New Nichols Brothers tug pulled, pushed, hoisted to deeper water

Two cranes on barges prepare to help a new tugboat to deep water Wednesday in Holmes Harbor. This shot was from a drone piloted by David Moore.

A massive operation to launch a new tugboat into Holmes Harbor this week has finally succeeded.

The Nancy Peterkin, a 136-foot articulated tug barge (ATB) built at Nichols Brothers Boat Builders, was hoisted/pulled/pushed to deep water about 9 p.m. Wednesday, two days after the shipyard first attempted to float the massive boat. It took the combined efforts of two large cranes on barges, and three tugboats — two pushing and one pulling — to free the stranded vessel.

“The whole job went off incident- free,” said Gavin Higgins, shipyard CEO. “It was a very professional operation.”

“We’re just very pleased it went successfully,” he added.

The spectacle drew a healthy crowd of onlookers. More than 50 cars were counted along East Shoreview Drive Wednesday evening. David Moore, who lives nearby, is an amateur drone pilot and he used the opportunity to take pictures from a bird’s eye view.

“I had fun,” he said, adding that he got some great shots of the event (one was used to illustrate this story).

Also attending were Lou and Emyle Malzone, also Freeland residents. The launching of the new tugboat on a new launching system was a big deal and they couldn’t resist coming down to watch. They were there Monday and Wednesday.

“It was really very interesting,” Lou Malzone said.

“It was fascinating,” echoed Emyle Malzone.

Built for Kirby Offshore Marine, Nichols Brothers partially launched the tugboat Friday, successfully shuttling it across East Shoreview Drive and into shallow water. It was scheduled to be fully launched on Monday’s extreme high tide, but a problem occurred with the company’s new launching system.

It utilizes a track, dollies and floats. According to Higgins, earlier statements to the press about the nature of the malfunction were inaccurate. The problem was not with the track, but with the airbags, he said.

“We didn’t get the lift from the bags that we expected so we had to go to plan,” Higgins said.

“The slide system is excellent,” he added.

The Nancy Peterkin has a 19-foot draft, and the track system  has the benefit of being lower to the ground than the company’s old crawler. The problem with the bags, however, prevented the ship from being floated, despite the efforts of a large tugboat pulling on it Monday evening.

The shipyard is contracted to build several more of the tugboats, and future launches will see some small changes to the system. Largely, the shipyard will use more robust steel cylinders instead of inflatable bags, Higgins said.

The Nancy Peterkin left Holmes Harbor Thursday for Everett, where it will undergo required stability testing. The ship will return to the company’s dock in Langley before heading to Portland, Ore. where it will mate with its 581-foot barge.

The vessel is expected to operate along the West Coast, between Puget Sound and the San Francisco Bay area in California.