Colin Black addressing the guests at the new vessel's commissioning.
The Colin B. McCall, named for noted mechanical engineer Colin Black, is a 160 by 30 ft. crew boat with an aft deck that is 91.5 by 24.75 ft. that can carry 280 long tons with about 7,000 gallons of fuel on board. Seating is provided for a total of 68 passengers with 52 of those in business class seats. Main propulsion is provided by four Cummins KTA38 M2 engines delivering 1,350 hp each in a Heavy Duty rating at 1,950 rpm for a total of 5,400 hp. A Thrustmaster 75 hp electric over hydraulic bow thruster is installed in a 24-in. tunnel. Electrical service is provided by two Cummins-powered 99 kW generator sets. The vessel's U.S gross registered tonnage in under 100 tons while the International Gross tonnage is under 400 tons. It is built to U..S Coast Guard Subchapter T/L and ABS load line. Tankage includes 20,986 gallons of fuel, 37,674 gallons of rig water and 1,232 gallons of fresh water. Sleeping accommodation is provided for eight with two in single bunks and six in double bunk rooms.
Colin Black, for whom the vessel is named, has had a remarkable influence on modern crew boat propulsion systems. Having gained a degree in engineering in Great Britain his career took him from the mines of Africa to China and eventually Cummins Marine in the U.S. He arrived in the U.S. just as demand was growing for higher output from the existing engines.
This demand let to one of those meetings of two minds whose combined energy is much greater than the sum of the two. Norman McCall was building a fleet of ever larger aluminum crew boats. The boats needed to carry heavier loads and they needed to travel faster to cover the great distances to the deeper wells in the Gulf of Mexico. Some engineers felt that the 19-litre engine couldn’t be made to provide the increased ratings, but Colin asked of the higher rated engine, "Does it break cranks, con-rods or blocks? Anything else we can fix."
The changes were incremental. They upgraded the cylinder head design, tweaked the manifold and a number of other details to build a higher output engine that met the demand for improved power to weight ratio. But McCall and his oil industry clients wanted still bigger boats with still more speed.
Norman McCall built the 165 x 30-ft. Hilda McCall in 1997 with the larger K-V 12 cylinder engines. Just over a year later, they built the first of two 180 x35-footers. With over 15 ft. added to the length and five feet added to the beam, these were much bigger boats. Running light, the 165-footer made a comfortable 26 knots. A similar speed was achieved by the 180-footers.
The key to this is in the engines. The Hilda has four of Cummins' KTA38-M2s now tuned to produce 1,350 hp continuous duty each at 1,950 rpm. The new boat has six of the powerful engines for a total of 8100 hp making her the most powerful crew boat built on the Gulf to that date.
This increase in horsepower from each engine and the increase in total horsepower for the boats, did not happen with out multiple challenges. But once again, Colin Black’s commitment to meeting customer needs with technical intelligence paid off. While Norman McCall demanded
ever more power, he also gave remarkable support to the Cummins technicians. "Norman said, ‘You can try anything that you want on my boats that are in service, as long as anything that you break you fix," Colin recalled of those pressure filled times.
Through the late 1990s and early 2000s, the crew boats were being built at a number of good aluminum shipyards along the Alabama and Louisiana shore. Several of the Seacor McCall boats were built at Gulf Craft in Patterson and Neuville in New Iberia. Errol Neuville recalls, "We can put the aluminum together, but Colin can solve any problem. He’ll get on a boat and ride it until he solves the problem. We in South Louisiana are very good at the mechanical aspects but Colin helped us gain in the technical areas. In the last several years we have seen so much growth in technology. Colin designed a cooling system with an expandable heat exchanger. For any problem that we run into, Colin says, ‘Don’t worry about it’ and then he finds a solution."
Some of Colin’s inventions came from his personal "tinkering". He has always had his own workshop and delights in finding solutions even before a problem is identified by the market. Noting that operators were having to pay to dispose of used lube oil and the filters, Colin set out to design a system that would reduce the need to change oil and filters. Today this is widely acclaimed as the Cummins Centinel Advanced Engine Oil Management System, but it started on the back of a napkin in a Dutch restaurant. Colin was making the sketches and then made the prototype back at the Cummins Marine plant in Charleston South Carolina. Simple in concept, the system uses advanced software to remove a small amount of used oil from the lubrication system and send it to the fuel tank. The used oil blends with the diesel fuel and is burned with the fuel during combustion. Not only does it minimise the need for oil disposal, it also converts used oil into productive energy.
As the Centinel System blends used engine oil into the fuel stream, it simultaneously adds new oil from a makeup tank into the engine. Centinel’s continuous replacement process allows oil and filter changes to be extended and minimizes oil disposal. The result is a better- protected, better-running engine and significantly reduced risk of someone inadvertently dropping a bucket of used oil filters overboard when transferring them to the dock.
After Colin had developed the prototype he installed it on a test engine and ran it hard. When he was asked to present his research at a Cummins lube oil seminar he recalled, "I took an already built prototype of the Cummins Centinel to the meeting in a U.S. Airways plastic flight bag. It was dripping oil all over the place, but the people saw that this was a real working piece of equipment, not just some theoretical idea. That original prototype is still on the Cummins B-series engine in my 1980 pick-up truck."
The reward for diesel technicians like Colin who find solutions, is that they are presented with fresh challenges. No sooner were the 180-foot crew boats in service, than a 190-foot crew boat was proposed. They were built with four of Cummins’ 16-cylinder KTA50 main engines for a sea splitting 7200 hp. By all accounts this should be the penultimate vessel size as it takes the regulation "under 100 ton" category to its limits. In addition to the shear size and weight of such a big vessel, a small ship really, the owners were adding further innovations such as dynamic positioning systems that use Global Positioning systems and computers to allow a boat to automatically hold position even when working in adverse weather conditions under an oil rig.
The boats have electronic controls for four main engines and six more auxiliary engines combined with further electronic controls for ride stabilizers, dynamic positioning that involved the bow thruster and a myriad of other electronically controlled mechanical functions. The complexity of these new boats requires 20 onboard computers and has more in common with a 747 passenger jet than many maritime vessels. Kerry Neuville described Colin’s approach to the problem. "Colin simplified the design so that he was able to take a 1.5-inch bundle of cable and reduce it to a 5/8-in. cable. He can find a way to fit anything and make it look simple."
The commissioning of the crew boat Colin B. McCall is a fitting tribute to the man who has solved the problems presented by these big horsepower boats.