Nichols Brothers rallies to send off third superstructure

Nichols Brothers Boat Builders workers prepare to load the superstructure of the Samish onto a barge in December

Nichols Brothers Boat Builders will launch its third and possibly final 144-car state ferry superstructure next week.

After completing three in a row with Seattle-based partner Vigor Industrial, the Freeland shipyard declined to bid on the fourth superstructure last year. It instead signed deals to build two 100-cabin ships for marine-based travel company Lindblad Expedition Holdings.

Company CEO Gavin Higgins said the state was a good partner, but the nearly $95 million contract with Lindblad was the best decision for Nichols. Instead of building just the superstructures, the yard will construct the whole vessel.

“It’s more work for a longer period of time,” Higgins said.

The state’s contract for the third 144-car superstructure is for $123 million, but only about $26 million went to Nichols Brothers for the superstructure. The rest of the ferry is being built by Vigor.

The decision not to bid on a fourth superstructure was also a matter of timing. Along with the Lindblad contract, Nichols Brothers is slated to build four tugboats for two different companies, two high-speed ferry superstructures and another 150-foot ferry for American Samoa.

“There’s only so much business we can do,” he said.

The work should keep Nichols busy until 2018.

According to company Planning Director Bob French, launching the superstructures is a massive and complicated process. They weigh about 1,600 tons — 3.2 million pounds — and are carefully slid onto a 330-foot barge using a custom elevated rail system. It will take about five days in all, he said.

“The ferry [launching] is a huge process,” he said.

If all goes to plan, workers will be begin constructing the rail system Saturday, launch early in the week and be done by Wednesday.

“There should be something for people to watch Monday and Tuesday,” French said.

The work will require the closure of both lanes of East Shoreview Drive, the section in front of Nichols Brothers, from 8 a.m. Saturday to whenever the operation is complete on Wednesday.

The superstructure will be delivered to Vigor’s yard in Seattle where it will be mated to the hull. The vessel, named the Chimacum, is scheduled for completion in early 2017, according to the state Department of Transportation, Ferries Division’s website.

The fourth 144-car ferry, the Suquamish, is budgeted at $122 million and set for delivery to the state in the fall of 2018.