By H. Nelson Spencer
When Blessey Marine Services welcomed the mv. Clark Todd into its fleet October 15, it was much more than a ceremonial christening event. To Walter Blessey Jr., a New Orleans entrepreneur who “in 1978 made a little money trading oil,” he said, and then founded Blessey Marine, it was a way of publicly telling people of his plans to finally slow down, now that he has someone in the family who has proven he can carry on the business. And to Clark Todd, Walter’s son-in-law and that “someone,” the event provided him with an opportunity to publicly thank Walter for entrusting him to run an enterprise that has grown from a handful of people and one or two boats to more than 800 employees and nearly 80 vessels.
The crowd of 250 or so well-wishers was seated on the wharf alongside the new towboat or otherwise watched from the railings of the Hilton Riverside Hotel as the two exchanged comments and a hug. Walter Blessey told the gathering that he had always dreamed of having a family business that could be continued by future generations. And of his relationship with his successor, he said, “Clark looked to me for mentoring [early in his Blessey career], and we developed an incredible symbiotic relationship that has allowed me to ‘let go’ [of many of my corporate responsibilities].”
Turning to Clark, he said, “You’ve done an incredible job. You’re a great young man with strong family values. The company is in good hands.” Then, facing his daughter, Blessey drew a laugh from the crowd when he said, “Laura, thank you so much for picking him.”
Alas, not everyone is as overjoyed with Walter’s lighter work load, according to Jane Ann, his wife. She provided another light moment by lamenting the fact that her husband is now home for “breakfast, lunch and dinner; breakfast, lunch and dinner; and … breakfast, lunch and dinner.”
Clark Todd said he is deeply appreciative of the fact that his father-in-law has always treated him with respect and helped him develop a foundation for success in the business.
“He taught me many things, but three stand out the most,” he said. “Have a vision, go after it with passion, and trust your gut.” The fact that Blessey Marine is a family-owned company allows Todd and his co-workers a high degree of flexibility in making decisions. And going with one’s instincts is an important part of that, he said.
Growing up in Texas in a family of baseball players, all of whom were catchers, Todd took to the game at age three. By the time he was in high school, he had attracted the attention of pro scouts and was offered a contract by the Chicago Cubs. However, because he was a late-round draft choice, he decided on a college education instead, he said. Subsequently, he went to the University of Texas at Austin, where he played baseball, and then Southeastern Louisiana University, where he earned his business degree, while working on the boats and in the office for Blessey Marine.
Todd said that being involved in sports, particularly being a catcher, gave him an appreciation for teamwork and leadership that he values today as president of Blessey. “As a catcher, on the field, I had to run the team, call for certain pitches, position the infielders and so on, always keeping in mind the situation at the time—the score, the inning, how many runners were on base and all that,” he said. “I think having to make decisions on the field has helped me a great deal in my professional career.”
Of course, working as a team is paramount at Blessey, which is imbued with the concept of family. Walter Blessey is known for being able to greet each of his captains by name. He calls them at Christmas and is available to them any time on his cell phone.
“Named president in 2005, he is one of the youngest executives in the industry,” said the christening program of Todd, “and with the support and guidance of Walter Blessey, owner and chief executive officer, he intends on working hard to maintain the core values that have allowed the company to be an industry leader.”
The mv. Clark Todd is not the first vessel in the Blessey fleet to be named for a member of the Todd family. In 2006, shortly after he was named president, Clark named a boat after his father, Melvin R. Todd, said his brother Chris at the ceremony.
Another namesake in the crowd and a close friend of the Blessey family, Rep. Steve Scalise (R.-La.), when asked to say something “nice” about Clark, pointed out with a laugh that “his” boat—the mv. Steve Scalise, christened in 2011—was hard at work north of St. Louis and it was about time that Clark’s boat “got off the dime” and started making some money, too. He lauded Walter as a great American and Blessey Marine as a small-business success story.
Given the chance to pick the builder of his namesake vessel, Clark Todd chose Verret Shipyard, he said at the celebration. Verret has built 32 boats for Blessey, dating back to 1980. The Clark Todd is the last of a three-boat contract calling for 2,000 hp. sister vessels; the other two are the recently-completed Lindsey Graham and Laney Blessey Watkins. Two smaller 1,350 hp. vessels for Blessey are also on order from the Plaquemine, La., shipyard.
All were initially agreed upon with a handshake, president Ted Verret told the audience. “Just the way my daddy and Walter did,” he said, offering his outstretched hand to Clark. Later, he presented him with a Browning “One Millionth Edition” over-and-under shotgun and a framed photograph of the boat with a University of Texas emblem in the foreground.
The new towboat, fresh out of the shipyard at the time of the christening, is 85 feet long by 30 feet wide by 10-1/2 feet deep. When carrying a full load of 30,000 gallons of fuel, the Clark Todd will draft at 8-1/2 feet and offer the pilot an eye level of 37 feet. The vessel can also hold 16,800 gallons of water and 450 gallons of lube oil.
Main engines on the boat are twin Cummins KTA38M diesels, rated 1,000 hp. each, from Cummins Mid-South. Service power is provided by Cummins Model 6B engines with 85 kw. Stamford generators. Karl Senner supplied the 6:1 Reintjes WAF 562 reduction gears. The four-blade, stainless steel propellers from HS Marine Propulsion are 74 by 56 inches.
A unique feature of the Clark Todd is an instant hot water system developed by Paul Taylor, who is vice president of Verret Shipyard. “I often wondered how much water is wasted on a towboat by crewmen waiting for it to warm up (when they take a shower, for example). I calculated it to be about 25,000 gallons a year for a six-man boat.”
Working with a pump manufacturer in Trion, Ga. by the name of Edward L. Jackson Inc., Taylor devised a way for hot water to continually circulate throughout the boat. “By the time you count to three,” he said, “the water from the faucet in the pilothouse is hot. Mind you, the hot water heater is located down in the front hold of the boat.”
Taylor said the pump is inexpensive, particularly when compared to the amount of water that can be saved over time. “Multiply the savings in one boat by the number of boats, in terms of gallons of water and money, and it’s easy to see [what kind of overall benefits can be realized].”
He doesn’t stand to make a dime from the idea, Taylor said, adding, “I didn’t even charge Blessey for the pump.” He said he did it for the good of the environment and for the conservation of water, which he views as a precious resource. “I just wish everyone would do it,” he said. “By typing in only the words ‘instant hot water’ on YouTube, you can view a three-minute video describing the system.”
Custom Hydraulic Components provided the electric-over-hydraulic steering system. Pilothouse electronics featuring Furuno radar and a Rose Point charting system were supplied by Wheelhouse Electronics. Baton Rouge Marine Electrical Service furnished the alarm system and a Sims motion detector. Hiller Fire Systems installed the CO2 fire suppression equipment.
Fendering was provided by Schuyler Maritime, and Patterson winches are on deck. There is a Blue Box recording system that has three cameras across the front of the boat, one behind and one in the engineroom.
A trademark of Verret-built boats is the carpentry, which is all handmade in the mill shop, said Taylor, whose father-in-law built the beds. The Clark Todd is no different. The beds, the doors, the cabinets and all the trim are red oak. The flooring is red oak laminate.
The master of the new vessel is Capt. Roger Adams, a 23-year Blessey veteran, whose two sons, Rodney and Hunter, also work for the company. The other crewmen for the maiden voyage were Nathaniel Brockett, Cody Robichaux, Ronnie Lowery and David Stone.
After the Rev. Harry Bugler blessed the vessel and presented Capt. Adams with a ship’s Bible, Todd proceeded to the second deck with his family, where, as one might expect from a former baseball player, he absolutely crushed the bottle of champagne, formally christening the boat that bears his name.Clark Todd Christening