Shipyard’s record employee boom ends following busy year, stalled project

The record employee boom at Nichols Brothers Boat Builders appears to be over, as after months of quiet layoffs the shipyard’s staff roster is nearing traditional levels.

Company CEO Gavin Higgins confirmed this week that about 50 workers were laid off last month, the latest in several recent reductions, bringing the yard’s total complement to about 300. That’s down from about nearly 600 workers earlier this year, a record high for the Freeland ship manufacturer.

Higgins said nearly all the workers let go were temporary laborers and subcontractors, not “Nichols employees.”

“We’ve come through an enormous hump of work in the spring,” he said, and the remaining project list can be largely handled without additional staff.

Work on the second National Geographic vessel for marine-based travel company Lindblad Expedition Holdings has also temporarily ceased. Higgins said it’s due to pending design changes from the first vessel.

“We’ve slowed down construction on the Lindblad boat to incorporate lessons learned from the first vessel that need to be agreed to with all of Lindblad staff,” he said.

“We’ll be back to building at full speed as soon as final confirmation is made.”

He declined to elaborate on the design changes or when the second boat will be completed. It was originally scheduled to float on May 18, 2018.

The contract for both ships was $94.8 million.

The National Geographic Quest was launched in late June at the Nichols ramp in Holmes Harbor by a subcontractor hired by Lindblad. During the launch, a problem occurred and one propeller and a rudder was damaged, the travel company announced in a press release.

Repairs took about a month and the 100-passenger ship set sail on its inaugural voyage on July 29.

Sven Lindblad, CEO and president of Lindblad Expeditions, described the vessel as the “most sophisticated and beautiful ship built in the US in decades” and commended the achievement in a news release distributed the same day as the inaugural sailing.

Higgins said Nichols Brothers was “very busy, very healthy,” and that the temporary slow down has allowed it to take on service work, referred to in the industry as “shave and a haircut” jobs. It largely consists of maintenance and repair work on already built vessels.

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