Vane Brothers changes course with new ATB class


Over the last decade, Vane Brothers upgraded its fleet with nearly 25 new model bow tugboats. But with those big projects winding down, the company has set its sights on a new articulated tug-barge (ATB) class.

The lead tugboat Assateague went to work in mid-February with the 80,000-bbl barge Double Skin 801. Since then, the vessels have hauled clean oil products from Texas to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., with additional stops at several Gulf of Mexico ports.

Jim Demske, Vane’s senior port captain overseeing tugboat construction, said the vessel showed impressive handling during sea trials and has remained a high performer since joining the fleet.

“The first load the guys took was in Texas City and from there they headed for Port Everglades. The entire way over, the crew reported beam seas of 8 to 10 feet, but the tug and barge rode beautifully,” he said.

Castleman Maritime designed Assateague and sister tugboats Chincoteague and Wachapreague, due in July and November 2018, respectively. Bristol Harbor Group designed the barges. Conrad Shipyard is building the tugs and barges for this project.

Baltimore-based Vane Brothers’ fleet has nearly 150 tugs and barges, yet Assateague and DS-801 are just its third ATB unit. Most Vane tugs are model bow workhorses that tow 50,000-bbl barges between East Coast ports or push 30,000-bbl bunker barges around Northeast, mid-Atlantic and Caribbean harbors.

Assateague’s two predecessors are Brandywine and Christiana, both built about 12 years ago at Bay Shipbuilding. At 110 feet and 4,400 hp, the new ATB tug is shorter and less powerful than those earlier vessels, which measure 116 feet, have 6,000 total hp and move 140,000-bbl barges.

For the new class, the 80,000-bbl capacity fit an important niche. “It was what the market was really dictating,” Demske said. “There was a lot of need for that 75,000- to 80,000-bbl quantity to be moved. There is no sense in having a 150,000-bbl barge to move around if it is only going to be moving 70,000 or 80,000 bbl at a time.”

Assateague is paired with the 80,000-bbl Double Skin 801. The barge is built to haul clean oil products.

Vane Brothers/Jim Demske

Vane hired naval architect Greg Castleman, whose namesake firm based outside Houston has a reputation for solid, easy-to-build designs. Castleman’s objective was to design a functional, powerful ATB tug that came in under 500 gross tons, thereby sidestepping SOLAS requirements.

He achieved it, with three tons to spare, by minimizing volumes everywhere possible. The narrow tower connecting the pilothouse to the superstructure is one notable example.

The location of the Beacon Finland JAK-700 coupler system is also unique. Rather than sharing a single room in the forward hull, the pin mechanisms are located in separate spaces. At 38 feet from the bow, the pins are further aft than in some comparable ATBs.

“I put them where I thought they should go, and then put the design in front of Beacon Finland and they said that it was absolutely the ideal location for reducing pin loads and keeping motion under control on the boat,” Castleman said in a recent interview.

Another quirk of the Assateague class: It shares key design elements with tractor tugs long favored by Bisso Towboat Co. of Luling, La., including Liz Healy. Below deck, the hull forms on both tugs are nearly identical, even though Assateague is 10 feet longer.

“It was done by scaling the length,” Castleman explained. “The basic shape of the hull is the same, the width is the same, and it was a very successful hull form in getting flow to the propellers.”

Propulsion aboard the ATB comes from twin 2,200-hp Cummins QSK60 Tier 3 engines turning 102-inch Hung Shen props through Reintjes WAF 873 reduction gears. Electrical power comes from twin 125-kW Cummins gensets and a single 65-kW Cummins emergency unit. Assateague’s running speed is a brisk 13 knots light or 10 knots pushing a loaded barge.

The 403-by-74-foot DS-801 has 10 cargo tanks and is outfitted with an OmniThruster HT600 bow thruster. Electrical power comes from three John Deere 294-kW generators and a fourth Deere unit generating 99 kW. Twin Vapor Power ONC-5937-AHK-50 units provide cargo heating capabilities. Schoellhorn-Albrecht Machine Co. of St. Louis built a custom gangway linking the tug and barge.

Bristol Harbor Group of Bristol, R.I., adapted the barge plans from a previous design developed for another Conrad customer. Castleman provided computational fluid dynamics data on the tug, which Bristol Harbor took into account with this project. The two firms worked closely to make sure the vessels would function well together during various operating conditions.

“The misnomer is that a barge is a dumb piece of equipment,” Bristol Harbor Vice President Cory Wood said. “They are complex systems. When you start taking into account cargo heating systems, cargo pumping systems, electrical systems, bow thrusters, deck equipment and all the hydraulics … there are a lot of pieces that have to be integrated in a small unit.”

Steve Magdeburger, Vane Brothers’ special projects manager, worked closely with Bristol Harbor Group and oversaw construction at Conrad Deepwater South in Amelia, La. Conrad Orange of Orange, Texas, is building the tugs.

Assateague and DS-801 are just the third ATB in Vane Brothers’ fleet of more than 150 tugs and barges.

Steve Magdeburger/Vane Brothers

Assateague has a comfortable wheelhouse finished in mahogany and equipped with Simrad and Furuno electronics. Closed-circuit cameras offer a glimpse of the back deck, engine room and other key spaces. The height of eye is 53 feet.

Vane’s newbuild tugs have made crew comfort a priority and Assateague is no different. The vessel has six cabins, each with flat-screen TVs with satellite service, and berthing for 10.

The tankerman also can monitor the barge from a computer terminal installed adjacent to the crew’s mess.

Thermal acoustic coatings laid under insulation reduce vibration and engine noise. Dex-O-Tex poured floors also were installed above a layer of sound-deadening material to make crew spaces even quieter. Prominent use of LED lighting reduces generator loads and the number of spare bulbs on board.

“The men have been giving nothing but glowing praise for her,” Demske said, adding that “a lot of these guys are seasoned ATB men, and they were able to critique her pretty well.”

Assateague is named for a barrier island within Maryland and Virginia, while Chincoteague is a barrier island in Virginia. Wachapreague, the third tug in the class, is named for a coastal Virginia town. The second and third vessels will be paired with barges DS-802 and DS-803, which will carry black oil and heated asphalt, respectively.

“We owe it to our customers and our crews to have the safest, most advanced and efficient fleet in operation,” Vane Brothers President C. Duff Hughes said of the new vessels.

The ATBs aren’t the only new vessels Vane Brothers is expecting over the next year or so. The company has two more 4,200-hp Elizabeth Anne-class model bow tugs coming from St. Johns Ship Building of Palatka, Fla., and Chesapeake Shipbuilding of Salisbury, Md., is building three more 3,000-hp Sassafras-class model bow tugs. The company also announced in late 2017 that Chesapeake will build four 3,000-hp push tugs, the first of which is expected in early 2019.

“You can see,” Hughes said, “that we are covering all of our bases.”

Highlights: Lead tug in new ATB class • Coupler pins installed in separate rooms • Designed to stay under 500 tons
By Professional Mariner Staff