Originally a single-screw Navy harbor tug, the 100’×33’×12’ Orion has been refitted for the third time and is back at work in San Francisco Bay as part of the Westar Marine Services fleet.
In the 1970s, the Orion was converted to a twin screw with 3,000 hp and towed barges on the Great Lakes. The wheelhouse was also put on hydraulic rams so it could be raised and lowered to clear Chicago-area bridges.
In the early 1990s, Westar purchased the Orion and brought it to San Francisco. At the time, the boat made an ideal ship-assist tug because of its low profile and higher horsepower. Westar also used the Orion for a variety of tanker-escort and construction jobs. With her wheelhouse in the elevated position, she had a 25’ height of eye, allowing operators to see over barges.
However, with the recent influx of high-horsepower tractor tugs in San Francisco Bay, Bill Sherfy, port captain and part owner of Westar, realized it was time to reconfigure the Orion so it could be more versatile in the changing market.
The retrofit began in 2002 at Fashion Blacksmith Shipyard, Crescent City, Calif. “Fashion Blacksmith has done two LCM8 conversions (the tugs Bob and Mudcat), stretched the tug Wildcat seven feet while adding Kort nozzles and flanking rudders, and added Kort nozzles to the tug Solana. They have done an outstanding job for us in the past, and we have always been happy working with them,” said Sherfy.
During a three-year stay at Fashion Blacksmith, the interior was gutted and the majority of the house was removed from the galley forward. The original hydraulic wheelhouse and rams were removed, the forward H-bitt and bow winches were relocated, shafts and wheels were re-trued and the rudders were enlarged. An entire new house and exhaust stacks were built and two new Patterson 50T deck winches were added. Two new wheelhouses were also constructed (one steel and one aluminum to be mounted on stilts), and all new watertight hatches were added.
In 2005, the Orion was towed back to Westar’s home dock at San Francisco’s Pier 50. Under the direction of port engineer Noel Melum, Westar’s 20-man engineering team went to work completely rewiring and replumbing the boat. They also rebuilt the original single-drum, diesel-powered tow winch and added all new wheelhouse electronics and controls. They built a 30’-high, single push knee, which allows the Orion to push on empty dump scows and oil barges and gives the tug flexibility to continue notch towing for oil-barge escort work. In addition, Westar’s crew added 24,000 lbs. of lead for improved stability, necessitated by the upper wheelhouse.
In mid-2005, the Orion was moved to Bay Ship and Yacht in Alameda, Calif., to have 3’5”×60’ sponsons added to each side for additional stability. The sponsons are edged with Schuyler hook-and-loop fendering. Also added was the second aluminum wheelhouse, on stilts, giving the operator a 45’ height of eye.
After returning from Bay Ship and Yacht, Westar’s engineering staff completed all of the wiring for the new wheelhouse, built a new aluminum ladder to the upper house, and added a new stainless-steel exhaust that is raised above the wheelhouse. The original twin EMD 12-645-E6s and Falk gear boxes were freshened up and her towing winch wire was reinstalled. The new Patterson deck winches were outfitted with 50’ of 1.5” plasma-coated line for pushing gear. All interior spaces were coated with epoxy and repaneled.
— Capt. Mark Manes