Basket Tugboat in RonIf you consider the odds, these must be quite the rare beasts. You will see round basket boats doing ordinary dinghy sorts of chores on any beach or harbor in coastal Viet Nam. By contrast, since 2005 I’ve made four two-month long tours of the country dedicated almost entirely to hunting for boats. Until this most recent trip in 2010, I had never seen these diesel-powered basket tugboats. That probably expresses the odds pretty well. Unless you know where to look and what you are looking for, you’re not likely to find these creatures. What’s more, I’m still not sure what their work is, though it’s obvious they are hard-working little vessels.
I found these boats tied up among the fishing boats that moor in a large fleet below the bridge at Ron. A glance at the photo tells you almost the whole story. A large, plumb-sided perfectly round basket boat, about eight feet in diameter and two and a half feet deep is equipped with a small diesel engine under an engine cover just about in the center of the basket. A more or less normal basket-boat stern tube carries the propeller shaft out the “aft” chine of the boat and a strut from the gunnel, or call it the rim, carries a rudder quite a ways behind the boat. A tiller is provided for steering, with or without a tiller extension to let the skipper move around on board
- The boats are given a great many more ribs than usual, even for a really large round basket. The ribs form an almost solid wall on the fore and aft centerline.
- That strength is greatly augmented by the motor box itself, which forms a continuous girder fore and aft, making the hull extremely strong along that axis.
- There are a pair of “bollards” or “bitts” of wood mounted forward to tie off lines to the tow and a small wooden piece to bear against whatever is being pushed.
- The rim of the boat is heavy enough in its own right, but there are additional wraps of split bamboo below the rim to protect the hull basketry from chafing and impact.
- Fuel tanks are loose plastic water jugs carried on deck and plumbed from their bottom to feed the engine by gravity.
- There is no cooling water supply intake associated with the propeller as is common in many Vietnamese boats. The boat that is turned bottom up in the mud (with its recent tar patches) shows a through-hull fitting that is probably the missing cooling water intake, though that implies a lift pump for the water, which most of the Chinese diesels do not have. I don't have an answer for you yet.
One thing we can be sure of: there will be few conventional inboard powered boats anywhere that can out turn this one. If you put the rudder hard over you’d best have good hold of something solid on board, you will be going the other direction very soon.
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