On the Waterfront

New-Kathy-Bergren-Smith-Blog So, you want to build a tug?

December 13, 2012

I first met Jim Demske in 2002 when Vane Brothers launched an ambitious newbuild program. Jim is a very knowledgeable guy. Back then, the legendary designer Frank Basile told me that if you cracked open Jim’s head, tugboats would tumble out. Apparently, he had room for a couple dozen more.

Last week, I caught up with Jim, now Vane’s port captain and head of new tug construction, as the Red Hook, the 22nd tug in the newbuild program, rolled out of the shed at Chesapeake Shipbuilding in Salisbury, Md. (Baltimore-based Vane now operates 33 tugs and 45 barges, two 140,000-bbl. ATBs and two launches.)

Photo courtesy of Jim Demske

In his low-key way, Demske offered some very interesting insights into the newbuild process. Here’s what Jim had to say: Jim, how many boats have been built during your tenure at Vane?

Demske: A total of 22 tugs to date with 23 still under construction in the shed at Chesapeake Shipbuilding. During this time, there have been 15 new tugs constructed in three different yards in Louisiana and seven tugs built here in Maryland. There were also the two ATB tugs we built in Wisconsin that Jason Knoll (Vane’s naval architect) and I worked on.

WB: What have you learned during the process?

Demske: A lot. First, always be as thorough as possible when writing your specifications. Know the products and materials your requesting beforehand. Don’t assume what is being recommended to you is always best. All of this will save a lot of heartache, time and money later on. Pre-planning is important, too.

Get to know your designer, the vendors and your shipyard prior to signing any contracts or starting any work. Expect to spend a large amount of time with the shipyard, with the naval architects, with vendors and communicate with all of these people continuously. If you are hired to be the project manager overseeing a new tug being constructed, make sure you stay on top of every detail of the project. Sometimes simple tug designs can evolve into amazing vessels. The layouts can make it more comfortable in the living spaces, engine rooms and even on deck. The equipment or layouts you choose could have a positive or negative effect on the design; make sure you choose wisely.

WB: I know that you feel that it is important to build a strong relationship with the shipyard. In the case of Chesapeake Shipbuilding, you and Tony Severn, the yard’s president, have worked together closely in the building process. Can you comment on how that has worked out?

Demske: When I first approached Tony with Vane’s idea to build some additional tugs in Maryland, I knew we both were excited to get the state back on the map as a tug builder. Tony has always been willing to talk over details and work with us as a customer as best he can. His door has always been open and we’ve always had a very clear line of communication. You can’t ask for more than that from a builder. I consider Chesapeake to be a very strong ally of Vane Brothers and I consider Tony to be a very good friend of ours, too.

WB: What advice would you give someone attempting to establish a good working relationship with a shipyard, its engineers, architects and personnel?

Demske: Show that you genuinely care and they will all care, too. If you show that you don’t care, it’ll come back to haunt you.

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