Nichols Brothers launches another passenger ferry

A twin-hulled passenger ferry is moored at the Langley marina. The second of four of the $8.8 million vessels

Nichols Brothers Boat Builders of Freeland has pumped out another vessel.

The second of four twin-hulled passenger ferries being built for the San Francisco Bay Area’s Water Emergency Transit Authority is undergoing sea trials at the Langley marina.

The $8.8 million catamaran, built by Nichols Brothers in partnership with Kivchak Marine Industries of Everett, is expected to be delivered in two or three weeks, Matt Nichols, managing director for business development, said Wednesday.

Two more of the vessels are on order and are expected to be delivered late next year, Nichols said. A deal for two additional catamarans is being discussed.

“They want them,” Nichols said.

“It depends on the economy,” he added, noting that the state of California, like all the other states, is becoming more and more strapped for money.

Meanwhile, the company has other projects in the works.

It is continuing design and pre-construction work on a new high-speed ferry recently ordered by the state Department of Transportation for the Keystone-Port Townsend run.

Nichols Brothers will build the upper portion of the vessel in conjunction with Todd Pacific Shipyards of Seattle, which will construct the hull.

The state requires that all its vessels be built in Washington. Todd and Nichols Brothers submitted the only bid, $65.5 million for one ferry and $124.4 million for two.

State officials, trying to develop a long-range plan for the ferry system that is likely to cost billions, have yet to say if they will order a second ferry for the Keystone run.

Meanwhile, Nichols Brothers is continuing with contracts to build five large tugboats. The $10-million tractor vessels are 100 feet long and weigh 85 tons.

The third and latest tug was delivered recently to the Minette Bay Co., of Prince Rupert, B.C. The remaining two tugs will be built for BayDelta Marine in the Bay Area.

Nichols said the Bay Area firm may order two additional tugs. He said that despite the pinched credit market, all the financing for the current contracts is in place.

In November, Nichols Brothers laid off 30 workers. The layoff was expected to last three months, company officials said. The remaining 150 employees were assured there would be no further layoffs in the near future.

Nichols said the company is pursuing other contracts, and hopes to bring more employees aboard soon.

“There are still people out there buying,” he said. “But the banks aren’t lending money. It’s a Catch-22. Somewhere, that’s got to loosen up.”

He said Nichols Brothers has diversified, and is well-positioned to go after a variety of contracts.

“We usually get a shot at every job that comes through,” he said.