Nichols Brothers most recently completed vessel, an articulating tug barge named S-182Abundance, launched from the boat yard on last week. It’s the heaviest vessel to launchfrom the boat yard in “a long time.” Photo by Kyle Jensen / Whidbey News Group

Nichols Brothers launches ‘heaviest vessel’ in a long time

Freeland-based Nichols Brothers’ most recently completed and heaviest vessel launched “in a long time” took to the sea last week.

The large, black and bright orange articulating tug barge, or ATB, an ocean-class vessel, inched its way into shallow Holmes Harbor on Tuesday, March 28 with the help of airbags and an 800-ton crane nicknamed “The General.”

According to Nichols Brothers CEO Gavin Higgins, the launch was completed much faster than usual.

“It always takes about 24 hours to launch a vessel like this,” Higgins said. “But we noticed The General was in and out in under 12 hours. It was pretty efficient.”

In recent years, Nichols began using a new launch system. Instead of the old crawler that carried boats into the water on bulldozer or tank tracks, they ride down a rail.

It hasn’t been trouble free, however. Holmes Harbor is shallow, and two 136-foot tugs launched in 2015 and 2016 both required cranes on barges to get to deep enough water due to their deep draft — the amount of the vessel that’s under the water.

Large flotation bags were also strapped to the boats.

Higgins said the system has since been modified to handle larger ships. Its capacity was upgraded from 800 to 1,500 tons.

The tugboat, named S-182 Abundance, is the first of two 139-by-44-foot ATB ocean-class vessels Nichols Brothers is constructing for an unnamed client; Higgins declined to release the name of the company due to contract restrictions concerning public relations.

Higgins said construction of the other tugboat, S-183 Vision, recently began. The vessels are powered by two 4,000 horsepower engines capable of 900 revolutions per minute. Both weigh in at 1,500 tons. They’ll have an operating draft of approximately 19 feet.

Higgins said S-182 Abundance will be used to push a liquid ammonia barge currently being built by Vigor Industrial in Portland.

The vessel’s construction began around March 2016.