Ranger Tugs of Kent, Washington, builds power cruisers for people who admire the rough-and-tumble looks of industrial workboats. Complete with plumb bows, salty looking wheelhouses and conspicuous superstructures, Ranger Tugs borrow from their commercial cousins’ style, but that’s where similarities end.
With topsides painted in colors such as claret red, hunter green, midnight blue and Fighting Lady Yellow, they carry recreational kit like kayaks, bicycles, fishing gear and stern-rail barbecues. Far from grimy container terminals, they are found in many attractive cruising venues, including the Inside Passage, Downeast Maine, the Great Loop and the Florida Keys.
Now comes the R-41, the biggest model to date from Ranger Tugs. It has Volvo Penta IPS pod propulsion, is available in sedan or flybridge versions, and tops off a line of models that starts at the R-23.
Before boarding the R-41 for a multi-day sea trial in the Pacific Northwest, I had a look behind the factory doors in Arlington, Washington, one of several plants that are operated by Fluid Motion, the parent company of Ranger Tugs. It is run by David and John Livingston, a father-and-son team with close to a century of combined experience in boat building. David, 78, is vice president of design and engineering, and a 60-year veteran of the marine industry. He worked for Regal, Reinell and Bayliner, where he served as president in 1988 and 1989. John, 51, Ranger’s president, seems to be cut from the same bolt of cloth as his old man; he’s been nuts about boats for as long as he can remember.
“I got started with styrene at an early age, when Mom was pregnant with me, laminating Livingston dinghies,” John said with a laugh. During high school, he worked summer jobs at Bayliner. Later he cofounded Uflex steering systems, then went to work at Regal in Orlando, Florida, in the 1990s. He moved back to the Pacific Northwest to be reunited with his father with whom he acquired Ranger Boats in 1998 from Howard Smith, who founded that company in 1958.
On the lamination floor in the factory, workers in Tyvek suits executed classic boatbuilding techniques. Producing the Ranger 41 and some smaller models for the company’s sportier Cutwater line, they sprayed gelcoat into molds and hand-lay woven roving fiberglass mats saturated with polyester and backed by a layer of vinylester resin. Finished hulls were fitted with foam-filled fiberglass stringer systems with cavities for tankage and inboard engine mounts. For deck and superstructures, core materials like Diab foam, Nida-Core honeycomb plastic and Coosa board were used. Also on site are departments for upholstery and carpentry, plus the metal shop, where windows get built.
I asked John why the company went with pod drives for its new flagship. He said the company moved to IPS propulsion for the R-41 in part because the joystick-based system eases the task of close-quarters maneuvering. “The biggest nightmare is docking. You don’t want to be embarrassed,” he says. “Once you make that part easy, it’s all good.” Another reason they chose IPS is the compactness of the system compared to a traditional straight shaft drive. IPS also eliminates the need for separate bow and stern thrusters and the autopilot, which is already integrated.
Boarding the R-41 in Anacortes, about 40 miles north of Arlington, to join a factory crew that was heading to an owners’ rendezvous in the Canadian Gulf Islands, I had a chance to experience the new flagship as it was meant to be used.
Natural light is never in short supply in the vessel’s open interior, thanks to the large salon windows and skylights. The interior on this prototype was finished in Exquisite Elm, a textured laminate. Teak is an option.
Occupants spread out in two ensuite staterooms and a salon with two seating areas. The dinette to port converts to a double berth and can be lifted by electric motor to reveal underfloor storage with washer and dryer. There’s a convertible alfresco dining setup in the aft cockpit and foldout seating on the foredeck.
Two large Blue Sea Systems control panels for 120/240-volt AC and 12-volt DC power circuits are reminders that the R-41 is loaded with household amenities, including fridge and freezer, washer and dryer, entertainment systems, electric marine toilets, hot water, reverse-cycle AC and a separate Webasto heating system.
As the marine layer evaporated, we shoved off from B-Dock at Cape Sante Marine in Anacortes. Sam Bisset, communications director for Ranger Tugs, made the process look like child’s play, controlling the twin IPS400 drives by joystick. There are three steering stations on the R-41: a fully equipped helm forward in the salon; a reduced setup for docking in the aft cockpit, and another on the flybridge, where there are repeater screens for the Garmin 8622 navigation suite, along with a million-dollar view.
Once we were outside the no-wake zone Bisset revved the two 300-hp Volvo D4 diesels to 3100 rpm, pushing this 33,000-pound vessel to a cruising speed of 21 knots while burning about 23 gph. The outgoing trip to Bidwell Harbour was smooth. But on the return trip two days later, conditions got somewhat sloppy between Pt. Lawrence and Buckeye Shoal, when the current ran into a lively breeze and produced steep 1.5-foot seas. Even so, the R-41 handled them without fuss. Throttling back a smidgen reduced hull noise and vertical acceleration, allowing the 16-degree-deadrise hull to shoulder aside the quartering chop.
It’s important to note that the boat on this outing was Hull No. 1, a prototype that was designated as a test vessel. The company said it made some changes and upgrades for the production boats, including ABYC-compliant electrical wiring that is harnessed and labeled at each terminal; a gutter system in the swim step to keep water away from the propane locker; and GFCI protection for an AC-current power outlet near the sink.
Interesting features include the forward-facing hull windows in the bow. They allow the owner to check the boat’s position at anchor when he or she sits up in the master bunk. They serve both safety and comfort, but required the builder to move both chain lockers to either side of the bow. To direct the chain and rode, Ranger added horizontal anchor rollers on the bowsprit, which introduce another turning point. “[The extra rollers are] subject to the same force as any standard anchor roller,” Bisset explained. “The turning block is backed by Coosa Board, so it’s not going anywhere.”
At the rendezvous, attended by about 100 owners, quite a few of the “tug nuts” talked about the builder’s willingness to listen, learn and make things right for its customers. Several mentioned “Made in the USA” as the reason they bought a Ranger Tug, while others emphasized the hands-on factory training for new owners, and a customer service operation that keeps people on the water and in Ranger’s still-growing family.
Not everybody logs 765 engine hours in two seasons as one owner claimed to have done, but most use their boats extensively for cruising, fishing or attending factory events. Two of the most popular owner events are the rendezvous at Roche Harbor in September that is capped at 225 boats, and the annual flotilla cruise to Desolation Sound. “It opened a whole new world for us,” said Laurel Solie, a retiree who cruises aboard the R-27 Sweetie Pie with her husband, Paul. “The Livingstons are smart. They’re like Costco, figuring out just what people our age want.”
This article originally appeared in the September 2019 issue.