Nichols Brothers launches latest tug

FREELAND — Matt and Bryan Nichols surveyed the rising tidal waters of Holmes Harbor from their office deck overlooking the launching area as their latest

Z-drive tugboat, cradled safely by a harness and crane, floated off a crawler Thursday evening.

The launch of the Valor, as it will be named when christened nearly two weeks from now at their facility in Langley, marks the end of about a year of construction. The Valor is the first of five tugs being built in a series for Baydelta Maritime.

The Crowley Maritime Corporation will lease the Valor from Baydelta and use it in Seattle.

Earlier in the afternoon, as the tide retreated down the ramp, the Valor, secure on the crawler, lumbered slowly across E. Shoreview Road.

Carl Taylor, project manager for Nichols Brothers Boat Builders, was enthusiastic about seeing the Valor leave the yard.

“It is always good to see a boat cross the road; a culmination of a lot of work and effort by everybody involved,” he said. “The hope is that it will give the customer many good years of service.”

Onlookers, like the Campbell family of Freeland, gathered to watch the slow spectacle.

“We’re pretty excited. We’ve been coming by about every three days to check on the progress of the machine as they are putting it together,” Gavin Campbell said.

“We watched the big propellers go on and the hull being built up. We come down to this beach all the time. It’s a great spot and part of the excitement of living in Freeland,” he added.

One of Campbell’s twin sons was excited to see a fresh-from-the-factory tugboat cross the road.

“I’ve never seen a launch myself. It is pretty interesting for me,” said Tom, 7.

“I have a Lego one of it. I built it a few weeks ago. Tugboats are interesting because they pull in the water,” he added.

Sonny, his brother, was also impressed with the mammoth size of the tug as it went across the road.

“It’s bigger than I thought. I’ve never seen the whole hull. It looks a lot different than I thought it would,” he said.

“We really like tugboats,” Sonny said.

People lined all of Holmes Harbor as the tug was backed off the crawler. Nichols Brothers CEO Matt Nichols said he was proud of the moment and his company’s commitment to safety and promoting environmental stewardship.

“We could get ourselves off under our own power. We chose not to touch any of the eel grass. So we are picking it up with a 400-ton crane to pick up about 175 tons of weight, about 20 percent,” Nichols said.

“We are trying to be as kind to the environment as we can and not doing any damage to the tug at the same time. It is a beautiful tug, an absolute gorgeous tug - it almost looks like it has a smile and mustache.”

Joking aside, Nichols sees the true power of the tugboat as its compact size and power.

“This is the ultimate design, with ultimate horsepower to do a job that none of the other tractor tugs can do for its size,” he said. “The brute horsepower to handle a ship plus the maneuverability of it.”

“There are a lot of tractor tugs out there but this their idea of a perfect tractor tug,” Nichols said.

After sea trials, the Valor will be christened at the Langley dock on July 21.

Spencer Webster can be reached at 221-5300 or at

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