On Friday, I was on the Mississippi River in New Orleans for a rare event — a towboat christening. What, you say, since when is a new towboat christening a rare event? Companies such as Blessey, AEP and others seem to hold towboat christenings every month.
But this one was different. The christening was for a new Z-drive towboat.
As we reported in our October story on Z-drives by Mike Crowley (“Power Brokers”), towboat operators have been one of the most noticeable laggards when it comes to the adoption of Z-drives. Basically, they have been waiting for someone else to try it first. They also have what many say is a misguided concern about thruster damage from logs or debris.
Southern Towing in Memphis, Tenn., made the leap a few years ago when it installed HRP (now ZF) drives on four new 3,200-hp inland towboats. But since then, nobody else had dared to take the leap.
Well that all changed on Friday with the delivery of the 1,500-hp Brooke Banta to Chem Carriers. The Sunshine, La.-based tank-barge operator had been looking at Z-drives for several years and finally took the plunge. President and owner Frank Banta Jr. said he loves the new boat and is thinking about building a couple of more Z-drive towboats. His only regret is that he didn’t go with a bigger and more powerful pair of ZF Marine Z-drives. On the next ones he will.
At the post-christening festivities, I chatted with a couple of representatives from ZF. They felt confident that Banta would give to go-ahead on new Z-drive towboats and said that another inland barge company was going to announce soon that it, too, would be taking the Z-drive plunge with ZF units.
Several years ago, tug operators on the Mississippi River overcame their fears and started adding Z-drive units to their fleets. Many thought towboats would soon follow. Well, it took awhile, but looks like towboat operators have finally realized the benefits of Z-drives, such as fuel efficiency, are too good to pass up. And, as ZF and other Z-drive manufacturers point out, if repair work is needed, a Z-drive towboat doesn’t have to be pulled out of the water. Just tie it up to the dock, unbolt the unit and lift it out of the boat.