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By Dan Rudy 

Wrangell's boat lift pulls its weight


Dan Rudy/ Wrangell Sentinel

Yard operator Steve Miller (right) uses a remote control to guide the Wrangell Marine Service Center's new lift as it moves the tug Marauder across the lot for repairs July 30. "It's a necessity," Harbormaster Greg Meissner said of the remote control feature, which improves visibility and provides extra safety for lift operators.

Yard operators at Wrangell's Marine Service Center were excited last Wednesday as their new mobile lift pulled the Marauder, a Juneau-based tug, out from the water on its third attempt.

Rated at 300 tonnes (just over 330 short tons, or 661,000 pounds), the lift was initially unable to pick up the 85-foot tug until the crew emptied its tanks and stripped down the tires and equipment.

"We're happy to finally get out," said the Marauder's skipper, Harold Medalen. The Marauder was due to be scraped, sanded, repainted, and to have new zinc anodes installed. Medalen explained that the vessel was two years overdue for a servicing, largely because there aren't many places in the state able to accommodate a boat that size.

The dry dock in Ketchikan is capable, but since it is geared toward servicing even larger vessels, it can be difficult to schedule. With its new lift system, Wrangell's yard has put itself into a much larger service market.

"It was a good business plan," said Harbormaster Greg Meissner. The city and borough had considered operating a shipping yard as a way to replace lost lumber jobs as early as 1996, but it wasn't until 2000 that they began to approach the idea in earnest.

After examining several possible sites, the city decided the old mill property would be the most advantageous. "The project was on at that point," Meissner said.

Securing grant funding and converting the lot into a proper yard made for a slow beginning to the project. The city acquired its first mobile hoist, a 150-ton Marine Travelift, in 2006. As a way to boost job creation, Meissner explained, the harbor department has limited its services to lifting boats from the water and renting lot space. All other services are provided by the private sector.

The addition of the larger hoist in May was the next step toward bringing new business opportunities to Wrangell.

"We always knew we'd go bigger," the harbormaster explained.

Originally the city had considered going with a 250-ton lift, but learned that the 300-ton variety uses the same steel-box frame. For a slight increase in cost, the yard would be able to add 20 percent to its capacity yielding more opportunities for large-scale projects.

Looking at different models, they opted for an Italian-made Ascom hoist costing about $1.3 million. The lift has hauled out eight boats in the first two months of operation. Meissner expects activity will begin to pick up once the larger commercial vessels return from their fishing runs.

The Marauder has been the biggest boat serviced by the Wrangell Marine Service Center so far, putting the new lift's upper limits to the test. After bringing in an engineer from Italy to do some minor recalibrating, Wednesday proved everything will be good to go from here on out.

"It's the end of a story started years ago," Meissner mused.

"We're really pleased," said Medalen, as yard workers began shoring up his boat. "This is perfect for us."

Built in 1957, the Marauder started as a ship-assist tug in the Puget Sound. As the size and capabilities of ships expanded, the tug was gradually repurposed to guide barges and lumber previous to its current usage by Juneau-based Channel Construction, Inc.


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