A model shipbuilding operation

Admiral Jay Cohen of the Office of Naval Research, speaks to shipbuilders at Nichols Brothers Boat Builders in Freeland Thursday at a keel laying ceremony for the Navy
Admiral Jay Cohen of the Office of Naval Research, speaks to shipbuilders at Nichols Brothers Boat Builders in Freeland Thursday at a keel laying ceremony for the Navy's new, experimental high-speed catamaran, the X-Craft. Nichols Brothers won the contract to build the sea frame for the craft. Weapons and electronics will be added to the craft by another contractor.
— image credit: Matt Johnson

An old-fashioned Navy keel laying with a high-tech twist ended the work day early at Nichols Brothers Boat Builders Thursday afternoon.

The break, which is unusual considering the fact that the yard is busier now than at any other time in its history, stopped work on several projects to allow time to inaugurate Nichols Brothers as a military contractor.

With Admiral Jay Cohen of the Office of Naval Research at the yard as a guest speaker, almost every Nichols Brothers employee took an hour off to see the ceremonial start of work on the Navy's new high-speed test ship, the X-Craft.

This summer, the the Freeland shipyard will begin work on the 265-foot catamaran, which will be used by the Navy to develop a new generation of 50-knot attack ships. In his remarks to more than 200 Nichols Brothers employees at the ceremony, Cohen said the little shipyard will be the birthplace of a new Navy.

"Today, we are entering into a partnership that will mark a new era in naval warfare," he said.

He noted that Nichols was chosen for the quality of work it does.

"My challenge to the people of Nichols Brothers shipyard is to build this well, because she, too, will sail into harms way."

Nichols won the contract for the X-Craft in February. It is a subcontractor to military contractor Titan Corporation of San Diego, Calif. Nichols is responsible for building the ship's aluminum hull and superstructure, for installing engines and doing initial sea trials. Electronics and weaponry will be added to the $59.9 million ship by other contractors. The completed ship will carry troops, vehicles, two helicopters and, possibly, missile systems. One Titan official has also hinted that the ship may have stealth capabilities.

The work comes at a time when Nichols has two other aluminum catamarans under construction, as well as the 360-foot long cruise ship Empress of the North.

Also speaking at Thursday's ceremony was the Rev. Jim Lindus, who lead prayers for the safety and success of the project. A number of Titan officials were also on hand. The company will be filming a documentary on the construction of the X-Craft over the next few months and will have a full-time crew at Nichols Brothers until the ship is complete.

Matt Nichols told his employees that the X-Craft will be a challenge.

"We know we have our work cut out for us," he said.

The company expects to deliver the ship to the Navy by summer 2004.

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