Launch headaches revisit Nichols Brothers

Despite some engineering improvements to its new launch system, floating a new 1,320-plus ton tugboat into Holmes Harbor once again proved a tricky affair for Nichols Brothers Boat Builders.

The Tina Pyne

Despite some engineering improvements to its new launch system, floating a new 1,320-plus ton tugboat into Holmes Harbor once again proved a tricky affair for Nichols Brothers Boat Builders.

Company officials called a halt to efforts Friday morning to launch the Tina Pyne, a 136-foot-articulating tug or ATB, from its ramp just in front of the shipyard on East Shoreview Drive. Work was planned to resume Saturday morning on the high tide, according to company CEO Gavin Higgins.

The rest of Friday would be spent going through equipment to make sure everything is ready for a successful Saturday launch, he said.

“We’re going to take things step by step and make sure everything is done safely,” Higgins said.

“We’ll get there,” he added.

The Tina Pyne is the sister ship of the Nancy Peterkin, which made headlines and captured the attention of residents across South Whidbey this past September. The launching of the huge tugboat took three days, requiring the assistance of two massive cranes on barges and three tugboats.

The company used a new rail/track system, which shuttled the newly completed vessel into deep water. Lower to the ground than the company’s old crawler, the track was designed to help mitigate the boat’s 19-foot draft. Though the new track worked fine, inflatable bags designed to help float the ship presented hurdles. On paper they had enough lift, said company planning director Bob French, but getting them into place was a challenge.

Hoping for a smoother launch with the Tina Pyne,  the system was modified by replacing most of the yellow blow-up bags with large metal pontoons attached to a rigid frame. But a seamless floating was not to be.

The Freeland shipyard began launching the Tina Pyne Wednesday with plans to have the entire operation complete and the vessel in Everett for inspections by Thursday morning. Yet, the rising of the sun the next day revealed the massive boat still on its track and sitting in shallow water.

French confirmed a problem occurred with the track’s propulsion system, which effectively put the brakes on the launch.

“It kinda came to a screaming halt and we’re about 24 hours behind,” he said, in an interview with The Record Thursday morning.

Justin Burnett / The Record | People stop to watch as a 1,180 long ton tugboat slides into Holmes Harbor from the Nichols Brothers Boat Builders yard in Freeland on Feb. 11.

Forced to wait for a minus low tide, workers were able to continue the operation late that evening, and the new ship made it to the end of the ramp. The boat was expected to be afloat by Friday morning on the high tide, but was again hindered by problems with floatation — this time with the steel tanks. The exact issue was unclear as of press time.

Though another hiccup was disappointing, company leaders are confident the track system will prove effective once all the kinks are worked out.

The Nancy Peterkin and Tina Pyne were both built for Kirby Offshore Marine. Powered by twin 5,000 horsepower engines, they are designed to mate with a 581-foot barge capable of transporting 185,000 barrels of oil. The Nancy Peterkin has been operating between Alaska and California since its launch last year.

The Tina Pyne was towed to Everett for a light ship survey, where she took on fuel. It was scheduled to be back on South Whidbey Friday night, moored at the shipyard’s dock in Langley for fine tuning.

Nichols Brothers is contracted to build two more tugboats for Kirby of a different design — 120-foot line-tow tugs — along with two 100-cabin cruise ships for Lindblad Expeditions Holdings, a 140-foot multipurpose cargo ferry for American Samoa, and is currently working on another superstructure for a state 144-car ferry.


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