Nichols repairs military test boat

Matt Czarnik grabs for a mooring rope thrown onto the Nichols Brothers dock Friday by a crew member aboard the Army-Navy catamaran Joint Venture. - Matt Johnson
Matt Czarnik grabs for a mooring rope thrown onto the Nichols Brothers dock Friday by a crew member aboard the Army-Navy catamaran Joint Venture.
— image credit: Matt Johnson

A military catamaran that pushed a test run between Los Angeles and Seattle a bit too hard last week was the talk of the town Friday when it pulled into Langley for emergency repairs.

The gray, 320-foot long ship loomed over the Nichols Brothers Boat Builders dock and the Langley Small Boat Harbor, dwarfing every other nearby boat, including a 160-foot catamaran owned by Nichols. The jointly leased Army-Navy vessel, named Joint Venture, is a prototype for a fast troop-delivery vehicle that could find a place in the United States fleet in the future.

But on Friday, the Joint Venture was a ship in need of a quick fix. Nichols Brothers president Matt Nichols said he received a call Friday afternoon from the ship's designer, Robert Clifford, asking if the Freeland company could replace several aluminum components damaged during a 40-hour run between LA and Seattle. By early Friday evening, the ship was at the Nichols dock and the work started.

Nichols said the ship, which was originally built by an Australian company as a high-speed ferry boat, took a good deal of punishment during the trip. He said waves hammered the vessel's center bow, splitting the seams on several hull plates and twisting four interior frames.

"I think they hammered it really hard coming up the coast," he said.

Nichols got the call to do the work because his company specializes in building aluminum catamarans and had the materials to do the work on hand. Nichols welders worked through the night to complete the repairs, finishing up around 6 a.m. Saturday.

While the vessel was under repairs, it drew a crowd of onlookers. Nichols said he even had a number of people walk out on his dock to get a closer view.

He understood why. Looking like something out of the James Bond movie "Dr. No," the Joint Venture is unique in U.S. fleet. Currently being leased for a year-long, the vessel is intended to move troops and vehicles along coastlines and across small bodies of water, according its manufacturer, International Catamaran.

For its test period, the Joint Venture was refitted to U.S. military specifications and was armed with an array of 50 millimeter cannon.

Nichols said that if the U.S. military takes a liking to the Joint Venture, it may decide to purchase a number of the $80 million craft. If it does, the contract for the work will go out to bid. Nichols said he is interested in being one of the bidders.

The Joint Venture pulled out Langley Saturday morning, steaming away during the Island County Fair parade. Nichols said it is bound for Virginia and possibly Italy.

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