Freeland road alteration helps launch massive boat

Nichols Brothers Boat Builders employees Tyler Reid, Jason Hick and Roy Grizzle work on a beefier launch system for the boat yard
Nichols Brothers Boat Builders employees Tyler Reid, Jason Hick and Roy Grizzle work on a beefier launch system for the boat yard's new paddle wheel cruise ship, which is expected to be completed in mid-June.
— image credit: Gayle Saran

It will take a beefy launch system to send the newest and biggest Nichols Brothers Boat Builders boat on its way next month.

According to Happy Richards, Nichols' project manager, the yard's old launching system -- which transports new boats over the road and into Holmes Harbor -- had to be modified to handle the 3,300-ton Empress of the North, the yard's current project.

Shore Avenue in Freeland, the road that bounds the boat yard at its Holmes Harbor end, was closed for several days this week while a Nichols crew worked on the new system.

Richards said the road will be reopened this morning.

The Empress, an oceangoing sternwheeler, will be launched with hydraulics pushing it across new rails and into Holmes Harbor.

"Imagine giant roller skates underneath it and a hydraulic system actually pushing it from behind," Richards said.

The Empress is the largest vessel ever to be constructed at Nichols. When it is finished, it will measure 360 feet from stem to stern and 60 feet from port to starboard. Nichols had to increase the size of the boatyard to accommodate the vessel.

The $50 million boat will be launched on June 16.

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.

This new ship will travel the Inside Passage to Alaska, so it has been designed with a deeper hull to withstand some of the rough seas up north. The Empress will have 114 luxury cabins, several dining areas and lounges. It will carry 235 passengers.

Nichols launched another boat this spring, a fire boat for the Los Angeles Fire Department. By comparison, it weighed about 450 tons.

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