Vane Bros. keeps shipyards busy: Brandywine and Choptank

Vane Bros. has been keeping the shipyards busy with construction of new oil barges, wire towing vessels and ocean-going tugs with articulated connection systems. (Jim Demske, Brian Gauvin)

Vane Bros. of Baltimore is a traditional towed-barge type of company, but already there are towing industry veterans at Vane Bros. who say they never want to go back to conventional tugboats after just one or two tours on the company’s newest vessel — a 6,000-hp, articulated tug that almost never comes out of the notch of its 140,000-barrel oil barge.

“I’ve worked on all kinds of tugs, including some smaller ATBs, but with this one I think I’ve found my niche,” said Capt. Bruce Robercht aboard the new Vane Bros. tug Brandywine. “Most folks who get into a position like this would never want to go back to a wire boat,” he added. (Chip Kinsey is alternate captain aboard Brandywine.)

Vane Brothers introduced the first of two such ATB units in January 2007, after the vessels barely made it out of the Great Lakes before the onset of winter ice season. Brandywine, the new tug, was built at Bay Shipbuilding, Sturgeon Bay, Wis., while the barge, Double Skin 141, was constructed simultaneously at Marinette Marine Corp., Marinette, Wis. The second ATB unit, Christiana, along with the new barge, Double Skin 143, is slated to make its escape from the lakes later this year.

(Jim Demske, Brian Gauvin)

These are unmanned barges, with a combined nine-man crew for both vessels living aboard the 123-foot tug. Normal crew includes a captain, mate, cargo mate, chief engineer, assistant engineer, deck utility man and two tankermen.

The barge, with an Intercon articulated coupler system, is designed to carry both heated oil products as well as clean oil. It is nearly three times the size of any other vessel in the Vane Bros. fleet.

Meanwhile, as if design and construction of two such massive vessels as these is not enough, Vane Bros. is in the midst of a building program involving 15 conventional 4,200-hp towing vessels and as many as 20 new double-hulled barges. Most recently delivered were the tugs Potomac, Tuckahoe and Choptank, all of which are in service moving clean-oil products on the East Coast. Choptank is the fifth tug of the total planned new-boat rollout.

All of the new wire boats are standardized to a design originally created by Frank Basile of Entech Associates, Houma, La. They include Caterpillar electronically controlled diesels, John Deere auxiliary power generators and Intercon double-drum towing winches driven by John Deere diesel engines. Their propulsion gear is enhanced by CNF Type 37 propeller nozzles and high-performance rudders, according to Jim Demske, port captain.
As one would expect for wire towing boats, their aft decks are equipped with heavy deck sheaves and fairleads for push gear, plus H-bitts and a full-width towing bar stretching across the stern. An aft control station provides full view of the deck area when maneuvering with a tow.

Vane Bros. tug Choptank is launched at a Louisiana shipyard. (Jim Demske, Brian Gauvin)

Thoma-Sea Shipbuilding in Houma, La., built most of the wire boats for Vane. This past spring, however, Vane Bros. signed a contract to have several additional tugs built at Chesapeake Shipbuilding, Salisbury, Md. These are also 3,000-hp, 92-foot wire towing boats.

The big news at Vane Bros., however, is the introduction of the articulated tug-barge unit with a second one soon to follow. Both are under long-term contract to Sunoco. Brandywine and its barge visited Baltimore for some final fitting out after getting clear of the Great Lakes and then immediately went to work for Sunoco, bringing its first cargo of Six Oil from Baltimore to Galveston.

Both the tug and the barge are close sister ships to Penn Maritime’s tug Capt. Hagen and barge Key West, both built at the same shipyards and introduced in 2004. While the tug was designed by Bob Hill’s Ocean Tug & Barge Engineering, the barge was created by Corning Townsend of CT Marine in Maine and Guarino & Cox of New Orleans. The designs were upgraded as required to meet the specific needs of Vane Bros. Supervising the entire project was Jason Knoll, naval architect for Vane Bros.

The 480-foot barge carries a 78-foot beam and a deep draft of 28 feet. Its stern notch is about 40 feet deep. It is designed to carry 21,500 tons of cargo with state-of-the-art heating and cargo control systems. With three cargo pumps operating the barge is designed to discharge oil at a combined rate of better than 21,000 barrels per hour, according to its design specs.

The barge is uniquely configured to engage in underway lightering, with two Yokohama fenders to be deployed on the port side, and a connection system that allows the barge to slide up and down in the notch as the barge changes draft, while still pushing ahead in reasonable conditions. This latest technology from Intercon, which allows the tug to depressurize the pins, then disengage the pins from teeth in the skeg ladders by rotating the helmets 90° so that a smooth plating is facing the pins. In this 90° rotated position, the helmet teeth do not mesh with the matching teeth in the barge notch, but the smooth facing of the helmets is still engaged in the steel “ladder” to lock the vessel into the barge notch. Thus the pins can temporarily slide up and down within the notch — long enough for draft adjustment — while still remaining mechanically engaged with the barge.

The largest oil barge in the Vane Bros. fleet, Double Skin 141 is pushed out of the Great Lakes by the new tug Brandywine. Sister vessels of both barge and tug are under construction.  (Jim Demske, Brian Gauvin)

“It’s very useful because it allows you to keep adjusting your draft without totally disconnecting, and then you can reengage the teeth later when conditions are appropriate,” said the tug’s captain.

Brandywine and its barge are among the first few tug-barge units to incorporate this newly developed feature from Intercon.

“The customer requested that we have this capability, as there are times when they might be able to avoid long periods of lightering at anchor by accomplishing the same thing underway, and the tug has to keep adjusting for the difference in its own draft and the barge’s draft as it is loaded or unloaded,” said Vane’s Knoll. The naval architect said the next Vane Bros. barge may have three Yokohama fenders instead of two to better facilitate landings alongside a tanker, and those fenders will likely be located on the starboard side instead of port to facilitate lightering by two barges at the same time.

Double Skin 141’s profile is dominated by four large deckhouses located aft of amidships. These structures house the three pump engines and related equipment, ship’s office, electrical generators and switchboard equipment, 28,000 gallons of diesel fuel tankage, and the cargo heating equipment. Equipment aboard the barge includes both John Deere and Caterpillar diesels, deck gear from Coastal Marine Equipment, thermal fluid heating furnace from Volcanic, and a 500-hp hydraulic bow thruster from Thrustmaster of Texas.

The two forward deck houses are higher than they might normally be to accommodate additional radiator cooling systems for the cargo pump engines, as required by EPA regulations, which stipulate that such diesel engines run at cooler operating temperatures to help reduce emissions, according to Knoll.

A long list of possible changes for the second Vane Bros. barge — many of them suggested by crewmembers — includes adoption of the Bergen radar tank gauging system to ballast tanks and conversion of the all-wire mooring line system to a combination of soft line and wire rope.

The 123-foot tug Brandywine, powered by a pair of 12-cylinder EMD 710 diesels generating 6,000 hp, has been turning in pushing speeds of 10.5 to 11 knots, whether loaded or in ballast, according to Capt. Robercht.

“I think everyone is happy with the speeds we’ve been getting and with the way the unit handles,” he said. “There are many times, like when we are in ballast, when we don’t need a tug assist because of that 500-hp bowthruster. And we came all the way down from the Great Lakes to the mid-Atlantic, through 15 sets of locks, and never once had a tug assist,” he added.

By Professional Mariner Staff