Wrangell’s new boat lift is the second biggest in Alaska and is expected to boost the former logging town’s growing marine industry. The 300-ton lift last week tested its upper limit.
Harold Medalen is the skipper of the Marauder, a tug based in Juneau. He said it was scheduled to be lifted over a week ago, but there were two problems.
First, the boat lift’s scale needed to be re-calibrated so it could measure the tug’s weight. A technician from Ascom, the manufacturer, flew in from Italy to fix it.
And Medalen said the boat was just too heavy, so they took a few days to make it lighter.
“I guess it was heavier than I thought. We took about 10 tons of fuel off and about 4 tons of tires and 4 tons of tow wire. But it’s worth it to be able to haul out here,” Medalen said.
Medalen said he usually goes to Port Townsend or Bellingham to get hauled out.
“It’s wonderful to have someplace that’s within a day’s run of Juneau where we can get hauled out and do our maintenance,” Medalen said
The Marauder will be at the Wrangell Marine Service Center for a few days. It just needs bottom paint and some routine work.
Harbormaster Greg Meissner said Wrangell’s smaller, 150-ton lift has brought business to town, but those boat owners often do the work themselves. He expects the bigger, 300-ton lift to create new boat yard jobs.
“You start pulling the 100-foot class boats out here, the great big fish packers or yachts, those types of boats–they’re not do-it-yourself,” Meissner said. “For the most part, they’re hiring somebody.”
He said the $1.3 million lift will also help Wrangell retain jobs.
“If you look back 10 years ago and wonder what the marine industry was doing, many folks were hanging on by a shoestring trying to keep afloat. And all of a sudden you bring more boats to town all of a sudden those folks who are barely making it are keeping busy.”
Meissner said business has been a bit slow for the new boat lift. It hauled eight boats in two months. But he said that’s because it arrived in late spring, when all the big commercial boats head to the fishing grounds.
“There’s quite a few boats out there that have been waiting for somewhere to get hauled. So I think this fall you’ll start to see more and more business migrate this way. And we’ll be out of space.”
The new boat lift will only be limited by space for storage and work. The boat yard is on five acres between downtown Wrangell and the waterfront, with little room to expand.
“So for us to build every year we’re gonna need to start looking at where to put some boats. It’s a good problem to have, but you gotta get creative.”
Some boats are being stored in a lot across the street from the boat yard. Proposed solutions for significant expansion are several years and millions of dollars away.
For now, the Marine Service Center will welcome boats to its new lift and aim to build a bigger client base.
Medalen said although the Marauder is only in Wrangell for routine maintenance, he could come here for major repair work, too.
“It’s difficult because of our line of work to schedule a dry dock appointment and keep it. We don’t know exactly when we’re gonna get down there. So here, midsummer there’s usually a lull and it’s a good time to work on boats so we can come right to Wrangell now.”
Medalen estimated having a boat lift close by saved $20,000 in fuel alone.