2007: Heart Transplant–Caterpillar Re-Powers Corps of Engineers Dredge Essayons

A story I wrote in 2007 for Diesel Progress magazine became an official Caterpillar press release titled Eight Cat® engines re-power the dredge “Essayons,” providing more power, improved efficiency, and emissions compliance for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

(Needless to say I was not credited or paid for this!)


The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers operates two hopper dredges on the west coast of the U.S.A. to maintain shipping channels. The largest and most modern of them is the “Essayons,” built by Bath Iron works in Bath, Maine in 1982. Based in Portland, Oregon, the 106.7 meter Essayons works in harbors between Alaska and California, as well as in Hawaii. Routine work occurs on the edge of shipping channels while commercial ships pass nearby, and also close to jetties, reefs and wrecks, even in marginal weather, so both vessel and crew must be prepared for every eventuality.

Essayons was originally powered by 4x EMD 645 main engines (two for propulsion and two for dredge pumping) and 3x Cat D399 generator sets. In addition to its normal navigation equipment and hotel needs for a crew of 24, the ship needs 60 Hz power to run numerous valves, including those used for flushing and jetting in the hoppers and filling the ballast tanks. After 25 years in service, the main engines were showing their age, and did not meet the latest air-quality standards for California harbours.


Consequently, the U.S. Congress approved funds to re-power the ship and install a new power-distribution system. The new line-up consists of eight EPA Tier 2 compliant Cat marine engines: 4x Cat C280-12 main engines, 3x Cat 3512C generator sets and 1x Cat C18 emergency generator set. The Halton Company, the local Cat® dealer, provided consulting services for the installation, with Cascade General providing project management at the Portland Shipyard.

Unfortunately, engine rooms seldom allow for easy engine replacement. All the piping and wire runs in the forward engine room bulkhead had to be dismantled, and an opening was cut toward the hopper to prepare for the re-power. After the old engines were removed, the new Cat C280-12 engines, weighing a total 40 tons with generators, were craned into the hold and skidded into position.

The Cat C280-12 is a 222 L, vee-type, 12 cylinder, medium-speed marine engine with electronic ADEM™ A3 control. It produces 3,460 kW at 900 rpm for continuous service and meets EPA Tier 2 emission standards. The dredge’s two outer C280-12 units are fitted with reduction gears turning controllablepitch propellers that enable the engines to run at an efficient 750-950 rpm while the ship is dredging at only 1-2 knots. The two inner units are connected to Kato 600 V generators each producing 3,250 kW of electrical power.

The smaller Cat 3512C generator sets are located in a separate engine room and are also connected to Kato generators, each rated 1,030 kW at 1,800 rpm. All three generator sets are set on flex mounts to reduce vibration and noise.

An automated power management system monitors engine functions, temperatures, and pressures, which are displayed on ten computer work stations in various locations on the bridge, engine room, and fire-fighting station.

The two Cat C280 generator sets supply power to the 600 V bus, whereas the three Cat 3512C generator sets serve the 480 V bus. The dredge pumps and the bow thruster run off the 600 V bus, and the dredging hydraulics, as well as the rest of the ship’s electrical load, run off the 480 V bus. Both busses are cross-connected via circuit breakers and a transformer, guaranteeing maximum flexibility in load sharing.

Located high above the waterline is the 6 cylinder Cat C18 emergency generator set, developing 425 ekW at 1,800 rpm, which is sufficient to keep the lights running should the ship be damaged by some hazard.


“The new engines have greatly improved our operational efficiency,” said Captain James Holcroft, who has been in command of the Essayons for six years. “With the old engines, when dredging upstream and going against a strong current, we barely had enough power to maintain forward motion. With the new Cat engines, we have an extra 2,000 hp enabling us to get the job done even under difficult conditions.”

Holcroft also emphasized the improvements achieved because of electronic engine control and performance monitoring. “We are able to spot potential problems at an early stage by checking engine data on the control displays. And by having 100 percent Cat power on board, we only need to stock one brand of spare parts.”

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2017: Old Astoria Pilot Boat Arrow 2 Returns

The pilot boat Arrow 2 disappeared from the Astoria waterfront in 2012 and has been greatly missed by the seamen who admired its unique traditional hull shape and general low-tech appearance. There was much speculation about its final disposition: would it become a reserve boat for Foss, be converted into a pleasure boat, or rust away as a derelict on some backwater of the lower Columbia, the river where it spent its entire life?

Many former crews dreamed about restoring the old boat, but it was Mark Schacher, a former Foss employee, who finally took on the responsibility—and liability—of owning a boat that has been painted and photographed almost as many times as the wreck of the Peter Iredale. After a year’s hard work in the hangar at Tongue Point–cutting out rusted plate, sand blasting, welding and painting–Mark finally has the boat in first-class shape and looking as good as new. and plans to offer waterfront tours for up to six passengers this summer..

The Arrow 2 was built in 1960 at a time when the bar pilots still relied on a rowboat to cross from the pilot boat to the ships several miles away from land. So the new steel launch was a step up from its predecessor—a wooden boat of the same name built in the early 1900’s. The new Arrow 2 was also built for the long run and spent spent over 50 years ferrying Columbia Bar and Columbia river pilots out to ships passing the Astoria waterfront.

With an average of 2,000 ship visits per year—in both directions–that works out to about 200,000 quick trips from the 12th Street dock and back, under four owners and several generations of crews. Around 2000, the bar pilots began riding a helicopter out to sea to meet incoming ships, but the 52′ X 14′ steel harbor launch with its wooden wheel, hard bench seats, and single large propeller remained a sentimental favorite until it was retired in 2012. (It was replaced by a modern CAMARC design built in the Foss Rainier Yard upstream from Astoria.

The Arrow 2 was relaunched on April 24 using the WW II Catalina seaplane ramp at Tongue Point and I was the first visitor to board the boat in its new role. Mark told me he had researched the boat’s early history and learned that the hull was designed by the owner of Arrow Launch Co. Jim Stacy who wanted it to look like a stylish wooden boat. With the help of his two long-term employees Bill Maki, carpenter and Ed Prebish, welder, he drew a long lean shape with a distinctive radiused transom. The bare hull was delivered by the Nichols yard in Hood River and the three men did all the engine installation and built the deckhouse with the traditional curved front. That’s why the design has stood the test of time, Mark explained.


The Arrow 2 goes back into the Columbia River, where it worked for over 50 years as the Astoria pilot boat from 1960 to 2012.



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WW II: Astoria’s Epic Minesweeper Years

Astoria Shipyard’s Minesweeper (YMS) Production Remembered
The 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor last December gives us a chance to review the incredible history of the “war at home” in Astoria—a time when thousands of ordinary women performed extraordinary feats in many traditionally male-dominated jobs. Every aspect of their daily life was affected by the conflict; there was a constant demand from the government at all levels to produce more, consume less, and stay alert to threats real and imagined. As I write this in March 2017, I find it ironic to see how the nation is so divided by politicians who see enemies on all sides.
I hope this short history lesson will show what America can do when the country is truly united in working towards a single goal! Within days, the war had changed everything: families were separated and a simple chore like shopping became a daily struggle with every staple from gasoline to shoes rationed. Canned salmon was an important part of the food supply so had a high priority. Women already dominated the cannery workforce and now added tasks like loading and driving.
Younger women joined military auxiliary groups like the WACs, WAVES, and SPARs, to free up men for fighting duties. There were numerous other ways to serve on the home front including the Citizens Defense Corps, Aircraft Warning Service, Women’s Land Army, Women’s Ambulance Corps, Victory Gardens, Victory Book Campaign, etc. Barely a week went by without a scrap drive, bond sale, black-out test or bomb drill, plus spy rumors and invasion scares to keep everyone on their toes. The goal was always to support the troops overseas and ultimately win the war.
By the late 1930’s, Astoria already had wo established military posts: the Tongue Point Naval Air Station opened in 1938 and Fort Stevens 249th Coast Artillery (dating from the Civil War) plus the Coast Guard stations on both sides of the Columbia River. Catalina Seaplanes began patrolling the northwest coast from Tongue Point, where the hangars and ramp are still in use today. But there were also civilian facilities like the new airport in Warrenton (built 1935), the Port of Astoria docks, and the AMCCO boatyard south of the airport on the Lewis and Clark River/Netul River. Within weeks of Pearl Harbor, all three were swept up in the national mobilization and were assigned a role in the war effort.
The first orders for warships actually came to Clatsop County before Pearl Harbor, from the faraway war in Europe when Britain announced that a state of war existed with Germany on September 3, 1939. The Brits were soon struggling to survive the predations of German U-boats (submarines) that threatened to stop the vital flow of food and industrial materials from North America. The federal government created the Lend-Lease program to build cargo ships for Britain, and it was signed into law by President Roosevelt on March 11, 1941. (That was how Henry Kaiser began building the original 60 “Liberty” ships for Britain nine months before the USA declared war on the Axis powers.)
The Royal Navy also asked for smaller military vessels to defend their coastline, especially wooden minesweepers. This was also the opportunity for the US Navy to acquire more modern vessels and they commissioned a new design for a wooden minesweeper.–because steel ships would be detected by magnetic mines. This began a short-lived revival in traditional marine construction skills in the USA as boatyards all around the country responded to the government’s invitation to submit bids. Oregon’s wooden shipbuilders in Astoria and Coos Bay won initial approval, with more on Puget Sound and northern California for a total of 19 west coast yards ready to leap into action.
The US Navy sent inspectors out to the west coast to inspect all these facilities and verify their sources of high-quality softwood lumber. On April 1, 1941, the Navy awarded AMCCO a $1,312,000 contract to build four minesweepers, called the Yard Mine Sweeper or YMS. However, Joe Dyer, the manager and one of the three owners, still needed to expand the shipyard, which only had one marine railway and 30 employees. So AMCCO began building wooden minesweepers for lend-lease to the British Navy in the summer of 1941.
These complex 136-foot warships were a giant step beyond the fine wooden yachts, ferries and fishing boats the yard had built since 1922. Dyer intended to create an assembly line system to increase efficiency and pre-fabricate parts for all four boats simultaneously, but was not sure how he would finance this ambitious plan. Fortunately the Navy, anticipating situations like AMCCO’s, allowed a 10% progress payment upon laying of the vessels’ keels. Dyer bought some adjoining tideland pasture, where he laid down four 110’ Douglas fir keels sawn at the mill in Westport, Oregon, then drew up plans for sheds, building ways, and workshops to be built when the money was paid.
As soon as the new buildings were roofed and the saws and planers set up, Dyer found more skilled carpenters and shipwrights who came out of retirement to start the pre-fabrication of parts for the second boat. Then the crew began attaching oak frames on the second keel for the YMS 101. The inner planking was 2” Douglas fir, the outer layer over 1” thick, to withstand the shock wave when mines were swept up and deliberately detonated by rifle or deck gun. It was powered by a pair of GM 400 HP diesels—long-lived engines that are still found today in some older working boats.
It had taken almost one year since the contract was signed, but the next three boats were all well on the way and methods of pre-fabricating the 24‘-wide glued wooden hull frames were being perfected. The company’s records state that the first vessel, YMS 100, was launched on April 12, 1942. The new boat shop complex was carefully organized to speed up production and the second minesweeper was delivered on July 17. The YMS 102 was sent out into the Columbia a month later, followed by the YMS 103 on September 18.
They were all commissioned as British Motor Minesweepers (BYMS) and were delivered to Britain by crews from the Royal Navy. This was an amazing feat, and the building team of over 200 were able to celebrate their incredible achievement of delivering the second pair only six months after the keels were laid. With all this bustle around the waterfront, we need to remember that there were constant reminders of the war in the Pacific. The Oregon coast was the most likely target of a Japanese attack—anything from landing a spy to a full-on D-Day type amphibious landing. The beaches were absolutely off-limits and were covered in barbed wire, and the Oregon Shore Patrol was organized by American Legion posts in coastal counties in December 1941. They were replaced by improved Coast Guard patrols and Army installations along the Oregon coast.
Oregonians watched news reels of the bombing of London and heard radio reports from pioneers like Edward R. Murrow, and wondered “could that really happen here?” Authorities answered with an emphatic “yes” and worked to prepare the state for the worst. This included organizing tens of thousands of Oregonians who volunteered for the Aircraft Warning Service and served as air raid wardens. But to be effective every citizen needed to be ready to respond to a variety of terrible weapons that could fall through their very roof.
By 1942 authorities across Oregon had organized complex civilian protection programs staffed by tens of thousands of volunteers. The work of these air raid wardens, auxiliary police and fire forces, fire guards, emergency medical teams, decontamination units, drivers, messengers, evacuation officers, public utility repair squads, and others (collectively known as the Citizens Defense Corps) was coordinated and integrated by the State Defense Council
 Coastal residents were commanded to black out their homes at night by covering windows with shades and blankets. Block wardens patrolled neighborhoods, looking for telltale lights and reprimanding offenders. Volunteers watched for airplanes, balloons from Tillamook kept watch from the sky. All shipping in and out of the river had to wait for an escort through the minefields, while nervous trainee pilots practiced landing on the short 500′ deck of the “baby flat top” aircraft carriers launched in Vancouver every few weeks.
And this was the summer when the Japanese made the well-known attack on Fort Stevens. On the night of June 21, 1942, an enemy submarine fired seventeen shells at Fort Stevens, near Astoria. Most of the shells landed in a swampy area at the edge of the fort, and some exploded on the beach or buried themselves in the sand. Undoubtedly that must have been a hot topic at AMCCO, which was now a full-blown marine industrial facility striving to meet the US Navy‘s demand for hundreds more minesweepers.
Overhead, delivery pilots ferried planes to the the airport across the Netul River. The city docks became the “last stop” before crossing the bar for all the 456 ships that emerged from the famous and amazingly efficient Kaiser shipyards upriver. There were no more (male) workers with shipyard experience in the region and the Kaiser shipyards wanted AMCCO to perform all the finishing work necessary to their Liberty Ships and oil tankers, plus last-minute modifications to the escort aircraft carriers. Kaiser was already employing thousands of women, and Dyer brought in the first women in April of 1943.
They were assigned to the sweeping crew, but soon they were training as drill press operators, light joiner workers, gluers, sanders, pipe threading machine operators, light deck caulkers, and lead and plugging workers. A total of about 70 women and 400 men ended up working at AMCCO at the end of 1943, when the company proudly announced: “201 Ships Built, Outfitted or Repaired!” And they had also won the Treasury T-flag for full participation in the year long bond drive, paid with 10% of their annual wages.
In 1944, the yard’s weekly newspaper, the AMCCO Log, reported that two welders, Garnet Verschuren and Harold Johnson married at the yard wearing their welding garb and attended by their workmates. (Could this happen today?) The Log also tell us that there were another 1,000 AMCCO workers on the port docks working on the carriers and armed transports streaming out of the Kaiser shipyards.

The Columbia River Bar Pilots used a WW II minesweeper as a station boat for 20 years.

In the three-year period from the spring of 1942 through December 1944, AMCCO built 18 identical wooden hulls, 16 as sweepers, two as sub-chasers/patrol craft. They also built six VT harbor tugs and 16 smaller tugs. The wood-hulled YMS proved to be one of the U.S. Navy’s more durable and versatile types through a quarter-century of service, filling a variety of roles for a number of navies. Over 400 were built at 35 yards around the USA. YMS 117 arrived on the Columbia in 1947 to serve as the Bar Pilot’s station boat on the ocean for over 20 years.
BYMS 26, built on Lake Union in Seattle served in the Mediterranean where it was converted into a car ferry. It was discovered by Jacques Cousteau in the 1950’s and was converted again into his dive-support ship Calypso. It became famous in the USA through the series the Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau, which ran for ten years from 1966 to 1976. At a time when color television was a novelty, his programs opened the eyes of a generation to the wonders beneath the waves.
In the years immediately after WWII, AMCCO specialized in mothballing Navy ships that were moored in great fleets behind tongue Point. Many of those ships were eventually scrapped at the wartime shipyard in SW Portland beside the Ross Island Bridge. This still exists as Zidell’s yard and this June, they will launch their last barge and close. AMCCO is the most intact small shipyard on the west coast, thanks to its continued original use, hauling local fishing boats for repairs and maintenance. It has become a National Historic Monument—but one with a serious pollution problem from those desperate war years that is not going away….
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In Praise of My Own “Retro” Bikes

The frames of all my bikes were designed 20+ years ago, so qualify as “retro.” Several of them are based on the early mountain bike, so here is a brief introduction to that design,followed by four of my “variations on a theme.  (Scroll down to see my folding, touring and road bikes.)

Re-Fitting 1980’s Mountain Bikes for Low-Cost Multi-Use Travel and Fun

The mass-produced mountain bike was introduced in Marin County in 1979 by Tom Richey. The idea was picked up in 1981 by Specialized to produce the first Stumpjumper. On the first run, the chainset and brakes where French randonneur-style, the brake levers from a motorbike, and the stem, bars and pedals from BMX suppliers. By the mid 1980’s, the world was being flooded with steel Tig-welded frames from Taiwan with 26″ wheels. Mountain biking began to dominate the entire bicycling business, and the boom continues to this day when the desperate rush to create ever lighter suspension-bikes with more complicated and fragile equipment has sadly consigned millions of early steel frames to junk status.

Of course, being a lifelong retro-bike fan, I continued riding a 1980’s mountain bike until 2012 with only the addition of some aged shock forks, since I wasn’t interested in downhill speed and only entered multi-sport races occasionally. Ironically, it was the theft of that perfectly adequate Cadex bike that drove me to look in the basement of my local shop Bikes & Beyond in Astoria for a replacement.

I never did come close to the Cadex with its high-tech carbon fiber tubes glued into aluminum lugs on a 1980’s frame design. But what I discovered more than made up for its loss: a pile of old steel frames destined for the scrap yard.  I commandeered them for my “research project” to prove that the classic early 1980’s mountain bike can do practically anything–from off-road touring in southern Chile to urban commuting in Portland. It took a while, but I have done that to my complete satisfaction.

1) Off-Road/Gravel Riding

This was me in 1991 with my first mountain bike on top of Steens Mountain in SE Oregon halfway through a very tough circuit from French Glen. I was a late adopter and the bike was already out of date, but the Steens is the highest bike route in the NW and still rarely ridden.

No shocks, no bar ends and 1.5″ tires meant a rough ride that hurt my hands on the wild 5,000′ descent on the back road. Simply adding bar ends, changing to a vintage shock stem and wide tires would make this basic bike suitable for most primitive roads/trails at minimum cost.

2) Commuting/Gravel Road

This is a GT frame with the trademark triangle in the seat cluster, which I found in the bike shop basement and converted into a commuter with an assortment of equipment (1.5″ tires, V-brakes, raised stem, rack) like the original mt. bikes.

I felt so confident that I decided to tour on it, so added a front rack, aero bars, (see photo below) and shipped it via Bike Flights.com to the house of a friend who had moved to Virginia. Then I rode west 1100 miles across the Appalachians and Kentucky, crossing Missouri on the KATY trail to Kansas City.

3) Touring  with full camping gear











4) Mule Packer (My design for a take-apart travel bike)

Peter Marsh on top of Astoria on the first Mule Packer

My 1990 Bike Friday–a Folding Travel Bike

While riding the Camino del Norte in Spain, the author came across a remarkable bike sculpture in Cabezón de la Sal in Cantabria.


 3) 1987 Panasonic Touring–updated to a 7-speed!

The author on the Columbia River with the Ocean Watch crew, who had just sailed around the Americas

 4) 1994 Paramount OS Road Bike–Tange Prestige tubes


 This frame was part of the final production run at Schwinn’s Paramount department. After many years as the biggest name in American cycling, the company was losing business to newer brands that all relied on Asian manufacturers. So Schwinn also had the last Paramounts hand- built in Japan. I found my frame hanging from the ceiling of City Bikes in Portland around 2005. It was surrounded by a lot of cheap used frames, so I adopted it and we have been riding the back roads every summer.

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The Flettner Rotor Makes a Comeback!

The new hybrid ship designs were pioneered in Scandinavia where ecological hydro-power has long been the standard for utilities. The public demand for more clean power use has led to the introduction of hybrid propulsion in several new ferries and short-haul cargo vessels. So I expected this to be the “gold standard” for green shipping for several years until some new technology like the fuel cell was perfected.

Boy was I wrong! On January 25, a news release from Viking Cruises of Helsinki, Finland really upped the ante in the “green ship” stakes. It announced that the M/S Viking Grace, an LNG-fueled cruise ferry and one of the most environmentally-friendly cruise ships in the world, will be adding “renewable power” to its credentials and its marketing, thanks to the addition of a Norsepower Rotor Sail.

When it resumes cruising in 2018 through the pristine archipelago between Turku (Finland) and Stockholm (Sweden), Viking Grace will be the third modern ship and first passenger vessel in the world to harness the wind via a simple law of physics known as the “Magnus Effect.” This radical concept in marine technology may sound like a “spin off” from advanced aeronautical research, but it is actually something we are all familiar with, since it causes balls to rise when hit with backspin, creating a surprising amount of lift in sports from golf to soccer.

Solving the Mystery of the Magnus Effect

When the wind is on the beam (60-130 degrees) and reaches a pre-determined strength, the 75 feet high and 12 feet diameter tubular Norsepower rotor mast will automatically begin spinning. This will extract lift from the wind to supplement the ship’s engines and reduce its emissions and fuel cost. This is based on research that began in the 1600’s when Sir Isaac Newton observed the unexpected motion of tennis balls.

A century later, the object in motion was the musket ball and the scientist was another Englishman named Benjamin Robins. He tried to predict the range of the British army’s standard musket in winds of different strength and direction. In the 1860’s, this problem was carefully studied and described by Gustav Magnus, a German professor and a scientific genius who actually made far more important discoveries in chemistry electro-magnetics etc. (Sadly, he is only remembered for some minor experiments involving the trajectory of spinning iron balls.)

Anton Flettner—Seaman, Engineer and Scientist

Other than making guns more accurate, none of these learned gentlemen seemed to have any more constructive uses for the rotor effect. But Anton Flettner (1885-1961) was a German-born engineer who came from a long line of seafaring men. His first dreams of invention began when, as a boy, he made a voyage to Australia before the mast in his father’s ships.

As a young engineer in the Zeppelin Works he made a close practical study of aerodynamics. He went on to become director of the Institute for Aero and Hydro-Dynamics in Amsterdam. At the end of World War I, the age of commercial sail was practically dead. Germany’s great fleet of steel square riggers built to carry nitrates from the Chilean desert around Cape Horn was stranded in ports all round the Americas and could no longer compete with the latest steam ships.

This was seen as a cultural disaster by traditional seafarers, and many retired captains pondered ways to modernize sailing ship and preserve this iconic symbols of a bygone era. Flettner himself was inspired to try a brief experiment with a metal sail around 1920. It almost ended in disaster, but he was widely quoted at the time stating it was far more efficient than a fabric sail—as the last America’s Cup clearly demonstrated!

Now his thinking led him in a completely opposite direction-away from sails entirely. Some colleagues were investigating the Magnus effect in aircraft, and he was intrigued by the idea of applying the concept to ships. He took the next logical step and used the institute’s wind tunnel to study this phenomenon. He proved that a vacuum was created ahead of the spinning cylinder and an area of high pressure behind, resulting in forward propulsion. His tests appeared to show that a rotating cylinder could extract up to 15 times as much energy from the wind as the same area of sail.

The Amazing Rotor Ship

In 1924, he successfully tested a prototype of his rotor mast on a small yacht and visualized a future where ships would be powered by rotor power. So he took the ambitious step of obtaining the funds to acquire a 156’ schooner to fully demonstrate the ability of his discovery. (If you think wingsails are revolutionary today, imagine what mariners must have felt when they saw Flettner replacing the two masts and rigging with two hollow cylindrical towers

The cylinders were over 60 feet high and 10 feet in diameter, made of riveted and rolled sheet steel, and sat on bearings so they could be rotated. Not by a few degrees like a wingsail, but at 120 rpm by small electric motors driven by a 50 hp diesel engine! The total weight of the complete mechanism–towers, engine and motors–was given as 15,000 pounds, just one-fifth the weight of the discarded sails and rigging. This must have been a dramatic sight in a time when traditional trading ketches still sailed on the Baltic Sea and most aircraft were bi-planes.

The next year, 1926, he renamed his ship the Baden-Baden and successfully crossed the Atlantic to South America. According to the New York Times, when the rotor ship arrived in New York, “He received a welcome such as is accorded only to celebrities of the very first rank. Here was a man who had truly revolutionized the art of harnessing the wind, who had replaced a device, used in essentially unaltered form for thousands of years, the canvas sail, by a modern machine, ten times as efficient and requiring no crew for handling.”

No less a mind than Albert Einstein pronounced the rotor principle of great practical importance. Popular Science Monthly jumped on the bandwagon with more praise for Flettner and his invention. Blue Coal” was now the slogan the inventor used for his wind machine that would harness wind-fuel for the good of mankind. “It is wonderfully cheap”, he tells us, “and it is available to the world in billions of horsepower.”

Flettner claimed that each tower produced 500 horsepower of thrust and that this was safer because “reefing” was accomplished by simply slowing the spinning. Two students in naval architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, were so impressed they decided to build their own rotor. themselves. They managed to complete the new rig from salvaged parts and step it on an abandoned 30′ navy cutter. (No report on how it really sailed and fuel consumption—a common feature of the coverage of Flettner’s “miraculous discovery.”

The German government showed their faith in him by building a 3000-ton 3-rotor passenger ship, the Barbara–then the story reaches a dead end with no explanation. Some skeptical marine engineer must have found the fuel log and discovered the rotors were a net loss–using more fuel than they were supposedly saving. The whole episode seems to have been viewed as a useful but unsuccessful experiment; the rotors were scrapped, the ships returned to their former roles, and the rotor ship seemed as dead as the clipper ship.

That would appear to be the end of the matter. (I wonder if the Germans have an expression for our No such thing as a free lunch.”) But in Berlin, one minister had predicted that “the time is not far off when forests of windmills will be centralized in various parts of the country to supply power and light to nearby cities and factories.” (History intervened in Germany, but this prediction really came true in the 21st century.

Flettner continued to do research and made many more design breakthroughs. He went on to invent and mass produce the famous Flettner rotary ventilator that ran without any electric input in buses, boats etc. During World War II he engineered new machinery for one-man helicopters, then was picked up by the occupation forces and brought to the USA as a consultant to the office of Naval Research along with many other aviation pioneers.

He started the Flettner Aircraft Corporation which tried to develop new helicopters for the U.S. military. His greatest contribution may have been the servo rudder for aircraft, which was incorporated into many self-steering vanes for yachts. He died at 76 years of age in New York City in 1961.

Cousteau’s Alcyone and the Turbosail

Fifty years after the rotor ship totally disappeared, the oil price started its climb in the 1970’s. Here was the opportunity for armchair sailors to once again expound on simple, cheap effective ways to propel ships by free, renewable energy. Ship owners had to show some interest in this energy-saving trend to keep their shareholders happy, but none of the Quixotic 1980’s solutions like kites and wingsails seemed any more feasible than those from the 1920’s.

The only serious effort came from Jacques Cousteau, who saw his windship project as an elegant statement of intent and marketing to his ecologically conscious fans. The Alcyone is a research vessel powered primarily by twin engines with a beamy 100′ aluminum hull.

Cousteau and his scientific team designed and patented a system that could assist the twin engines when the wind was fair. It steps two 34′ fixed ovoid cylindrical Turbosail masts, each with a movable full-height foil flap that worked like an aircraft wing flap and can be rotated around the back of the mast to tack. To delay the stalling point of the airflow, a large fan at the top of the Turbosail pumps air up the mast and out through thousand of little vent holes to allow the air to escape on the lee side exposed by the flap’s movement.

When the Alcyone visited Portland in the mid 1980’s, I fought my way through the crowds filling the dock and managed to talk my way on board. Jean Michel Cousteau gave me a tour of the windship and let me climb into the mast through the access door. I remember there was a ladder up the inside that looked very tempting, and large floppy discs in their computers, my first sight of the digital world.

According to one of the Alcyone’s more recent skippers, Bernard Deguy, who went around the world, results were not what they hoped for. “ First we never use the fans atop the masts. Because the noise, it is impossible for the crew to sleep inside the boat. Secondly, we need a good breeze coming from amidships to notice that the Turbosails are producing power. In fact, we are motoring most of the time !”

Finally—an American Rotor Yacht

That was probably the conclusion reached from the serious experiment on the 42-foot yacht Tracker in Martha’s Vineyard, Mass. In the early 1980’s. A reporter was impressed by the rotor 24 feet high and 42 inches in diameter as it revolved at up to 600 rpm, powered by a lawn-mower sized engine driving a hydraulic pump and motor. “Under rotor power alone, the 42′ Tracker reached a maximum speed of 6.1 knots in an 18.4 knot wind and a true wind angle of 122 degrees,” he wrote. (Of course, that begs the question how fast would it have gone if the engine was simply connected to a marine propeller?)

Flettner Rotor Gets Another Spin

In 2010, German wind-turbine manufacturer Enercon launched a 426 foot hybrid cargo vessel called E-Ship 1 with four 88-foot tall Flettner rotors. The ship was designed to transport wind-turbine components and has made several voyages to Uruguay. This route passes through the NE and SE tradewinds, which should provide near-perfect sailing/rotoring conditions. However, this was never cited in the report Enercon provided In 2013.

This stated that the the rotors had added two knots to the ship’s speed of 12 knots with the wind on the quarter near the Brazilian coast. The company, which is a major player in the turbine business, continues to claim fuel savings from 10% to 35% are possible.

It’s hard to avoid the impression that they are “cherry picking” their data by highlighting the rare days when the wind is on the beam and ignoring the rotors fuel use by using exhaust heat to run a small steam turbine, so it is more-or-less free energy anyway! But hope springs eternal in the attempt to capture the power of the wind for ships–even if does not use sails.

In 2015, the first Norsepower rotor was installed on the Finnish vehicle ferry Estraden, which operates between the Netherlands and the UK. Weather conditions were mainly calm throughout the study, but the results overseen by Finland’s VTT Technical Research Centre confirm fuel savings of 2.6%. So a second rotor was installed in 2016 and the fuel savings jumped to 6.1% with a peak of 10% while sailing.

This led to Norsepower receiving a $4 million investment from a clean technology venture fund to develop largest ever Flettner rotor with a height of 100 feet. It should have a maximum equivalent power output of more than four megawatts (MW), and the company forecasts savings of 20% for vessels on favorable wind routes. (Well they would, wouldn’t they?)

Windship believers look to a brave new world where new technologies like hydrofoils and weather satellites could be applied to shipping. This has certainly resulted in two amazing recent passages under sail: French singlehander Thomas Coville raced around the world non-stop in 49 days on a 103′ trimaran, while a crew of six of in a 105 footer followed soon after and returned to France in just 41 days!

I wasn’t expecting those records to fall for a decade or more, so I admit I have no idea how much more performance the high-tech Flettner rotor can deliver. Maybe we will soon see them spinning atop the state ferries as they go for a “spin” on the sound.

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140′ MV Manu’Atele–a Versatile Ferry for American Samoa

Nichols Brothers Boatbuilders of Whidbey Island, Wash. was contracted by the Government of American Samoa to build the MV Manu’Atele, a 140′ multi-purpose inter-island ferry to operate between the capital Pago Pago and the Manu’a Islands. “We have visited American Samoa multiple times to survey and learn from the current vessels and operators so we can provide them with a vessel that will maximize their operations and supplement their existing fleet,” explained Gavin Higgins, Nichols CEO.

The weekly route departs the capital Pago Pago on Tutuila Island and calls at the north coast villages of Afono, Vatia and Fagasa, then heads west across 60 miles of open ocean to reach the remote Manu’a Islands. This requires transiting narrow passes in coral reefs, turning in tight quarters and docking in shallow water in the harbors on the Ta’u and Ofu Islands. Samoan government representatives and the naval architects established the maximum practical size of the Manu’Atele at 140′ long and a maximum 13’ draft loaded, with a 38’ beam. The shallow draft was achieved with a hard-chine steel hull with low deadrise and twin engines.

Elliott Bay Design Group was chosen to provide design and engineering services to meet ABS Load Line Rules, and USCG 46 CFR Subchapter T, Passenger/Cargo, plus the ocean-going certification by SOLAS and MARPOL because it will operate in international waters and may visit other island nations like Tonga and Fiji.

This is an exciting and rewarding project for Nichols as it is a real design build project,” said project manager Mark Thompson. One of the challenges was to enable the ship to handle cargo of all kinds at small docks, so the aft deck is laid out in an unusual way. At the stern is a ramp lifted by a pair of Pull Master hydraulic winches. This allows loading of vehicles from a beach onto the 1,840 sq. ft. cargo ware deck with a total capacity of 165 tons. A 15-ton capacity telescoping North Pacific deck crane can hoist cargo from a dock in slings, on pallets, and in 10-foot by 8-foot containers.

The main deck and upper deck mustering areas amidships with handrails and gates meet the SOLAS requirement regarding safe access to the pair of self-righting lifeboats. Six inflatable liferafts are stowed against the rails on the bridge deck. Cabins for up to 15 crewmen are positioned at the aft end of the deckhouse on the main and upper decks, with a large galley equipped with commercial-grade appliances. Other deck gear includes four fire monitors and a Rapp anchor winch on the raised foredeck to hoist the twin anchors with heavy chain rodes.

Special attention was given to fuel handling as the vessel transfers gasoline and diesel fuel to onshore tanks and acts as a floating gas station for small craft alongside and vehicles on shore. So all fuel valves, vents and hoses are located on the aft deckhouse bulkhead inside a large overflow-containment sump. There is also a metering pump below deck to ensure accuracy as fuel is dispensed. The passenger deck, crew’s living quarters, and pilot house ventilation is provided by six large Dometic DQA072Q condenser units on the top deck behind the wheelhouse.

There is comfortable seating for 140 passengers in an air-conditioned salon forward—a welcome upgrade from the vessel currently in use, a 30-year old rig supply boat with bench seats added below deck. “On the old MV Sili, passengers sit on the bottom and second level on bench-style seats that are very uncomfortable,” said the government’s port administration director Taimalelagi Dr. Claire Poumele. “On the Manu’atele all the chairs are individual and cushioned and all the equipment is very modern.”

The vessel is propelled by two 850-HP Caterpillar C32 ACERT Tier 3 engines, with Twin Disc MGX-5225 DC, 4.03:1 reduction gears and 60”-diameter, 4-bladed NIBRAL propellers manufactured by Sound Propellers. Cruising speed is 10 knots, top speed `12 knots. The generators are a pair of 99 kW Caterpillar C4.4 Tier 3/IMO II compliant. For safety and reliability, there are Sauer Danfoss hydraulic pumps on all four engines to make sure the Kobelt wheel steering, 150-hp bow thruster, crane, ramp winches, etc can be operated when the main engines are shut down. The wide beam results in walkways with full access to all four power plants, Alfa Laval fuel filter and other machinery.

All four engines exhaust through the single starboard stack. The bridge is fully equipped with wheel steering and joy sticks available, auto-pilot by Sperry, and on-board communications by Hose McCann. Navigation electronics are by Furuno, the captain’s chair is a SeaPost by Bostrom, the CO2 fire-fighting system is by Alexander Gow.

The Manu’atele cost about $12.8 million funded with $8.6 million in Capital Improvement Project (CIP) funding from the US Interior Department and $5 million in proceeds from the American Samoa Economic Development Authority’s issued bonds. The ship departed the mainland US on December 14, 2016 bound 2,200 miles to Honolulu for re-fueling. The crew spent Christmas onshore and departed for American Samoa, 2400 miles SW at 14° south latitude. The ferry arrived to a jubilant civic welcome on January 4, 2017.

The Manu’a Islands Go Solar

These islands are the only inhabited territory of the United States in the Southern Hemisphere.

Most of the population of this region is Polynesian and they have preserved a culture known as fa’a Samoa (The Samoan Way) and an indigenous form of governance called fa’amatai–the chiefly system that is central to the organization of their society.

The electric utility on American Samoa’s eastern most island Ta’u is now based on a new solar powered 1.4 megawatt micro grid and battery system with six megawatt hours of storage. This is enough to power the entire island night and day according to the supplier, Solar City, recently acquired by electric car company Tesla.

An array of 5,000 solar panels is backed up by 60 Tesla Power pack battery storage systems that can recharge in 7-hours and provide Ta’u with three full days of power without sun. The island’s population of less than 1,000 people has relied almost entirely on diesel generators for electricity, running on fuel shipped in by the MV Sili. This made their operation expensive at nearly $110,000 per year, and time-consuming to keep the tanks filled.

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Arthur Piver: Pioneer Trimaran Designer-Sailor

Arthur Piver (1910–1968) was a World War II pilot, an amateur sailor, author, printshop owner and legendary boatbuilder who lived in Mill Valley on San Francisco Bay. In the late 1950s, Piver (rhymes with “diver”) designed and built a series of simple three-hulled, plywood yachts starting with a 16 footer.

He quickly developed his ideas into a seaworthy 21 footer capable of sailing out of SF Bay and down the California coast. Within a few years, he would be hailed as “the father of the modern multihull.”

Piver created his first design for an ocean-going cruiser, the modern-looking, demountable 30 foot Nimble. In 1960, he trucked it across the USA, assembled it in New England and departed from Swansee, Mass., on a voyage to England with two crew. After a stop in the Azores he successfully reached Plymouth—the first recorded crossing of the North Atlantic by a trimaran.

(Note that the word “trimaran” was coined by Viktor Tchetchet, a Ukrainian emigrant to the US who built a couple of impractical, heavy boats and tested them on Long Island Sound in the late 1940s. They were featured in Popular Mechanics as suitable for beginners to construct and sail, but had some very odd and impractical features.)

Piver had hoped to enter the first Observer Single-handed Trans-Atlantic Race (OSTAR) in 1960, but arrived well after the start. It appears that he tried to do some marketing of his plans, and may have sold the boat rahter than ship it home.

Back on the west coast, Rich Gerling, built and sailed a Piver Nugget from Los Angeles to Honolulu in 1961, possibly the first solo ocean crossing on a small trimaran.

Piver wrote the book “Trans-Atlantic Trimaran,” and drew up a series of tri’s, each with a wide cabin extending over the wingdecks, beginning with a 30 foot design also called the Nimble. This gave the boats a lot more accommodation, which attracted a lot more interest and helped sell his do-it-yourself plans. In a remarkably short time, Piver also built himself a 35-foot ketch-rigged solid-wing cruising trimaran named Lodestar.

Hed set off In 1962 to sail it around the Pacific Ocean and reached  New Zealand without any mishaps. Sailing east in the roaring forties, he experienced the ability of a lightweight multihull to surf in strong winds and big seas. This convinced him that a big trimaran racer could easily beat all the old sail records. In his next book, “Trans-Pacific Trimaran,” he predicted that a racing trimaran should be able to cover 1,000 a day in the right conditions.

This was an outrageous claim that showed his tendency to egotism and exaggeration, since he was only covering 200-300 miles in a day. But it was almost achieved early in the 21st century when the 98′-130 Ultimate” trimarans were launched in France. Piver was endlessly optimistic about the ability of his designs, but was quick to criticize any one who dared try to compete with him–as one of his protegees, Jim Brown, began to draw the Searunner range of tris with some very different features. 

It seemed that Piver truly believed that anyone could build one of his boats even if they had no experience and very little money–or at least that was the way he promoted his plans. Doing business as Pi-Craft, he began his one-man crusade preaching the gospel of his fast, cheap, easy-to build trimarans. In England, Cox Marine started building his boats in Sufflok and found a ready market, often with Americans who would sail them home.

Derek Kelsall’s 35′ trimaran was the fastest boat in the OSTAR, but had to return to Plymouth to repair a broken rudder.

In 1964, British sailor Derek Kelsall bought a 35′ Lodestar bare hull, named it “Folatre.” and completed it with a flush deck on the River Medway, and entered the second OSTAR. After ten days, he was ahead of Frenchman Eric Tabarly when he struck some flotsam and broke his daggerboard and rudder. He returned to SW England for replacements, restarted and still finished in a respectable time of 64 days.

Arthur Piver quickly drew plans for a range of trimarans, culminating in the 64-foot Empress-class that was built by a yard in wadebridge, Cornwall in England for charter in the Caribbean. (I worked there in the spring of 1965 and went out on the trials for a 45′ Trident-class.) Literally hundreds of these designs were begun at this time, many of them were completed satisfactorily, and some did indeed fulfil their owners’ dreams.

But many more were overweight, flimsy and poorly rigged, which led to less-than-spectacular performance. A few deteriorated into floating junk heaps and brought the whole DIY concept into disrepute. Piver’s confidence, some would say arrogance, was unsinkable, and he refined the underwater shape of the next generation of design (the Advanced Amateur) with multiple chines and some very stylish cabin lines.Piver’s next personal yacht was the 33′ Stiletto, on which he hoped to enter the next OSTAR.

People who met Piver say he was a social man who enjoyed being the center of attention in his circle of boating friends and felt that the trimaran was his own personal invention. But he was definitely not the “singlehander” type, although he made short solo passages to qualify for the OSTAR. (The offshore catamaran racing events in southern California were strictly limited to big twin hulls similar to the very conservative CSK designs.)

So Piver became obsessed by the Trans-Atlantic solo race happening 6,000 miles away because it was the only long-distance race in the world in the 1960’s open to all types of boat without handicap. To redeem his previous failure, and maintain his position as the world’s top multihull designer, again sailed the North Atlantic a second time, in the Stiletto and competed with the growing fleet of very modern multihulls that was based on the south coast of England in 1967. He left his boat in England over the winter of 1967, and returned home.

That winter, he very publicly announced from California that he would enter the next OSTAR in 1968. Having no time left for a solo qualification passage in English waters, he still had to complete a 500-mile solo qualification voyage, which he elected to do from San Francisco. He borrowed one of his 25′ tris home-built locally and casually set off into the Pacific. He was never seen again.

But Piver’s one-man publicity machine had such a profound impact that his death did not affect his fans: the designs became incredibly popular and inspired many novices to believe they could build their own boats and set off for the tropics. Despite the other tragedies encountered on Piver vessels around the time of his death, his concept had broadened the public perception of seaworthiness for the trimaran concept. His boxy cruising designs could never sail well upwind but were very stable; many did carry their owners to the tropics and allowed them to fulfill their cruising dreams. Actually they did a lot more than that—they remain in use to this day.

Many properly built Piver tris made long, hard voyages. Quen Cultra built a Lodestar on his farm in Illinois, and sailed it around the world with no prior experience. He wrote a book about the voyage titled Queequeg’s Odyssey. Dream voyages like this inspired many non-sailors to think Piver boats had some intangible (magic) ability. Thus Arthur Piver was often said to be the man most responsible for popularizing this nautical phenomenon long after his death.

His fans often wrote apologies like this: “A well built Piver, while not as “modern” as new tris, will still hold their own and are quite suitable for cruising, especially when modified with a Norm Cross design “fin keel and large area spade rudder.”

Randy Thomas, was a trimaran cruiser in the 1980’s who thought his Kristofferson design (very similar to the Hedley Nichol type from Australia) was far superior—until it capsized. “It was Arthur Piver’s bang-’em-together, sheet-plywood boats that launched the modern multihull movement in the early sixties, and simultaneously set its advancement back a dozen years. It wasn’t Piver’s fault that so many backyard builders erected condominiums atop his slender hulls, giving multihulls an ugly duckling reputation.” Yachting magazine 1985. Piver’s collected papers are preserved at the Mariner’s Museum in Newport News, VA.

However, it wasn’t long before other designers began developing trimaran designs. By the mid-60s, these included one of his young fans, Jim Brown with the Searunner series that are still sailing today, Norman A. Cross Designs of San Diego, California who had some 1,400 boats building or sailing by the 1980s, Jay Kantola in southern California with his stylish streamlined tris, and Derek Kelsall in England, the first designer to use foam and fiberglass “sandwich” construction and win a long-distance race with his prototype the 42 foot Toria.

The next year, 1969, the Golden Globe solo non-stop round-the-world race was announced; two of the entrants set off in 40-foot Piver Victress trimarans. Nigel Tetley was sailing a full-cabin version, Donald Crowhurst was in a Cox Marine flush-decker similar to Kelsall’s 35′ “Folatre.” Both these voyages ended disastrously and their failures marked the end of attempts to race Piver tris across oceans.


Author’s note: I wrote this Piver biography for wikipedia around 2010, and watched as it was amended and rendered un-readable by people with little or no experience of the subject matter—or writing ability. (I sailed on  45′ and 64′ Pivers built in Cornwall in 1965, worked with Derek Kelsall and James Wharram, met Nigel Tetley, and into Jim Brown in Port Townsend around 2006. ) It wasn’t until January, 2017 that I realized I could retrieve my Piver biograpy from Wikipediait, add some pictures, edit it properly, and re-publish it on this website..


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2015: Western Towboat Builds Seventh Titan-Class Tug

When Western Towboat of Seattle started building its first Titan ASD long-haul tug at their base on the Seattle Ship Canal in 1995, owners Ric and Bob Shrewsbury were simply responding to the growth of barge service to SE Alaska. They could hardly have imagined that this demand for more powerful tugs would continue unabated for the next 20 years, the Western Titan would be followed by five sister ships, and the Titan class would become synonymous with excellence in design and construction.

The newest is the Arctic Titan, launched in 2012. It is the 18th boat Western have built and the first to have a rating for light ice conditions. The hull now under construction will be called the Bering Titan. These boats and the Alaska Titan (2008) take advantage of Caterpillar’s latest C175 engine rated at 2,682 hp each, at 1,600 rpm. They provide over 500 hp more power, turning Centa carbon fiber shafts connected to Schottel azimuthing z-drives with four-blade, 104-inch-diameter stainless steel propellers. The bollard pull is estimated to be around 80 tons.

The bulk of Western Towboat’s fleet has been committed to towing barges for Alaska Marine Lines, now a division of Lynden Transport, since 1976. “We have two routes: Southeast Alaska—the inside route– and Whittier—the outside route– across the Gulf of Alaska with a cargo of railroad cars on the deck and containers stacked on top.” Ric noted. Both routes have three trips a week in the summer and two in the winter. Whittier is once a week year-round, S E is twice a week in winter–three times in the summer.

It’s 2000 miles to Whittier in Prince William Sound, non-stop,” he pointed out. “It can be tough out in the gulf of Alaska in winter storms, we can handle seas up to 15 feet, but too much of that can start to loosen wagon’s tie-downs. The round trip is 15 days in the summer but it can stretch out to three weeks in stormy weather. We burn about 55,000 gallons of fuel, round trip.”

The Inland Passage also has its drawbacks although it’s only 650 miles from Seattle to Ketchikan. If the weather is good the average speed is 10 knots, burning 5,000 gallons per day. But then they have to drop cargo at Petersburg, Juneau, Haines, Sitka and Kake, stopping two or three times a day, then load up with frozen fish in containers during the salmon season. “There’s a crew of five and everyone works on deck during the stops to keep things moving,” Bob said. “The tug has to come alongside everyday so the crew can check all those reefers to make sure they are powered up and kept cold.”

In the early 1980’s, Bob and his older brother Ric started the Alaska run with two old navy tugs boats that they ran full-time. We always got the job done, but it takes a lot more time and effort with a straight shaft boat.”

The Z-drives cost more initially, but frankly, it doesn’t make sense to me to build a tug without them ” Ric stated confidently. “They do a better job on the tow line and into the dock, and remember, you don’t have to purchase and maintain rudders, shafts, and steering gear.” (However, most operators are still content to run straight shaft boats that are well past their prime and call for a local tug if they need help.)

They built their first ASD tug, the 74’ Westrac (1987) mainly for barge moves in Puget Sound, but when they needed it on the SE Alaska freight run, they saw how effective the thrusters could be in bringing the tug alongside a barge and docking it quickly and safely. The idea of dedicating an ASD tug to barge hauling was pretty revolutionary then—and is still considered unusual today!

The new barges all have Nautican Hydralift skegs and some deadrise forward to keep them running straight on an 800’-1,000’ towline.

was a way to wind the shot of 3” surge chain on top of the 3,200 feet of 2.25-inch wire on a single drum. To do that, they needed the level-wind rollers offset to accommodate the large chain links.

The Seattle branch was able to do that and incorporate a computerized constant tension render/recover system. The winch tension is controlled by Rapp’s PTS Pentagon system with a touch-screen monitor near the helm station.

Western assembles its own design of basic headline winch in the shop and fits it with 150 feet of 2.5-inch Spectra line. Both winches are hydraulic, operated by the pilot from the console in the house. “Nobody needs to be manning the winch on deck. We’ve always done it that way since 1987 when we built our first Z-Drive boats,” Ric stated.

The Westrac and the first three Titans were powered by Cat 3500 series engines, V-12 or V-16, which were the standard powerplant at Western for over 20 years. Caterpillar had managed to double their rated horsepower during that time , which was welcomed by the Titan crews, because the size of the standard deck barge at Alaska Marine Lines had more than doubled from 150 X 42’ to 400’ X 100’ and the load had increased to 400-500 20’ containers stacked 5-6 high, topped off by buses, trucks and fishboats.

The first Titan began when Bob made some basic drawings of the new ASD boat they envisaged In 1993 and took them in to Jensen Maritime Consultants. They drew the double-chine hull that is still used today, and all the engineering, but consulted with the Ric and Bob on every aspect of the layout. The brothers consider the first boat, the Western Titan (1997) the prototype. Many details weren’t completely worked out until the third of the class, when the stern deck was extended by 12’ to form the 120’ Gulf Titan (2001).

The later boats were given German Schottel Z-drives

The way that Western had built all its fleet from scratch since 1982–on a bare pad open to the notoriously wet Seattle weather–also added to their reputation.. The gradual evolution of the design has relied on many small refinements from the box keel that functions as the gen-set cooling circuit to the hinging mast on the pilot house roof..

Today, before they start a new boat, the brothers, their tug crews, and the building team, most with more than 30 years experience, continue to devise easier, faster ways to build the next boat, which Jensen incorporates into the plans. “The details on our boats are all worked out by the people who work on them and have to maintain them,” explained Ed McEvoy, the port engineer at Western since 1984.

That’s why the main engine filters are grouped on the engine base at the rear end, and the Baldor hydraulic pumps for the Rapp winch are mounted on the aft bulkhead at eye level,” he pointed out. There is a lot of stainless steel on the deck, including the cap rail, hand rails, bullnose and staple, he reminded me. This prevents rust and all the work it takes to stay ahead of it.


The reliability of all these systems depend on a highly-skilled maintenance team of diesel mechanics with a well-equipped machine shop and the vast supply of parts. The tugs typically run over 5,000 hours a year and engines are replaced after about 25,000 hours. I counted at least ten spare Caterpillar engines stacked in the warehouse and ready to swap out, plus a half dozen gen-sets.

All the tugs are built with removable stacks that reveal an opening big enough to lower an engine vertically through the deck. This helps keep the time to change one engine to 2-3 days. The Titans have taken this standardization to the next level, with most machinery identical on all boats, simplifying maintenance and allowing them to share spare parts if a breakdown occurs far from home.

McEvoy also introduced a computerized maintenance log that keeps track of every issue on all 21 tugs, who is fixing it, and how to prevent it recurring in future. During my visits to the company base, the 108’ Pacific Titan (2000), 120’ Gulf Titan (2001), and the 120’ Ocean Titan (2004) were all alongside and it was almost impossible to see any signs of aging, they are all maintained to such a high standard. The Gulf Titan had some mechanics working on engine cooling hoses, but when it departed in the afternoon to start the next Alaska run, the engine room was again spotless.

The pilot house is aluminum with full visibility, a feature not seen on older tugs. The helm is the same twin console set-up seen on most ship-handling tugs with the winch control panel immediately aft on the port side. The Titans all have a conspicuous amount of mahogany framing the windows, as well as attractive wood grain paneling providing a traditional touch to an otherwise high-tech environment.

The Titans are all fitted with a large soft-loop bow fender and a laminated stern fender from Schuyler, with airplane tires rigidly attached amidships. On the run down to the barge-loading dock, I was able to experience the surprising lack of noise or vibration in the accommodation areas. They too are well trimmed in wood and easy on the eyes. All rooms have air conditioning, there is sat phone available, and the now-standard flat screens DVD players. The galley is well equipped with a Lang stove and Cospolich refrigerator and freezer.

Interestingly, there is no pressure to finish the Bering Titan. There will definitely be work for it with Alaska Marine Lines when it is launched, but right now AML has a more pressing need for a new loading ramp for use in an Alaska port. It will have a 100-ton capacity to support the giant fork lift trucks that stack and unload the containers. So that will be the priority for Western Towboat’s building crew until the summer. Eventually, this ramp will take its place as another part of the highly-efficient transport system that this family-owned company has developed to ensure the delivery of vital goods north to Alaska////the Last Frontier.


Since 2013, four copies of the Titan have been built in Columbia River yards: one for Harley Marine Services by Diversified Marine Industries,. and three for Hyak Marine by JT Marine of Vancouver, Wash that are all on long-term charter.

CLOSE ————————————————————————

The quotes by Jensen-PARROT don’t seem to add much to this, but you have my previous story, so you be the judge. I have spent enough time on this that I appear to have lost my critical faculty for the moment!

“Their boats last forever,” said Jonathan Parrott, vice president of new design development at Jensen Maritime Consultants, now a part of Crowley.——–

Robert Shrewsbury Sr. founded the company in 1948.

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North America’s First Hybrid LNG/Battery Ferry

This story is about hybrid boats, a subject that I have been following for many years. However, when I see the word “hybrid” I still think first of a really efficient, low-emission passenger car like the Toyota Prius, the world’s first mass-produced hybrid. This breakthrough design happens to be 20 years old this year, and four million of them have been sold. They are now fitted with an 1800 cc petrol engine, a 120 lbs battery bank, and an electric motor—the combination getting 50 mpg on the highway, and creeping silently around parking lots in electric mode.

In contrast, the total number of hybrid boats on the water is likely no more than a few hundred: you may reasonably wonder why the boating industry hasn’t taken advantage of this technology and marinized it. The reason is that the typical power boat gets very little use compared to a car, and has a lot of hydro-dynamic resistance to overcome at higher than displacement (low) speeds. So the weight, expense and complexity of a hybrid drive make it a less than compelling eco-option.

The best candidate for a marine hybridization turns out to be the complete opposite of a typical motor boat–a big ferry that can handle a large, heavy battery bank and runs daily on a short route. That gives it a chance to use the low power electric drive several times a day when maneuvering, and to boost the speed if it is heavily loaded or running behind schedule.

There are quite a few ferry routes on the Salish Sea that fit those conditions, but the ferry services of Washington and British Columbia are already dependent on government funds to make up their operating losses and pay for new construction. So they aren’t about to take any risks by adopting expensive emerging technologies to make an ecological statement.

But Seaspan Ferries is a private corporation that operates a drop-trailer service on the 40-nautical mile crossing between British Columbia’s Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island with three roll-on/roll-off ferries and four articulated tug and barge units. They carry more than 800 trailers a day, over 50% of all cargo to Vancouver Island, and needed to increase their capacity.

First with LNG Fuel and Lithium-Ion Batteries

Seaspan wanted a concept that would reduce its greenhouse gas emissions dramatically while delivering the highest level of efficiency, performance and reliability. Naval architects VARD is one of the major global designers and shipbuilders of offshore and specialized vessels. With headquarters in Norway, the company has extensive experience in alternative power systems becomng popular in Scandinavia. VARD produced the designs for the first diesel-electric hybrid vehicle ferry in North America—the 488′ x 85′Seaspan Swift–capable of transporting 59 trailers (double the existing boats) six crew and 12 passengers. Loaded displacement is 6,750 tonnes.

Seaspan‘s Shipyard is one of the most modern in North America after being completely upgraded with over US $120 million worth of infrastructure to construct Canada‘s new National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy Non-Combat vessels. But it is fully booked for the next five to seven years and is presently outfitting the first 282′ Offshore Oceanographic Science Vessel.

So the contract for two identical vessels classified by Bureau Veritas ,was put out to bid and was won by Sedef Shipyard in Istanbul, the biggest yard in Turkey. The first arrived after an eight-week journey that spanned a total of 10,660 nautical miles. The second, Seaspan Reliant, is due in the spring.

The heart and soul of the new ferries is their main engines–twin 9L34DF dual fuel engines by Finnish company Wärtsilä coupled to constant-speed 1050VDC generators with Wärtsilä LNGPac fuel systems. The combination produces 9,000 kW at 750 rpm at the two azimuthing (z) drives for a max. speed of 16 knots. Dual Fuel engines burn diesel for the primary ignition and liquid natural gas for combustion. The LNG tank is re-fueled by a tanker truck that drives on board before the ship is loaded.

The three Salish Class vessels are being built at Remontowa Shipbuilding S.A. in Gdansk, Poland and the first is scheduled to be in service for the summer of 2017. These new vessels are capable of running as dual-fuel on either natural gas or ultra-low Sulphur diesel. Use of natural gas will result in the reduction of an estimated 9,000 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year, which is the same as taking 1,900 passenger vehicles off the road annually. The Salish Orca arrived in BC in mid-January and by spring it will be in service between Comox and Powell River, replacing the 51-year-old Queen of Burnaby.

Washington State Ferries (WSF) has been conducting analysis, evaluation and detailed studies on  the viability of using LNG as a source of fuel for our fleet. LNG is used world-wide in marine applications and provides an opportunity to reduce fuel costs, and better the environment by decreasing emissions WSF issued an RFP for a design and build contract to convert the propulsion system of a maximum of six Issaquah Class auto / passenger ferries:from diesel fuel to LNG-only fuel or to dual diesel and LNG fuel.

INFO–LNG is the same fuel used to heat our homes and cook our meals. LNG is natural gas that has been cooled to -256 degrees Fahrenheit, at which point it is condensed into a colorless, odorless, non-toxic and non-corrosive liquid. In its liquefied form it occupies 1/640th of its original volume, which makes it easier to transport and store.

Corvus—an Emerging NW Company

The battery banks consist of 84 Corvus Energy AT6500 advanced lithium –ion polymer packs storing 546kW hours. The complete package is called the Energy Storage System (ESS) and does not require active cooling techniques such as liquid cooling to be effective. Corvus is an up-and-coming Canadian business based in Richmond, BC near the US border.

Founded in 2009, the company focused on developing batteries that could withstand the wet, corrosive environment of the ocean. Since then, it has come to dominate the marine market, with 25 MWh of its batteries currently being used in 35 ships across Northern Europe, and recently received an investment from Statoil, Norway’s largest offshore oil company.

Norway is where more and more ferries and oil-service ships are running either partially or entirely on battery power. Some ferries on fjords in remote areas dock at small ports that are supplied with electric power from local streams, and make the crossing on 100% electrical power and plug in to re-charge until they start the return trip. Norway is such an important market that Corvus has opened an office there.

We’ve got the largest install base, by far, in marine – something approaching 70% of the installed base in the marine and offshore world is Corvus,” said Corvus CEO Andrew Morden.”We’re very pleased to have our product deployed locally for the first time.” There is an ESS on the new 83.50-meter prize-winning Feadship mega-yacht Savannah, and the company has also supplied lithium-ion batteries for a number of other transportation sectors, including trains, trucks and submarines. Morden thinks there is a big potential market for energy storage in offshore wind farms, trains and light-rail systems.

Boeing Echo Voyager

Boeing recently announced the addition of Echo Voyager to its fleet of unmanned undersea vehicles (UUVs) developed by their research and development division, Phantom Works. It joins the 18-foot Echo Ranger and 32-foot Echo Seeker, which can stay at sea for only a few days before being re-charged by a surface ship. Echo Voyager is capable of operating autonomously at sea for months at a time due to its hybrid rechargeable power system supported by a lithium-ion energy storage solution from Corvus Energy.

The Corvus ESS powers Echo Voyager for a few days before using an onboard diesel generator to recharge the batteries. “We have been an extremely proud contributor to Boeing’s UUV programs for several years now and are excited to be able to share this news with the industry” says Andrew Morden.  Echo Voyager will undergo sea trials this summer. Future missions could include scientific, military or oil and gas exploration.

132-foot Bay Area Brigantine Matthew Turner

 The San Francisco Bay Area non-profit, Educational Tall Ship Program, ordered a 100kWh energy storage system (ESS) from Corvus Energy as a part of a hybrid electric propulsion system on board its new, 132-foot sailing ship, the Matthew Turner, which is currently under construction in Sausalito.

The Educational Tall Ship Program together with a sister organization, Call of the Sea, are both dedicated to utilizing tall ships to provide on-the-water education for local students, including classes in sailing, marine ecology and maritime history. The Matthew Turner will be the second tall ship in the fleet, joining the 82-foot Schooner Seaward.

The Corvus Energy ESS will be combined with an electric propulsion system designed and installed by BAE Systems. When the ship is under sail, the energy of the passing water will cause the propellers to rotate, which, in turn, will cause the electric motors to become generators that re-charge the Corvus ESS. The ship will also be charged from the grid and solar panels when at the dock. Under power, the ship will be propelled by electric motors directly connected to the propeller shafts and drawing energy from the Corvus ESS, instead of diesel engines.

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WW II Minesweeper Tradition Continues in Seattle

History Repeats Itself at Pacific Fishermen Yard

Almost every kind of boat imaginable has traveled up and down the Seattle Ship Canal and through the locks over the last 100 years, but few of the thousands of crew or passengers who enjoy that spectacle are aware of another part of local maritime history. It was 75 years ago, when World War II began in Europe, that several of the Seattle shipyards began building small warships to send to Great Britain under the US government’s Lend-Lease program.

I was reminded of this epic time in local boat building history when I wandered into Pacific Fishermens yard in Ballard, less than a mile from the office of NW Yachting. A very large, fairly old wooden motor yacht was hauled out and stored under a tall portable cover. The MV Liseron of Juneau was missing lots of deteriorated outer layer of bottom planking that was piled up to one side of the shelter. This had revealed a second layer of planking underneath that was in much better condition. I made no attempt to guess at how big this hull was or when it was built.

Just as well, because when I found yard manager Doug Dixon, he cheerfully informed me that this was also a converted minesweeper, built in 1952. This was a happy coincidence for me and moved the story up to the top of my list. In addition, I quickly realized that Doug is a “mine of information” who has been researching the history of wooden boat building on Lake Union for many years—especially the WW II era.

By then, the yard already had a long history, having been opened in 1874 by a Norwegian named T.W. Lake—over 40 years before the canal and locks were completed. Many of the Mosquito Fleet’s ferries were launched there and departed the lake for Puget Sound during high water. When the yard changed hands, it was re-named Seattle Ship Yards and then Ballard Marine Railway. In 1946 it was bought by a collective of 400 Norwegian fishermen and the name changed again to Pacific Fishermen; interestingly, they ran it as a co-operative for many years.

In 1941, most of the local yards were still building wooden vessels, and after Pearl Harbor, the US Navy needed hundreds of wooden minesweepers. Several Washington yards were selected to build a 136-foot double-planked multi-purpose hull to an original design from the Henry B. Nevins Shipyard of New York city. It had a length of 136 feet, beam of 24 feet 6 inches, and draft of 8 feet. Propulsion was two 800 hp General Motors 8-cylinder 268A diesel engines, giving a top speed of 14 knots.

In the three-year period from the spring of 1942 through the spring of 1945, a total of 561 minesweepers were built at 35 small American shipyards, 19 of them on the west coast. Over 80 were ordered by the government specifically for transfer to Britain, which had been at war with Germany since September 3, 1939–the Lend-Lease policy, signed into law by FDR on March 11, 1941.)

The Ballard Marine Railway built 16 of the basic 278-ton hulls under contract to the Seattle Shipbuilding Company.  The inner planking was 2” Douglas fir, the outer layer over 1” thick, to withstand the shock wave when mines were swept up and deliberately detonated by rifle or deck gun. Twelve were fitted out as minesweepers, two as sub-chasers and two as patrol craft during WWII.

Four of these vessels were commissioned as British Motor Minesweepers (BYMS), and delivered through the Panama Canal across the dangerous North Atlantic to Britain, where they were transferred to the Royal Navy. (Others also went overseas but retained the YMS tag.) About ten of them appear to have survived the war and went on to various civilian tasks all over the world—the Columbia Bar Pilots used ex-minesweeper YMS 117 as a station boat from 1947 to 1959. But two of the Ballard boats eventually ended up with world- famous owners and became famous in their own right.

BYMS 26–Calypso

BYMS 26 served in the Mediterranean where it was converted into a car ferry. It was discovered by Jacques Cousteau in the 1950’s and was converted again into his dive-support ship Calypso. The French diving pioneer and his ship went on to make many discoveries and become famous in the USA through the series The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau, which ran for ten years from 1966 to 1976. At a time when color television was a novelty, his programs opened the eyes of a generation to the wonders beneath the waves. A second documentary series, The Cousteau Odyssey, ran from 1977 to 1982.

In the later years he became a pioneer in movement to protect the oceans until, a barge accidentally rammed Calypso and sank her in the port of Singapore in 1996. She was raised by a floating crane, patched, and pumped dry before drydocked and repaired. Cousteau died in 1997 in Paris, aged 87. His ship was towed back to France, but fell into neglect as his family quarreled over the future of his foundation. Ambitious plans have been publicized but the ship is still in very poor shape in storage in Brittany and has been the subject of several legal actions over debts owed for restoration work that was halted when payments failed to materialize.

YMS 328—Wild Goose

YMS 328 was converted into a yacht and in 1956 it was bought by Seattle lumber tycoon Max Wyman, and renamed Wild Goose. Wyman traveled in the south Pacific on the boat until 1962, when it was sold to movie star John Wayne and went through a major renovation. Wayne kept the Wild Goose for the last 17 years of his life and entertained famous people including two presidents– Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. He also liked getting away from his busy life at home in California, so he hired a professional crew and had them take the boat and his family to the NW and Alaska in the summer where he joined them and specially enjoyed the fishing and hiking.

Wayne frequented Sequim Bay aboard the Wild Goose and bought a big chunk of land in the area. He envisioned a marina in the scenic bay and The John Wayne Marina (featured in SEA Magazine as “Best of the West” for small marinas), was constructed in 1985 on 22 acres of land donated by the John Wayne family. (The Wayne family still owns 150 acres in Sequim, where “John Wayne’s Waterfront Resort,” located steps from the Marina, invites visitors to enjoy getaways or extended stays in cabins or the RV Park. The Wild Goose is now a dinner cruise boat in Newport Beach CA.)

MY Liseron

So what about the Liseron? Doug explained that it was a later version of the navy’s design for the Korean conflict–a 409-ton MSC 90 Mine Sweeper Coastal  60. It is 145 feet long and 28 feet wide with a draft of 8.5 feet; built in 1952 by Tacoma Boat as AMS-98 (Adjutant Class Motor Minesweeper) and later sold to France where it was given the French name Liseron.

The Boat Company of Poulsboro, Washington had bought its first ex-minesweeper in 1980 and found it to be a fine vessel for eco cruising and conservation in Alaska’s Inside Passage. They looked for a newer version and acquired the Liseron in 1989. It was lovingly restored and refitted with ten luxurious staterooms that accommodate 20 passengers, with a crew of 12. (The company claims to be “the only non-profit educational organization offering luxury eco-cruises through Southeast Alaska.”)

The Columbia Bar Pilots

By 1958, the Columbia Bar Pilots were ready to make a complete break with the sailing schooner tradition. Their next pilot boat was the first true powerboat and the first craft that was designed specifically for pilotage. It was 64′ long, designed by Seattle architect Phil Brinck of Seattle with a canoe stern and “whale-backed” (radiused) foredeck. It was to be the pilots’ first steel vessel, and the first designed to come alongside a ship at sea. So it was sturdily built by Gunderson’s in Portland–now the biggest barge builder on the west coast. This Columbia was joined by a 136′ converted wooden WW II YMS minesweeper of the same class as Jacques Cousteau’s famous Calypso. The YMS was named after a sandbar on the north side of the entrance–itself named after one of Wilkes US Navy exploration fleet that sank there in 1841.

This was a considerable step up in terms of size and power, and was able to remain on station on the open Pacific for days at a time. But the pilots continued to rely on a 16′ open rowboat (propelled by oars only) to make the transfer to and from the ships. Launching or retrieving the boat required five crew men: two on the davits, two in the boat to cast off and row (plus the pilot), and a helmsman on the bridge to keep the pilot boat in place–all coordinated with superb seamanship. They could accomplish this in wind up to 35-40 knots and seas up to 15.’ Not surprisingly, closures of the bar in bad weather were still common.

In the early 60s, the pilots had two 16′ copies of the pulling boat laminated in fiberglass in Portland, with the addition of an outboard motor well. The 18-20 hp longshaft motors were frequently soaked and proved unreliable, so the oars were always kept handy. On one stormy day, one of the fiberglass boats was separated from the minesweeper in a squall and swept out of sight. The boat capsized several times before the three men escaped from the confused conditions at the river mouth.

They were carried up the coast with the current and were then able to right the boat and bail it out. One of the deckhands died of exposure before the two survivors were able to row ashore near Westport, Washington. That boat still rests at the back of the AMCCO wood shop. One of the wooden pulling boats is on permanent display in the Columbia River Maritime Museum.


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