was visiting one of the Gulf Coast�s major shipyards recently. Admiring the huge expanse of space with its several big Manitowoc cranes capable of lifting many tons, he commented to the yard’s CEO, “I am intimidated by all the equipment and space that you have here.”
To which the CEO responded, “And I am intimidated by what you are able to build without all this equipment
and space.”This exchange sums up the respect that Rodriguez has earned over the years for the quantity and quality of vessels that he has been able to build and deliver from his small yard in Bayou LaBatre, The key to his success is the ability that he and his crew have of making do and careful on-site planning. Years ago Rodriguez had someone come in and teach him how to use a computer-assisted design program with which he has designed numerous vessels as well as doing the engineering design work on many others. In early September this year he once again demonstrated just how much a small yard can accomplish with good planning.
Just days after he had delivered one push boat, the Cummins-powered Christy Renee and with another towboat being fitted out alongside, he was preparing to turn two hulls right side up and install their pre-assembled three-level superstructures. At the same time he had two pairs of Cummins KTA38 engines ready to be lowered into the boats once their superstructures were in place. To lift and turn the hulls Rodriguez estimated at 125 tons each would require two mobile cranes, a 200 and a 300-ton version, at a very significant daily rental rate. There would be an additional set-up charge for moving the cranes in and out.
Rodriguez’ plan was to save on the set up charge by doing the two boats in succession. He was also hoping that, if all went smoothly, he could have both boats done in a single ten-hour day. He had been quoted $35,000 for the job done over the more usual two days. Having planed ahead to this job, when the hulls and superstructure were built he had placed them to minimize the amount of time the cranes would have to move them around in the narrow space that the yard occupies between a road and the bayou. On the evening of September 5 the cranes were set up in the yard. One was encountering mechanical problems so the yard gate was left open for the night and the yard lights were left on. “Use any of my equipment you need,” he told the crane crews as he left the yard for the evening.
First thing on the morning of September sixth both cranes were in fine shape and each had the huge shackles attached to pad-eyes that had been set in the first hull’s side shell. Rodriguez has leaned to set these in such a way as to minimize the jolting strain on the cranes as the hull turns past the vertical. He has also learned that a $100 load of dirt judiciously placed under the lower side of the hull being turned will cushion the roll over and prevent the kind of excitement that these exercises work to avoid. As the crane operators worked their levers to bring the hull of DRD Towing’s 74.5x30x10-foot hull up on its side, Rodriguez manned the front-end loader to reposition the pile of dirt under the hull. The operators then gently lower the hull onto the dirt before easing it over onto its bottom. The pins are backed out of the shackles and the two from one crane are reset in pad-eyes welded near the corners of the stern deck while the single shackle from the second crane is fitted to a single pad-eye mounted right forward. This allows the hull to be lifted in readiness for launching while chocks are set under it.
With the hull upright, one of the cranes is tasked to lift the large but relatively lighter superstructure. It is placed onto the deck where flanges have been designed and built in to accept it. By having everything in place and carefully mapped out in Rodriguez’ mind this operation goes quickly and smoothly. The first boat is done by 11:00 AM. A short lunch break is called before moving to the second hull.
After lunch the morning’s operations are repeated on the second hull and superstructure with, if anything, even better dispatch. This boat for Chem Carriers is, at 80x30x11-feet, a little larger than the first. Rodriguez tells an observer, with justifiable pride, “I estimated the weight to be 125 tons and the crane scales show it to be 120 tons.”
Safety margins are another aspect of good planning.
While the second hull is being turned and set up, the boat yard crews are already lifting the twin Cummins KTA38 M2 1200 hp engines into the first hull. Their two Twin Disc MG5321 gears with 5.96:1 ratios rest nearby ready to follow.
With the second hull turned and then moved onto the launch way chocks, one of the cranes is freed up. Workers began dismantling the counter balance weights and other attachments that will be loaded onto three waiting flatbed semis. The second crane moves right away to lift the house onto the newly righted hull. Joey Rodriguez is beaming. Not only did they complete both boats in one day, they did it in only eight hours and avoiding any overtime payments. Rather than the estimated $35,000 bill he would be paying less than $28,000 for a savings of more than $7,000.
It is the day-to-day successes like this that can keep small yard competitive and delivering boats on time and on budget. Rodriguez explains that success comes from embracing new technologies that will improve productivity while not buying equipment that can’t be justified. For the past 12 years he has been doing all his lofting of steel plate on his computer. “I can layout plate so much more effective,” he said, “When we lofted everything on the ground we would get 12 percent scrap left over, now I have that down to two percent. At today’s labor rates I couldn’t afford that and the computer is so much more accurate.”