News of the recent acquisition of the Central Maine & Quebec (CMQ) railroad by Canadian Pacific (CP) was welcome news to the Penobscot Bay’s harbor service providers, Penobscot Bay & River Pilots Association and Penobscot Bay Tractor Tug Company. Both companies substantially upgraded their capabilities in 2019 to ensure safer and more efficient navigation and docking to the many cargo vessels that visit the local ports of Searsport and Bucksport.
In December, the Penobscot Bay & River Pilots Association took delivery of DIRIGO, a 53-ft Gladding Hearn pilot boat, acquired from the Virginia Pilots Association. The vessel has a beam of 17 ft and a draft of 5 ft, and is powered by two electronically-controlled Detroit Diesel engines rated at 350 hp each. The 1996-built vessel is capable of cruising at 19 knots. The boat is based in Rockland ME and serves multiple regional pilot stations as far as 20 miles from its home port, including Matinicus and Monhegan Islands,
With better seakeeping than the long-serving PENOBSCOT PILOT, in trusty service since 2001, the “new” vessel allows pilots to board arriving and departing ships under a broader range of sea and weather conditions, and with a much higher degree of operating safety than in the past. Both of those service enhancements will increase the movement of vessels in and out of the harbor, and make Penobscot Bay visits more consistent and efficient.
Captains Doug & Patrick Fournier have been steadily upgrading the reliability and capabilities of the Penobscot Bay Tractor Tug Company, most recently with the purchase last spring of the tug FOURNIER BOYS, a 4,200 hp “ship docking module” with a bollard pull of 60 tons. The vessel is noteworthy not only for its power, but also for its unique shape and propeller configuration. With asymmetrical Z-drives located off center in the bow and stern, the tug can deliver nearly 100% of its rated bollard pull in any direction. With a length overall (LOA) of 86′ and a beam of 50′, she is especially handy in the tight confines of the docks at Mack Point.
Penobscot Bay ME
In 2018, the Fournier brothers had acquired two other newer tugs. The CAPTAIN ARTHUR FOURNIER is a conventional twin screw tug of 95′ LOA with a beam of 32′ rated at 3,000 HP and 40-tons bollard pull. The FOURNIER TRACTOR, an 85′ LOA x 33’ Beam Z-drive tractor tug of 3,000 hp and 40 tons bollard pull.
With three boats of 40 tons bollard pull or more, the local assist tugs are more than capable of handling the largest ships that can currently call on the port, including Handymax and Supramax vessels of up to 65,000 dead weight tons. The Penobscot Bay Tractor Tug Company was the first company in the Northeast to comply with the stringent new Coast Guard subchapter M certification for towing vessels.
Neither PB Pilots nor PBTT anticipated the CP purchase of CMQ. But the timing of the new vessel purchases was fortuitous. “We have no idea what kind of new traffic is coming or when it might start coming” said Gelinas, the Harbor Pilot. “However, I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to think that one of the largest railroads in North America might be interested in leveraging the expertise that Sprague (the port operator) has in capably and efficiently handling diverse cargoes in the port of Searsport”. Those cargoes include both dry and liquid bulk commodities, as well as high value “project” cargo. “We don’t know if this will lead to three more ships a year or thirty, but whatever opportunity the future holds because of CP’s purchase, we are ready.”