Nichols wraps up work on second tugboat

New round of layoffs hit Freeland boatyard this month

LANGLEY — Nichols Brothers Boat Builders launched its latest tug into Holmes Harbor without the usual fanfare that has been seen in years past.

And now, Nichols Brothers is finishing up the week-long sea trials at its Langley dock for Baydelta Maritime’s latest project, the red-and-white tug Vigilant.

But even as the work gets completed, the shipyard has already laid off some of the workers, said Bryan Nichols, president of the Freeland shipyard.

“The tug we just finished requires that the sale be concluded first,” Nichols said.

Though the company had to lay off workers, Nichols added that the firm had just landed a contract on a small fishing boat job.

Nichols workers were called back to the Freeland yard in early December after the company reached an employee wage agreement with Baydelta where the company would pay Nichols’ employees directly for work on its tug.

The 50 workers were the first ones hired back following a near total layoff of nearly 200 people in November. Less than two weeks later, the shipyard filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

And with the company being offered up for sale, pending approval by U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Samuel Steiner, Nichols Brothers CEO Matt Nichols is simply glad to see his workers working.

“This is the second of four, and possibly five tugs,” Nichols said. “The first one stayed in Seattle. The second one will be leased by Crowley Maritime Corporation at Cook Inlet, which is near Anchorage.”

While Vigilant looks similar to Valor, its sister ship,

modifications to the hull design will allow the tugboat to better operate in Alaskan waters.

“This one had to be modified. There is a complete belt of 3/8 inch steel, adding 80 tons of extra steel,” he said. “It also has heated decks. These changes were made for its work in iceberg areas and added protection for the vessel itself.”

Nichols said workers at the shipyard have stayed “extremely positive” during the past month.

“We’re trying to get other jobs restarted and 182 people back here and working,” he said.

“The bankruptcy is our main focus right now, then we’re good to go. We’ll get everybody back to work and then work with customers and suppliers to keep the shipyard going for another 43 years,” Nichols added.

The bankruptcy of the family-owned business has taken its toll on those throughout the company.

“I had a broken heart, definitely; some shed tears. I’ve worked at this all my life. It’s an eye-opener,” he said. “We’re looking for 2008 to be better than 2007 was for us.”

Nichols said he hopes the family will be able to buy back the company at some future point if the bankruptcy court approves the impending sale to Ice Floe Inc.

“Our goal would be to buy it back with investors,” Nichols said.

“The Usibelli’s told us they don’t really want to be in the boat business,” he said.

Nichols Brothers continues to work on repair and refurbishment jobs at the boatyard, like the Catalina Express, which is getting replacement engines.

“The catamaran’s engines are worn out and the engines will be replaced with newer cleaner engines,” Nichols said. “There is a crew of 24 working on that.”

Spencer Webster can be reached at 221-5300 or

We encourage an open exchange of ideas on this story's topic, but we ask you to follow our guidelines for respecting community standards. Personal attacks, inappropriate language, and off-topic comments may be removed, and comment privileges revoked, per our Terms of Use. Please see our FAQ if you have questions or concerns about using Facebook to comment.
blog comments powered by Disqus

Read the Oct 26
Green Edition

Browse the print edition page by page, including stories and ads.

Browse the archives.

Friends to Follow

View All Updates