For the first time in the company’s long history, Vane Brothers is conducting operations in the Great Lakes region, serving both US and Canadian ports along the north border
Headquartered in Baltimore, Maryland since its founding in 1898, Vane Brothers serves the maritime industry along the US east, west and Gulf coasts, and along the north border between the US and Canada.
The company provides a wide range of functions such as bunkering, launch services and safety equipment inspection and operates approximately 50 tugboats and 80 barges.
Vane Brothers president C Duff Hughes noted, “Similar to Vane’s arrival on the west coast more than two years ago, the Great Lakes region represents an exciting business opportunity in a new location. The potential is here for long-term success in partnership with a valued customer.”
Vane vice president, operations Captain Rick Iuliucci added, “We have the equipment, personnel and expertise now in place to take full advantage of our presence in this new operational area for an extended period of time.”
Vane’s north border service incorporates terminals from Kingston and Hamilton, Ontario, Canada to Buffalo, New York; Green Bay, Wisconsin; Cleveland, Ohio; and Detroit, Michigan.
The 4,200-hp tug New York and 50,000-barrel asphalt barge Double Skin 509A entered the region in October 2020 with Captain Tim Ladd at the helm. Captain Ladd handed off to Captain Steve Tillett, and then Captain Rusty Harris came on board in mid-November as service officially got underway.
“When talk of the Lakes job came up, I looked at it as an opportunity to explore new areas,” said Captain Harris, who has been with Vane Brothers since 2007. “It’s been exciting learning about the conditions we must face.”
Captain Harris explained the weather around the Great Lakes is known to “get rougher quicker, so we need to be prepared for anything.”
Captain Iuliucci acknowledges, “There are some pretty nasty storms in the region, and odds are that we will encounter ice on a grander scale than what we might see along the Hudson River or in other waters where Vane operates.”
Vane’s north border crews have stocked up on ice mallets, snow shovels and bags of salt, while also packing extra clothes and foul-weather gear.
Regarding the vessels’ work schedule along the north border, Captain Iuliucci noted, “The expectation is this will be a year-round operation, though we understand that seasonal adjustments need to be made. For instance, in Tonawanda, New York, Black Rock Lock closes down and navigational aids are pulled during ice season, so there is no winter service there.”
Amid extreme cold conditions, asphalt barge Double Skin 509A keeps its precious cargo extra hot. Asphalt, similar to many other petroleum products, must remain at an elevated temperature to reduce viscosity so it flows efficiently during the pumping process.
“The typical asphalt barge has a much more robust cargo heating capability than other barges designed to transport heavy fuel oil,” said Vane Brothers special projects manager Steve Magdeburger, who is in charge of new barge construction. “Liquid asphalt is typically loaded at temperatures between 144°C and 177°C and is pumped off at temperatures upwards of 132°C to 135°C. If the temperature is allowed to drop below that, it becomes more difficult, if not impossible, to pump the asphalt.”
Such high temperatures contribute to the fog that often surrounds a barge operating in a frigid climate. “The heat of the cargo is conducted throughout the areas around the cargo tanks,” Magdeburger explained. “Surfaces can be extremely hot to the touch.” For this purpose, tankermen wear personal protective equipment such as temperature-resistant safety footwear, and they know to utilise elevated walkways and platforms when traversing the barge’s deck.
Aside from the weather, Captain Harris said narrow waterways pose a challenge while navigating parts of the Great Lakes. As an example, he points to Detroit’s Rouge River, which is crossed by six bridges. “We must rely on accurate distances to navigate some tight squeezes,” Captain Harris said. “A crewmember is positioned on each side of the barge and we must communicate with the assist boat, so we keep the radio chatter to a minimum.”
Captain Harris equates the experience to steering a vessel past railroad bridges around Norfolk, Virginia – something he did for many years early in his career. “My Norfolk experience definitely helped out up here as far as the bridges and tight quarters are concerned,” he said. “It can get the adrenaline flowing, but I enjoy the challenge.”
Wherever the work takes his crew, Captain Harris said his priorities are unchanged. “I just want to make the customer happy and keep everyone safe,” he said. “That’s what I see as my most important job no matter where I happen to be.”
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