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Push & pull.

Push & Pull

HE GREW UP ON TUG boats, traversing the waters between Alaska and Seattle, as much accustomed to the roll of waves beneath him as the solidness of ground. She was a Seattle city girl who had never set foot on a boat in her life. Together, Sharon and John "Andy" Anderson discovered a niche in the Seward shipping market and in 1978 formed Anderson Tug and Barge.

Sharon Anderson says, "We found a niche that we could fit into. There was no local movement of tugs and barges. The equipment coming up from Seattle was too large for Alaska harbors, so we had our own equipment designed and built for Alaska conditions."

Because Seattle tugs and barges often are too deep for the shallow waters of many Alaska harbors, the Andersons had medium-sized tugs and barges with shallow drafts built. "Many Alaska harbors have no docks, so the tugs need to be able to beach, and they need stronger hulls," Sharon Anderson explains.

At first launching, she was the ship cook for the one-tug, one-barge company on a trip from Seattle to Anchorage. "I got fired as cook right away - I wasn't very good at it," Anderson recalls. She now serves as secretary/ treasurer of the company, and her husband is president.

Growing up on the Gulf of Alaska, John Anderson has the sea in his blood. His family owned and operated Cook Inlet Tug and Barge, based in Seldovia, and he was operating tugs for the business at the age of 16.

Anderson later joined the Navy and served in Vietnam as a navigator on an aircraft carrier. Later, he circumnavigated the globe many times as a second mate in the Merchant Marine. He had returned to Alaska and become vice president of his family's business when he met Sharon on a trip to Seattle. His younger brother now runs Cook Inlet Tug and Barge.

The Andersons chose Seward as a base for strategic reasons: As the southern terminus of the Alaska Railroad, Seward is the only ice-free Alaska port with both road and rail service to the Interior. "We left Anchorage because we wanted to work our people 12 months out of the year. Seward was more protected and its port is growing fast," says Sharon Anderson.

"We took a chance. It was a risk, but hopefully the port will continue to grow. Seward is on the Great Circle route. It's the closest route possible to continue on your way and yet not go out of your way," says Anderson. The Great Circle is a navigator's term for the shortest route between the Pacific Rim and the U.S. coast.

The 75-foot Gaile Wind was Anderson son Tug and Barge's first vessel. "She was our bread and butter for a long time," says Anderson. Half way through her ninth month of pregnancy, Anderson was still working alongside her husband on the tug, and 14 days after their daughter, Kari, was born, Anderson was back on board. Much of the time she conducted business at a fold-down table that her husband built for her in the wheelhouse, where she sorted through pillowcases of mail and typed business correspondence.

They purchased a Seward home in 1979, but during the first five years of the business, they lived much of the time on the tugs. "We call our tugs `yachts.' We've always thought of the Gaile Wind as the family boat," says Anderson.

Anderson figures Kari traveled at least 100 times across the Gulf of Alaska by tug. When she was four, the Andersons decided she should spend more time with other children and moved the company office to a location in Seward. "She was learning to play poker," says Anderson. "The whole time Kari was on the tugs with us we had this wonderful cook. He taught her how to count by playing cards. He was almost like a grandfather to her."

Increasing business also prompted the move in 1983. "By that time, our business was growing too much for me to work from the boats," recalls Anderson. From then on, she rarely had opportunity to travel with the tug crews. Today her husband also oversees operations almost strictly from shore, although he still captains complex jobs.

There are many different levels of tugboat operator licenses, measured by the tonnage of tug and the distance offshore permitted. John Anderson is certified with the highest obtainable license - limited by neither tonnage nor mileage. Sharon Anderson is licensed as a mate of inspected freight and towing vessels up to 300 tons, certifying her for duties as second in command. Anderson Tug and Barge captains typically are certified at the 500-ton level.

The Andersons had a smaller tugboat, the Junior, built in 1981, and two years later added the custom-built tug Jack Senior. Last year they purchased an old tug from which they rebuilt a customized tug they called the Kari A. The company's cruise and supply boat, the Renown, often is used as a pilot boat to assist ships entering the port.

Anderson Tug and Barge sold the Jack Senior in January to acquire capital for other equipment. Sharon Anderson explains the market now requires larger, more powerful tugs and barges. "Even during the recession, we added equipment. Right now Alaska is in a tread-water position," says Anderson.

The Andersons keep tuned to Alaska's politics and changes in the economy. "We're always looking for ways to improve the business. We spend a lot of time lobbying for development of the states's natural resources and improvement of port facilities," says Anderson. One development that she feels would enable the shipping industry and her company to grow is the proposed gas pipeline.

Anderson Tug and Barge vessels travel as far north as Red Dog, near Kotzebue, and as far south as San Diego, Calif. An average run to Seattle via tug takes 12-14 days, but a light tow can require as few as 7 days, and with a heavy tow in bad weather, the trip can take as long as 21 days.

The company bids on about $50 million worth of contracts a year. The key to profitability is not only building sufficient margins into contracts but also scheduling hauls so that work is constantly in progress. "The absolute worst thing people can say to me is `Oh, your boats look so pretty all lined up out there.' A boat tied up at the dock is money lost," says Anderson.

The Andersons' business has been forced to adapt to several swings of the Alaska economy. For example, after falling off in the early 1980s, the demand for timber-related hauling is reviving.

Anderson Tug and Barge transported equipment for construction of Dutch Harbor and Dillingham docks, breakwaters at Larson Bay, and an airport at King Salmon. "My husband hauled the rock for the harbor in Homer twice, the first time when he was 16 and then again when they rebuilt it 20 years later," says Anderson.

Three years ago, the company escorted the USS Alaska Trident submarine in and out of Seward's harbor. Other contracts have included towing fish processors and Cook Inlet oil rigs and assisting maneuvers of Navy vessels and cruise ships. Ship-assist contracts are a year-round source of revenue for the company, and when work is slow, often the only business available.

North Star Terminal and Stevedore Co. in Anchorage is Anderson Tug and Barge's primary source for such contracts. M.L. Dunsmore, president of North Star, says, "We've known (the Andersons) for years and years. If they say they are going to be there on the 12th of March - we've witnessed it - they they will be there on the 12th of March. They're really a very fine company."

A seasonal business, Anderson Tug and Barge employs as few as 10 and, during the summer rush of construction towing contracts, as many as 30 people. Sharon Anderson says oil-spill-related work drove up wages and lured employees away last year. But even in a typical year, turnover is a problem. She explains, "We don't use any green people. They all have experience, but we train the captains, and they usually go on to larger companies before long."

Each vessel the company owns represents an investment of more than $1 million. Upkeep of equipment is a priority, and winter months are often spent in Seattle, awaiting vessel repairs.

Like maintenance, fuel is a major expense of doing business and one that's difficult to predict. Tugs typically carry between 25,000 and 40,000 gallons of diesel for long hauls. But Anderson says the company's biggest cost concern is increasing insurance rates.

Although the niche the Andersons filled when moving to Seward has proven profitable, no other local company has broken into direct competition. Anderson says some of the larger Alaska construction firms, such as Veco and Underwater Construction, are now operating their own tugs and barges, but that it hasn't had much effect on business. Anderson Tug and Barge's primary competitors remain Seattle-based companies, particularly Foss and Crowley Maritime Corp.

"We have to remain flexible and adapt to the small changes. We don't have deep pockets like some of those companies, but the people we deal with know Andy's expertise," Anderson says. She is proud of the fact that their name is associated with quality and neighborly, Alaskan service. "When we start and finish a project, we're still on a first-name basis, and that's the way people expect it," adds Anderson.

The Andersons own a small business that distributes Coast Guard Marine licensing manuals and various charts, including those made by the National Oceanic And Atmospheric Administration, a division of the Department of Commerce. In recent years, the couple also conducted sightseeing tours on Resurrection Bay with the Renown. They've discontinued the tours to concentrate on tug operations.

"We work 23 hours a day, and the other hour is for family life and vacations," says Sharon Anderson. "But I don't think I could ever work for someone else again. If you fail, you blame yourself, no one else. And if you make it, you pat yourself on the back. We go from kicking ourselves to patting our backs and back to kicking."

When they make time to vacation, the Andersons travel on cruise ships in other parts of the world, not just for relaxation, but also to study the shipping industry. Says Anderson, "We recently went on a cruise from Fort Lauderdale down through the Panama Canal. We wanted to see how the tugs down there handle the Pana-max ships - the largest ships permitted in the canal. We like to see the different sizes of barges and tugs."

Back at home, the Andersons meld their travel experiences with hard-earned Alaska know-how. Sharon Anderson notes, "Alaska is a different place to work in. It has unique water conditions and weather conditions, and sites for loading and unloading are not easy to work with. It's not like you have a big concrete dock with three or four cranes.... But it sure beats L.A., doesn't it?"

PHOTO : Built in 1981, Junior is one of Anderson Tug and Barge's smaller vessels. It was the second boat built for the firm founded in 1978.
COPYRIGHT 1990 Alaska Business Publishing Company, Inc.
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Title Annotation:Anderson Tug and Barge, Seward, Alaska
Author:Denny, Catherine
Publication:Alaska Business Monthly
Article Type:company profile
Date:Apr 1, 1990
Previous Article:By sea and by air.
Next Article:Hot quarter.

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