Onits way!

Published on Thu, May 6, 2004 by ack Kintner

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On its way!

By Jack Kintner

Jack and Sharon Dawson will head north later this month to their second home in Ketchikan on the Georgia Lee, their new 70-foot 250 ton bright blue steel hulled Jensen design charter freighter. It’s based on the classic lines of the 58-foot long, 23-foot beamed Alaska limit fishing boats commonly seen on the north Pacific coast.

It’s also the first boat on this scale built in Blaine since the demise of the old Berg shipyard at the mouth of Dakota Creek over 40 years ago. The industry seems to be making a comeback as the builder, Westman Marine, not only considers the boat to be a prototype but has other large projects waiting.

The execution of the innovative design is the result of a collaboration between Dawson and Blaine native Bob Gudmundson, owner and operator of the Westman yard on Blaine’s Marine Drive spit. Dawson wanted something that could safely power into the often heavy seas of southeast Alaska, a boat that could cross open water such as Dixon Entrance or Queen Charlotte Sound when others may have to wait out the weather in such sheltered coves as the appropriately named God’s Pocket near the north end of Vancouver Island.

“It handles extremely well,” said Gudmundson following a recent sea trial, “even better than what Jack expected.” The ride is smooth and steady thanks to roll-dampening fins along each chine, the outside lower edge of the hull, that are a little over two feet wide and 20 feet long. It also has an underwater bulb that projects several feet forward from the lower part of the bow, like a large freighter or tanker, designed to both reduce drag and give a smoother and steadier ride when motoring into a heavy sea.

The bulb is big enough to contain a 2,000-gallon water ballast tank, one of three on the boat. The other two are located at the stern corners of the hull, and can be drained into the bow tank through a gravity feed system that eliminates the need for pumps.

Last week Dawson took the Georgia Lee out onto a lumpy Semiahmoo Bay, powering through a modest swell of leftover freighter wakes four to six feet high. Normally this would have had the hull noticeably rocking and pitching but it was more like a train on a track, keeping a steady balance as the water rose and fell against the bow. It wasn’t carrying cargo but did have all three ballast tanks filled with a total of 24 tons of water. It reacted to the rolling swell less than some of the state ferries would have.

To push this much weight against that much water outside the hull, Gudmundson installed a 19-liter six cylinder Cummins Marine diesel weighing close to three tons that develops 660 horsepower at 1800 RPM. Cruising speed is in the vicinity of 10 knots, and at eight knots the engine gets about a mile per gallon of diesel fuel, which is good efficiency for this kind of equipment. As a small freighter, the Georgia Lee can carry about 60 tons of cargo.

The engine is located forward to balance the weight of the removable aluminum after cabin (topped out by a helipad).It connects to a five-foot wide bronze prop through a reduction gear and two shafts of 20 and 12 feet that are divided by a twin-plate transmission, a fluid coupling that means you can throw it into reverse for an emergency stop without grinding it into expensive confetti.

Gudmundson has built boats well over twice as big as this in the Dakota Creek Shipyard in Anacortes from which he retired recently, only to go right back into the business at Dawson’s invitation. “I knew Bob was restless when he retired, sitting around doing nothing,” Dawson grinned, “but he’s very good at what he does. This boat’s essentially a prototype of a new design, and I wanted Bob to build it for me.” Cost of this first example was about $1.5 million.

It makes extensive use of stainless steel in the cap rail, deck and companionway railings and deck cleats. “You can keep’em clean with Scotchbrite and elbow grease,” laughed Gudmundson. The spray rail on the hull is wide enough to double as a boarding step to facilitate boat-to-boat transfers at sea.

Though most fishing boats and small coastal freighters are named after the wives, daughters or sweethearts of the skippers, Georgia Lee was a famous character in Ketchikan history, a Lady of the Evening who was loved and respected, much like her contemporary Miss Kitty in Dodge City. She is mostly remembered as a beloved care giver for injured miners during their 19th-century gold rush. Dawson’s daughter Sarah Rothenbuhler, owner of Bellingham’s Birch Equipment, encouraged him to use the name, saying “She’ll take care of you, too.”