Fred Wahl’s Second Yukon River Tug

The shallow-draft push-tug Tenana is the second boat built by Fred Wahl for Ruby Marine, which was established by Matt Sweetsir and Amy Zacheis in 2006 in Nenana, Alaska to provide fuel and freight transportation service along the Yukon River. In 2007, Fred Wahl’s yard in Reedsport, Oregon delivered the Yukon a 72-foot by 30-foot shallow-draft push-tug for Ruby designed by Frank Basile of Entech & Associates, Kenner, Louisiana, who specialize in towboats. The boat has a flat bottom that gives it a draft of only 3.5 feet with 1500-hp and triple-screws —necessary to navigate along Alaska’s Arctic Bering Sea coast and 1,000 miles of the Yukon River to the Canadian border to some 30 communities, fish camps, and mines.

Sweetsir has been working on the Yukon for about 40 years; his previous post was president of Yutana Barge Lines, which was acquired by Crowley Marine Service in 2005. He described the difficulties of his operation in this way: “You’re in a mile-wide river with a 20-foot channel; you turn onto a tributary like the Innoko or Koyukuk Rivers where the depth is constantly changing and find yourself touching bottom. The only option is to lower a skiff with the deck crane and find a way out with a hand-held depth sounder or a pole.”

His original goal for his new business was to offer a small flexible service to meet the special needs of customers who were too small for Crowley—the dominant provider in western Alaska. (The company is named for the local village of Ruby.) The cargo is carried on a pair of 150-foot tank barges with reinforced decks. It consists of everything needed to survive in this remote area, including fuel trucks, off-road vehicles, earth movers, lumber, small containers, totes of fish, and over 300,000 gallons of fuel below deck.

The various docks are all primitive, so they carry all the equipment needed to load and offload freight of all kinds–from tele-handlers to forklifts. At first, Ruby was competing with the Inland Barge Service, which had been in business since 1994, run by longtime owner and captain Charley Hnilicka. However, the two owner-operated companies soon agreed to cooperate in a freight-sharing arrangement that lasted until Hnilicka retired and sold his business to Sweetsir in 2016.

The deal included the company’s 1971 tug Ramona, but Sweetsir understood that he would need a more modern boat to partner with the Yukon to ensure reliability. His next step was to order a sister ship from Fred Wahl. With a decade of experience, the Ruby team wanted many small improvements in the details, but the overall hull shape and layout has not changed. The second tug, the Tenana, is built to an updated design from Entech, with the same versatility, power and stability. (Entech is now managed by Ms Kimia Jalili—a professional engineer who joined the company when they were drafting the Yukon.)

Once again, it is built to ABS standards, The hull has a depth of 5’6” and is plated mainly in 1/4” steel with half-inch material where necessary to resist impacts from rocks. The most visible difference is in the engine room, where propulsion is by three Scania DI16 080M V-8 diesels, each rated at 550 HP (405 kW) continuous at 1,800 rpm. This Swedish Tier 3 engine features individual four-valve cylinder heads with wet cylinder liners that can easily be exchanged. The unit injectors are run by the XPI common-rail fuel-injection system, with controls from Kobelt, Surrey B.C. Fuel treatment is by Alfa Laval. The exhaust system is heavyweight stainless steel with Broomfield’s flex joints custom-made in Seattle and silencers by Harco of Tualatin, Oregon.

Reduction gears are Twin Disc MG 5202 SC, 2.48:1 with 4-inch drive shafts. The three 38-inch by 26-inch, five-bladed Kaplan stainless steel propellers by Kruger & Sons of Seattle. They are tucked up into tunnels and protected from grounding by heavy keel shoes. There are a pair of flanking rudders around each propeller shaft with cutless bearings and stuffing boxes from Duramax, who also supplied the side coolers for the engine room coolant circuits. The 4” shaft seals are from Kemel.

The gensets are a pair of 60-kW John Deere 4045’s, the main switchboard was provided by Fred Wahl Marine and electric load centers were supplied from Consolidated Electrical Distributors of Kent, Wash. Hardware Specialty of Spokane supplied the electric wire and fittings. Engine room floor panels were obtained from Grating Pacific. The Rapp HP 24-2F deck crane and the Gongol fire and washdown pumps are supplied by a Logan SPF-6100 hydraulic PTO on the center Scania. The CO2 fire system is from Valley Fire Control of Newport, Oregon; the fire alarm is by Autronica Fire and Security—based in Norway.

The typical crew is four to five, and there are accommodations for ten in eight staterooms, each with two heads and shower, and a full galley with comfortable mess area. There is also a single berth in the wheelhouse stateroom. The poured floor was a product of DMAC coatings, Stanwood, Wash. Like the Yukon, the galley is set up with stools and a counter service. The M.S.D. is by H20 Inc.

On the bridge, Rodgers Marine of Portland supplied the electronics, the helm chair is a product of Industrial Seating. Watertight hatches were manufactured by Freeman in Gold River on the south Oregon coast, the windows came from Diamond Sea Glaze, and the external doors from Mariners Supply of Portland, OR. Schuyler laminated rubber fendering protects the bow and push knees. The two Nabrico BF 656 barge winches are chain driven by 480-volt electric motors.

Fred Wahl Update

The Tenana was one of the first craft built at the new shipyard that Wahl opened last fall on the 38 acre Bolon Island downstream from his old yard and across the Umpqua River. This is on a property first developed by the American Bridge Company who had erected two long assembly buildings with 20-ton overhead cranes. The facility has been upgraded by a new haul-out basin and an ASCOM 685-ton capacity moblie boat hoist from Italy.

It arrived last September in 15 forty-foot-long containers with one Italian engineer to oversee the assembly that was provided by yard employees” explained Jim Zimmer, one of Wahl’s managers, as he escorted me to the launch area where the Tenana was about to be christened. The lifter is supported by four massive tires at each corner with eight electric winches winding 16 heavyweight straps.

The vehicle is driven from the ground by a computer-based portable control box and can be walked sideways and pivoted around a single leg. It is in regular use at the yard for haul outs and repairs carrying trawlers up to 165′ long and 685 tons in weight across the expansive hard to the work area. There were half a dozen vessels clustered near the buildings during my visit with work underway on all of them.

One 58′ fishing vessel, the F/V Winter Bay, has already been built here and a second was being assembled inside the hall this spring from large modules transported into place by the overhead crane. The company hopes to see more commercial fishing and tug boats taking advantage of the large amount of space and the skilled tradesmen available in Reedsport and Coos Bay on the central Oregon coast.

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