By Karen Robes Meeks
After a two-year design and build process with Vigor Industrial and a 1,000-mile trek from Vancouver, Washington, the Los Angeles Pilot Service’s newest boats have made their way to San Pedro Bay and are now in service at the nation’s busiest seaport.
Seeing the Angels Pilot and the Angels Navigator in action at the Port of Los Angeles marks a big moment for the pilot service.
“We are very happy we were able to work with the port in procuring these boats,” said Chief Port Pilot Captain David Flinn, who oversees the Los Angeles Pilot Service and worked with Vigor to ensure that the boats were built to the pilot service’s specifications. “The pilot service is ecstatic.”
The journey from the design to the delivery of the 56-foot-long custom-built boats began more than two years ago, when the port explored the replacement of longtime pilot boats, the Phineas Banning and the Stephen M. White, which were retired after more than 25 years of service.
Over the years, the former boats had five different engine changes, Flinn said.
“They’ve been very good to us, but it was time to buy new boats,” he said.
The port put out bids in August 2018 for prospective boat builders and selected Vigor-Kvichak (now Vigor Industrial) to complete the $6.7 million project. (Vigor acquired Kvichak Marine prior to the award.)
The boats, which were built at Vigor’s Vancouver Aluminum fabrication facility, each have a fuel capacity of 660 gallons and a water capacity of 66 gallons and can move at a top speed of about 27 knots and a cruise speed of about 24 knots.
Each boat features Tier III level engines that meet California’s environmental standards, a twin chine heavy weather hull form and an articulated rescue davit to recover a person overboard and is designed to accommodate multiple heavy fender systems for safer pilot transfers in difficult weather.
“This smaller boat currently used throughout Europe, Australia and South America delivers the same consistent performance as the larger boats to the US mid-sized market,” Vigor said in a statement.
The port stated that it was impressed by Vigor’s track record of constructing long-lasting, high-quality vessels that could be customized to a customer’s unique needs.
It was important to the port pilots that the boats “perform exceptionally for at least 30 years if not much longer” and included the compilation/delivery of a comprehensive maintenance manual so the pilots and the port’s Construction and Maintenance Division would have all of the necessary information to keep the new boats in top performance condition.
The port pilots also wanted the new boats to have advanced safety features and meet all environmental standards set by the state Environmental Protection Agency and the port’s own Environmental Management Division.
These priorities were especially important to the pilot service, a group of about 30 highly-trained pilots, dispatchers, boat captains, deck hands and other professionals based at the port. The team is a busy one, working around the clock to safely and efficiently guide an estimated 3,600 ships in and out of the port in any given year.
For more than 30 years, Kvichak Marine was a premier builder of pilot boats for both U.S. and international pilot organizations, and Vigor used the Camarc Design group of Argyle Scotland, the same group utilized by Kvichak, to custom design the boats for the pilot service, Flinn said. “The thing that appealed to us most about Camarc-designed pilot boats is their speed and seakeeping ability,” he said. “The design allows them to continue operating at a high speed even during the roughest of weather.”
These new boats were built to last 30 years and have been tested in the worst conditions, including the North Sea, the Mediterranean, and the English Channel, said Flinn.
“These hulls are some of the best seaboats you’ll find out there,” he said.
Port pilots saw the new boats’ sea keeping abilities first-hand during a pair of recent back-to-back storms that had them operating in high winds of 30 to 40 knots and 15-to-18-foot seas, Flinn said.
“The boats handled the rough seas incredibly well, allowed us to maintain an operating speed of 17 knots, in spite of the size of the swells, and were very stable during pilot transfers,” he said.
Jay Hebert, Vigor’s vice president of marine fabrication, said the company is honored to have had the opportunity to build the boats for the port pilots, who he regarded as dedicated professionals.
“These boats are considered the gold standard for design quality and reliable performance, and will help keep the L.A. Port Pilots safer on the job,” Hebert said. “Our skilled workers are honored to support partners like the L.A. Port Pilots and are proud to see these two new boats in service.”