01 February 2015
Blood Is Thicker Than Water
Thirty-five years is a long time to wait to be reunited with your long-lost sister in your hometown. Many thought it would never happen such is the rarity of a maritime event like this. But against all odds, and thanks to the enthusiasm and commitment from those involved, the unlikely took place on a warm, hazy summer’s day last year.
Now in their fifties the boats have lived through vastly different experiences since their separation, so to witness them alongside one another again was a heart-warming sight for many. Tug enthusiasts and spotters expectantly lined the streets of Maassluis – the sisters’ original homeport – eagerly awaiting their arrival. Camera crews and media gathered along the borders of the New Waterway ship canal to report on the unique event; the atmosphere was electric. Poor visibility on the day threatened to spoil the arrival of helicopters, not to mention photography, but it wasn’t long before the clouds dispersed, the sun came out, and passing down the Hook of Holland M/Y SEAWOLF, accompanied by her sister M/Y ELBE, came into view guided in by the yellow port authority ships. After working alongside each other for the first 18 years of their lives, sister tugs M/Y ELBE and M/Y SEAWOLF (formerly M/Y CLYDE) were separated in 1977 when M/Y CLYDE was sold to a salvage company in Greece. Now in their fifties the boats have lived through vastly different experiences since their separation, so to witness them alongside one another again was a heart-warming sight for many. “It was a pretty big deal,” says M/Y SEAWOLF Captain Drarg Richards. “It was the first time the two boats had been together in Maassluis in 35 years, and the first time M/Y SEAWOLF had been back in the six years that I’ve been captain. We had all the old captains and engineers present – it was an emotional event for a lot of people, particularly the engineers, there may have been a tear or two shed.” Designed by Dr. J.A.C. Hoogenbosch, M/Y CLYDE was commissioned in 1957 by Smit International as a revolutionary tug boasting beauty, strength and endurance. Built in J & K Smits Shipyard in Kinderdijk, the company had a fleet of similar seagoing tugs all constructed within a few years of each other and named after well-known rivers, but M/Y CLYDE only had one close sister ship, M/Y ELBE built in 1959. In order to keep costs to a similar level as M/Y CLYDE some minor adjustments were needed. Thankfully these didn’t impede on M/Y ELBE'S looks or capabilities, and both ships set off for excellent careers as tugs. They towed flattops from the US to Japan and Belgium, freighters to scrap yards and even the first drilling platforms to numerous destinations. Measuring 58.09m in length overall, with a beam of 11.23m and depth of 4.5m, the vessels are powered by two Smit-MAN six-cylinder, four-stroke diesel main engines generating a total of 3,000 horsepower (hp). The engines drive a single open propeller via a reverse reduction gearbox. For a short time they were even the strongest tugs in the world until M/Y ZWARTE ZEE was built in 1963, but both boats still have their original engines today. At the end of her Dutch towage career M/Y CLYDE was renamed M/Y SMIT SALVOR and sold to Matsas Salvage in Greece. She served 13 years on Greek waters before being snapped up by a German towage enthusiast who changed her name to M/Y SEAWOLFE. That was until 1998 when again her good looks caught the eye of a Greek owner in the Caribbean who purchased her and made the radical decision to convert her into a yacht. Five years of hard labour in a yard in Palma resulted in a stunning transformation. Her industrial tug outline was preserved, but as a boat she was enhanced with elegant details, softened design elements and a luxurious interior. She began her life as a yacht under the name M/Y SEAWOLFE, and subsequently became M/Y SEAWOLFE C, then M/Y DOLCE FAR NIENTE. Finally, six years ago when her current owner Mike Potter bought her, her name was simply shortened to M/Y SEAWOLF. “Mr. Potter is really into his vintage aircraft, so her age and history were definitely part of the attraction,” says Captain Drarg. Life as a yacht suits M/Y SEAWOLF. She wears the transformation well and has adapted with ease, fully embracing her role as an expedition yacht. She now spends her days in slightly more relaxed circumstances cruising to exotic locations – Fiji, Tahiti, New Zealand, Panama, the Baltic and Caribbean – wherever her owner’s enthusiasm for diving takes them. “We don’t go searching for wrecks, but we’re really active,” says Captain Drarg. “Mr. Potter is not as young as he was but he is in great shape and he has a young family and he’s extremely keen on scuba diving, free diving, swimming with whale sharks, and his girls have learnt to dive on M/Y SEAWOLF. “The fact that she used to be a tug really helps with our current needs as she has a lot of deck space for our toys, tenders, jet-skis and even a sailboat. She’s also got a big fuel range – which a lot of modern boats don’t have – and she’s a really great sea boat, so when we’re crossing the ocean when the weather’s bad or travelling to out of the way places, she can still go where most yachts probably couldn’t.” For M/Y ELBE, however, life has been somewhat different. In 1976 she was sold to the Association of Maryland Pilots of Baltimore, USA, for use as a seagoing pilot vessel. In 1985 David Parrot, Founder of Titan Salvage, arranged her donation to Greenpeace where she became an action ship replacing the famous Rainbow Warrior as the organisation’s flagship. When eventually she herself was replaced for a more modern vessel she was donated to the Harbour Museum in Rotterdam – the largest open-air museum in the Netherlands. It was here that Captain Hans Hoffmann took on the challenge (and personal dream) to restore her to an old magnificent tug again. His aim was to make her fully under class, so that the ship, once restored, could sail anywhere. Unfortunately for M/Y ELBE there were a number of fairly large setbacks during this process that resulted in her sinking twice. The first was in 2004 when she was accidentally struck by a heavy transport ship manoeuvring at an adjacent berth. The second time came down to suspected sabotage when she inexplicably sank at the Wartsila yard at Schiedam where the Smit-MAN main engines were being overhauled. By that stage much of the ship’s machinery had been completely refurbished and work was progressing on the renewal of electric cabling. The 70 volunteers working on the project were deeply disappointed, but still motivated in the face of adversity and they continued the restoration process until it was complete. M/Y ELBE and M/Y CLYDE only met four times during their towage careers, but Captain Hans felt strongly that their first proper meet after so much time should be in the port of Maassluis. As a result, negotiations with M/Y SEAWOLF'S owner led to an agreement for him to call on Maassluis when on his way from the Baltic to Vigo where his yacht undertakes regular maintenance. “I pushed Mr. Potter for a long time to get M/Y SEAWOLF there and last year our schedules worked out. Initially it was for the people in Maassluis, but once we arrived we were all in awe of everybody there and how much it meant to everyone,” says Captain Drarg. “People back in the day were proper seamen, they were experienced captains, and I felt tremendously humbled. “There was a whole community based in Maassluis around these boats – the engineers, captains, officers, deck hands, chefs, accountants, naval architects, family, wives, girlfriends, everyone lived there – the boats would charge off, get salvage and then come back. So everyone who lived in that area was tied in to the boats somehow, they were part of the industry, and have a really personal connection.” On the day of the historic meet a party for a selected group of guests was held on board M/Y SEAWOLF where Mr. Potter presented Joop Timmermans, chairman of the Council of Advice of the National Towage Museum in Maassluis, a beautiful work of art. Created by Canadian artist Dave O’Malley, it symbolises the unique meeting of M/Y ELBE and M/Y SEAWOLF. In return Mr. Potter received a glass etching of the outline of Maassluis to commemorate the momentous occasion. This article and images originally appeared in Fraser yachting magazine.