Sitka boatyard closure leads to more work in Wrangell

Wrangell’s Marine Service Center has seen a 20% to 30% increase in haul-out requests after Sitka’s boatyard closed April 1.

“We’ve been getting overflow from Sitka since February,” Port Director Steve Miller said April 13. Normally the busy time starts April, May and June, “but we’ve been going hard since the first of March.”

Like most people in need of a haul-out, a lot of the Sitka boat owners are looking for a fresh set of zincs on the bottom of their vessels to prevent corrosion and a pressure wash. “We call it a shave and a haircut,” Miller said.

Halibut Point Marine Services in Sitka operated haul-out services since 2005, said co-owner Chris McGraw on April 14.

“In 2010, we constructed a cruise ship dock at our facility and have expanded that over the years,” McGraw said. “We did an expansion last year. With the demand from the cruise ships, our haul-out space was converted into a tourism space and we chose to close the boatyard.”

McGraw provided notice three years ago to the city of Sitka. Leaders there were trying to find a solution, but hadn’t been able to come up with an alternative, he said. Halibut Point Marine Services hauled out its final boat at the end of March.

“We would haul about 200 boats a year,” McGraw said. “In April, it usually depends on weather … I bet you we would haul 40 boats in the month of April, and May and June are definitely the busier months. Probably 75 to 100 for each of those months.”

The only two other haul-out facilities in Southeast with any capacity are Wrangell and Hoonah, he said.

“Hoonah does not have a lot of yard capacity or services. I think Wrangell is the only alternative for a lot of fishermen,” McGraw said.

Halibut Point Marine Services owns and operates the cruise ship port, which can accommodate two cruise ships at a time. McGraw has a subsidiary company, Adventure Sitka, which operates three tour boats to take cruise ship passengers on excursions.

“For this summer, we have around 210 ship calls, 400,000 passengers expected, nobody knows if the ships are full yet,” McGraw said. “We have some uplands facilities for retail, food and beverage, and all of this is constructed where the boatyard used to be.”

Kelly Ellis, co-owner of boat repair company Wrangell Boatshop said she hasn’t yet observed a spike at her business from Sitka’s boatyard closure, and said they’ve always received a pretty steady flow of calls from Sitka. “There’s no real yard in Juneau, and Ketchikan has been kind of an unorganized mess, so we get calls from all over Southeast,” she said April 14.

Wrangell’s Marine Service Center has three boatlifts, the largest of which can pull a 300-ton vessel out of the water. The borough owns the center and leases space to boat owners and marine services providers.

Increased demand could turn into more dollars for Wrangell.

“The marine repair industry here brings a lot of money to town,” Ellis said. “Not only in work and wages, but food and lodging for the skippers and crew, as well as lots of business for the hardware stores.”

The challenge at The Marine Service Center and the Port and Harbors Department will be finding people to work, Miller said April 11. A harbor laborer position and harbor security/maintenance position were unfilled as of last Friday.


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