Nantucket's Other Delivery Guys: The Tugboat Crew Of 41 North Offshore

Jason Graziadei •

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Meet Nantucket’s other delivery guys. They don’t drive a truck or a van. They come to Nantucket behind the wheel of a tugboat, hauling as much as 1,100 tons of materials behind them on a barge.

The tugboat crews of 41 North Offshore have been making the 52-mile journey from New Bedford far more frequently this year, and are carrying a lot more than just the usual construction aggregate. These days, they’re delivering modular houses (lots of them), along with catering vehicles for weddings, an assortment of 18-wheelers including UPS trucks full of Amazon packages, heavy demolition equipment, the sand being dumped over the Sconset bluff geotubes, and yes, even an entire golf course (well, at least all the sand and topsoil for the Sankaty Head Golf Course).

Tugboat captains Evan Pereira and Colby Costeira are on pace to log more than 100 tug and barge trips to Nantucket this year, as 41 North Offshore has expanded its operation to meet the growing demand for materials of all kinds on Nantucket.

The two captains, who both grew up in the New Bedford area and have known each other since their teenage years, are now regular visitors to Steamboat Wharf, where they can be spotted unloading the company’s barges - named Thing 1 and Thing 2 - in the earlier morning hours.

“It seems like it gets busier and busier over here on the island every year,” Costeira told the Current this week on the deck of the tugboat Bucky, one of three tug boats operated by 41 North Offshore.

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And the numbers bear that out. So far this year, the tugboat crews have done 36 barge runs with modular homes (each one with multiple units), and transported 72,000 tons of aggregate to the island, along with hundreds of trucks.

Back in January, 41 North Offshore acquired Toscana Corporation’s tug and barge operation, and in May, it launched Island Freight Line - a new service for commercial businesses needing to get materials and trucks to the island - which was kickstarted in the aftermath of the UPS reservation debacle with the Steamship.

Pereira and Costeira both worked for Toscana before the sale to 41 North Offshore, and they saw the potential for what the service has become over the past eight months.

“When I started working for Toscana a few years ago, almost every trip we were bringing a piece of equipment over,” Pereira said. “I saw it, and thought what a market for it. I was unsure if it would ever become a thing, but we saw the demand. I said if we could just use the ramp, you know, problem solved. And it came about.”

As the concept for Island Freight Line crystalized over the winter, 41 North Offshore designed and fabricated a custom ramp that could be used in New Bedford and at Steamboat Wharf on Nantucket to allow trucks to drive on and off the barges in both locations. The ramp on Nantucket, as Pereira mentioned, was now fully accessible.

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For the two friends, who both grew up on the water in fishing families, the job has been a dream come true.

“I thought when I graduated high school I was going to be a fisherman the rest of my life,” Costeira said. “I did it for just about a year after high school, and I went and got licenses to work on the deck of a tugboat. I just so happened to get a job and fell in love with it, And from there on out that’s all I wanted to do, run tugs.”

“It’s a small outfit,” Pereira said of 41 North Offshore. “There’s only 10 or 12 of us, we all help each other. You don’t find that type of camaraderie in this industry.”

The trip from New Bedford to Nantucket can take as long as 12 hours, depending upon the weather and the type of materials the barge is carrying over. A normal run typically begins at 3 p.m., with the tugboat and barge rounding Brant Point in darkness around 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. They then wait to offload until around 6 a.m. - operating around the schedule of the Steamship Authority ferries - before getting underway to head back to New Bedford around 1 p.m. or 2 p.m. They sleep on the boat, taking turns in the wheelhouse as necessary.

Each trip can be different, they said, some uneventful and others more interesting.

“Especially in wintertime, a northwest wind stacking up all the way across Nantucket Sound with an outgoing tide over here turns into absolute hell,” Costeira said. “It really stacks up and you get into issues when you’re towing over water.”

And the type of barge load they’re carrying also impacts how the trip will go. The modular homes and trucks are far lighter than the aggregate material that Toscana and other companies use to make concrete on Nantucket.

“A light barge is a whole different animal,” Pereira said. “With a loaded barge, every wave you hit, you’re worried the wire could snatch up. There’s so many variables. Every hit is like hitting brick wall.”

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They don’t get to spend too much time on Nantucket, but when they do, they can’t stray too far from the tugboat to make sure it’s out of the way of the Steamship. That means they’ve got a few regular spots on the island they hit up, including Stubby’s for breakfast - “they got a fire hash brown” Pereira said - and B-ACK Yard BBQ for lunch or dinner.

The temporary license that the Steamship Authority granted to 41 North Offshore to create the Island Freight Line service will expire later this year, but manager Jonah Mikutowicz hopes they have proven the concept works and is valuable to the island.

“We’re averaging about three to four trips per week now,” Mikutowicz said. “The yard here in New Bedford, it’s constantly going now. A couple years ago it was a few houses. Now we have a full-time guy over here just keeping everything organized and loading barges for Nantucket.”

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