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Nimbler next-gen Tiger tugs keep Hawaiian commerce moving

Jun 26, 2020 04:20 PM

TIGER 21 & 22 | P&R Water Taxi, Honolulu

Tiger 21 and its sister tug Tiger 22, delivered this spring during the COVID-19 pandemic, are redesigned versions of the venerable Tiger tugs that handle Navy ships at Pearl Harbor.

Casey Conley

Tiger 21 and its sister tug Tiger 22, delivered this spring during the COVID-19 pandemic, are redesigned versions of the venerable Tiger tugs that handle Navy ships at Pearl Harbor.

P&R Water Taxi built its first Tiger tugboat in 90 days in 2002 after winning a U.S. Navy ship-assist contract in Pearl Harbor. The Honolulu-based company built 10 more over the next nine years as its Navy contracts and ship-assist work took off.
 
Almost two decades later, the original Tiger design has evolved into a nimbler ship-assist platform optimized for Hawaii’s commercial ports. P&R built Tiger 21 and Tiger 22 at its shipyard in Kewalo Basin, located just a few miles west of Waikiki Beach. Company founder and owner Charlie Pires collaborated with Stoddard Marine Design of Hilo, Hawaii, on the design.
 
Tiger 21 and Tiger 22 are essentially next-generation versions of the original 94-foot Tiger tugs Pires and Stoddard developed in 2002. The two series have plenty in common, including the twin Caterpillar 3516 main engines. There are also differences: The new tugs are about 20 feet shorter than their predecessors, and they lack the stern winches and off-ship firefighting equipment that came standard on tugs working in Pearl Harbor.
 
Capt. Curtis Iaukea, who operates Tiger 21, said the vessels are powerful and agile, particularly when moving side to side. “It’s great for assist work because you can stay at the 90,” he said, referring to keeping the tug’s bow at a 90-degree angle relative to a ship’s hull. “You can hold that position longer.”

P&R Water Taxi owner Charlie Pires.

P&M Marine Services

Hawaii’s ship pilots are glad to have Tiger 21 and Tiger 22. Tom Heberle, president of the Hawaii Pilots Association, called them a welcome addition to Hawaii’s fleet of ship-assist tugboats.
 
“With their compact length and excellent maneuverability, these are ideal tugs for the type of close-quarters ship-assist work we do here,” Heberle said. “The addition of these two brand-new z-drive tugs reaffirms P&M’s commitment to station modern tractor tugs in all of Hawaii’s commercial harbors.”

Pires is a native Hawaiian who earned his first mariner’s license at age 17. He founded P&R in 1978, and its name harkens back to the company’s original business running crew boats back and forth from Hawaiian oil refineries. The company still operates crew and supply boats in and around Hawaii.
 
P&R entered the ship-assist business in 2002 after winning the Navy solicitation for a single z-drive ship-assist tugboat. That 94-foot vessel, ASD Neil Abercrombie, came together in 90 days. Ten days later, it was working in Pearl Harbor. P&R later won additional Navy work, and these days it is the lone ship-assist operator at the massive naval base.

Tiger Tugs are based in every major Hawaiian port. The vessels that serve Honolulu tie up at the company’s Kewalo Shipyard near Waikiki.

P&M Marine Services

The company branched out into commercial ship-assist work in 2007 through its P&M Marine Services subsidiary. P&M relied on that same basic 94-foot design to launch its fleet. Tiger tugs now operate in every major Hawaiian port, competing for ship-handling work with Foss Maritime.
 
“Our boats are extremely nimble,” Pires said in an interview at Kewalo Shipyard in March, just days before the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a global pandemic. “Tractor tugs are nimble by nature because of the design of the tractor drive … but our hull design just makes it more maneuverable, I think, than anyone else’s.”

Just why, exactly, is something of a trade secret. Pires acknowledged the hull form itself is a key piece, along with the placement of the drives. That is about all he will say about the closely held design that he feels gives his crews — and by extension, the company — a competitive advantage.
 
One detail Pires will share: The vessels don’t have many bells and whistles. They are meant to be simple to build, simple to maintain and simple to operate. This simplicity, which extends from design to final outfitting, is a point of pride within the company. It’s how the lean, locally owned firm can compete against much bigger operators with deeper pockets.

Tiger 22’s bow staple is designed to reduce friction and wear.

P&M Marine Services

“You have the same platform all the way across. You can duplicate it, and you have a whole fleet that’s the same,” said P&R Port Capt. Eric Tang. “It makes it easier to order parts, for knowing how to fix them, and for crew jumping from one boat to the other.”

P&R built 11 first-gen Tiger tugs between 2002 and 2011, all at Kewalo Shipyard. The first handful of Tiger tugs were outfitted exactly to Navy specs. That meant z-drives, winches forward and aft, firefighting monitors and specific fendering requirements. Subsequent tugs have raised bows and different fendering for working under flared hulls on modern commercial ships.
 
Those design elements made their way into Tiger 21 and Tiger 22, which were built for commercial work rather than handling Navy ships. The company eliminated the stern winch rarely used by its commercial crews, as well as off-ship firefighting equipment.

The engine rooms aboard Tiger 21 and Tiger 22 are compact, with low ceilings and flat floors. Piping is kept at a minimum to simplify construction. Twin 2,200-hp Cat 3516 Tier 3 engines are installed forward of two 65-kW John Deere gensets. Steel shafts connect the mains to ZF 7000 z-drives with 86-inch bronze propellers. Bollard pull is 53 tons ahead. Duramax supplied the DuraCooler and DuraCooler SuprStak keel coolers.

The deck offers several defining features of a Tiger boat. It is nearly flat, without the slope from stern to bow found on many ship-assist tugs. The bow bulwarks rise more than 5 feet off the deck, and elevated platforms are installed near the staple to facilitate line handling and other tasks.

Twin 2,200-hp Caterpillar 3516 engines paired with ZF z-drives deliver more than 50 tons of bollard pull.

P&M Marine Services

The massive bow staple is another Pires innovation. Instead of the common inverted “U” shape, the staple has a diamond shape with an oval “pig-nose” opening. The design emerged after years of watching lines rub up against the underside of the staple when under tension. The pig-nose opening is positioned closer to the rope’s natural elevated position when working a ship, thus reducing friction and wear on the expensive hawser lines.
 
The hydraulic double-drum winch standard on all Tiger tugs sits prominently on the bow. Shipyard workers fabricated these winches at the yard, saving money on a product that performs perfectly fine for crews. Pires said the big-name winch makers offer a beautiful product with plenty of useful features, but he believes even the best winches have their limitations.
 
“When you are working and you part a line, even with a fancy automatic-tension winch, you still have just one line,” he said. “So how do you recover? For us, if we part a line, we recover immediately,” he said, by way of explaining the benefits of the double drum.
 
Tiger 21 and Tiger 22 are outfitted as day boats, owing to the fact that crews typically go home when their shifts end. The deckhouse is equipped with a galley and lounge area, a desk workstation and a head. There are two bunks for rare occasions when crews spend the night on board.

The wheelhouse is outfitted with Furuno and Garmin electronics.

P&M Marine Services

Each aluminum wheelhouse was built in Louisiana by Aluma Marine & Fabrication, and placed atop the steel deckhouse at Kewalo Shipyard. P&M leaves the wheelhouse unpainted, instead finishing it with a fish-scale pattern after it arrives at the yard. The wheelhouse features a Furuno radar and Garmin electronic chart reader. Crews use Apple iPads loaded with MobileOps software for recordkeeping, scheduling and other tasks. Forward-mounted iPod Touch devices capture video and audio of each job.
 
In another example of P&R’s thriftiness, which the company proudly touts, the wheelhouse captain’s chairs came from a local office supply store. The shipyard bolted them to a heavy metal base, giving each roughly the same height as a high-end marine helm chair. Money saved in outfitting the tugs is reinvested elsewhere in the company.

Crews at some bigger outfits might bristle at how these tugs are outfitted. P&M mariners seem plenty content with Tiger tugs, particularly with how they perform. Pires also maintains a good relationship with the company’s crews, many of whom are native Hawaiians hired with little or no maritime experience.
 
Pires acknowledges P&R is something of a throwback in that it designs, builds and operates its own tugboats. Even so, he’s proud of the company he’s built, the tugs it operates and the work they do. He’s plenty content for P&R to fly under the radar from its remote outpost in the Pacific.

Highlights: Second-generation Tiger design • Custom shipyard-built hawser winch • Designed and built in Hawaii

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