Ferry superstructure progresses at Nichols Brothers Boat Builders

Construction of two 144-car ferries for the state is on time and going “extremely well,” according to Nichols Brothers Boat Builders CEO Matt Nichols.

Nichols Brothers Boat Builder worker James Pease welds before a backdrop of the state’s new 144-car ferry. Construction of the superstructure is on time and it’s expected to be barged to Seattle in February.

Construction of two 144-car ferries for the state is on time and going “extremely well,” according to Nichols Brothers Boat Builders CEO Matt Nichols.

The Freeland shipyard is working with Vigor Industrial in Seattle to build both ferries. Nichols began work on their portion of the first vessel — the superstructure — in January and is now 85 percent complete.

So far, there have been no major construction hiccups and the superstructure of the first vessel is slated to be loaded onto a barge and floated to Vigor’s yard in early February, Nichols said.

“It’s gone extremely well,” he said. “It’s really been a success story for us … it’s just big.”

Construction of both boats is budgeted at $225 million, which tabs out to about $112.5 million apiece. Construction management, contingencies and furnished equipment, however, is expected to bring the final cost to about $277 million, according to Washington State Ferries.

For Nichols, the contracts are a big boon for the South Whidbey shipbuilder, bringing in about $17 million for each boat. To do the job, the company hired an additional 100 workers.

Per the contract, construction is being split between Vigor and Nichols Brothers, with the majority of the work going to the large Seattle-based yard. The company is building the hull and, once it receives the superstructure, will merge the two together.

The first vessel is slated to go into service in early 2014. Although there has been talk that it would operate on the Clinton-to-Mukilteo route, its final destination remains undecided, according to Marta Coursey, communications director for the state Department of Transportation, Ferries Division.

“We won’t have confirmation of where the vessels will be placed until it is closer to their deployment, but we will consider ridership volumes and route impacts in planning for their use,” wrote Coursey, in a email to the Record. “We anticipate that the 144s are most likely to go to Mukilteo/Clinton, Seattle Bremerton or the San Juans.”

Nichols said work on the second ferry began in Freeland only recently and is only about 5 percent complete. That’s just as well as the superstructure of the first boat takes up a lot of space in the company’s yard.

It’s so big, in fact, the company has decided to hire an outside contractor to load the massive piece of steel onto the barge in Holmes Harbor. That also is just as well, Nichols said.

“This time, we get to sit back and drink coffee while it gets loaded,” he laughed.