New boat lift begins regular operation


Brian O'Connor/ Wrangell Sentinel

The Ketchikan-ported fishing tender St. Jude hangs in straps overhead at the Marine Service Center Saturday. The new boat lift began regular operations this Saturday. The St. Jude was the first boat lifted.

Sentinel writer

The first boat to come out of the water was named for the patron saint of lost causes.

The new $1.3-million giant red boat lift pulled the Ketchikan-ported fishing tender St. Jude out of the water Saturday. Estimates of the 100-foot by 24-foot boat's weight range between 121 tons and 189 tons. The lower end of that range would have put the boat within the lifting capacity of the other machine, however, a weight reading of 198 tons meant harbor officials put the ASCOM lift in play.

When last weighed, the St. Jude was 198 tons, though the scale Saturday read 121 tons (officials were unsure whether that was metric or short tons). The boat was slated to undergo a pressure washing and bottom painting, harbor officials said.

A small crowd of curious onlookers and harbor and borough officials gathered to watch as a diver worked to make sure the straps were positioned sufficiently forward not to bend or damage the St. Jude's screws. Then, the boat began to rise above the plane of the lift area, and inched to the cleaning area.

"He (the boat's owner) was surprised he was so light," said harbormaster Greg Meissner. "When he got weighed, he had more fuel, more water, some deck gear. He thought he was 175, 180 tons."

The first lift had been scheduled to begin operations Friday, but a mechanical difficulty delayed the inaugural lift by a day. It was the second short-lived delay before the lift's arrival, after five shipping containers of the lift's parts were mistakenly shipped to Anchorage from Seattle in early May. Harbor personnel have since worked six days per week to get the lift operational ahead of the summer salmon season, when the demand for pre-season boat maintenance – and the potential for revenue gains – is the greatest.

Preparations for the lift's opening pick have been underway slightly more than one year, since a bid contract was awarded to Italy-based ASCOM S.P.A.

Harbor officials hope the new machine will boost both revenue and job opportunities at the Wrangell Marine Services Center.

However, for Perry Leach, who owns the St. Jude along with wife Rebecca, the choice to come to Wrangell was easy, primarily for cost, savings, and convenience.

"I live in Ketchikan, and Wrangell's 90 miles away and Seattle's 650," he said. "It just isn't worth running back."

The difference between those two was a savings not only in money, but time, Leach said.

"That's a week right there, three days each way," he said. "Being close to home and supporting local, that's huge to me. I hate takin' things out of state."

While the St. Jude's name might lead to some dire assumptions, the name was an heirloom from previous owners, Leach said.

"It's bad luck to change a boat's name," he said.


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