Shipyards of the West 2022: Full Steam Ahead

Oregon-based Royal Mariner commercial crab boat as it visited the Commodore’s Boats shipyard in Richmond, BC.

We reached out to many of the West Coast’s most notable shipyards to bring you the relevant shipyard dock talk that makes this industry’s world go ‘round.

The famous Greek historian Herodotus is credited with saying, “The only good is knowledge, and the only evil is ignorance.” Surely, Herodotus was talking to the working commercial fisherman about the importance of shipyard dock talk.

The comings and goings of notable boats, repowers and refits (and regrets), dredging delays, infrastructure grants won, and the like is not idle trivia. One-part gossip, four parts pertinent business information, shipyard dock talk is still the best way for commercial fishermen and professional mariners to maintain the pulse of the scene.

It’s in the spirit of spreading useful dock talk that the following information from some of the West Coast’s most active yards is offered. The topline is that yards have been bustling over the last year, tackling projects as varied as restoring classic wood seiners to building entirely new hulls.

Management torches have been passed and travel lifts purchased. Most importantly, a staggering array of working vessels are entering and leaving yards in fighting shape to take to the seas.

In May, a major restoration began of the starboard side and deck of the veteran 66-foot wood seiner Sleep Robber. Photos courtesy of Commodore’s Boats.

Commodore’s Boats, Richmond, BC

Commodore’s Boats is a Shelter Island, British Columbia-based full-service shipyard that specializes in marine restoration, ship repair, traditional wood boats, yacht repair and the repair and maintenance of working vessels. The marina and yard have a 75-ton and 220-ton travel lift in addition to a storage and work area.

“In the past year or so, our business has nearly tripled in size, both revenue and employee wise,” said Ryan Galovich, business development manager of Commodore’s Boats. “We started out as traditional wooden boat specialists with traditional shipwrights and have had to adapt to the new age of aluminum, steel and fiberglass boats.”

Since its founding, the company added a welding/fabrication shop and more recently, both fiberglass and machine shops.

In May, the firm began a major restoration of the starboard side and deck of the veteran 66-foot wood seiner Sleep Robber, built in 1956 by Star Shipyards.

According to a blog post by Tad Roberts of Gabriola, this William Garden design was one of many double-deck seiners constructed by Vancouver area yards for fishing herring off the west coast of Vancouver Island and sockeye in Juan de Fuca Strait. Sleep Robber also went longlining for halibut when new.

“The double-decker epitomizes the capable West Coast fishboat,” Roberts wrote. “The layout has the engine room forward, a long fish hold and all accommodation(s) in the deckhouse.”

The project was scheduled to be completed by the end of July.

In other news, the Oregon-based Royal Mariner commercial crab boat visited the yard. The work entailed creating a temporary paint shed, sandblasting down to bare metal, welding modifications to rotten areas, new marine coatings from house to hull to bottom, new deck paint, new guards, new rub rail and the replacement and modification of fuel tank sections.

The m/v America’s Finest visited Vancouver Drydock in December 2021 for its first intermediate docking since delivery in 2019.

Seaspan Shipyard, Vancouver and Victoria, BC

British Columbia-based Seaspan Shipyards encompasses three locations: Vancouver Shipyards, Vancouver Drydock and Victoria Shipyards. From the commercial fishing sector, m/v America’s Finest visited Vancouver Drydock in December 2021 for its first intermediate docking since delivery in 2019.

Seaspan installed dropdown sonar, renewed forward and aft stern tube seals, modified the seawater suction piping and prepped and painted the hull and topsides. According to Seaspan, m/v America’s Finest is back to work as a catcher-processor fishing vessel operating in the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea where it has a production capacity of over 300,000 pounds per day.

“If Captain America had a fishing vessel, it would be m/v America’s Finest,” Seaspan declared in a LinkedIn post.

Two Seattle-based commercial fishing vessels, the m/v  Excellence and m/v  Phoenix, also utilized Vancouver Drydock’s services during a three-week stay. The two vessels received total refits of the propulsion systems including replacements of tail shafts and rudders. The vessels are reportedly back to work as mothership processors. M/V Excellence is slated to return to Vancouver Drydock for regular maintenance in October 2022.

Outside the commercial fishing sector, the Seaspan yards have been experiencing a busy and diverse summer as Vancouver Shipyards tackles two high-profile boatbuilding projects. They are working on the longest naval vessel ever to be constructed in Canada for the Royal Canadian Navy, Big Blue. Also in the works is a future Canadian Coast Guard offshore oceanographic science vessel.

Vancouver Drydock has seen a flurry of barge projects this year, including two from Sause Bros. and three from Alaska Marine Lines. The first, Cook Inlet Tug & Barge’s Dr. Hank Kaplan, was given 20,000 lbs. of steel to ice-strengthen the hull. The project also was the first time the Vancouver Drydock had the opportunity to apply a high-performance marine coating for ice-going vessels.

Vancouver Drydock also served Hurtigruten Expeditions’ m/s Roald Amundsen in May for maintenance during the vessel’s second visit. The m/s Roald Amundsen is the first of two hybrid vessels in the Hurtigruten fleet and relies on electrical propulsion.

Victoria Shipyards saw several Royal Canadian Navy vessels, including the frigate HMCS Regina. The frigate HMCS Calgary is slated to arrive at the shipyard in January 2023. Military submarine projects also have been underway at the location.

Pacific Fishermen Shipyard, Seattle

The iconic Ballard, Seattle-based Pacific Fishermen Shipyard and PFI Marine Electric celebrated their 75th anniversary with the retirement of Doug Dixon as general manager and appointment of Chris Johnson. This coincided with another anniversary, the 150th, of Norwegian heritage shipbuilders at the site of T.W. Lake’s shipyard and the old Ballard Marine Railway in Ballard’s Salmon Bay.

The yard has seen its usual seasonal flurry of drydocking, engine changeouts and electrical work both in its Ballard and Dutch Harbor, Alaska, locations. Commercial fishing vessels worked upon include the North Sea, Ocean Leader,
4 Daughters, Sea Storm, Green Hope, Southern Wind, Columbia, Polar Sea, Marcy J, Arcturus, Pacific Mariner, Early Dawn, Northwestern, Billikin, Lilli Ann, Kirsten Marie, Northern Ram, American Beauty, Pacific Challenger, Elsie M, Lorelei, Pacific Wind, Arctic Bear, Aldebran, Pacific Viking, Royal Viking, Royal Atlantic, Nordic Mariner, Wizard, Sea Storm, Oceanic, Erla N, Mary B, Angie, Commodore, Starbound and Starfish.

However, a curveball was thrown to the company this year.

“Drydock capability was down during the dredging of the number three Rowe lift dock,” Dixon said. Three thousand cubic yards, seven feet deep, of contaminated sediment was removed.

“This sediment accumulated over the years primarily from the upstream city sewage outfall from Sunset Hill at the foot of 24th Avenue NW,” Dixon explained. “A two-foot sand cap was placed to prevent further leaching. While this dredging activity was a necessary and ecologically responsible maintenance item, it also increased drydock draft capacity from an impaired 10-(feet) back to the original design (of) 15-(feet) depth.”

Pacific Fishermen received a $556,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration (MARAD).

“This grant is funding FYE 2022 capital improvements to our drydocks,” Dixon explained. The number two marine railway is being modified to service fishing vessels with sponsons and the new, wider Kitsap County fast ferries. The number three Rowe lift dock is being converted from a 350 Chevy V-8 engine that ran on propane, to an electric motor drive with 20-lift gearbox rebuilds, reducing fossil fuel usage.

“It is worth noting that this MARAD grant would not have been awarded without the support of our unions and Washington congressional delegation, including senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, along with representatives Derik Kilmer and Pramila Jayapal,” Dixon said.

Fred Wahl Marine Construction, Reedsport, Ore.

Fred Wahl Marine Construction stands as a big boat maritime beacon in Reedsport, Ore. The 38-acre full-service facility has a 685-ton boat hoist that can haul out vessels up to 165 feet in length and 40 feet in breadth. The firm has an additional facility with 900-ton capacity marine ways with loading and floating docks. Notably, the company’s lift capabilities increased this year with the purchase of a 300-ton travel lift to accompany their 75-ton travel lift and new 840-ton travel lift.

The company is currently working on a sponson for the commercial fishing vessel f/v Alaska Trojan and a repower of the r/v Taryn Rose to be completed this year. 2021 was a busy year for commercial fishing vessel projects, which included the completion of a sponson on the f/v Winona J. Other 2021 accomplishments: completing the stern extension and repower of the f/v Keta and repowering the Alaskan classic touring vessel m/v Mist Cove.

Fred Wahl Marine Construction has been flexing its boatbuilding prowess with the 58-foot build of the f/v Nordic Fox, completed in May. The company is currently building a 68-foot commercial fishing vessel to be named the f/v Uyak. Once completed, the f/v Uyak will join the Fred Wahl commercial fishing fleet. 

Norris Comer is a Seattle-based writer and author. His debut memoir, Salmon in the Seine: Alaskan Memories of Life, Death, & Everything In-Between is now available wherever books are sold. You can find him on Substack, Instagram and at