Erie Basin Bargeport
Billing themselves a “Clearinghouse for Marine Difficulties” and in operation since 1894, Hughes Brothers is Red Hook’s oldest marine firm. They beat by four years Vane Brothers, founded in 1898. No Johnny-come-lately here!
William, Joseph and Robert Hughes are the 5th generation in the company. Brian (handling operations) and Timothy Hughes (handling maintenance) are the 6th generation.
Hughes work has several components, moving things by barge, chartering barges, loading and unloading contractor equipment in Erie Basin, brokerage & consulting, and managing the Erie Basin Bargeport that is jointly owned by Hughes and Reinauer.
Hughes’ vessel operations involve renting deck barges, crane barges, car floats and hopper barges to marine contractors and dredging companies (eg flat-topped barges you put stuff on, barges with cranes, barges with rail tracks to move train cars, barges open like buckets in which you put sand, stone etc.) Barges are rented as ferry docks, fireworks platforms, breakwaters, platforms for movie shoots and special events. A specialty is moving oversize objects, really stuff big that can’t be moved by truck or train, things like bridge sections, the world’s largest catamaran, generator units for power plants, etc. Their kind of trade show is Break BulkAmericas.
Their fleet includes approximately 100 barges and small 3 tugs and one floating drydock. They repair their own barges in that dry dock which arrived on site in 2006. They maintain and repair 12 to 20 vessels a year in it, mostly their own. This stuff is expensive. A small deck barge (90 x 30 x 9) costs about $300,000. A large deck barge (180 x 54 x 12 to 250 x 72 x 15) is $2M to $5M. A very large deck barge (400 x 100 x 25 - 20K ton capacity) can run $10M.
Unlike many local tug and barge companies, Hughes does not put their barges out in the anchorage or on moorings.
The Erie Basin Bargeport was purchased from the Port Authority in 1992. It is the largest private berthing facility for barges on the eastern seaboard. Hughes vessels load contractors’ equipment here, and dock here when not on a job or while being maintained. There are some 15 to 25 Hughes vessels here at a time, and once you add the tenants, the vessel count ranges up 56. Approximately 200 vessels are home-ported out of Erie Basin. As Reinauer modernizes its fleet, they dock mothballed equipment here before selling it. A large collection was sold and exported to Nigeria in 2011 on the heavy lift ship BLUE MARLIN.
Some Reinauer crew are journalists and/or bloggers, and their work gives a good sense of operations on vessels in Erie Basin or based out of there. Look up Captain Bill Brucato on YouTube and his blog and Captain Joel Milton on WorkBoat and his blog.
Erie Basin is a major maritime asset for being a protected waterspace – the man-made arms of the facility keep winds and waves from jostling the boats inside. This reduces daily wear and tear on boats and piers, and makes it a key hurricane hole, or place of refuge, for workboats during major storms.
The Erie Basin bargeport starts at the south end of IKEA’s property and runs clockwise around the waterspace and wraps around until it almost meets the Beard Street Pier on O’Connell’s property. The narrow cut at that point sees 5-10 vessels transit a day, tugs and large barges. It takes lots of skill to move large vessels through there given the wind, tide and current. It is hard for captains to see into the Basin as they enter or to see out in the channel before they exit, so to prevent collisions or close calls, before transiting the cut, commercial vessels make a “Sécurité” call on VHF radio channel 13, the channel for “bridge to bridge” (or wheelhouse to wheelhouse) communication.
Erie Basin rents a portion of their property to the NYPD which stores many vehicles being held as evidence. The rent from the NYPD supports the maritime uses.
PortSide has a close connection to Hughes, Reinauer and the Erie Basin bargeport. Hughes and Reinauer bought our Mary A Whalen in 1994 after she went out of service due to crankshaft damage. Hughes used the MARY as an office for three years and as pier extender.
The MARY’s bow was tied off to the last cleat on the NE corner of their property, and an external spudwell was installed in the MARY so that she could be spudded (pegged in place) opposite large rip rap stones between that pier and the old Todd Shipyard (which became IKEA during that time).
This gave Hughes another 172’ of docking surface – the length of the MARY. Many vessels were tied up alongside the MARY A. WHALEN over the years and at any one time. One 2004 Google aerial shows 12 vessels tide up alongside.
Being a dock was the MARY A. WHALEN’S function when PortSide’s founder Carolina Salguero first saw the tanker. The MARY was bought in 2006 from Hughes and Reinauer who have been very supportive of us over the years by donating towing, funds, storage space, and by providing operations advice and historical information. PortSide also has plans to use the MARY as a dock to host visiting vessels in the maritime center that is our goal to create.
Their Sandy Story
5.5’ of water came over the piers in Erie Basin. All barges that were ballasted and spudded were fine. Only one Buchanan barge, which was not ballasted or spudded, went partially up on the bulkhead. The property (not including NYPD leased property of their tenant) had $550K in damage. They spent another $300K in resiliency projects, raising up electric fixtures and machinery.
ID the Fleet!
Hughes vessels can be spotted around the harbor thanks to the name HUGHES in huge capital letters along the sides of the barges. Hughes also operates several small yard tugs used for pushing equipment around short distances in protected water.