Tugboats are in the blood of the Scotty Fletcher family of Walla Walla.
Four generations of his family were at Howard Amon Park on Saturday in Richland, where the newest Tidewater Transportation and Terminals towboat was docked for an invitation-only open house.
“It’s good,” said retired Capt. Scotty Fletcher, 87, a man of few words, after a tour of the tugboat Granite Point.
He worked for Tidewater Transportation and Terminals for 50 years, serving as captain of the tugboat Tidewater, before retiring 20 years ago.
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Now his son, Jim, is the captain of the Granite Point. Between Jim Fletcher’s dad, uncle, brother and cousins, he figures the family has had 200 years on land and water for the Tidewater company.
But the trips up and down the Columbia and Snake rivers hauling petroleum and wheat have never been as comfortable as now.
The Granite Point is one of three new tugboats — officially called towboats — custom-built for Tidewater. The process started three years ago to design a towboat that could maneuver barges through swift-moving currents, high winds and the eight navigation locks along the Columbia and Snake rivers.
The Granite Point, named for the granite cliff about 20 miles southwest of Pullman on the Snake River, is the second of the three to be put into service.
Did you ever think you’d see a TV on a tugboat?
Granite Point Capt. Jim Fletcher
Attention was paid to making her as comfortable as possible for crews of four to five people who spend 15 days at a time on board, rotating six hours on duty, six hours off. Then they spend 15 days on land while a second crew and captain take over.
“Tidewater understands the ability of our crew members to cope with operational risk factors, like frequent sleep disruptions and heavy workloads, depends on their level of endurance,” said Bruce Reed, Tidewater chief operations officer, in a statement when the Granite Point was delivered to Tidewater.
The Granite Point has a sound and vibration control package designed by noise engineers. When she’s pushing barges up and down the river, the crew hears about 60 decibels of noise in their quarters, which is about the sound of an air conditioner.
“There’s hardly any vibration. It’s super quiet,” Jim Fletcher said.
He showed off a kitchen and pantry, a small fitness room with just enough space for a weight bench and stationary bike, and then a lounge area with two recliners in front of a large-screen TV.
“Did you ever think you’d see a TV on a tugboat?” he asked his father.
Back in his father’s day, “it was just work and eat and sleep,” he said.
“Want to walk back to the engine room?” Jim Fletcher asked. “That’s where the money is all made.”
The towboat has two Caterpillar Tier 3 diesel engines and a steering system with four main steering and four flanking rudders.
There’s a great view from the wheelhouse.
Granite Point Capt. Jim Fletcher
Among other work, the Granite Point will push barges up to 286 feet long carrying gas and diesel to the Tidewater tank farm near Pasco’s Sacajawea Park and then push up to four barges loaded with wheat back down the Columbia. The round trip takes about three days, with trips as far as Lewiston, Idaho, requiring five days round trip.
“There’s a great view from the wheelhouse,” Jim Fletcher said. With its mast up, the tugboat is about 58 feet tall.
People along the river will be able to pick out the Granite Point and the other new towboats, the Crown Point and Ryan Point, by the floor-to-ceiling windows on all six sides of the hexagonal wheelhouse at the top.
The sound of the first of the new towboats put into service, the Crown Point, may be familiar to residents up and down the Columbia and Snake rivers. When The Legend retired from towing after 60 years in service, Tidewater received calls from residents who missed the sound of her whistle.
Tidewater retrofitted the brass steam whistle and placed it on the Crown Point.
The three new tugs will travel the Columbia and Snake rivers for decades to come, providing opportunities for more generations of the Fletcher family.
“It’s a pretty nice tug you’ve got here, Jim,” said his mother, Clara, after a tour.
Jim Fletcher went aboard a tugboat for the first time when he was just seven days old, she said.
“Our kids were all raised around boats,” she said.
As a boy of seven or eight, Jim Fletcher would ride along with his father for 15-day stretches. When his father washed the windows, his son would sit in the captain’s chair and steer to his father’s directions.
“Tidewater has done a lot over the years for our family,” Clara Fletcher said. “It’s put a roof over our head and food on the table.”