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At Washburn & Doughty, most new tugs are home-grown by design

Nov 26, 2013 11:20 AM
Bruce D. Washburn designs many of the tugs built by the yard, including Seabulk Towing’s 93-foot Apollo.

Bruce D. Washburn designs many of the tugs built by the yard, including Seabulk Towing’s 93-foot Apollo.

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The folks at Washburn & Doughty are proud to have built tugboats designed by some of the premier naval architectural firms in North America.

For example, in 2011 the Maine shipyard delivered Hercules, a 98-foot, 6,300-hp escort and docking tug designed by Robert Allan Ltd. in Vancouver, British Columbia, for Suderman & Young. The tug serves LNG tankers calling at Lake Charles, La.

More recently, W&D completed construction of Mark Moran, an 86-foot, 5,100-hp z-drive designed by Jensen Maritime Consultants in Seattle.  Earlier this year, the tug began doing ship-assist work in Baltimore.

However, unlike other yards, most of the tugs W&D builds are designed in-house, by the company’s executive vice president, Bruce D. Washburn.

“We have no qualms building other people’s designs,” Washburn said. But he noted that more than three-quarters of the boats his company builds in its East Boothbay yard are W&D’s own proprietary designs.

Seabulk Towing’s 93-foot Apollo.

The son of a naval architect, Washburn grew up in southern New England, surrounded by boats. His father worked for a company that designed and built deck gear for sailboats and workboats. So not surprisingly, when Washburn came of age, he headed off to the University of Michigan, where in 1974 he was awarded a degree in naval architecture. He has been designing vessels ever since.

Washburn is a down-to-earth kind of guy who talks respectfully of the work done by design firms like Robert Allan and Jensen whose names are admired around the world. At the same time, he is proud of the success that a small company like his has been able to achieve, in part because of its ability to offer design services in the contract to build a boat.

W&D did not start out building tugboats. The company began as a backyard venture to build a 70-foot commercial fishing boat on spec in 1977.

Washburn had recently graduated from the University of Michigan and was working at his first professional job in the estimating department of Bath Iron Works (BIW), a defense contractor that specializes in the construction of destroyers for the U.S. Navy (back then the yard had a more diverse portfolio). There Washburn met Bruce Doughty, a BIW piping system supervisor.

They both had an interest in fishing boats at a time when the United States was moving to exclude foreign fishing vessels from a 200-mile-wide zone along its coast. Along with a third partner, they rented the backyard and shop of a well driller in a nearby town and set to work. (The site was three miles from salt water.)

The keel is a key element of a W&D design. Putting the deepest part well aft improves lateral stability and assures good handling.

“The intent was to sell it (the spec boat) and split the profits, if there were any,” he said.

Initially both Washburn and Doughty kept their jobs at BIW and worked on the fishing boat nights and weekends. Washburn developed the design. Much of the steel was scrap bought cheaply from BIW (leftover pieces too small for the big yard to use in its ships). The welding equipment came from Doughty’s garage.

As it turned out, their success did not hinge on the sale of the spec boat. In response to a “for sale” ad for the spec boat, they were approached by a man by the name of Dick Goodwin from Rhode Island. He liked the work they had done on the spec boat but wanted a larger vessel. He had plans for an 86-foot dragger and contracted Washburn and Doughty to build two of them. According to Washburn, he made a name for himself in the fishing industry by developing the first successful offshore freezer trawler on the East Coast. Subsequently, Goodwin had the yard build two freezer trawlers for his company, Sea Freeze, which became the first successful East Coast offshore freezing operation.

So they were on their way. Their order book came to include lobster boats (an obvious choice given their location along Maine’s rocky mid-coast region), a dinner cruise boat and some ferries. The first tug, Alice Winslow, Hull No. 39, came in the early ’90s. Like almost all of W&D’s towing vessels, this was a docking tug.  

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