New Tug Enters High-Mountain Service at Skagit

High in the North Cascades on Monday, March 28, Seattle City Light will launch a new push tug boat into service on Diablo Lake.

High in the North Cascades on Monday, March 28, Seattle City Light will launch a new push tug boat into service on Diablo Lake.  It will be used to deliver barges loaded with essential equipment and supplies to Ross Dam, one of three dams in the utility’s Skagit Hydroelectric Project.

“With no road to Ross, the only way to make those essential deliveries is by boat or barge, so a reliable tug is critical to dam operations,” Sr. Capital Projects Coordinator Wanda Schulze said.

M/V Thunder push tug

The M/V Thunder will replace two historic tug boats that have served the Skagit Hydroelectric Project since 1948, the Skagit and Diablo II.

Getting the tug to Diablo Lake is no small feat.

“One of the problems with getting boats in and out of Diablo is the tunnels,” Schulze said. “This boat will not fit through the tunnels. It’s too tall, so the pilot house can be taken off and is going to be shipped separately.”

Preparing M/V Thunder for delivery

The tug also has to be sturdy enough for the job and the harsh winter conditions of the North Cascades.

Kvichak Marine Industries of Seattle designed and built the $700,000 custom tug.

“With this tug, the challenge was satisfying all the mission requirements in a package that could go up the road to the lake,” said Art Parker, sales manager at Kvichak.

M/V Thunder is about 25 feet long and 14 feet wide. It has dual 300 horsepower John Deere diesel engines.  A raised pilot house allows the boat captains to see over loaded barges, which will increase safety for kayakers and other recreational boaters on the narrow portions of Diablo Lake. 

“It’s amazingly solid. She’s built heavy,” Parker said. “Machinery’s down low in the hull. Purpose-built design.”

The small tug is nimble, too. With one engine in forward and the other in reverse, the boat can turn in place.

“I’ve driven it. It’s fun,” Parker said. “It spins like a top.”

Skagit employees named the boat M/V Thunder in reference to Thunder Creek, which flows into Diablo Lake, and Thunder Arm, an area of Diablo Lake. The tug is expected to serve the Skagit project for 40 to 50 years.