Frank Basile: Architect, boatbuilder and 'imagineer'

Feb 28, 2007 12:00 AM
Frank Basile, engineer, naval architect and boatbuilder, has been at the center of the churning Gulf Coast workboat industry for over half a century. At 78, he shows no eagerness to retire.

An engineer by training and a naval architect by experience, Basile has had a profound influence on the world of workboats, especially along the Gulf of Mexico.

Basile was a naval officer during World War II and attended submarine training school in New London, Conn. He graduated from Tulane University in 1947 with a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering. His practical experience began immediately at Avondale Shipyard just outside New Orleans as an engineer in the repair division. At Avondale, Basile acquired in-depth knowledge of American Bureau of Shipping and U.S. Coast Guard regulations.

"I'm a professional engineer by training and a naval architect by experience," Basile said. "All my life I've been around boats. My uncle had a small boatyard and built sounding skiffs for the (Army) Corps (of Engineers). I used to mess around at the shop in the summer, caulking, painting, etc. I went to Jesuit High School in New Orleans and worked summers drafting for Higgins, making the catalogs for the LCVPs, picture drawings. Nothing as sophisticated as the whole boat, just all the different screws, nuts and bolts for the parts catalog that was used for ordering parts for the boats while in service."

Higgins Industries in New Orleans designed and built the Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel (LCVP) used during World War II.

Although professionally trained, Basile claimed, "First and foremost, I'm an ‘imagineer.' I can talk to my client and take his thoughts and ideas, and transpose them into the beginning of a design. Then I start arranging tanks and mechanical parts and start moving habitable spaces around. Basically we have to tell him why things can or cannot be done or arranged in a certain way. The most important thing in the end is to have a vessel that will perform beyond the expectations of the owner."

"People recognize my tugboat designs on the Gulf, Atlantic and Pacific Coasts," said Basile when I met him last year aboard one of his signature 100-foot ocean tugs, Kristina A, at Main Iron Works in Houma, La. "You have an affection for certain boats, and I personally have an affection for the Kristina A. I believe this new 100-foot design will make us all proud."

Kristina A, delivered to TMA Marine, but recently sold to North Bank Towing Corp., of Morgan City, La., was designed for ocean towing and operating in the offshore oil industry, with 97-by-97-inch stainless-steel propellers in Type 37 Kort nozzles. Because of the limited draft required for tugboats working in the shallow coastal water, Basile's designs incorporate Kort nozzles, which assure maximum thrust. "We've developed a single-chine vessel that has good entry, a full mid-body and a gentle rise in the keel, creating minimally impeded water flow to the propellers."

The run on a Basile tug starts amidships, and he recommends inboard-turning propellers for a better flow of water.

"My first single-chine 100-foot tug was named the Gulf Coast and built for Robert Dann, from Delaware, in 1982. I not only designed the boat but also built it." At that time, Basile was owner of Entech & Associates, which he started in 1972, and he was president and part owner of Modern Marine Power Inc., which he founded in 1974. The two companies built 31 vessels, of which 23 were tugboats. He closed Modern Marine Power during the recession that plagued the Gulf in the early 1980s, but Entech survived to develop into the going concern it is today.

"There have been 11 sister designs built to date. A few we began developing as the next generation of 100-foot tugs, and Kristina is the first of this design." The tug was designed as an ABS-classed ocean-service tugboat, a designation that allows the owners to work or sell the boat abroad.

"She's a big 100-footer, designed to meet new stability regulations, carry more fuel and develop maximum bollard pull. Since there have been great improvements in horsepower-to-weight ratio in the modern four-cycle diesel engine, we were able to develop a tug in the 4,000- to 5,400-hp class that carries adequate fuel for long tows."

In 2001, Entech had an exceptional year, designing, in addition to Kristina A, the 150-foot, 10,000-hp, SOLAS-classed ocean tug Dumar III for Dolphin Towing of Galliano, La.; the 100-foot conventional tug Ludwig E for Modern Continental Construction of Boston; the 140-foot OSV Greg Danos; the 120-foot freight boat Captain C for mail service in the Bahamas; and the 180-foot bow-ramp ro/ro Emerald Express, also for work in the Bahamas.

The firm also worked on a number of repowers and retrofits, including a pair of 135-foot tugs, Atlas and Goliath, that were lying abandoned and sinking on a Mexican beach. Entech and Conrad Industries of Morgan City brought them back to life for Delta Towing of Louisiana, a company jointly owned by Edison Chouest Offshore and Transocean Sedco Forex.

"I guess that was my most challenging project," Basile said. "They were derelicts, and the owners wanted to bring them back into service. The only things we salvaged on the vessels were parts of the hulls."

At Conrad, they underwent a complete rebuild and repower, and left the yard to ply the oceans as ABS- and SOLAS-classified, 10,000-hp tugs. "It was a challenge, and it was fun working with knowledgeable people, the owners rep, Henry Bailey, and Stephen Berthold and Jim McElroy at Conrad Industries."

That frenetic output continued through 2002 and shows no signs of slowing. When I met with Basile this year in Houma, he was negotiating the decks of Normandy, an updated version of the 100-foot tug being built for Metropolitan Marine Transportation of New York, with his longtime client, Robert Thomassie Sr. Both the designer and builder were enthusiastically discussing the last-minute details before delivering Normandy. Thoma-Sea Boat Builders is building two other Entech-designed tugs: a next-generation 100-foot tug, and a 104-foot z-drive of the same dimensions and specs as Point Clear, a boat designed and built for Crescent Towing of New Orleans in 1999.

Besides the boats at Thoma-Sea, in 2002, Basile designed the 116-foot Ann T. Cheramie for René J. Cheramie & Sons. He designed and built a 104-foot, twin-screw tug in 1973 for Tony Cheramie, and it is still engaged in ocean towing. "The Ann T. Cheramie is totally different, the first one of this series with Cat 3516s, high-displacement engines."

Last year, Entech developed the construction drawings for the z-drive tug, which was designed by Orange Shipbuilding and is being built at Conrad Industries in Orange, Texas, for Harbor Fuel Service of San Juan, Puerto Rico. Entech also designed the four 75-foot inland towboats for ConocoPhillips being built at the same yard. The ConocoPhillips vessels are unique in that they are fully classed by the ABS and are double-skin in the fuel-tank area. The first of the ConocoPhillips boats, Spirit, was delivered in January 2003. The company also designed four freight vessels for mail contracts in the Bahamas.

"I just love tugboats," Basile said. "If I could do just tugs, I'd be in hog heaven."

By his estimates, he has designed over 100 boats of all kinds. The list includes lift boats, barges, OSVs, approximately 24 freight boats, and 17 of the 72-foot push boats that Hope Services of Dulac, La., built for Higman Barge Lines of Orange, Texas.

"I've designed four z-drives, starting with the Point Clear for Crescent Towing. I'm comfortable doing z-drives. I firmly believe you have to oversize the z-drives to the propulsion. The main complaint about z-drives is the size of the z-drives to the engines. If you have a 2,000-hp engine, it behooves the designer to step up to a 2,500-hp z-drive.

At Entech, Basile brought up his website and chuckled. "The most challenging thing for me was going from the drafting table to the computer," he said. "I was forced into it by the bright young people who work with me."

The company of five employees, and three part-time associates, began using computers in 1994 for all their design and engineering work. "That transition was facilitated by the ease in communicating with shipyards via email and the time savings when making revisions," he said. "As to the future, I believe in the AA creed. ‘One day at a time.'"

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