• Local boat manufacturer reaches milestone
By Naomi Klouda
Bay Welding Services, Inc. passed a landmark this month in the completion of its 100th steel-fabricated boat. This boat is the biggest yet, and the fifth one for the Alaska State Troopers.
The local boat manufacturing business is celebrating its milestone of building boats designed for Alaska’s toughest seas from noon-3 p.m. April 6 at Bay Welding, located at 3301 E. End Road in Homer, where the trooper boat will be unveiled.
The 100th boat has a 42-foot long hull, 14-foot beam width that operates on 900 horse power triple outboard engines. It will be christened as the M/V Churchill, named in honor of Trooper Sgt. David C. Churchill who suffered a heart attack and died while hiking up a mountain to check on a hunting party. Churchill was a 12-year trooper veteran who died in 1998.
Bay Weld’s first contract came when Alaska State Wildlife Division’s Steven Bear was head of the Kenai Peninsula-Prince William Sound region in the late 1990s. “My troopers came to me and said ‘there’s a boatbuilder down here (in Homer) who makes a really good product. Would you come down and take a look at it?’”
Bear, who is now deputy director of the Alaska State Trooper Wildlife Division, said he was impressed. He had been a welder 25 years ago. “I know a good seam when I see one,” he said.
Put out for a competitive bid, Bay Weld won the contract for the M/V Augustine, built in 2001. In subsequent years, Bay Weld built the M/V Loyalty, at work on Ketchikan area patrols, and then the M/V Sound Justice out of Whittier.
“This one, (the Churchill) will be assigned to Cordova to be used to patrol Prince William Sound. It will be capable of overnight patrols, where troopers will sleep on the boat,” Bear said. “They can launch the skiff or work from the big boat.”
Wildlife officers board seiners, tenders and recreational boats, but they also have to be outfitted for work on search and rescue, sunken vessels, lost aircraft and missing hikers.
Alaska State Trooper officials will be in Homer for the April 6 unveiling of their newest patrol boat.
“They do a fantastic job. It is hard to believe a boat of that quality comes out of a small town like Homer,” Bear said.
If winning bid contracts is praise, then this local boat builder has won a lot of compliments. Bay Welding has been recognized by being awarded many government contracts for custom patrol vessels. Through the years, they’ve also built boats for Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Forest Service. Cook Inletkeeper’s patrol boat is also a Bay Weld.
“One of the things we’ve done is take commercial fishing concepts – what they look for – and integrate that into recreational and patrol boats,” said Eric Engebretsen, general manager of Bay Weld. “One of the distinguishing features is a prominent bow, which works well in Kachemak Bay and Cook Inlet, even in the Gulf, because it makes a sea worthy boat.”
Allen Engebretsen, Eric’s father, started in 1974 repairing aluminum boats. “He was doing repair work, and then in 1994, he built his first completely-new from the start boat,” Engebretsen said. “Since then, there has been a focus between both recreational and commercial as well as patrol boats.”
Dennis Calhoun helped the elder Engebretsen develop a design. Calhoun has deep roots in the community as a fishing family and knew what an ideal marine vessel needed to be made of in order to survive the rough seas.
Bay Weld’s first government contract was building the M/V Augustine, the trooper patrol vessel, in 2001.
This was an especially busy year for the business. Bay Weld won a contract to build 16 skiffs for Coastal Villages, an Alaska Native organization that owns fish processing plants and employs residents in fishing work from Scammon Bay to Good News Bay.
This was a bigger year than most, necessitating that Engebretsen bring on additional welders and other workers. Bay Weld employs 15-20 people who manufactured 26 hulls this year. Usually, they make about 12-15.
The manufacturing floor has bays for indoor fabrication work that is done all winter long. The floor is large enough to accommodate several ongoing projects under construction, or in for modifications. One shop holds fabrication materials where steel or aluminim is hand cut from paper patterns for tight design control, Engebretsen said.
“We’ve grown fast, but we’ve kept pace with the growth,” he said. “When we start getting busier than the number of employees can handle, I put more people on. I like doing that more than stretching our crews thin working longer days, and it’s good for the economy to give people jobs.”
Homer has become known for its marine trades through the years and Bay Weld proves a good case for illustrating the network is fairly self-sufficient. The company links in with local trades for most all of its needs, proving what’s possible.
“We build the boats here, but the supplies all come from Homer hands,” Engebretsen said. “All the local venders we purchase goods or services from have helped us be a successful business. The community all has a part in it.”
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