Saturday, February 17, 2001

A behemoth finesses its way into port

By DENNIS HOEY, Portland Press Herald Writer

Copyright © 2001 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.


Bath Iron Works' massive new dry dock maneuvered a treacherous turn in the Kennebec River and brushed past Doubling Point Light before reaching Bath's waterfront Friday, ending a 15,000-mile journey from China. Motorists formed lines at the South End boat launch and the Maine Maritime Museum's Deering Pier to gaze at the royal blue-colored monster, which is taller than a seven-story building.

Staff photo by Jack Milton

Bath Iron Works' new dry dock makes its way past Doubling Point Light on the Kennebec River on Friday. The dry dock took five days to get up the river.

Across the river in Arrowsic, about 30 spectators watched as the dry dock, escorted by five tugboats, navigated a sharp turn in the Kennebec.

"It looked like a giant blue wall when it came past us," said Kevin Coleman, who watched from the boardwalk at Doubling Point Light.

Friday's welcome paled in comparison to the hundreds of spectators who greeted the 750-foot-long dry dock when it arrived at the mouth of the Kennebec on Monday. Most of those watching Friday expressed surprise at how fast the dry dock came upriver. Few expected it to reach its final destination by Friday night.

"It's good to see it here, so close to the shipyard," said Susan Pierter, BIW's spokeswoman.

The dry dock's arrival signals the completion of BIW's $240 million modernization project, which will be dedicated in April. The dry dock, which can be submerged, will allow the company to launch and repair Navy ships in the water. Pierter said plans called for the dry dock to be moved immediately onto the grids that will hold it in place.

The $27 million dry dock was built over 18 months by Jiangdu Yuehai Shipbuilding Co. of China. It left Shanghai for Maine on Aug. 27.

Along the way, the structure was delayed for several weeks by typhoons. It passed India and Cape Town, South Africa, before journeying across the Atlantic Ocean. A tugboat owned by SMIT-WIJS, a Dutch company, pulled the dry dock the entire way.

Many thought the most dangerous leg of its journey would be on the Kennebec River. Nothing that long or wide - the dry dock is 180 feet wide - had ever been on the river. An emergency command post was established at BIW in the event of an accident.

Friday's journey started at Parkers Flat in Phippsburg around 6 a.m. Moving at a steady 3 knots (4.45 mph), the dry dock reached Bluff Head in Arrowsic about 11 a.m.

"Everything has gone smoothly so far," said David Winslow, owner of Winslow Marine, during an interview from the wheelhouse of his tugboat. Like other crew members, Winslow spent the entire week sleeping and eating aboard his tugboat.

Around 2 p.m., the other tugboats began pulling the dry dock through Fiddler Reach - a 3-mile narrow stretch of river that bends like a dog's leg just before Doubling Point Light.

After the dry dock passed the lighthouse - it came within 200 feet of the landmark - Woolwich artist Andreas Von Huene praised the pilot and tugboat crews.

"I thought they nailed it. They did a beautiful job," Von Huene said.

For Philip and Sylvia Maione of Bath, spending most of Friday afternoon at Doubling Point Light was well worth the wait. They had been tracking the dry dock's voyage since it arrived.

"We've been chasing this thing for three days," Sylvia Maione said. "It's just an unbelievable feat when you think about how far it has come."

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 725-8795 or at:

 This article is courtesy of the Portland Press Herald.