With their namesake tractor tugs nose-to-nose off Pier 16 at South Street Seaport in New York’s East River on July 12, Capt. Brian A. McAllister, the octogenarian chairman of McAllister Towing and Transportation Co. Inc. and Rosemary McAllister, his wife of more than 50 years, stood on the bows of their respective boats.
They each smashed champagne bottles to christen the newest and most powerful tugboats in the McAllister fleet. The Rev. David Rider of the Seaman’s Church Institute blessed the boats and prayed for their safety.
“A christening is a momentous occasion in the culture of my family,” their son Buckley McAllister, president of the 154-year-old company founded by his great-great-grandfather, told the crowd gathered for a celebration.
“These two tugs embody the wish lists and lessons learned from our collective experience. At 100 feet by 40 feet and 19 feet of draft, these tugs have the heft needed to help navigate the new ultra large container vessels calling at America’s ports,” he said. “At 6,700 horsepower they are the most powerful ship-docking tugs on the East Coast.”
The two tugs are also the first on the East Coast with emission controls that meet new federally mandated Tier 4 air-quality standards for the biggest marine engines, and the christening was the first time they had been in the same port.
The Capt. Brian A. McAllister, built by Horizon Shipbuilding Inc., Bayou La Batre, Ala., began working in New York Harbor in August 2017. Rosemary McAllister, which steamed north for the event from her home base in Virginia, was completed by Eastern Shipbuilding Group, Panama City, Fla., after Horizon’s 2017 bankruptcy.
Brian R. D’Isernia, founder, owner and CEO of the Eastern Shipbuilding, said it was a challenge to pick up the pieces on Rosemary’s construction after Horizon’s bankruptcy. but he is proud of the results. Eastern is now building two additional nearly identical tractor tugs for McAllister, the Ava McAllister and the Capt. Jim McAllister, named for the company’s founder. Both are expected to be launched in spring 2019. The Ava will be stationed in Charleston, S.C., and the Capt. Jim is still unassigned, Buckley said.
The tugs are already making a difference.
“Rosemary went into service on June 6, and had three jobs the next day,” said Capt. Elliott Westall, McAllister’s vice president and general manager in Norfolk, Va.. “The Rosemary has amazing power,” he continued. “She turned a giant containership without using ship’s rudder.”
The raising of the Bayonne Bridge to allow 1,200', 14,000-TEU neo-Panamax ships to call at the container terminals in Ports Newark and Elizabeth has been a game changer in New York Harbor. “We now have more tethered escort work, “ Buckley McAllister said, explaining that for some of these new ships dead slow is seven or eight knots, which is too fast to make some of the tight turns in the harbor. The Brian can make up to the ship and act as a brake to slow it to four or five knots and still have navigational power, he said.
For Capt. Brian McAllister, who grew up in the business and remembers working on steam-powered tugboats, the new tractor tugs are a revelation. He said he watched in awe as the crew pivoted the boats around in the river. “These are complicated boats, and those guys knew what they were doing. For the first time in my life I was afraid to touch the wheel.”
As for rumors that Brian may be thinking about retiring, “not a chance,” said Rosemary. “He loves the company too much.” At her insistence, he now takes long weekends and only goes into the office three days a week, “but even when we are away, he is there taking phone call and doing emails,” she said.
“It’s a magnificent tug,” she said of the Rosemary McAllister, the third named in her honor. “She’s doing great work in Norfolk, and she’s got the best name in the fleet.”