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Nichols Bros. launches new tug, waits on barge contract

Doug Marks, a Nichols Brothers carpenter from Clinton, stands aboard the company’s latest  tractor tug, which is undergoing fitting and sea trials at Langley Marina. - Roy Jacobson / The Record
Doug Marks, a Nichols Brothers carpenter from Clinton, stands aboard the company’s latest tractor tug, which is undergoing fitting and sea trials at Langley Marina.
— image credit: Roy Jacobson / The Record

The fourth in a series of five large tugboats being built by Nichols Brothers Boat Builders of Freeland has been launched and is undergoing sea trials and fitting at Langley Marina.

The $10-million tractor vessel is 100 feet long and weighs 585 tons. It has up to 85 tons of pull.

Meanwhile, the company is still waiting to secure financing for a $25 million barge-building contract that would provide jobs for as many as 75 new employees, said Matt Nichols, managing director for business development.

“In this economy, we don’t dare start until the ‘i’s are dotted and the ‘t’s are crossed,” Nichols said. “But we’re making progress on it.”

The contract would be to supply five large steel barges to the Panama Canal Authority, which is in the midst of a dredging project.

The hopper-style barges, pushed by tugboats, are about 215 feet long, 50 feet wide and

15 feet deep, and weigh more than 700 tons. Each costs about $5 million, the company said.

Len York, company chief executive, said last month that the contract would run for about 18 months, and would increase the Nichols Brothers workforce from 160 to as many as 235.

York said most of the 30 employees who were laid off last November would probably be called back first if the contract is secured. The layoff came after a California transportation district decided to buy two used ferries from Washington state, rather than one new ferry from Nichols Brothers.

York said the company is pursuing financing for the barge project through the U.S. Import-Export Bank.

Meanwhile, the tugboat tied up at the Langley dock probably will be delivered to its new owner in a couple of weeks, Nichols said. The vessel is the third of four ordered by Baydelta Maritime of San Francisco.

The California company may order two additional tugs from the Freeland boat builder, Nichols said.

One of the tugs also was delivered late last year to the Minette Bay Co., of Prince Rupert, British Columbia.

Nichols Brothers continues to pursue other projects.

Last month, the company landed a $3.5 million job to build an eight-car ferry for a state agency in Sacramento, Calif. Nichols said that job will take about six months.

The company also recently delivered the second of four twin-hulled passenger ferries being built for the San Francisco Bay Area’s Water Emergency Transit Authority.

The $8.8 million, 116-foot catamaran was built in partnership with Kivchak Marine Industries of Seattle, and also underwent sea trials at Langley.

Two more of the vessels are on order, and are expected to be delivered late next year. A deal for two additional catamarans is being discussed, Nichols said.

Nichols Brothers also is continuing design and pre-construction work on a new 64-car ferry recently ordered by the state Department of Transportation for the Keystone-Port Townsend run.

The company will build the upper portion of the vessel in conjunction with Todd Pacific Shipyards of Seattle, which will construct the hull.

The state requires that all its vessels be built in Washington. Todd and Nichols Brothers submitted the only bid, $65.5 million for one ferry and $124.4 million for two.

State officials have yet to say if they’ll order a second vessel.

The state Department of Transportation ordered the new ferry for the Keystone-Port Townsend run after four 80-year-old Steel Electric vessels were pulled from service a year ago by Washington State Ferries because of safety concerns.

A vessel leased from Pierce County is serving the route until the new ferries come on-line.

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