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Nichols Brothers launches its latest tug

Yard foreman and launch supervisor Ken Gillette checks conditions as he awaits high tide. - Roy Jacobson / The Record
Yard foreman and launch supervisor Ken Gillette checks conditions as he awaits high tide.
— image credit: Roy Jacobson / The Record

FREELAND — It was a beautiful day for a launch, once there was enough water.

Nichols Brothers Boat Builders floated a brand-new $10-million tug on Monday, the third of five it’s building. This one took about eight months to complete.

The 100-foot, 85-ton tractor boat is headed for a company in Prince Rupert, British Columbia.

“Our first export job, if you don’t count Puerto Rico,” said Matt Nichols, managing director of business development. He said the other four vessels are for a company in San Francisco.

The tug was pushed into Holmes Harbor on a floating dry dock earlier in the day, where it waited placidly in the sunshine for the tide to come in before it could be lifted off its perch by a giant crane.

The operation was completed successfully later in the evening, and the vessel headed for Langley, where it will undergo dock trials, then sea trials, then delivery.

“Right now, boat building is an excellent business to be in,” Nichols said. Besides two more tugs, the firm has contracted for four huge catamarans of an Australian design. It has built more than 40 of the boats since 1982, Nichols said.

He said the company currently employs about 160 people, and that another 20 may be hired as work progresses through next year.

Nichols said the outlook is bright, with military work, new ferries and more tugs perhaps on the horizon. He said if his group wins the contract for two new high-speed ferries for the Keystone-Port Townsend route, Nichols Brothers will get 40 percent of the contracted work.

Nichols said the company’s recent financial woes and eventual acquisition by the limited liability company Ice Floe, based in Dallas, Texas, left Nichols Brothers better financed and better structured.

“I think we’re stronger for going through all this,” he said.

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