Confederation Marine Modellers

Nautical Lore - Robert Allan Ltd. 

This is an extract from an article prepared by Robert G. Allan, P.Eng, Executive Chairman of the Board. and published recently in a special issue of "Tugs, Towing, and Offshore Newsletter" highlighting the achievements of Robert Allan Ltd., 

"Over the last few years, as the design output from Robert Allan Ltd. to the global tugboat community began to border on the prodigious, we were often asked. “How many tugs has your company designed'? Until very recently we really did not have a good handle on that number, so the answer was usually either “a lot" or "many hundreds", neither of which were particularly illuminating! So a search was begun late in 2016 to review our archives and try to determine the tug tally much more precisely. Would we rival Helen of Troy?

Where did it all begin?
It is unfortunately difficult to identify the very “first” tug designed by this firm as the records from the 1930’s consist primarily of the rather incomplete set of original drawings which are still in our possession, There is no formal internal listing of the design work done in these days which might provide a more complete record, however there are the amazing resources of the archived Harbour & Shipping magazines at both UBC and at the Vancouver Maritime Museum. Our resident marine historian Rollie Webb was able to sleuth through those records and identify a 1934 built tug designed by Robert Allan, the Weaver Lake, built for a Captain E.C, Merchant.  In our archives there is an undated, handsome little ink-on-linen drawing for a “shallow draft towboat whose dimensions at 41' 8" and 11' match the Weaver Lake. A query to the Vancouver Maritime Museum turned up a photo of the Weaver Lake in the collection of Fred Rogers, which certainly reflects the drawing. So we can, with considerable confidence, declare her as our ‘Eve” (Adam having been unceremoniously relegated to 2nd place due to gender bias.
Interestingly many of those early tugs, including the Weaver Lake, were shallow draft designs, most likely built for work on the Fraser River and its tributaries in its 'pre-dredged" era. There are also some quite small workboats (some as small as 18' long) which were described as “towboats - which we did not count. Similarly, the many small boom boats designed by the firm are not included as real “tugs” - for purposes of this tally. The resulting count for tugs and towboats built in the 1930s is a grand total of 3.

1940' to 1950
          The 1940s were a time oi the construction of many fishboats and of course the distraction of the war effort. There are only four tugs in our files for that decade. However, this period contained what is certainly the most elaborate set of design drawings of the era for a 75' shallow-draft steel towboat (with a lower deckhouse of steel and the upper two tiers of timber/plywood).  Best indications are that she was the Sandy Jane built by Yarrows in 1946 for Yellowknife Transportation Ltd. for service on the Mackenzie River.
          The 1950's began with what we can firmly identify as our first steel coastal tug design. The Black Bear was designed  and delivered in 1950 by Victoria Machinery Depot (Hull #54) for Black Ball Towing Co. Ltd. Her registered dimensions were 42.7' x 15.1' x 6.3', 32 grt. Original machinery was a Guy Marine diesel of 330 bhp. An interesting and highly innovative feature at the time was a hydraulically elevating wheelhouse, indicating that the tug was destined to work primarily on the river and needed to duck some bridges. Black Bear went through a number of owners and name changes, finally becomingBlack Bear II. At some point, it was extensively rebuilt. In 2003 it was owned by a numbered company in Kitimat. The registry on Black Bear II closed in 2011; vessel fate unknown. The 1950's may have marked the real beginning of steel tug construction in BC, but there were still a fair number of wooden tugs being designed and built. Notable among the latter was the Tugger Yorke for E M Yorke and Sons. Built in 1955,  she was still in service on the BC coast in 2013.
          A milestone vessel designed in the last years of the 1950's marked the beginning of the transformation of the BC towing industry. The Lorne Yorke, designed in 1959, was billed as the first modern twin-screw tug in BC." at her launching. It is difficult to know how “modern” was judged and by whom. but she was a fine tug and praised by her crews tor her seakeeping ability. Robert Allan Ltd. designed about 14 tugs in the 1950s.

 1960 to 1980
          The boom in new steel tugs (and many new steel barges to be towed by them) continued in earnest throughout the 1960's. In 1963 the company graduated from my Grandfather's basement and under my Fathers direction settled into 'real" offices. 1969 was a year of very significant output from what was then a company of about 8 to 10 people. It also marked the first exchanges between Robert Allan Ltd. and the firm of C.H. Cates & Sons, a relationship which would have lasting and dramatic impact on the future of our design firm. This period also saw the boom in the new “under tonnage tugs” It is difficult to identify exactly how many of these < 15 GRT, “41 footers" were built. A grand total of 106 tugs were built to our design in that decade.
          As the 1970's dawned the focus on our business shifted north, although there were still many tugs built locally in that decade.  I joined my Father in the business at the beginning or 1973 when our staff totalled about 12 persons. Tugs for the Mackenzie River System and ice-class vessels for the Beaufort Sea consumed much of our talent in those years, but there were some coastal highlights too, notably the 114' 2,500 hp Jervis Crown, a very favourite of my own early career (1976) as my Father (though watching carefully) let me have a relatively free rein with this design. This decade also spawned the series of 76', < 150 GT tugs which are all still in service today. Vito built four tugs for Gulf of Georgia Towing. the Cindy Mozel tor Captain Iohn Mozel, and the slightly smaller Comox Crown for Crown Zellerbach.

1980 to 2000
        The early 1980's were dominated by projects for the Beaufort Sea and in particular with the design of Ikaluk and Miscaroo for Gulf Canada Resources lnc.  These 79 metre, 14,900 bhp ice-breaking supply vessels were the only high ice-class OSV's of their kind anywhere in the world at the time and are still operating effectively in Sakhalin today. It was a very large and significant project for our office, and introduced me to the marked contrasts in efficiency and quality between domestic and Japanese yards. 
          Those heady days of 1981-1982 however soon led into the doldrums of the balance of the 1980's. There were however, some notable bright spots in the 80's, not least of which was the development of the first Z-drive tugs tor C.H. Cates & Sons. The Cates 2 was built in ’83 followed by the Cates I in 1986 and the Cates 3 in 1990.
          As the 1990's dawned, the era of the Z-drive tug really began in earnest. at least in North America. . . .   it had begun 20 years earlier in Europe. The small but mighty Cates tugs attracted a lot of attention and shortly thereafter enquiries for similar tugs came in from many places in North America and from Europe.  We had learned what work in terms of hull form for these agile tugs and applied those lessons to ever larger ASD type tugs. In 1993 a series of 4.000 hp, 100' ASD tugs were built by East Isle shipyards (as part of Irving Shipyards) of PEI. These were highly successful boats, some of which were bought by operators in Europe. That connection to major European owners, and in particular to Østensjø Rederi AS of Norway opened many doors for Robert Allan Ltd and led to the opportunity to design several major and innovative tugs for the emerging tanker escort tug market. The business for new tugs was on a tear and we were fortunately well placed with fresh ideas to serve the burgeoning market.
          In about 1995 an amazing and enduring relationship was born with Sanmar and to date Sanmar has built more than 150 rugs to our designs, in the process establishing themselves as probably the premiere tug building shipyard in the world. That connection quickly led to relationships with other shipyards in Turkey, notably Uzmar and Med Marine, and soon we were seeing more than 40 to 50 tugs per year being built in Turkey alone.

The development of ever larger container ships, major LNG terminals, expanding bulk carrier ports such as Port Hedland in Australia, and of course, the rapid evolution of tanker escort technology created a whole new generation of high performance specialised tugboats since 2000. Robert Allan Ltd. has had more than 720 tugs built to our designs worldwide. When added to the historical database the total number of rugs delivered stands, at the time of writing at 1005.

And so to the “Kilo tug” . . . . the 1000th tug delivery in the now 37 year history of this firm.

That honour, most fittingly, goes to the Dux. The first of three ultra-high performance dual fuel escort tugs built by Gondan shipyard in Spain tor Østensjø Rederi AS Norway.  Johannes  Østensjø was the first Owner in Europe to purchase a Robert Allan Ltd.-designed rug and our subsequent work with that fine company has always been “extra special", including tugs of truly innovative and specialised designs as illustrated by the pictures of Vortex and Ajax, with both VSP and Z-drive propulsion. Now the Dux and her two sisters will be the first dual-fuel escort tugs in the world.

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