Tractor tug nears completion in Langley

Finishing work on Nichols Brothers Boat Builders' latest tugboat should be completed soon at its Langley facility.

Finishing work on Nichols Brothers Boat Builders’ latest tugboat should be completed soon at its Langley facility.

Workers are doing touch-up painting, wiring, electronics and mechanical jobs on the tug, getting it ready for its trip to San Francisco where it will be operated by owner Harley Marine.

The “ship assist tractor tug” named the M/V Robert Franco was launched March 14 from Nichols Brothers’ yard in Freeland.

A sister tug is also being constructed at Nichols Brothers. The M/V Ahbra Franco is scheduled to be finished early this summer.

Company CEO Matt Nichols led a tour of the boat Wednesday. Thursday, the boat was expected to be gone all day, gassing up in Everett and conducting sea trials. Workers estimated it could be finished and sent on its way by the end of next week or soon thereafter.

Meanwhile, the tug attracts plenty of attention in Langley from users of the nearby Langley Marina, only a long stone’s throw from the Nichols dock.

This type of tug is nothing new for the Freeland company. The two in progress are the seventh and eighth in a series, and Nichols said he might sign a contract for another this week.

At 100 feet in length and 40-feet wide, the tugs aren’t huge, but their “Z-drive” pulling power is tremendous. Power is provided by two diesel engines producing 7,000 horsepower.

The tugs are noted for their maneuverability around the huge ships they escort into various harbors. The forward winch, referred to as the “money winch,” is wound with a thick polyethylene cable, while the stern winch, using a well-greased metal cable, is used for pulling in rare, emergency-type work, Nichols said.

“The forward winch gets all the work,” he said. Locally, similar tugs prevent big ship disasters by carefully guiding oil tankers into Cherry Point and Anacortes refineries and container ships into Seattle and Tacoma.

The tugs are also equipped with powerful pumps if firefighting is necessary. A flat screen TV was sitting in its box on the floor Wednesday, ready to be installed in the break room. There are bunks for the crew of eight, but they’re seldom needed by the shift workers, Nichols said.

Nichols was among the first boatyards to build this type of Z-drive tug.

“They’ve been so successful the competition wants them, too,” he said.

That meant it was time to end the tour and get back to work selling boats.