As a thriving boat repair and maintenance facility with a 40-year history, Homer, Alaska-based Northern Enterprises Boat Yard has periodically undergone expansion and infrastructure improvements.
But the 35-acre boatyard, which is located about 220 miles south of the state’s capital and biggest city, Anchorage, has never faced as massive a project as the one completed in the past few months.
“We added an extension to our present dock,” explained Ken Moore, who co-owns the facility with his wife, Roseleen “Snooks” Moore. “We extended the (existing) dock 50 feet. Along with that, we added a new dock for a 200-metric-ton (boat hoist) machine —all of our lifts are travel lifts, this will be the fifth lift we’ve bought. And the 200-metric-ton (travel lift) will pick (up) 240,000 pounds. So, needless to say, that dock is considerably bigger.”
The expansion was due in part to a need for more space to accommodate newer commercial fishing vessels, which are longer, wider and heavier than in the past. Because of this, the boatyard invested in the upgrades needed to service such vessels.
The expansion gives the yard more room for operations. The equipment on hand includes a 70-ton travel lift; two 75-metric-ton travel lifts; a 15-ton hydraulic crane; an 18-ton crane; a 50-ton crane; two large front-end loaders with forks and snow-removing equipment; two water tankers; a 5,000-pound rough ground forklift; a mobile manlift, and several hydraulic trailers for moving boats in and out of buildings.
Northern Enterprises rents to about 30 business, some of which have seasonable employees. Approximately 30 more businesses around town do contract work or supply parts, pieces and expertise through the boatyard.
“We don’t do any of the work on the boats ourselves—we furnish all the equipment (to the tenant businesses),” Moore explained. “We’ve got a lot of equipment, and we rent buildings to people. We’ve got 20 buildings with 36 bays altogether.”
“We never tried to actually do the work on the boats themselves; we try to be the backbone that makes everything work, and rent to people,” he remarked.
Current tenants at the boatyard include supply store Homer Marine LLC, gas provider Airgas, various commercial fishermen, Bulletproof Nets, Lakeshore Glass and multiple welding companies.
“I suppose about every business in town has some connection (to the boatyard),” Moore said.
Each winter, the facility has in excess of 400 vessels in its yard, according to Moore, some for repairs, some to change gear to fish for new species, and many for storage and spring outfitting.
Servicing Larger Vessels
Over the course of its four decades in business, both the commercial and sports fishing boats being worked on at Northern Enterprises have gotten larger. Commercial seiners are almost all more than 50 feet now, with some extending to 58 feet, the legal limit for seiners in Alaska. Plus, they’re wider so that they can haul more fish.
The boatyard’s original dock and lift size allowed Northern Enterprises to lift boats up to 20 feet wide and 150,000 pounds. Boats, however, are now being built over 20 feet wide, and for years the boatyard had to send away vessels that were too heavy or too wide for its lift, even if they were the right length.
“There just isn’t much that can be done if a vessel’s too wide. If it won’t fit through the piling or up through the dock, there is not much to say,” Moore said, adding that the situation has occurred “many times.”
There was a little wiggle room for overweight vessels, he explained, as heavy vessels would sometimes leave and come back with less fuel, or pull the mast and booms off, among other things, to lighten the vessel, Moore said. Some vessels would even come back three or four times trying to get below the travel lift’s alarm weight.
“We lift a boat that is marginable by weight, and the boat is repaired and refitted and in so doing it gains considerable weight,” he explained. “We get it back in the water and have to tell the owner, ‘Don’t bring it back here, because we can’t lift it out again.’ That’s not convenient for the boat owner and it certainly isn’t good for the shipyard.”
“We also get vessels that are 70- or 80-feet in length and we can lift them weight wise and width wise, however balance becomes difficult due to length of (the) dock fingers, so extending our present dock fingers out 50 feet will be of great benefit,” he said. “Gaining a couple feet more of water will also give us more operating time.”
The improvements also include work performed on the soil. Northern Enterprises had a double layer of fabric placed over some of the existing ground, and also developed some new ground. In all, about 17,000 more cubic yards of gravel lay on top of the old gravel, Moore said.
“We’re on mud—we’re on glacial silt with grass on top of it, that’s what we’ve got for a base,” he explained. “One of our biggest expenses has been gravel. It has to come from 30 miles away each direction—60 miles roundtrip.”
“We put in a lot of electrical underground and did a lot of things,” Moore said. ‘We have lots more to do, but we got all of what we had planned done, mainly because we’ve got a marvelous crew. Everybody knocked it out of the park.”
The boatyard, which stores about 450 boats a year, sits on about 35 acres and has another five acres that can and will be expanded upon, Moore said.
“I don’t think most people know that Homer has quite a marine industry,” he added. “There’s more talent in Homer than practically anyplace else, and that is why we built the boatyard. We started Northern Enterprises 40 years ago, in 1981, and basically the reason is because there’s a lot of talent there, and we didn’t have any haul-out facilities.”
“There’s a fairly big marine industry in Homer, for as little a town as it is,” he remarked. “There’s an astonishing amount of boats that get built there.”
Aaron Fleener, the boatyard’s manager and the Moores’ grandson, said that from concept to finish, the project took about 2.5 years to complete. The physical work began in June 2021, and was completed in less than three months.
“It allows us to service larger vessels that are in our area and the surrounding areas,” he said of the upgrades. “We’ve already started seeing boats from all the way down in King Cove and all the way from Norton Sound that have been coming here now.”
“These boats would’ve more than likely have gone and gotten service down in the Seattle area,” Fleener commented. “Some of them might have gone to places like Seward or Kodiak.”
He added that a main reason behind the expansion was to help the boatyard’s tenant businesses.
“The huge part of the expansion for us wasn’t just for Northern Enterprises, but it was a lot for the community too, because there was a need,” he explained.
“One of adjoining businesses here, Bay Weld Boats, had been getting into larger vessels. They had launched a 78 (foot) by 25 (foot) catamaran, and they had to hire a crane out of Anchorage to come down and launch that. And that was about $100,000 just to do the one launch, so it’s not really a feasible way to launch those bigger boats,” he said. “So now with this expansion, we’ll be able to launch those boats with ease, and it’ll be considerably cheaper.”
“This (expansion) was to benefit everybody,” he added. “This was more of a community benefit than anything.”