Arguably the finest tug ever built on the east coast of Canada is returning to familiar waters after an extended absence. Some speculation surrounds the arrival of Pacific Hickory
in Montreal (ETA October 23), but it is likely that it will be towing a former Great Lakes ship to the scrappers in Turkey. This is a bit of a comedown from some prestigious salvage and long distance tows by the same tug over its long history.
As built, the tug was painted with a buff crow's nest and white bulwarks on the forecastle deck.
Built by Saint John Shipbuilding and Dry Dock in 1973 as the Irving Miami
, the tug was designed to tow massive newsprint barges from Saint John, NB to US east coast ports. Its elevated crow's nest was used when the tug was pushing the barges in estuaries and rivers to give visibility over the huge deckhouses.
Between assignments Irving Miami
was also available to J.D.Irving's Atlantic Towing for other work including handling Irving Oil barges and the odd salvage and contract tows.
The tug had an enclosed winch house and carried the "Irving" symbol on its funnels
At 140 feet long x 38' wide a depth of 21'-3" and draft of 18' and 880 grt it was certainly capable of just about any seagoing assignment. Its twin 20 cylinder GM engines developed 7200 bhp for a bollard pull of 100 tons and an advertised speed of 15 knots.
The paper barges were more like floating warehouses. They had problems keeping the cargo dry however and were eventually put to other uses.
In the long run the barges proved unsuitable for newsprint but the tug was kept busy with other assignments. It did still tow the big barges as they were converted to carry other forest products and general freight, but it was frequently used with Irving Oil tank barges.
Here with the tank barge Irving Sealion, Irving Miami is in the notch using face wires. It has also lost the buff colour except on its funnels and the white gunwale.
In 1989 Irving Miami
was paired up with a self-unloading barge the Capt. Edward V. Smith
(the former laker Adam E. Cornelius)
. Conversion of the barge by Halifax Shipyard involved removing the engines and building a stern notch for a tug. The original ship's wheelhouse was retained for navigation. That assignment lasted for year, but replacement Arctic Nanook
only lasted a year and Irving Miami
was back in the notch in early 1990, but gave up the job to Magdelan Sea
later in the year.
When the J.D.Irving group of companies moved away from Irving Oil part of the Irving conglomerate the tug became available for other work and as part of a fleet-wide renaming became the Atlantic Hickory
in 1995. Irving tugs were historically named for trees, with softwood (coniferous) names for inland tugs and hardwood (deciduous) names for coastal and seagoing tugs.
Little had changed when the tug was renamed Atlantic Hickory except for some tiny face pads just below the name and a number of tires.
Fitted somewhat snuggly in the stern notch, the tug relied on winch tension to keep itself in line with the barge. It also required a watchman in the forward bridge to con the combination.
Also in 1995 the tug was paired up again with the barge which had since been sold and renamed Seabarge One
. The barge was renamed Sarah Spencer
the next year and the assignment lasted until 1999 when the owners purchased the tug Jane Ann IV
and fitted it and the barge with an articulation coupling system. They also installed a system so that the tug could be controlled from the barge's bridge. Atlantic Hickory
had relied on old fashioned face wires, and voice commands, which was less than ideal in the Seaway locks.
Rigged for pushing, the tug had plenty of power, but less than ideal control in tight quarters.
was once again available to Atlantic Towing and undertook a number of assignments including work with the original barges in the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean.
Following a major refit over the winter of 2003-04 the tug was once again paired with a barge it was built to handle and assigned to work in the Caribbean.
The tug was set up to tow the barge at sea, but its high wheelhouse was essential in confined waters. During the last refit it lost its conventional lifeboats in davits and rewceived an FRC in a cradle. No doubt other improvements were made, as the tug had been continually maintained at the owner's shipyards.
Finally in 2006 the tug's registry was transferred to Dominica and in 2007 it was sold to Vancouver, BC-based Pacific Offshore Services Inc where it was renamed Pacific Hickory
. Since then the tug has traded world wide with countless long haul barge and rig tows. It has also towed between the far east and Europe with barges stacked high with loads of inland barge hulls. These tows have necessitated transits around the Cape of Good Hope.
Now the tug is returning to Canadian waters - albeit briefly - as it is still proving useful to its owners despite what would be considered an advanced age for any other tug.
There are numerous photos of Pacific Hickory
on line and a Google search for images will be rewarding. There are also a few You Tube videos.
They show numerous changes, including funnel extensions and the adsence of a cross bar between them. It also appears that the crowsnest windows have been plated over, altough these may only be storm shutters. The tug has acquired at least one deck crane and a walkway round the bridge. Some of these additions were likely made during a 2007 refit, but other are newer. Commercial managers Seabridge Marine Services have published a spec sheet: seabridgemarine.com/fleet-pdf/