Nichols is hiring

Nichols Brothers ship has come in.

Specifically, the contracts to build two ships. What this means for the Freeland boatyard is that they are in the hiring mode.

As another area industrial employer, Boeing, works through round after round of layoffs, Nichols will be bringing people on throughout the summer. The company will increase its workforce from 180 to 300 by September.

"This will be one our higher levels of employment," said Nichols Brothers partner Bryan Nichols this week.

It's good employment news for South Whidbey. The contracts for the two boats -- one a firefighting boat, the other a sternwheel liner -- total about $60 million.

Sharon Hart, director of the Island District Economic Development Council, said that amount of business and the employment it generates is good news in the current economy. She said county residents are still dealing with the impact of the Boeing layoffs.

"So Nichols is really a bright spot," said Hart.

Nichols landed the contracts last year to build the $50 million sternwheeler and a $9 million fireboat for the city of Los Angeles. The sternwheeler, named Empress of the North, will be the largest vessel ever built at Nichols: When completed, she will measure 360 feet from stem to stern and have a 60-foot beam. Nichols said the company has increased the size of its boatyard to accommodate the large vessel.

It is the sister ship to another sternwheeler built at Nichols, the Queen of the West, which cruises the Columbia and Snake Rivers. The Queen was 230 feet long and about 50 feet wide. Nichols said the new boat needed to be bigger because it will be a seagoing vessel.

The Empress will have 114 luxury cabins, several dining areas and lounges. It will carry 235 passengers. Launch date is expected sometime next spring.

The new fireboat, known as Los Angles Fire Boat No. 2, is expected to be completed by December 2002.

According to Nichols, it will have the largest water discharge capability of any fireboat in the world.

"It will be able to douse a fire at 31,000 gallons per minute."

The fireboat will also have unique maneuverability. Nichols compared the propulsion system to two egg beaters underneath the boat.

"It will allow it to maneuver in close to the fire and hold its position."

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