A venerable towboat was welcomed back into the Excell Marine Corporation fleet during a christening ceremony May 8 at the National Maintenance & Repair facility in Paducah, Ky.
The vessel flew the Excell banner the first time as the River Wolverine when it joined the fleet in 1997. Excell renamed it Capt. Dick Morton in 2005 to honor an ailing senior captain, then sold it two years later to Marquette Transportation Company, which renamed it Blessed Sacrament in 2008. Last year, the classic vessel returned to Excell and was renamed Jacie E in honor of the 5-year-old daughter of Robert and Shaylah Englert. Robert Englert is general manager of Excell Marine.
The 116- by 30-foot vessel was built in 1952 by St. Louis Ship as the La Salle for the former Commercial Petroleum & Transport Corporation.
The La Salle was originally powered by a pair of GM 12-567 diesels rated at 900 hp. each. It is on record as being the first commercial vessel to lock through the new Upper Mississippi River Locks 27 on February 27, 1953.
Prior to being acquired by Excell the first time, the towboat went through several ownership changes, beginning in 1974 with its sale to Tennessee Towing Inc., Memphis. In 1981, it was operated by Igert Inc. of Paducah. The name changed for the first time when sold to Tolen Marine Inc., also of Paducah, which renamed it Claudia T.
Upon joining the Excell fleet the first time in 1997, the towboat was renamed River Wolverine. Prior to renaming it Capt. Dick Morton in 2005, Excell completely refurbished the vessel and repowered it with a pair of GM 12-645E2 diesels, rated at 3,000 hp. total. Throughout its many ownerships and including the most recent rehab, it still maintains its classic lines, including even the original stacks.
The most recent refurbishing and rehab projects have included updated HVAC systems, potable water storage, upgraded pumps and motors, a hundred feet of new rub rail and gunnel replacements and hull repairs, including new steel in the stern section. Relief Capt. Scott Dupriest said following the christening ceremonies, the underwater repairs also included new wheels, shafts and rudders.
Buzzi Unicem USA
Robert Englert said the Jacie E is in a charter operation for Buzzi Unicem USA, which operates many cement plants and distribution terminals along the inland waterways. Headquartered in Bethlehem, Pa., Buzzi Unicem USA has a production capacity of approximately 9 million metric tons.
Excell has served Buzzi Unicem USA since 2010 and the relationship with them has been one of the largest facilitators to the company’s growth, Englert said.
“Through the recent downturn in industry, Buzzi Unicem USA maintained a strong book of business that allowed our fleet baseline to keep moving, thus giving us a foundation to grow from,” he noted.
Prior to the bottle breaking, Englert singled out one of the attendees for recognition as he congratulated Bob Wittenborn on his retirement from Buzzi Unicem USA only the week before. As logistics manager for barge operations, the 32-year company veteran was responsible for moving almost 3 million tons of cement from the company’s Cape Girardeau and Festus, Mo., loading terminals, Englert said
“Bob was a key factor in the relationship that was built between the two companies along with his supervisor, John White. Bob and John are two of the most dedicated and knowledgeable customers we have ever serviced,” he noted. “Bob will be missed and we hope he enjoys his well-deserved retirement.”
Succeeding Wittenborn is Mark Hollandsworth, who worked previously on the production side of Buzzi Unicem USA’s Festus facility, from which most of Excell’s barge movements originate. “Our time spent with him thus far has been enjoyable and we look forward to continuing the relationship between the two companies,” Englert added.
Also in attendance from Buzzi Unicem USA were John White, vice president-logistics, and wife Rini.
The Rev. Kempton Baldridge, senior river chaplain with Seamen’s Church Institute, opened the event with a prayer of invocation before presenting the official vessel Bible to Dupriest and Capt. George Powley. A U.S. Merchant Marine flag was presented to deckhand Cole Jackson and pilot Tim Elder. A prayer of blessing was offered by SCI chaplain Rev. Don Reusch, pastor of St. Matthew Lutheran Church, Paducah.
Concluding the brief ceremony, Jacie’s mom, Shaylah, smashed a bottle against the H-bitt on the foredeck, releasing a cascade of fizzing champagne while the honoree looked on with surprise and excitement.
Crew members on hand for the christening included Powley; Dupriest; Tim Elder, pilot; Jimmy Lingefelt, chief engineer; Larry Scott, mate; and Cole Jackson, deckhand.
Dupriest said the Jacie E is most often in the Cape Girardeau to Nashville trade but on occasion makes trips to Memphis and other points as necessary.
Following the christening, Englert said that by mid-summer, Excell anticipates owning or operating 20 towboats ranging from 1,800 hp. to 7,200 hp. as market conditions have become more favorable, thus driving up the demand for charter horsepower. He added that with the onset of the Subchapter M regulations, Excell feels there will be a continuous need for charter horsepower as vessels have to be pulled out of service to meet the requirements. “As we have increased the number of boats (in the company fleet), we have tried to diversify the horsepower size to meet a broad array of charter power needs,” he stated.
Caption for top photo: The mv. Jacie E was built in 1953 as the La Salle. It previously served in the Excell fleet as the River Wolverine and then the Capt. Dick Morton. (Photo by Jeff L. Yates)
Slideshow with photos from the christening: