Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Foss and Cruz Marine Introduce the King River Class: Built for the Extreme Challenges of the Arctic

Alaska-based Cruz Marine and Seattle-based Foss Maritime have teamed up to build the Dana Cruz, the first of a series of shallow-draft, ice-strengthened tugboats, known as the King River class, for service in Alaska.

The 92-foot by 36-foot boat will be operated by Foss in support of its operations in remote, shallow draft environments. At press time she’s headed north to support the summer ice-free construction season in Western Alaska and the North Slope.

Founded in 1979, by Dave and Dana Cruz, Cruz Construction, Inc. specializes in heavy civil construction projects in Alaska’s remote and difficult terrain.

The firm is involved in construction, remote logistics, and tundra transport services for major oil and gas companies on Alaska’s North Slope, as well as offering housing camps and support facilities at remote exploration sites.

In 2009 the company formed Cruz Marine LLC , to serve the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas off Alaska’s north coast and Western Alaska. Currently Cruz Marine’s floating equipment consists of a single tug and a barge. The 50-foot by 25-foot Grayling is a shallow-draft boat tailor made to operate in the rivers of north western Alaska. With a 3.5-foot draft, the boat can push the company’s 150-foot by 50-foot by 8 foot draft ramp deck barge Innnoko wherever it’s needed.

As demand on the marine side of the business increased, the company started considering a more powerful boat.

“We were looking for a naval architect with extensive shallow river experience,” says Kevin Weiss, Director of Marine Operations at Cruz Marine. “We found AG McIlwain, who had designed some really good shallow-draft boats, and we liked his designs.”

At the same time, Foss Maritime was looking for a shallow draft vessel designed specifically for remote, extreme environments like the north slope of Alaska, the Canadian Arctic and the Russian far east.

“We know what we’re up against when we go North,” says Gary Faber, President and COO of Foss Maritime. “Bad weather and ice can limit the shipping season to fewer than 100 days – There’s no margin for error.”

Foss and Cruz struck a deal, and together they developed the Dana Cruz. Fred Wahl marine, in Reedsport Oregon was chosen to build the boat. Fred Wahl is known for sturdy fishing and workboats and has a reputation for high quality.

“Fred Wahl does really good work,” says Weis. “They never complained about change orders- they’d draw the changes in chalk right on the floor, and they’d be done that day.”

The new boat is on bareboat charter to Foss for three years, after which Cruz Marine will employ the boat in support of its Alaska construction projects.

“The Dana Cruz is our answer to the shallow-draft ports, the hazardous weather and the ice you encounter in spades working above the Arctic Circle,” says Faber.

In the meantime, Fred Wahl has started cutting steel and aluminum for the next boat in the series, Millie Cruz, named after the mother of company President Dave Cruz. The company also has a 200-foot ramp barge in the works.

Starting from a partially developed design package provided by Cruz Marine, Seattle’s Elliott Bay Design Group (EBDG) redesigned the hull structure to make the overall design more construction friendly and less expensive to build. In addition, the allowable deck load has been increased by 30 percent, the bow ramp design was redeveloped to accommodate a crawler crane, a stern anchor system has been added, with the hydraulic machinery replaced with electric machinery powered by an on-board generator. EBDG submitted the design package to Cruz Marine at key points during the development to ensure that their needs and preferences were addressed.

Cruz Marine will have the barge built to work with the Millie Cruz, which is slated for delivery in April of 2011.

The boat features a working draft of between three feet nine inches and five feet nine inches, allowing her to travel upriver to remote construction sites. The hull is designed and built to withstand contact with ice, while three low-emission Caterpillar EPA Tier 2 engines drive conventionally shafted propellers.

Convention stops there, however. Dana Cruz was designed to operate safely in extreme and unforgiving environments, and the boat boasts some unique features to help in that regard.

Operating in Alaska’s rivers presents “crazy challenges,” says Weiss. “Wheels are always getting bent or damaged.” Snags of big spruce logs below the surface and the rapidly changing water levels compete to damage a boat’s propellers. “When you’re a thousand miles from the closest shipyard, you have to be able to address problems on-site.” To address this, the new boat is fitted with “plugs” or “cabinets” allowing any of the triple screws to be changed “in the field”.

“It’s pretty simple really,” says Kevin Weiss. “The crew can ballast the boat forward and to the side, which exposes the outer wheels, and use the deck crane to pull the cover off the plug and change the wheel.”

Keeping in mind the boat will usually be pushing a 150- to 200-foot barge, Weiss says the bow is fitted with independent tackle winches that allow the operator to “jack-knife” around a bend in the river.

Other operational features include the centrifuges, supplied by Hutchison Hayes, that clean the potable water as well as the fuel on the boat. “We can draw water out of the river, send it through the centrifuge, run it through an osmosis filter and have clean drinking water,” says Weiss. The fuel centrifuge removes impurities from the main fuel storage tanks and sends the cleaned fuel to the 2,000-gallon day tank saving maintenance time and money on expensive fuel filters.

The boat’s closed system keel coolers offer the security to be able to operate in extremely shallow water. The fuel storage tanks are double-bottomed, offering an additional layer of safety and environmental protection. “The boat can sit on the bottom if need be,” says Weiss.

Big On Top
With less than 4 feet of laden draft, Dana Cruz doesn’t make much of a hole in the water, but the boat is big above the waterline, and offers accommodations for 10 crew.

“We wanted the tug to be as comfortable as possible for the crew,” says Weiss. “Western Alaska’s waters can be very rough and violent, especially in a small 50- to 70-foot tug. In order to accomplish this, we went the extra mile in construction and built it to take a pounding.”

Weiss says Dana Cruz is the only tug of its size to be issued an ABS Load Line for Oceans.

“I challenge you to find another tug in Alaska that has our shallow draft and an ABS Load Line,” he says. “Three-feet nine inches is hard to beat and meet ABS requirements for strength and durability. There are some landing craft in Alaska that have Load Lines, but they are not Tugs.”

Weiss says the Dana Cruz with her light draft would be very “Stiff” in heavy seas without some help. “To address this, we had ballast tanks built in to draft the vessel down to nearly 6 feet. This will add much comfort and ease and limber her up a bit.”

Crew quarters and accommodations on many Alaska tugs are very small and most only have one head. “We have three heads onboard so there will be no waiting for showers or bathroom breaks.”

Weiss says there are enough beds on board to provide adequate room for a larger crew, if needed, and the occasional guest or two. All staterooms have natural light as well, so if the power goes out, as long as it is daylight outside, a crew member will not be in the dark scrambling for a flashlight. This is the same for the engineroom.

“Not everyone agrees with this option,” says Weiss, “but I have lived on tugs long enough to know that bad things do happen and every second counts when you are scrambling to address an emergency or loss of power when you can see,” he says. “Batteries don’t always work in a flashlight when you want them to.”

Another benefit to the boat’s size is the copious amount of working area on deck.

“The smaller tugs have very limited space on the bow working area and the sides,” says Weiss. “We have very large open areas to walk around the house and not worry about getting lines snagged or fouled up.” Cruz Marine also specified a rubberized deck coating to reduce noise and add comfort when standing or walking. “You can drop a threaded fitting on deck and not worry about damaging the threads, says Weiss. “You can drop a wrench and you won’t wake up a sleeping crewmember.”

The extra deck space also provides room for a skiff large enough to handle real world situations in rough conditions. In this case that means a 12-man Zodiac Pro mounted on the Texas Deck and easily deployed with the Palfinger 12000M crane.

“Many of the skiffs you see on tugs aren’t rigid inflatables and they get pretty beat up working alongside a steel hulled tug or barge, Weiss says.

Other features of the new boat include holding tanks for sewage and oily water, fuel tanks separated from the hull with voids for an extra margin of safety, electric deck and towing winches to eliminate the possibility of a release of lubricants to the environment, hospital grade engine silencers, an aqua-drive anti-vibration system and Infrared navigation.

“It’s a pleasure working with Foss on this project,” says Weiss. “Our two companies bring decades of local Alaska knowledge to the table. We appreciate our Foss partnership because we know the value Foss places on innovation. Just look at the challenges Foss overcame 200 miles above the Arctic Circle at the Red Dog Mine. The Dana Cruz is designed with those same challenges in mind.”