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Delivering ‘Goliath’

Urbanna captain pilots tug across Atlantic and back

The 105-foot-long tug “Allie B” is dwarfed by the 400-foot barge and Goliath Crane. (Photo by George Graham of

by Tom Chillemi

Captain Billy Hudnall came home to Urbanna in June after piloting a tug 6,000 miles from Massachusetts to Romania.

His cargo was a barge carrying a dismantled 3,800-ton crane nicknamed “Goliath,” which will be reassembled at the Daewoo Shipyard in Romania on the Black Sea. The addition of Goliath made Daewoo the largest shipyard in Europe.

Captain Billy Hudnall (left) with the crew of the tug “Allie B” that pulled the Goliath Crane 6,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean. (Photo by George Graham of

It was the first Atlantic crossing for Hudnall’s employer, Dann Ocean Towing of Tampa, Florida, which has been in business nearly 100 years. The company chose Hudnall, who has 19 years experience as a tug captain, to lead the 3-month-long, 12,000-mile round- cctrip voyage.

Hudnall noted that three members of the crew said it was “the trip of a lifetime” because they figured they’d never cross the ocean again in a tug.

Once assembled, the crane can lift 1,200 tons and move a load 400 feet to the side. It also rolls on tracks.

In contrast, the Newport News Shipbuilding crane has a capacity of 210 tons, said Hudnall.

At 384 feet tall, Goliath had been a landmark for 34 years in Quincy, Mass., near Boston.

The crane is an icon of the American industrial might of the 1970s. The crane was built in 1975 for the Fore River Shipyard. Goliath’s demise also reflects changes in U.S. shipbuilding. It was dismantled to make way for condominiums.

“Allie B,” the ocean tug piloted by Hudnall, pulled a barge that carried 3,800 tons, equal to the load of 15 tractor trailers each carrying 26 tons of lumber.

Allie B crawled along at 6 knots (7 mph), about as fast as a brisk walk, with the barge 1,800 feet behind it. The barge measured 400 by 100 feet.

There was no back-up tug. Instead, Dann Ocean Towing made sure the 105-foot-long tug was reliable. The twin 1,500-horsepower locomotive engines were rebuilt before starting the ocean trip.

Hudnall has captained tugs all over the world. His heaviest load was 3.2 million gallons of gasoline and barge weighing 18,000 tons. Still, crossing the ocean was a new experience. “I would make another one,” said Hudnall who turned 50 during the trip on March 22.

On March 7, the tug and barge left Massachusetts and headed south to Cape Hatteras, N.C., hoping to find better weather. By crossing at the 35th parallel they missed two storms—but still hit three fierce winter storms out of the northeast, said Hudnall.

About 1,800 miles off shore of Hatteras, Hudnall’s tug ran into hurricane-force winds topping 75 miles per hour. Waves averaging 30 feet and cresting at 40 feet crashed over Allie B’s bow and splashed against the tug’s bridge, which is 26-feet high. “When waves that big go by, you breathe a sigh of relief,” said Hudnall. “Running at 6 knots, there’s not much you can do to evade a storm.”

During one of the storms, a tow cable guideline broke and had to be replaced. “It was a must-do situation,” said Hudnall, because the 2-inch thick tow cable would have chafed without the guideline and possibly broken. “We really didn’t have a choice,” he said.

Hudnall turned the tug to run downwind, but at 6 knots waves still crashed over the stern. In 25-foot seas, four crew members had to go on the stern deck that was awash with two feet of water. “That was about the hairiest part of the trip, and the guys pulled it off without a hitch,” he said.

The pilot is constantly looking out for “rogue waves,” which can reach heights of 60 to 70 feet—big enough to capsize a tug. During daylight, when rogue waves can be seen, the pilot turns into them. However, at night, the waves can strike without notice. Radar doesn’t pick them up. “At night you can’t see them,” said Hudnall. “It’s not a good feeling.”

The tug arrived at Gibraltar on April 2 after 26 days at sea. It still had a fuel reserve of 15 percent. The crew refueled, got provisions and 12 hours later were headed east in the Mediterranean Sea.

The tug burned 110,000 gallons of diesel fuel for the 6,000 mile-trip (about a half mile per gallon).

The tightest passage was in the Bosporus Strait, which divides Europe and Asia, where the water flowing from the Black Sea was only 800 feet wide. “That’s not as wide as our Rappahannock River.”

The rusting Goliath crane was given to Daewoo Shipyard, which paid to dismantle it and have it transported to Mangalia, Romania. It arrived April 17.

Hudnall said that Romanians respect Americans. “They feel like we had a lot to do with helping to liberate their country” from Communist rule, he said. “They made us feel welcome.”

Some other foreign ports of call have not been as friendly to Americans, he noted.

During the 12,000-mile, 3-month, round-trip journey, Captain Hudnall kept in touch with his wife Susan and children Jimmy, Hunter and Rachel via satellite email.

Captain Hudnall grew up on a farm in Northumberland County on Dividing Creek and worked as a commercial fisherman until that industry started to wane.

For more information, visit, a website developed by George Graham who is writing a book about the Goliath Crane.

posted 07.23.2009

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