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The Story of Captain Lane A. Briggs

photo of Capt. Lane on Tugantine watching Schooners
Captain Lane Briggs
Captain Lane Alan Briggs was born in Mars Hill North Carolina on June 18, 1932.  When Lane was 15 he saw the ocean for the first time, and he knew immediately that that was where he belonged.  He signed on a fishing boat as deckhand, and later joined the Coast Guard.  A long maritime career had begun.
Lane eventually settled in Norfolk, Virginia, with a wife and four sons.  In Norfolk Lane assisted in the construction of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, ran a commuter Hydrofoil in the James River, and in the 1960's purchased the tug Steel Rebel.  Lane started a successful towing and salvage operation named Rebel Marine Service based at Willoughby Spit.  Eventually Lane purchased the Marina where his boat was based and named it after his business.  The Marina remains family owned and operated today.  In May of 1980 Lane launched the first sail assisted tug, the Norfolk Rebel, registering it as the one and only Tugantine.  The Norfolk Rebel is recognized and welcomed in ports up and down the east coast of the U.S. and Canada, and on into the Great Lakes.

But Lane's history is really much more than just dates and facts.  Lane's real history revolves around his spirit, his passion, his generosity, and his unique vision.  Lane never met a person who didn't become his friend.     
Lane always looked to the future, and inspired many events such as Norfolk's Harborfest and the Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race.  Lane promoted both maritime history and conservation, and constantly sought ways to bring these to the public's eye.  And wherever Lane went, he was always ready to share his hospitality with men and women from all strata of society.

Aboard Lane's vessels he trained countless young people in the lessons of seamanship, including his four sons and one of his grandsons, who now all hold Captain's Licenses.  Lane was presented with many awards in his lifetime, including the coveted American Sail Training Association's Lifetime Achievement award.  But for Lane the greatest prize was watching one of his trainees make Captain.

Captain Lane Briggs passed away on September 19, 2005.    His ashes were spread along with his old dog Rebel's in his beloved Chesapeake Bay.  But Lane generously left behind his spirit to inspire the next generation.  

Why Build a Tugantine?

The idea of a Tugantine began at Rebel Marine Service's first Crab Regatta hosted by Capt. Lane Briggs.  The rules of the race stated that only vessels fitted with sails could participate in the event .  A race participant claimed Capt. Lane could not come to his own party because Lane's boat, the tug Steel Rebel, had no sails.  Lane was never one to miss a party, so he fitted the Steel Rebel with sails.  And lo and beyond, it worked!

After that Lane tried setting sails on the Steel Rebel again, this time towing two barges from Norfolk to Baltimore.  When the wind direction was right he was able to use the sails on a straight course, and discovered the vessel's speed increased by 1.6 knots.  This allowed him to cut both fuel consumption and time on his trip.  He speculated that  60% of the time wind and course would be favorable for sail assisted towing.   He thought if he had a vessel built specifically for sail assist, the savings could be even greater.

The vessel Lane envisioned was be a two masted gaff rigged schooner.  Lane, a lover of maritime history, had seen Brigantines and Barquentines before, so he decided he would build the first sail-assist tug and call it a Tugantine.

In 1977 Naval Architect Merritt Walter drew up the plans per Lane's specifications.  Howdy Bailey was signed on as master builder.  On April Fools Day 0f 1978 the Tugantine's keel was laid.  In May of 1980 Lane christened his boat with the name Norfolk Rebel, and the one and only Tugantine was launched.
photo of Capt. Lane with Tugantine before boat's launch
Captain Lane Briggs with Tugantine Norfolk Rebel under construction
The Norfolk Rebel is a 33.2 ton vessel powered by a 871 V8 320 HP Detroit Diesel turning a single four-bladed propeller.  The boat's overall length is 51.5 ft. with a waterline of 48 ft..  Her beam is 15.25 ft., and has a draft of 5.5 ft..  The gaff schooner rig has a sail area of 750 sq.ft..

Lane received a grant from the National Marine Fisheries Service to test the merits of sail-assisted towing.  The results proved a 50% fuel savings when the wind was favorable.  And on a long tow, with the vagaries of weather included, the overall fuel savings averaged 30%.  The concept of a Tugantine worked!

Merritt Walter, NA
Howdy Bailey Yacht Services
photo of Steel Rebel rigged with sails
Steel Rebel at Crab Regatta
photo of Tugantine Norfolk Rebel under sail
Norfolk Rebel at 2007 Harborfest - Courtesy of Bob Postle

Friends of the Norfolk Rebel 

1553 Bayville St., Norfolk, VA 23503