Nichols Bros. starts work on new ferry

Fitting foreman Mel Grimm of Bayview, who has worked for Nichols Brothers for 30 years, welds a section of the initial set-up for the state’s newest Keystone-Port Townsend ferry. - Roy Jacobson / The Record
Fitting foreman Mel Grimm of Bayview, who has worked for Nichols Brothers for 30 years, welds a section of the initial set-up for the state’s newest Keystone-Port Townsend ferry.
— image credit: Roy Jacobson / The Record

Nichols Brothers Boat Builders of Freeland has begun work on a new Keystone-Port Townsend ferry, Matt Nichols, managing director for business development, said Monday.

The Freeland company is building the superstructure of the $65 million, 64-car ferry; Todd Pacific Shipyards of Seattle is constructing the hull.

The Island Home-design vessel will be modified to accommodate shallow conditions on the run. Delivery is expected next year.

Nichols said his company’s part of the job should be completed in December, then it will be barged to Seattle to be fitted atop Todd’s new hull.

The Washington state Department of Transportation originally intended to order two vessels, but cut back to one when the the bid came in higher than expected.

The $7.5 billion state transportation budget that was passed on April 25 includes $212 million for three Island Home vessels from 2010-12, plus $70 million that would be available for a fourth in 2011-13, unless additional revenue is approved for a 144-car vessel, followed by a second 144-car ferry planned in the 2013-15 budget cycle.

Nichols Brothers will build the top section of the new 64-car vessel, including the entire passenger deck and galley, and the pilot houses and machinery compartments for the heating and air-conditioning systems.

Each Island Home ferry that is partially built on Whidbey is expected to pump $10 million into the island economy.

Meanwhile, Nichols said the company has enough work to see it through the end of the year, but would like to line up more, despite the stagnate economy.

“We’re pounding away on other things, and we hope something breaks loose here pretty soon,” Nichols said. “It would be nice to plan out a year and a half or so.”

He said the company will soon begin a $3.5 million job to build an eight-car ferry for a state agency in Sacramento, Calif.

And Nichols Brothers is awaiting word about financing to supply five large steel barges to the Panama Canal Authority.

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 would cost about $5 million, Len York, Nichols Brothers chief executive, said recently.

He said the contract would run for about 18 months, and would increase the Nichols Brothers workforce from 150 to as many as 235.

These would include welders, fitters and other workers.

York said the company is pursuing financing for the barge project through the U.S. Import-Export Bank, and expects to hear soon.

Meanwhile, the fourth in a series of large tugboats being built by the company is on the job in California’s Bay Area.

The $10-million tractor vessel was recently delivered to San Francisco’s BayDelta Marine, a tugboat firm specializing in tanker escort, after undergoing sea trials and fitting at the marina in Langley. The vessel is 100 feet long and weighs 585 tons.

A fifth tugboat for the San Francisco firm is under construction.

The company also may order two additional tugs, Nichols said.

A similar tug was delivered by Nichols Brothers late last year to the Minette Bay Co., of Prince Rupert, British Columbia.

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.

Two more of the $8.8 million, 116-foot catamarans are on order, and are expected to be delivered late next year. A deal for two additional catamarans is also being discussed.

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