Seward Ship's Drydock is happily swamped
"You don’t know what you’ve got until you open it."
Much of the new equipment on the Spar, a 225-foot buoy tender, had never been overhauled before, but Coast Guard officials said they were not surprised by the company’s quality of the work in dismantling, repairing and rebuilding deck machinery.
"They are easy to work with, accommodating, and they want to do the best job for the Coast Guard," said Rebecca Budde, contracting officer for the Coast Guard in Alameda, Calif.
The spring overhaul of the Spar, stationed out of Kodiak, is the latest of a growing number of contracts for the firm, which leases the drydock lift and land from the city of Seward. Jim Pruitt, sole stockholder and president of the company, also owns Seward Ship’s Ace Hardware and Marine.
"We’ve actually had a busy year," Pruitt said. "We need to expand our shipyard and cradle capacity.
"The key ingredient is the employees," said Pruitt, who hires workers from Seward, Kenai and the Anchorage area. "Fortunately we have a lot of talent here in town."
The shipyard employs a number of skilled trades workers, from carpenters and machinists to electricians and painters.
The Spar contract came in the wake of drydock contracts for the Coast Guard cutters Hickory, stationed out of Homer, and Long Island, stationed out of Valdez, Whitman said.
Other steady clients include Crowley Marine, the University of Alaska for its research vessel Alpha Helix, and numerous fishing boats, he said.
"We have been totally swamped the past eight months," Whitman said. "All through the winter we were employing between 45 and 80 people, and now we are down to 45 to 50," he said.
"It’s like any other business. You have to develop a clientele, and our clientele list keeps on growing."
The growing number of jobs paid off over the past eight months in a payroll of about $1 million, a sizable amount for this bustling town of 4,000. Whitman said he figured the ripple effect of that payroll, spent and re-spent in Seward, amounted to a $2.5 million input into the city economy in the middle of winter.
While the bulk of work over the past few months has come in the form of government contracts, the drydock and affiliated Ship’s Chandlery also do contract work for individual fishing vessels. The chandlery also provides storage for vessels under 50 feet, and facilities for vessel owners to work on their own boats. It is located in the north end of the small boat harbor in downtown Seward, several miles from drydock facilities on the other side of Resurrection Bay.
The shipyard in Seward has allowed boat owners who make their living in Alaska to also have their vessels cared for here.
"I’ve gotten the bulk of the work done over there (at the drydock) the last 10 to 12 years," said commercial fisherman Jim Hubbard.
"The facilities here in Seward are very competitive with down south," said Hubbard, who used to ferry his vessel to Seattle for repairs. "I’d have to drive it to Seattle, (traveling) 12 to 14 days down and back, and (spend) $5,000 to $6,000 in fuel too ... (Seward Ship’s Drydock) does a good job all the way around."
Mike Demery, port engineer for Crowley Marine Services, also sends a lot of work to the Seward drydock.
"They are the only shipyard around that provides comprehensive and competent service," he said. "They can do everything I need for dry-docking barges and tugs. They work in some really bad conditions, and they seem to work around it and do really well."
Demery said he tries to keep more of the company’s equipment in Alaska during the winter, rather than send it back to Seattle, "and because Seward is doing a good job and saving us money, we’ve been able to do that," he said.
"For us, they have been very user friendly, and you can attribute that to DJ Whitman. He figures if he does you a good job, you may come back."
Tom Smith, marine superintendent for the University of Alaska Fairbanks, was equally complimentary. The drydock finished a $450,000 contract this spring on the research vessel Alpha Helix. The vessel is owned by the National Science Foundation, and is operated under a charter agreement by the university’s Seward Marine Center.
The contract included everything from painting the ship’s exterior to overhauling the crane. "Seward did a good job for me," Smith said. "And I think they did a good job in some horrible weather. We had a tough winter; it was nasty."
The drydock and chandlery together offer a number of services, including fabrication, welding, hull and bottom systems, a machine shop, electrical, diving and mechanical work. Inventory on hand includes complete lines of steel and aluminum, plus marine hydraulic and welding supplies, industrial gases, bottom paint and more.
The 5,000-ton Syncro-Lift can raise boats up to 350 feet in length with an 80-foot beam, then move them on a rail system to the drydock berths. Currently, only one of the three upland berths can accommodate vessels up to 5,000 tons and 350 feet. Pruitt said he wants to upgrade two more berths to that capacity.
Seward Ship’s opened its doors in 1973 to meet a growing need for vessel repair close to the fishing grounds. By 1974, the increasing workload led to construction of the current home for Seward Ship’s Chandlery.
In 1988, Seward Ship’s leased two acres at the Seward Marine Industrial Center, the present site of Seward Ship’s Drydock Inc. operations.
Since then, Seward Ship’s operations have expanded to an 11-acre, full-service shipyard, which includes more than 35,000 square feet of covered work area and buildings, plus total operating control of the Syncro-Lift Drydock facility.
With all its facilities, job size is not an issue.
"We service everything from rowboats to oil tankers, and we love doing it," the company notes on its Web site.