Blessey Christens Two Boats In Nola Ceremony

By Frank McCormack

On February 4—an overcast, blustery, wintry afternoon by New Orleans standards—Blessey Marine Services held a dual christening ceremony for two new, near-identical towboats: the mv. Capt. Gary E. Moss and the mv. Robert J. Shea.

The vessels

Sneed Shipbuilding built the mv. Robert J. Shea, named after Blessey Senior Vice President-Marketing Bob Shea, at Sneed Shipyard in Channelview, Texas. The mv. Capt. Gary E. Moss, named for 17-year veteran Blessey Capt. Gary Moss (who now captains the mv. Kathy Swango) was built at Sneed Shipbuilding’s Central Gulf Shipyard in New Iberia, La.

The Robert J. Shea and Capt. Gary E. Moss were delivered within two weeks of one another, on December 30 and January 12, respectively.

The boats measure 87 by 32 11.5 feet with a draft of eight feet, nine inches. Both vessels are powered by twin Cummins K38M engines from Cummins Mid-South that boast 1,000 hp. each (2,000 total) at 1,800 rpm. Karl Senner Inc. provided the vessels’ Reintjes WAF-572 gears at 7.1:1 ratio. Service power comes from twin Cummins QSB7-DM generators, also from Cummins Mid-South, that produce 85 kw. each.

Fuel capacity aboard the mv. Capt. Gary E. Moss and the mv. Robert J. Shea is 28,400 gallons, with a capacity for 11,000 gallons of potable water.

Alarms aboard the boats come courtesy of Baton Rouge Marine Electric. The vessels are propelled by four-blade SS 80- by 62-inch Sound Propellers from Texas Wheel Works. Custom Hydraulics outfitted the mv. Moss and the mv. Shea with dual electro-hydraulic steering systems. Exterior doors are by Dale’s Welding, and the vessels’ Patterson 40-ton winches were supplied by Donovan Marine.

RC Schmidt & Sons provided machine work aboard the vessels. Navigation electronics (Furuno, ICOM, Sigma and Jotron) are from D&G Communication. The vessels also come equipped with BlueBox voyage recording systems, Carlisle & Finch remote control xenon spotlights, and Herbert S. Hiller fire detection and suppression systems.

The Namesakes

Moss was first recognized by Blessey President Clark Todd, who said he first got to know him and learned of his military service during the Vietnam War while on a ‘Captain’s Club’ trip to Cancun.

“Gary was great. I learned a lot about his military background,” Todd said. “Gary told me that when we went down to Mexico that was the first time he’d left the country since he went and fought in the war in Vietnam.”

Walter Blessey, chairman and chief executive officer of Blessey Marine, said Moss is so proficient and efficient at his job, that at times he seems invisible.

“Gary started with us in ’98. During all those years, it’s just been like he’s not there,” Blessey said. “He does the job, it’s done, there are no accidents, there are no crew problems. He just gets the job done.”

John Dempsey, chief marketing and operations officer for Blessey, offered some statistics to back that up.

“In 2014, Gary had zero collisions. He had zero spills. He had zero injuries. He had four audits in 2014 and he passed all of his audits in 2014,” Dempsey said.

After Dempsey again mentioned Moss’s service in Vietnam, those gathered showed their appreciation with a round of applause.

“I’m so amazed. Walter, there’s not too much I can say but ‘Thank you,’” Moss said. “My family, they are very important to me. All the things they give up while I’m gone, it’s amazing to me. That’s all I can say.”

For Shea, the mv. Robert J. Shea is actually the second Blessey vessel named after him. The first vessel, the mv. Bob Shea, was built in 1981 and bought and refurbished by Blessey Marine in the late 1990s. Mitch Jones with Sneed Shipbuilding, formerly with Blessey Marine, recalled finding the boat that became the first mv. Shea.

“We were just desperate for horsepower. Walter was buying barges, and we just couldn’t get boats fast enough to push them,” Jones recalled of the late 1990s at Blessey Marine. “There was an old boat in a slip at the [Sneed Shipbuilding] Orange [Texas] shipyard. It was literally sunk. It was sitting on the bottom of the slip. The original name of that boat was the ‘Big Bob.’”

Jones said Blessey bought the boat, refurbished it and renamed it the mv. Bob Shea. Jones removed the old “Big Bob” name boards and hung them is Shea’s office. Coincidentally, Moss captained the original mv. Bob Shea for more than eight years.

Walter Blessey recognized Shea with a toast, “To Bob Shea.” Toasting Shea is somewhat of a Blessey tradition, Walter Blessey said.

“Someone recently asked me, ‘How did all this start, toasting Bob Shea all the time?’” he said. “I frankly don’t remember, but it’s part of the company culture. It goes back decades.”

Shea started at Blessey Marine in August 1992 as a port engineer. He’s also served as an operations manager, a marketing manager and vice president-operations. He assumed his role of senior vice president-marketing in 2005.

Following the toast to Shea was story after story as members of the Blessey family roasted the longtime Blessey executive. Walter Blessey mentioned Shea’s low golf scores “with only God as witness.”

“Some have said we’ve only kept Bob with us this long because of Lauri,” Walter Blessey later joked, speaking of Shea’s wife. The crowd erupted in applause. “And there is some truth to that.”

Following a couple other speakers, Walter Blessey offered sincere thanks and congratulations to Shea.

“Very seriously, Bob and to the rest of your family, we had some fun messing with you. But you’ve been a huge part of this company for the last 23 years,” he said. “We had fun messing with you, and we love you.”

Shea took a turn telling stories and reflecting on more than two decades with Blessey Marine.

“Now this is the second boat to be named after me, as we heard. The first one we didn’t christen. It was just the Bob Shea. We didn’t christen it because we didn’t have any money,” Shea said. “And the only reason it was called the Bob Shea is because Bob was already there and we only had to spend four more letters.”

Shea offered sincere thanks and described how he thinks of his father, also named Robert J. Shea, when he sees the boat.

“I want to think of my father every time I see that name,” Shea said. “He was a really great man. He was an honest man. He was a devout Catholic. He was an intelligent, moral, funny guy.”

Shea concluded: “I am proud to have this boat named after me. I am proud to be part of the Blessey family. And I’m proud to be your friend, Walter.”

Christened for service

As usual at vessel christening ceremonies for Blessey Marine, The Rev. Harry Bugler, pastor of St. Philip Neri Parish in Metairie, La., offered a blessing over the mv. Capt. Gary E. Moss and the mv. Robert J. Shea and presented both captains with a Bible.

Following comments from both honorees and stories from current and former colleagues, both Moss and Shea made their way aboard their vessels. Both flanked by close family members, Moss and Shea each crashed a bottle of champagne over the rail of their namesake vessel, officially christening them into the Blessey fleet.

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