253 April 23, 2004
Quiet Power for Yukon River Tug
There is no marker off the bar at the mouth of the Yukon River. There is only a "virtual sea buoy", a GPS way point, on the charts of Russ Bodey at 62.24 degrees north and 166.38 degrees west where he rendevous with larger vessels to pilot them in through the shifting sands of the estuary.
Bodey, the president of Bering Sea Fisheries, flies into the company's camp 40-miles up river at Emmonak in late April shortly after the ice has gone out of the river. One of his first tasks each season is to scout the river mouth with a small boat equipped with a sounder and GPS. Once he has located and marked way-points for the channel as left by the ice and freshette waters, he is ready to go out and meet the company's 68 x 25-foot tug Fish Hawk. The tug will have just towed the 180x54-foot flat deck 10,000-barrel petroleum tank barge from Washington State by way of Dutch Harbour with a load of freight and fuel for the summer's fishing operations. He then leads the way with the small boat while Capt. Mike Church cons the tug into the river.
This year, the Fish Hawk, will be pulling a little harder, while making a lot less noise about it, as she has had her twin 16-cylinder two-cycle engines replaced with a new pair of Cummins 6-cylinder four-cycle KTA19 M3 marine engines rated at 640 HP each. "We chose these engines over the competition because they are smaller, stronger, quieter, more fuel efficient, longer lasting and they have more kick at the low end," explained Bodey in late April at the company's Marysville Washington depot. "Sea trials have shown the boat to have more and quieter pulling power especially in the lower RPM when the boat is first put in gear, we will see how it is on fuel over the summer, but with prices in Alaska expected to reach $2.00 per gallon any saving will be important," he added.
The business of wild salmon processing has undergone dramatic changes since the expansion of farmed salmon in the market. A number of long established processors have simply quite the business while others have made huge adjustments. Bodey is one of the later. His father, Bill, started commercial fishing out of Cordova in the early 1940s. Then went on to canning salmon onboard a converted 154x25-foot LCI (Light Carrier Infantry) on the Yukon in the early 1960s and added a freezer in 1967. In 1982, realizing that the market for frozen kings in Japan offered much better returns than canning chum salmon, he set out to develop a reefer container delivery system. Until that time they had been transferring product in the Bering sea off the mouth of the Yukon as the river was too shallow for ships. Bodey pioneered the use of containers barged to Dutch Harbor and shipped to Japan from there. To do this he went to Louisiana where cash prices on newly built tugs were made attractive by skyrocketing interest rates. In Texas he picked up the barge complete with the Manitowoc 4000 crane that had built it and a bow ramp for an equally attractive price.
An additional attraction of the Fish Hawk was that she was built with an 8-foot draft to work the inter-coastal waterway and the bayous of Louisiana. This makes her well suited to the uncharted shallows of the Yukon, where Mike Church, routinely takes her 270 miles upriver although her draft would allow her to go at least 500 miles up this big water. This tug and the barge King Salmon have been well maintained over the 20 years that they have served the Bodeys. Now with the new engines, installed and linked through Vulkan silicon-rubber high temperature torsional coupling to the existing TwinDisc 520 7:1 gears, the combination is ready for a new season. Tug captain Mike Church and his crew are looking forward to improved towing power and a much quieter and comfortable season.
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