunkering and barge tending in confined areas.

When the Sassafras-class tug Charles Burton was delivered, Vane Bros. Capt. Darren Grover reported that the open-wheeled tugs had much more maneuverability, and that you could flank a barge right into a slip. He added that the Troost-style wheels are set up for speed and backing.

“And in shoal areas, the nozzles tend to suck up everything within reach and pull it right into the water stream going through there,” said Demske.

After the Louisiana boats were built, Demske and Basile worked out improvements to the upper pilothouse, a nest where the captain and mate dwell for long periods of time when pushing barges. They made the windows taller and increased the angle on the forward-facing windows to minimize reflections. The diameter of the stanchions supporting the upper pilothouse was increased to give a more substantial look to the tugs.   

Prior to Kings Point, both the lower and upper house of all of the tugs were finished in Spanish cedar. With Kings Point, Demske went to African mahogany because he couldn’t find good-quality cedar in large quantities. Another development is less wood and more soft-core paneling, a fire-resistant sandwich of coiled steel fibers between thin metal sheets, on the walls and ceilings of the new tugs.

Caterpillar 3512C Tier 3 engines.

And, consistent with the Louisiana-built boats, access to the upper pilothouse is by way of Lapeyre-style ladder stairs. Called the alternating tread stair, the Lapeyre stair is just that, a single-foot tread that alternates left and right to allow a comfortable face-forward descent with close-fitting handrails for support.

Demske came upon the Lapeyre stair some years ago, utilized as a pipeline crossing on an oil rig, and took note for future reference. “When we built the Patapsco at Thoma-Sea, I thought they would make the exterior access a little safer. They are OSHA-approved and safer, and that’s what I like about them. We’ve used them from then on.”

All of the improvements above are important, but the big change is the jump to Tier 3 emissions control for both classes of tug.

The 4,200-hp Elizabeth Anne tugs under construction at St. Johns have Caterpillar 3516C Tier 3 mains with Reintjes WAF 873 reverse reduction gears rated at 7:1 and Troost-style propellers.

The 3,000-hp Sasafrass-class tugs under construction at Chesapeake have the smaller Caterpillar 3512C Tier 3 mains with Twin Disc MGX 5600 reverse reduction gears rated at a 6:1 ratio and Troost-style propellers.

The new Caterpillar engine operating panels for Tier 3 and 4 emissions control are 50 percent larger than the older models for Tier 2 engines and below. “The bracket alone weighs 120 pounds,” said Demske. “It’s a challenge trying to figure out where to put the new equipment for the Tier 3 and 4 engines because the physical size of the boat hasn’t changed much, but the equipment is so much bigger and there is more of it. You can’t just build a bigger boat all the time.” The panels on Kings Point are fastened to the engine room bulkhead about three feet from the engines, a successful solution according to Demske, and one that will be repeated on subsequent boats.

Fitting Reintjes gears on the 4,200-hp tugs and Twin Disc gears on the 3,000-hp tugs came about because Reintjes needed a year’s lead time to set up a new production line to build a new model of gear for the smaller tugs.

“So I went to Twin Disc and have been happy with them on the smaller boats,” said Demske. “They work fine for getting up into the smaller creeks and tributaries on Long Island and the rivers off the Chesapeake. The Reintjes gears on the 4,200-hp boats with their 7:1 ratio is almost the perfect combination with the Cat 3516 engines.”

Another difference between the two classes of tug is the winch requirements to perform the different tasks on each. The Vane tugs are most often configured with a barge in either a model bow makeup or in the notch. In each case, the stern winch is primarily used to cinch up the face wires wound through the deck sheaves on the stern. Consequently, the features of auto-tensioning and clutched winches are not as important as on a ship-assist tug.

Twin Disc MGX 5600 reverse reduction gears in Kings Point.

The 100-foot Patapsco and Elizabeth Anne-class tugs are equipped with the massive Intercon DD-200 double-drum towing winch on the stern. The main drum is wound with 2,400 feet of 2-inch wire, and the secondary drum is wound with 1,800 feet of 1.75-inch wire. 

The 94-foot Sassafras tugs have a JonRie Series 500 single-drum towing winch on the stern wound with 2,000 feet of 1.75-inch wire.

Demske, impressed with the simplicity and dependability of the big Intercon winch, also appreciates the company’s support. “I can send Clare Kuhlman at Intercon in St. Louis a question about the winch and he gets back to me with a detailed report that anyone could understand. He keeps it simple. If you’ve got an Intercon on your boat, you’ve gone from a Chevy Impala to a Cadillac. They are strong, robust winches for the work we’re doing and the crews wish we could put them on all of our boats. We are very interested in the new 24-inch pin Intercon coupler for some plans we have in the works.”

Be that as it may, the single-drum JonRie is more than adequate for the smaller tugs conducting shorter tows and bunkering jobs in harbors. “They’re ideal for that,” said Demske. “There is no need for the larger, more costly, Intercon winch for the smaller boats.”

Each class of tug has an H-bitt on the bow and a JonRie capstan on the stern.

The entire 24-inch perimeter shear strake of both classes of tug is wrapped with laminated fendering supplied by M&M Bumpers of Bourg, La. The bow has a typical model bow fender with a big bow pudding. 

The two shipyards are very different when it comes to process, according to Demske. The St. Johns yard, tucked in along the St. John’s River 60 miles south of Jacksonville, is an all-inclusive yard that does all its own steel cutting, fabricating and finishing. “It’s not a pre-packaged boat and the joiner package is very good here,” said Demske. “The yard is very tight and efficient and the whole layout is unique and makes it very attractive to build here. And the fit and finish is very good here.”

At Chesapeake, real estate is much tighter but growing, due to a recent land acquisition and facility expansion. But tight space didn’t prevent them from building relatively large cruise ships such as American Eagle for American Cruise Lines. “Chesapeake is very efficient and they pay attention to detail,” said Demske. “The Vane tugs were the first tugs they built but they’ve proven themselves to be very capable of building tugs.”

In early April, Demske took Kings Point out on its first trial. “The tug is running very nice,” he reported. “It’s the same boat as the previous tugs, but it is a little quieter and a little safer since we put in the soft-core panels on the walls and ceiling.”

By Professional Mariner Staff