The Pacific Northwest is the mecca for old tugboats in North America and many boats which were retired and put out to pasture years ago are still floating and providing useful service to a variety of owners.
The main reason for this is the sheer number of vessels built and, more importantly, the quality of construction and use of the best materials and craftsmen. The Pacific Northwest contains some of the world’s best forests and it didn’t take long for ship builders to utilize a product that was in their own backyard and for this reason almost all of the west coast tugs were built of wood; and the wood of choice was the mighty Douglas Fir mixed with Yellow Cedar and Ironbark or Gumwood.
These early builders chose only the finest materials for these seagoing workhorses as they didn’t want to take any chances with wear and down time so everything was increased in size and strength just for good measure. The long, tight grain of the west coast woods made them ideal for ships masts and spars for the sailing age, but there was plenty of good lumber available for the local fleets of ferries, fish boats and, of course, tugs. Tugboats were considered essential to every industry and, as the population and seaports grew, tugboat owners were the first to insist on the most reliable engines and the best boat builders for their fleets.
The shipyards on the west coast were conveniently located right next to the sawmills which produced the finest lumber for boat building, spars, bridges and air planes. The highest grade seasoned materials with no knots, tight grain, no sap was used for aircraft and boats. Sitka Spruce was the wood of choice for air planes and Douglas Fir, Port Orford Cedar were the choices for boats. The fabulous strength and size of Douglas Fir made it a natural for decking and large beams required for work boats and tugs while Yellow Cedar was also sought for some structural applications because of its natural rot resistance due to oil content.
The PARRY was built for the Canadian Navy as a patrol and towing vessel during World War II. It was sold to the Hydrographic Service where she worked year round charting the B.C. coast until being sold privately in 1968. The Parry had almost no down time and was operated year round in all types of weather and at least one hurricane. Now that the Parry has been “retired” from active duty she is back in top shape as she performs her new role of cruising on the Inside Passage and offering a comfortable home to passengers while sight-seeing, whale watching or fishing. With the antique engine and old fashioned wheelhouse, the Parry brings back a nostalgic glimpse of an era on the Northwest coast and the people who worked on these many boats that plied the Inside Passage.”
The most famous and common engines found in tugboats on the Pacific Coast were the Union, Atlas, Enterprise out of San Francisco and Seattle, Washington and Vivian from Vancouver. Many other companies created smaller engines for fish boats and pleasure but the big, slow turning, heavy duties were the choice for the tugboat fleet. These engines resembled in some ways their steam counterparts and the early diesels were very much a manual hand operated oiled rockers and valves to manual operation of cams and starting gear, the engineer was very much in control as in the steam era.
Now that fuel economy has become a hot issue, boat owners are looking favorably again at heavy duty engines but there are not many to be had and their size does present mounting problems in most boats. If there is no problem, then a slow turning engine can be a great benefit to an owner providing he has a good engineer to keep an eye on things.
The first diesels came without a gear box and were direct drive and reversible when the engine was stopped and restarted. This was accomplished by shifting the camshaft which has 2 sets of lobes: one for ahead and another identical for astern. After the engine is stopped, the cam was quickly moved onto the new lobes usually with the assistance of air and then air is injected into the appropriate cylinder to make the engine rotate in the proper direction and start when the fuel is applied. Even though this sounds awkward it was amazing how quickly the engine could be stopped and started again in the opposite direction. The engineers were quick to respond once the telegraph command was received. Later with the introduction of wheelhouse command using cable or air controls, the skipper was in charge which eliminated the longest delay and made operation very agile and simple. The direct reversing engines peaked about World War II when the first high speed, light weight diesels were built to accommodate the war effort. With smaller dimensions and higher RPM resulting in a more compact engine that was cheaper to build it wasn’t long before the heavy duty engines were out of business.”
The Parry engine is slightly more modern than some vessels of it’s age because it incorporates a newer fuel delivery system and has enclosed rockers and valves which almost eliminates hand oiling. The shifting of the camshaft with air is the same procedure and the operation is practically identical with even better fuel economy due to the smaller diameter pistons – 9 inch versus 12 inch. The engine on the PARRY is estimated to have over 200,000 hours of service which is phenomenal today but not a record by any means.
The 90 ft. vessel, WESTWARD, was built in 1926 and has its original Atlas engine and been around the world 3 times. Rebuilding and refurbishing the Parry proved to be the right move and made her a heritage vessel, a very popular and an attractive sight. No modern vessel can compete with the charm and ambience of heritage vessels with their classic lines and solid, quiet comfort for passengers. Modern updates, like cozy lounge with fire place, tiled showers, hair dryers, bathrobes and the fantastic aroma of fresh baked bread and coffee coming from the direction of the galley make it hard to resist a trip on this tugboat.