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Feature: Boats We Love

Maritime Activity Reports, Inc.

March 5, 2004

By Don Sutherland

Every harbor has its share: hardworking boats that stand-out for some provacative reason. It's probably not for their beauty. Form follows function in most maritime architecture, and maybe there's a beauty in how functional these boats are. But such beauty resides in the mind more than the eye. And yet they're still head-turners. Every harbor has its share. In New York, three come to mind - aphabetically, Odin, Shelby Rose, and Twintube. You know 'em on sight. The first two are tugs, and sort of look it. As for the third, "I was trying to build something that would do everything," Luther Blount told us. It does. They do.


They say you'll see boats that resemble her out west. We've seen similar craft heading up the Rhine in Europe. But on New York harbor, Odin looks unique. "Like a praying mantis," said her longtime skipper, Capt. Royal Bailey, Jr.

It seems an apt description for a boat whose push knees rise up as they do, so close to the pilot house. And the pilot house itself completes the effect. Standing upon a hydraulic post you may not spot at first, the house seems almost afloat midair - or perhaps is connected by a short neck to the thorax of her deckhouse. Push knees and telescoping houses are familiar enough. It's their size and placement that makes the difference in Odin. We thought they made her look more like a sphinx, albeit a sphinx with forelegs drawn up to do take hold of something, and get to work. "I call her the harbor barge taxi, she never stops," Bob Mattson told us. Capt. Mattson is Executive Vice President of K-Sea Transportation Partners, which acquired the boat as part of the Eklof fleet when the new company took over (see MN, "K-Sea’s OK Seas" MN November 25, 2002 issue). "Her utilization is amazing," said Capt. Matson. "I have said for years she is the hardest working tug in New York." While a smattering of ship-assist and coastal work can be found on Odin's resume, moving barges is her forte. And, given her relatively compact dimensions for a New York pushboat - 73 feet long, just under 28 wide, 8-ft. draft - she's able to move barges in many of the harbor's cramped quarters.

Broad and varied to a spectacular degree, more like a sea when the weather kicks-up, New York harbor is not known best for tight turns. But like any harbor, it has its tributaries - the rivers and creeks that flow into it, with sites on their shores that take barges. "Our primary mission is creek work, with single-skin oil barges," Roy Bailey told us. "You have to really watch it in places like those." Westchester creek, Flushing creek, Newtown creek, the Gowanus, the Hackensack River, the Raritan - some of their bridges are low indeed. That's where the retracting house comes in handy - bringing the air draft down from 36 feet to 20. Head pulled-in, the mantis or sphinx adopts certain virtues of the turtle.

At first glance, to the untrained eye, Odin might have been taken for similar boat, the Redwing, run by Eklof years ago. But Redwing was single-screw and, as things turned-out, ill-fated. After Eklof sold her, Redwing sank off Florida. The story is told, in the best tall-tale style, on the Web: As for Odin, Capt. Bob Buschman, the relief skipper, calls here handling "mind-boggling" - this after years at the helm of the recently retired tanker Jet Trader. "She has Kort nozzles and flanking rudders, winches and cables to make up the tows. She's an agreeable boat for the crews. They normally don't have to handle lines. They hand the cable eye to the bargeman and the push winches are operated from the house." It almost sounds easy.

Odin was built in 1982 by Delaware Marine with twin 930-hp Detroit 16V149s, with Carl Mattson, Bob's brother, serving as Eklof's rep. "Delaware Marine was good at fabricating," Bob Mattson reports, "but not so swift at outfitting. She was run up to Eklof's yard but they had to redo a lot and had to complete the piping, electrical and automation." The modifications took about eight months. But once completed, they added up to a boat that doesn't stop. If you're new to New York and see a praying mantis over here, then awhile later a sphinx over there, don't be fooled. There's only one Odin.

Shelby Rose

The Shelby Rose is a tugboat, of this there is no doubt. She has all the parts where they belong - hull, gunwale, caps, deckhouse, wheelhouse, stack - but in proportions distinctly their own.

The wheelhouse is the tallest single part, the only true vertical in her lines. It seems disproportionate to the deckhouse. For the deckhouse, so low to the deck, is less a set of independent cabins than a roof raised over hull compartments. Freeboard? Let's say the Shelby was built for gentle southern waters, and looks it. So what's she doing, all blue and jaunty, up and down the Narrows, through the slop and chop of the bay of good old nasty New York? It must be something serious. You don't see a push knee on a model bow, unless a boat is very serious. According to Capt. Bob Henry of Island Marine & Towing, the Shelby Rose is better than serious. She's perfect. "When I first saw her," Capt. Henry told us, "I said that's exactly what I had in mind. For the longest time, I had crawled around boats, over boats, in boats, under boats, looking and looking, and didn't find what I needed. Then, when I got to Texas - " Texas? " - I took a look, and if you gave me a clean sheet of paper, I couldn't design a better boat." So that's where you have to go to get a perfect New York tugboat? Trinity Bay, Texas? "With the Shelby, I was able to step into a real niche," working the shallow creeks, canals, and rivers around New York. Shelby Rose draws only five feet, so she goes in where other tugs wait and watch. "Working in conjunction with construction companies," said Capt. Henry, "assisting tugs with docking and undocking, she moves around the docking area very well, unlike a deep-draft tug. The guys in the yards can't get over how she maneuvers." Inspection on that first day in Texas showed the boat to be "extremely well-built, very robust. I'd wanted a floating tank - something I could put up on the beach, and just back off when the time came. There's so much erosion going on, the waters are getting shallower. With the Shelby I can give you hours on either side of high tide - that's a big selling point for what I do."

And what Capt. Henry does with the Shelby is just about anything. In a petro town like New York, this includes a lot of run-of-the-mill barge handling - though a five-foot draft enables the Shelby to add a touch of service in the smaller estuaries around the city, Long Island, New Jersey, Connecticut.

The Shelby Rose is the little tug that could. She came all the way up from Galveston way, and she'll go wherever her package is needed. "We've been on the Erie canal, all the way to Lake Seneca for the Navy. We brought a barge 280 miles west of Albany. We've been all up and down Long Island and the south shore, Barnigat canal, Cape May - places where they haven't seen a tugboat in forty years.

"Not only can I tow the barge there, but I can deliver it up the thoroughfares exactly where it needs to go. It streamlines the operation. And with twin 6-cylinder Detroits totalling 480 HP, she doesn't burn much. So I don't have to charge through the nose." But besides the routine tows of the New York region, strong, compact tugs fill needs elsewhere. The Shelby had just spent a week breaking ice in Bridgeport when we went to press, and escorting "fast" ferries through the floes of February. And the 45-footer is the head office and traveling toolkit of Capt. Henry's other calling, salvage. "When I first saw her, the engineer in me was amazed by the size of the engine room. It was big enough for engines twice the size. I don't know why - there's no need for bigger engines, and you couldn't use bigger wheels anyway." But in the meantime, "in the salvage business, you can't have too much stuff - shackles, pumps, welding machines - I've got big tool boxes loaded with equipment. It takes a lot of space on what looks like a small tug, but there's nothing you can break on a boat that I can't fix." Because he can get where he needs to go, Capt. Henry's diving assignments often precede the surveys, or are the surveys, amid loose cables and things that go bump, in the dark, in the mud where a flashlight's no help. From his descriptions, you'd think it's as easy to get out of a tangle as it is to get in. Bob Henry had started a towing company that still bears his name (see "Independence Day," MN August 11, 2003 issue), but that company and its vessel went into a divorce settlement. Bob Henry spent a spell in the auto body business, while running the skimmer that cleans the surface at the Fresh Kills landfill. And he thought-through his niche in New York. "Shelby Rose was so perfect," he recounts, "that a year later I went back to Texas, and bought another just like her." The Rachel Marie (ex-R.M. Davis), like the Shelby Rose, is now named for the captain's daughters. The tugs had been designed for the drilling business. "Brown and Root built a half dozen or so of this model in the 1960s, for towing oil rigs. There was a lot of drilling concentrated around Galveston Bay, where the water was shallow. So they'd put 3 or 4 of these little tugs on a rig, and that's what they'd do for a few days - move the rigs, very slowly, to the next location. I understand the small tugs would break a channel in the bottom of Trinity Bay, then the rigs would break a deeper one." Tough little boats indeed.

"They drilled up all the oil in the shallow areas of Galveston Bay - sucked it dry," so the builder/operator's use for the distinctive little craft ended with the operation. "An outfit in Texas called General Supply, a clearing house for companies liquidating their assets, bought the boats from Brown and Root." Her skipper's had time to know the Shelby, and learn what she can take. "She's seen eight-foot seas in the Gulf and up here in the east. But I know when to stop.

"She's a wet boat, obviously, and up here you've got wind and tides and vicious currents. On an eight-foot sea, you feel like the captain of the Monitor. Or like a submarine skipper in your conning tower. Not a situation you want to make a habit of."

Still, a salver, by definition, goes places that damage vessels, sometimes with rough water. And that's where we learn that spiffy yellow trim is no decoration. The Shelby's rail just about clears the shins - yes, she's a southern boat indeed - and in heavy seas can submerge for awhile. "The yellow paint on the caprails lets you know where the end of the boat is," something you should know where the Shelby Rose goes.


Twintube may seem like an odd name for a stick lighter, and at first sight you'd think a stick lighter is what Twintube was born to be. And maybe she was. But boats besides harbor freighters have Twintube's general layout - broad, open fordeck, house aft - harbor tankers being an example. And both types of craft seem to be on the wane. Other methods of moving things have usurped boats like Twintube, for both liquid and dry cargoes. But the layout remains eminently practical for what Twintube does today. Indeed, it's hard to imagine a better design for bringing provisions and equipment to the varied deepwater ships visiting New York. A containerport like Port Elizabeth may contain goods from all over the world, but the best way to stock a containership still comes from the water. "We're the backbone of the harbor," said the gent at the wheel, Mate Kolanomic. Mate is his given name, not his rank. "Is like 'Matthew' in Croatian," he mentions as he steers toward the Eagle Birmingham with its load of provisions.

Capt. Kolanomic eases the broad 64-ft. craft against the Eagle Birmingham in place at Port Liz. Deckhand Rich Koczera climbs up with the paperwork while the skipper prepares to transfer his cargo.

Twintube has its own crane, but this time a line descends from the higher boom of the receiving vessel. Mike ties-up a stack of fresh fruits and veggies, palletized and shrink-wrapped, and up it goes. "They used to use baskets for this," says Capt. Kolanomic, "which made problem - where do you put them when they come back down empty?" Using pallets and shrinkwrap, Reynolds has in effect containerized the delivery of chandlery goods. Everything arrives at its destination clean and dry.

The deck is cleared swiftly, and the skipper turns his boat back toward the direction of Rosebank, Staten Island, adjacent to the Sandy Hook Pilots, where Reynolds' yard bustles with deliveries - all the way from Canada, according to one long-haul driver. Practically in the shadow of the Verrazano-Narrows bridge, itself midway between the New Jersey and the New England turnpikes, with spurs up the New York Thruway and out the Long Island Expressway, the Reynolds operation is an easy reach for anything that comes over the road. Much as Reynolds Shipyard can be considered a transportation hub, a lot of Twin Tube's loads wouldn't fit the highway. "We're tested for 65,000 pounds," said Capt. Kolanomic, "and we've carried loads of sandblasted brick, lifeboats, eight transformers for the Holland Tunnel, six tons each." Mike Reynolds also points out that with her broad, open forward deck, Twintube has proved ideal for movie-makers, who need unobstructed harbor shots from a platform with plenty of room for equipment. Capt. Kolanomic puts it flatly: "We can do anything with Twintube." Twintube. What kind of name is that for a stick lighter? "We acquired the boat in the late 1960s," said Mike Reynolds, "single-screw, with a 1671 Detroit. We added the A-frame and boom in the early 70s. Before that, she'd been a tanker. The tubes were petroleum tanks." And before they were petroleum tanks, it turns out, they were a way to reinforce a large, floating, open space that could, 53 years later, still "do anything."

"The only boats in the world like that," said Luther Blount, "were the ones I built - five or six of them." Twintube was Blount Built hull No. 6. The tubes were Capt. Blount's first maritime patent, in a portfolio that also includes a machine used in the manufacture of thread, and a better way for shucking clams. One of Twin Tube's first assignments was carrying a deckload of oysters from Bridgeport to Warren, Capt. Blount himself at the helm. Twintube and her siblings began with the tubes, with the hull added. "It's like a catamaran," Capt. Blount told us, "with a plate over it, a hull around it. When it came to putting the frames in, you knew from the tubes where to put them. You didn't have to think - just go do it. You end up with two tubular compartments plus a center compartment, and that gives you very good stability." With a tank manufacturer performing a large part of the "yard" work, "you can build a boat very easily and quickly. He'd cut the tanks any way I wanted, so they were cut on a bias one way to form a bow, another way for the stern. I built Twintube in about forty days, for under thirty-thousand." Although Capt. Blount's ambition was to produce a workboat that "would do anything," his tube concept found its way into such specialized craft as a ferryboat."The tubes gave the boat the longitudinal strength - a tank, like a pipe, is fairly strong. "I used to run all over with it, took it to New York to show it off. Everybody belittled it as a crazy looking thing. But I could go right back and build them so cheap. They were major influences in getting me into the boat building business." Twintube was launched on August 28, 1951, sponsored by Mrs. Willis Bount, Luther's mother. After operating Twintube himself as a freight boat for about eight months, Capt. Blount delivered the boat to John Leopold, who needed a tanker for his Staten Island Oil Company. Piping was added, and the conversion made. That all took place early in 1952. Having gone from freighter to tanker to freighter again, Twintube truly has "done everything." The era of the single-screw tanker having passed, the tubes that gave the boat her name have been substantially removed, their structural contributions substituted by other means. But Twintube she still looks like what she is - a unique variation of a classic configuration, a sight once ubiquitous in New York. As Luther Blount put it, "she's a piece of Americana."

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