The largest fishing vessel built in the Northwest in two decades will hit the water in Tacoma’s Thea Foss Waterway in an early bird ceremony next week.
The Northern Leader’s launching ceremonies are scheduled to begin at 4:30 a.m. Jan. 26. The boat will slide down the ways at J.M. Martinac Shipbuilding Co. about 45 minutes later.
The launch is timed to coincide with high tide. The launching will be visible from the west side of the Foss near Johnny’s Seafood’s retail store. The shipyard is on the opposite shore.
“This is a pretty good-sized vessel,” said Martinac Vice-President Jonathan Platt. “We need a lot of water.”
The boat is 184-feet long, almost double the length of the tugboats that have been Martinac’s bread and butter in recent years.
The Northern Leader is the first fishing vessel the Foss Waterway shipyard has built since 1991 for Lynden-based Alaskan Leader Fisheries.
The 88-year-old shipyard spent much of its existence building fishing boats for the Alaska fisheries business and for the tuna fishing industry but in recent years has specialized in tugboat construction. See a list of the vessels has built here.
The Northern Leader will utilize the latest diesel-electric technology to power the boat’s refrigeration, lighting and other systems as well as its highly-flexible propulsion system, said Martinac’s Platt.
The propulsion system will use two Z-drive propulsion units. Those units, which can swivel in any direction, make the boat more maneuverable and efficient. They’re the same kind of propulsion units used in Martinac’s latest tugboats.
Martinac competed for the contract with other shipyards in the Northwest and around the country. Unionized shipyards such as Martinac often have difficulty beating the prices offered by non-union shipyards in the South. Alaskan Leader said Martinac’s price was competitive. The construction cost was pegged at $25 million.
For Martinac, the fishing vessel contract came at an opportune time. Its contract for a series of tugboats for Navy use is winding down. The shipyard sat idle from mid-2001 to 2006 after the market tugs and tuna boats dried up.
Since 2006, the shipyard has built a dozen tugboats for private owners and for the Navy. The shipyard constructed wooden fishing vessels during its early years from 1924 through the beginning of World War II when it diversified into building mine sweepers and military patrol craft. From 1966 through the early ’90s, the shipyard built large tuna boats for the San Diego-based U.S. tuna industry. That business disappeared when the tuna fishing business moved offshore to Southeast Asian countries such as Thailand.
Alaskan Leader Fisheries will use the new boat for long-line fisheries for cod and sable fish in Alaska waters. The new boat will have the capacity to process and freeze 1.87 million pounds of fish.
The vessel catches fish using miles-long lines with baited hooks which are set out and then retrieved.
The vessel will have the capability of processing much of what older vessels discarded as waste into usable products. The cods’ livers will be processed for oil and the fish heads will be ground up for meal.
The Northern Leader will be delivered to its owner sometime in May after further outfitting at Martinac’s dock and extensive trials.