[JANUARY 31, 2022]


Vane Brothers’ 120-foot-long VB-1 water barge, built in New Orleans in 1976, started a new life in mid-January. Donated to the Ocean City Reef Foundation (OCRF), it now serves an important environmental purpose at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.

According to Captain Monty Hawkins, who is President of the OCRF, the VB-1 is becoming a “ledge habitat” for growing corals and supporting other marine life. “Our temperate reef species, especially sea bass, tautog and lobster, love to get under a ledge,” Hawkins says. “Here, they’ll actually be able to get under the barge – a mega-ledge for them – and also in the barge to some extent. Once the barge has been down a while, rust will ensure fish can access all points.”

The VB-1 rests in approximately 85 feet of water at a site known as the Jackspot Reef, 19 nautical miles southeast of Ocean City, Maryland. It is one of nine places the OCRF is permitted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to deploy artificial reefs.

Following the VB-1’s “perfect deployment” on January 13, Hawkins wrote in a social media post, “A fabulous donation from Vane Brothers in Baltimore, today’s reef project was a 120-foot water barge. (Yes, big ships get freshwater by the barge full.) Although it didn’t give up easy, and would have been much more difficult without Maryland Coast Towing’s aid, the barge is now on the bottom atop another artificial reef.”

In that same post, Hawkins said he expects to return to the site in order to “drop many blocks and pyramids there to liven up the barge’s smooth deck. “

The OCRF is dedicated to the “sustained improvement of recreational fishing and diving in Maryland's coastal waters through habitat management, public education, and conservation of natural resources.” The Foundation was established in 1997, around the same time that the State of Maryland terminated its reef program “in favor of an oyster hatchery,” according to Hawkins. “All fine and well, but oysters don’t grow in the ocean, corals do.” The OCRF has since “built quite a bit of reef on a shoestring budget.” 

Hawkins adds, “If we are ever to have restored yesteryear’s habitat – the feeding and spawning grounds lost decades ago to early stern-towed fishing gears – artificial reefs will have done most of the heavy lifting.”

Before something can be sunk to create a reef, it must be determined to be “reasonably durable” and free of oil, toxic materials, and floatable items such as wood and light plastic. The OCRF website lists several pieces of equipment that have been repurposed as marine habitats, including boats, barges, a submarine, concrete rubble, combat vehicles, and heavily ballasted tire units.

Once the equipment is submerged, nature takes its course.

Hawkins saw his first reef built in 1988. It was also a barge, and “it swiftly became a great fishing spot,” he says.

The VB-1, which Vane Brothers officially retired from active service in September 2021, has been newly dedicated by the OCRF as a “memorial barge” in honor of the late Captain Darrell “Big Dad” Nottingham, a charter boat operator who fished off the Maryland coast for nearly 70 years.

Witnessing the sinking of the barge in January were Darrell’s wife, Pat, and son, Jeff, both of whom conveyed their thanks to Vane Brothers for donating the barge to the OCRF.

The Nottinghams joined a small crew on board Captain Hawkins’ party boat, the Morning Star, which sailed from the Ocean City Fishing Center. At the reef site, the sun rose to reveal the barge being held in place by Dann Marine’s tug Sun Coast, which had towed the VB-1 from Vane’s Baltimore headquarters.

Over the course of a few hours, water was pumped into the barge’s open hatches. Finally, the VB-1 turned perpendicular to the water’s surface and slipped into the depths.

To learn more about the Ocean City Reef Foundation, go to Ocreefs.org.

For more information, contact Blaise Willig at bwillig@vanebrothers.com

 About Vane Brothers
Established in 1898, Vane Brothers operates on the U.S. East, West and Gulf coasts, in the Caribbean, and in the Great Lakes region of the United States and Canada. Headquartered in Baltimore, Maryland, the company provides a wide range of maritime functions, including bunkering, launch services, and safety equipment supplies and inspections. The Vane Brothers fleet numbers 130 tugboats, barges and launch boats, Vane Brothers sets the standard of excellence in the maritime industry with up-to-date equipment, well-trained crews and a commitment to safety and the environment.