The Arrow 2, just back from performing one of its hundreds of thousands of pilot transfers on an incoming ship, bobs up and down, empty in the shadow of the newer counterpart.
Invited guests board, tour and disembark the Connor Foss, a sleeker, faster and, most of all, safer pilot boat that will replace the Arrow 2 after more than 50 years of service by what many have called the most photographed boat on the Columbia River.
“It’s a much stabler platform than the Arrow was,” said Mike Walker, Foss Maritime’s Regional Operations Manager. “The arrow was narrower; this one is a bit wider, and everything about it is packed with (safety) redundancy. All around, it’s going to be a safer platform for them.”
Foss transfers Columbia River Bar Pilots on and Columbia River Pilots off outgoing ships, and vice versa when they’re coming in.
The name of the new vessel comes from Connor Mitchell Hansen, a sixth-generation relative of Foss founders Thea and Andrew Foss – he turned 8 years old March 9. The company, founded in 1889, has been naming boats after family members since the 1920s. Most family members no longer have the Foss surname, and the last one to be involved in the company retired in 2001.
One of the first things you notice stepping onto the Connor Foss is its lack of bulwarks. The new platform stays clear of encumbrances, with a Hadrian Safety System ringing the entire pilot house. Pilots, operators and deckhands clip into the rail via lines that connect to the back of their survival suits. They walk on deck freely, continuously attached but able to ring the entire deck.
“The reason we don’t use the handrails is we need to work alongside ships ... and the handrails will get bent up,” said Mate Ben Hartley, who added that damaged railings could end up being a danger rather than a help to deckhands and pilots.
“You’re going to clip into that, you’re going to hold onto it, and it’s going to be a big part of their safety culture,” said Walker about the Hadrian system, used by Foss for more than 10 years.
How it works
Transfers will still occur on the forward quarter of the boat, with the ship lowering a ladder down and up which pilots will go while the Connor Foss leans into the hull to help keep its platform steady.
The larger size – the Connor Foss weighs 110,000 pounds – and power – it has twin Caterpillar C18 engines putting out more than 1,400 horsepower – allow the pilot boat to execute transfers at a higher speed while riding steadier in the wake created by ships. Each engine can also power the boat in case the other one fails.
“The Arrow 2 is a single-screw engine, so you can’t let its nose get out of joint,” said Capt. Evart Smith, who is preparing to retire from Foss and has been operating tug boats in Astoria since the 1960s. “Once the front end takes off on a single-screw boat, you’re done, unless it’s the direction you want to go.
“The only thing you’re going to do with that boat is go straight ahead or straight back. With this one, at least you’ve got the chance to correct things with two engines.”
Smith said the steering system, which uses a lever instead of a wheel, is what most of the current operators grew up with – the Arrow 2 was an exception. The jog lever steering system on the Connor Foss is basically a high-tech tiller, a turn of the lever making the rudders change direction in following mode. In non-follow-up mode, captains can also input an exact amount of degrees for the boat to turn.
The pilot house of the Connor Foss uses advanced electronics simply plugged into the pilot house’s dashboard and other technology far beyond the chains and levers of the Arrow 2.
The boat is filled with similar safety redundancies – twin engines, twin radar screens and more – that make it significantly safer for pilots and boat operators.
It uses the same design as Skomer, a pilot vessel based at the Milford Haven Port Authority in the United Kingdom. Foss bought the design from Kvichak Marine Industry, the boat-design company that built the Chinook and Columbia pilot vessels.
The hull design of the Connor Foss rides more on atop waves than the Arrow 2’s traditional hull.
Walker estimates that the Arrow 2 has performed about 370,000 transfers. The boat still floats, is running on its fourth engine and it’s still doing the job on the Columbia while the crew trains on the Connor Foss. There are no timelines set for when the newer vessel, which has successfully performed a number of practice transfers, will take over.
The Arrow 2 was built in 1960 by Nichols Boat Works of Hood River for Arrow Tug and Barge in Astoria. It started its service for Knappton Tug and Barge in Astoria in 1962, replacing an even older Arrow 2 built in 1907. The wood-hulled predecessor served 54 years on the Columbia and was built in 1907 at the Leather Boat Yards in Astoria.
“That’s one of the last original boats down here,” said Smith of the second-generation Arrow 2. “When I came tow-boating here in 1968, there were 12 to 13 tugboats working out of 14th Street dock, mostly for export and for supplying the mills – worked 12-, 14-, 16-hour days, seven days a week. Those were the good ol’ days.”
“I think it will probably remain down in Astoria,” said Mike Skalley, who acts as a historian for Foss. “They do need to have a tug to turn the ships around. We do several of those a month.”
“That was one thought, is that the Arrow 2 would stay there and act as a small tug.”
This story originally appeared in Daily Astorian.