Hercules and the Capt. Bob

Log transport specialists

Authored, Pictures and Video by: Martin Leduc

Brought to you by www.dieselduck.net, comments to webmaster@dieselduck.net

British Columbia (BC) is a very large province in western Canada. It is blessed with an abundance of natural resources, one being forestry. Because of the rugged terrain of the province, it is not always practical to truck freshly cut logs to the mills that will finish the wood into lumber and or paper.  But where roads are inaccessible, mother nature has provide ample waterways, which has seen a variety of log towing techniques and outfit perform this type of transport. More and more, the resources are been sought in more remote areas which posed unique challenges that conventional log towing could not meet. Enter the log barge.

The idea is that instead of towing logs in the water, which posed several limiting factors, the logs would be piled on a specialty barge much like a logging truck. These barge can move more logs safely, in rougher weather, than the traditional log towing. Some of the bigger names in the business are Rivtow, Seaspan, and Kingcome Navigation, all based out of Vancouver. The heydays of these massive "log trucks" are probably over, having reached a zenith in the late 1980 - early 90's. Kingcome with their unique self propelled, self loading ships have been bought out by Seaspan. The ships ran into a string of bad luck which ultimately saw them being dismantled or their operations severely scaled down. Seaspan still operates several of these types of barges. Rivtow, which was bought by Dutch salvage giant Smit in the late 1990's, currently operates two such barges, one being the largest on the coast, the Rivtow Hercules.

Rivtow Hercules is self loading, self dumping log barge. It has two massive cranes and carries three "dozer boats" that are used in marshaling logs for loading. Hercules is predominately towed along by the "biggest tug on the coast" the Rivtow Capt Bob. The Capt Bob was built alongside the Hercules and is almost always attached to it. Together they operate on the south coast of British Columbia predominately pulling timber out of Nootka Sound on the West Coast of Vancouver Island to sawmills in Port Alberni, or around Victoria to Ladysmith, Nanaimo or Howe Sound. Occasionally they will operate out of Kitimat, Queen Charlottes, or even Alaska. Most people rarely see these boats as a they are generally "out in the bush" but when they come to the sawmill, you can be sure there is always a crowd to watch them dump their load, as it is pretty dramatic.

The Hercules weighs roughly 5,000 tons by itself and can carry about 15,000 tons of logs, about the equivalent of 700 logging trucks. When it dumps, within a few seconds, it is easy to understand why it attracts a crowd. The 145 foot Capt Bob has a displacement of about 1436 tons and has two EMD diesel engines putting out a little over 6,100 hp. 

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Above are some general pictures of the Capt Bob and Hercules. Below is a series of pictures of a dump as it happens. This particular dump happened in Port Alberni in early 2007. At the dump site, two crew go onboard the Hercules, and will remain onboard until the dump is completed. The barge is first ballasted down, then slowly tipped over by flooding tipping tanks. The ballasting down helps stabilize the barge after the dump, preventing the wild and damaging dumps that used to occur. In the series of pictures below, you see that the barge has reached the usual dump point, but the logs remained. The captain then maneuvered the Capt Bob and gave the front of the barge a gentle nudge, which immediately released the load, like an avalanche.

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All the logs came off smoothly this time. Sometimes the load dumps partially, then the cranes must be used to unload the leftovers. Some times, the loads dumps violently, one side then swings to the other side dumping some more there, and then leaving some onboard, giving the two crew onboard a heck of a ride.

Below is a video of a typical dump; that one in Ladysmith in June 2007. Click it or use your browser's "save target as" feature

The Rivtow Capt Bob's statistics

Built: 1981, Vancouver, BC
Registry: Vancouver, BC - Home Trade I
Class: American Bureau of Shipping
Lenght: 44 meters
Breadth: 12 meters
Draught: 5 meters
Gross tonnage: 975 tons
Power: 2 EMD 16-645 (4579kW total), Falk Gear (~5:1), to 3 meter fixed pitch stainless steel propellers in Kort Nozzles, ~92 tons of Bollard Pull, 12 knots
Aux Power: 2 Detroit Diesel 671T Generators (125kW), 12V71 tow winch engine
Fuel Capacity: Diesel 536,300 litres
Crew: 7 (Master, C/E, 2nd Engineer, Mate, 2 Deckhands, Cook) on 6/6 watches

If you would like more information on these log ships and barges, a unique west coast specialty, check out the recent (April 2007) book release by SC Heal, prolific author of western Canada's marine industry. His new 120 page book is called "The Log Ships", and is published by Cordillera Books of Vancouver, available under the "Local Interest" section of most BC bookstores.

Martin Leduc, Martin's Marine Engineering Page - www.dieselduck.net , June 2007