After relocating in January from Bellingham to the old Walsh Marine site at Blaine Harbor, On-Board Marine Services has big plans for the future. The company, a one-stop shop servicing recreational and commercial vessels, plans to double the size of its shipyard and construct a new shop and office building on the site. It might even install a new fuel dock. With assistance from the Port of Bellingham and others, the entire property will eventually be modernized, with updated cranes, a new travel lift and new docks.
At one point, there was even some talk of bringing in a new restaurant, something like Blaine’s old Harbor Café, to the property at 218 McMillan Avenue. It’s all very ambitious, but On-Board Marine Services owner Brad Hooper hopes to help revitalize the working waterfront in Blaine, a city with a long and proud history of boating, fishing and seafaring. It won’t be easy. “It’s taking a lot of elbow grease and a lot of money,” Hooper said.
Hooper, a marine diesel mechanic, previously operated his company out of Bellingham’s Squalicum Harbor. The company, which currently has 10 employees, does everything from repairing boats, rebuilding and replacing engines and electrical work to fiberglass work, woodwork and welding. After completing some projects in Blaine, the company became so busy up here that the firm decided to shutter its Bellingham shop and relocate.
After Walsh Marine closed down, On-Board Marine Services renegotiated a contract with the Port of Bellingham and acquired Walsh Marine’s site through a new 15-year lease. The company also acquired more land to the north, where it plans to build a new facility. “It’s going to be a big, two-story building with a shop and offices in it,” Hooper explained. “Down the middle will be a big bay so you can bring boats inside and work on them. The bay doors will be 24 feet high.”
Hooper would also like to add a fuel dock to the property, which would be used for fueling recreational and commercial boats. While those plans are still up in the air and haven’t been finalized yet, he said he’s had some productive discussions with the Yorkston and Coleman oil companies about bulk-purchasing fuel for resale.
While his plans for the new building have already been drawn up and received governmental approval, construction won’t start until the Port of Bellingham tears down a weblocker building that currently sits on the property. The demolition was originally scheduled for May, but will likely be pushed back due to the coronavirus outbreak. “Things are kind of on hold until further notice,” Hooper said.
During the crisis, the company is available to shuttle people back and forth between Blaine and Point Roberts if necessary. As local boat owners shelter-in-place at home, the company can also pick their boats up from Birch Bay and Semiahmoo, transport them to the yard and haul them out of the water for any necessary repairs or inspections.
The crisis hasn’t kept the firm from seeking to expand its array of services. The company is currently working to secure contracts to service U.S. Coast Guard and Department of Homeland Security boats, such as Coast Guard “cutters” that require bottom paint and maintenance of their propellers, shafts, engines and electrical systems.
On-Board Marine Services also recently got approved to bid on contracts from the Marine Spill Response Corporation (MSRC), whose boats provide oil spill response services to the Cherry Point refineries. A senior MSRC executive recently visited Blaine Harbor from Washington, D.C. in order to make sure Hooper’s facility was capable of handling the work.
One of Hooper’s most recent clients was the historic Plover ferry, which had to be hauled out of the water in order to receive a Coast Guard inspection. While the Plover is in the yard, the company will also paint the bottom of the ferry and service its propeller and rudder.
Hooper was optimistic about the future and what it holds for Blaine’s boating community. “We’re going to bring some nice projects here to Blaine,” he said. “It’ll be some good employment for local people in town.”