Nichols Bros. goes back to work

"Nichols Brothers employees are being called back to work in droves to begin work on two new multi-million dollar contracts announced this week by company president Matt Nichols.For a couple of months, only a skeleton crew has manned the Freeland boatyard as laid off employees awaited work. The wait is over.Nichols will build an $8.75 million, 141-foot catamaran for Golden Gate Transit Authority, a public agency that operates passenger ferries from the Sausalito area to downtown San Francisco.The second job is an $8 million, 144-foot catamaran for Catalina Express, one of the companies that operates high-speed boats between Long Beach and Catalina Island. That company is owned by Greg Bombard.They will be the 26th and 27th catamarans built by Nichols Brothers under a licensing agreement with the Australian designer.A full crew at Nichols Brothers is considered about 230 workers. We were down to 45 people, Matt Nichols said. Cutbacks began when a big job was lost in December and as work on the Royal Argosy was being completed this spring. After that dinner boat was christened April 26 there were no other major jobs for Nichols' highly trained crew of boat builders to work on.This week purchasing people and engineers were notified to return to work, as well as those responsible for what Nichols called jigging up the yard to get ready for new construction. The bulk of the work force will be back in action sometime in July.The new jobs bring the boatyard out of its longest lull in some 15 years, Nichols estimated. The big problem was the loss of a refurbishing job of a boat called the Capital Queen last December. Nichols had 150 employees working on the boat at the company's Langley dock. However, citizen and city concerns about the scope of the work and possible environmental problems prompted the owner to pull out and move the job to Portland.That abrupt decision left a huge hole in Nichols Brothers' production schedule. It takes so long to put jobs together, Nichols said. We're fortunate to have landed this much work this quick --everybody was fighting for these (catamaran jobs).Nichols said the two jobs will keep his employees busy for about a year. In addition, the company is seeking more contracts and is closing in on four to five major jobs."

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