A Tug That Works It

The Tugzilla 26 is one part commercial boat, one part trailerable cruiser
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Sam Devlin built the TugZilla 26 for cruising, but also put it into service for towing and salvage work.

Sam Devlin built the TugZilla 26 for cruising, but also put it into service for towing and salvage work.

Many boat owners have a healthy obsession with commercial craft and fantasize about the possibility of owning one at some point. Sam Devlin, on the other hand, designed and built his own personal working tug.

Devlin is principal at Devlin Designing Boatbuilders in Olympia, Washington, a leader in the stitch-and-glue method of boat fabrication. He had dreamed of owning a boat like this one for decades. His fascination with commercial craft flourished when he was an undergraduate working on tugs in Alaska during the summers. That exposure, he says, triggered “a wellspring of design inspiration.”

Devlin put inspiration to paper back in 2010, when he drew plans for a real harbor tug, the TugZilla 26. It could be built to proper workboat specifications, but at a compact 26 feet, the boat would not warrant the legal certification required for operators of larger tugs. In addition, it would be small enough to trailer down a highway. The plans were eventually bought by a customer, who started to build it himself. But when that owner got sidetracked and put the project on hold, Devlin bought the partially completed hull, so he could finish it out for his own use.

The build process was fairly lengthy for such a small boat. Devlin and his team removed much of the interior work that had already been roughed into place by the first owner. After the boat was stripped back to a good starting point, they worked on systems,
although Devlin kept the 110-hp Yanmar that powered the hull. In addition, the aft deck was made flush, a large towing bit was installed, a dry stack exhaust was added and the pilothouse shortened.

Final touches included the wrap of fenders from the transom to amidships on both sides of the boat (a hallmark of a proper tug), and the installation of a pudding (or tugboat beard) to protect the bow.

In its finished form, the TugZilla 26 now proves itself to be a capable and utilitarian workboat with the same handsome styling of other cruisers designed by Devlin. And while it looks the part plying the offshore waters of the Pacific Northwest, it has international appeal, too—one 26 was recently launched in Turkey and another in Italy. 

This article was originally published in the February 2021 issue.

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