We've been building new boats since 1987," says Brian Thomas, one of three partners running Kvichak Marine Industries Inc., whose production yard is nestled along the Lake Washington Ship Canal midway between the Ballard and Fremont bridges. While the name Kvichak (it comes from a river in southwestern Alaska) may not be well-known to the average Seattleite, the company's steady growth has helped put Seattle on the world map of medium-scale shipyards. Kvichak (pronounced KWEE-jack) supplies the U.S. with an armada of everything from small oil skimmers to sizable passenger ferryboats.
And now the company is setting sail with its biggest boatload of all: half of a potentially $600 million federal contract to build a fleet of U.S. Coast Guard patrol boats. "We've had Navy and Army Engineers contracts and so on, but this is the biggest federal deal for us," says Thomas. Kvichak is partnering with a Wisconsin company to build up to 250 twin-diesel, 45-foot patrol boats for the Guard, with a top speed of 42 knots. They'll replace a dated patrol fleet that dates back to 1973.
Production will require almost doubling Kvichak's operations. Because there's no cost-effective way to expand in Fremont, the company is setting up a landlocked satellite yard in Kent, adding 100 workers there to the 130 already employed. "These boats are small enough to be trailered to water," says Thomas.
The big Fremont yard will continue to turn out other high-speed aluminum watercraft, Kvichak's specialty in a line of boats that has evolved over 20 years. Transitioning from mostly fishing-boat production in its earlier years, the company recently sent, for example, 39-foot fireboats to Los Angeles, a 75-foot pilot boat to Georgia, and a 93-foot emergency marine services hovercraft to Alaska.
The Nichols Bros. Boat Builders on Whidbey Island and Dakota Creek Industries in Anacortes are major competitors but also sometimes partners: Nichols and Kvichak recently won a joint $16 million deal to build two 149-seat passenger ferries for the San Francisco Bay Area Water Transit Authority. And though Dakota built Seattle's big new fireboat, the Leschi, it was a contract "justly deserved," Thomas says without a hint of jealousy (his yard didn't bid on the project). He was less happy about a smaller Seattle fireboat deal going to a yard in far-away Ontario, Canada. "They were the lowest bidder and we weren't; I'll leave it at that," he says.
Not that Kvichak's hurting. The Coast Guard contract will add $15 million and 15 boats per year, doubling its annual sales and production figures. Over at least the next eight years, Kvichak will turn out more than one Coastie boat a month, with an extension likely. "We're happy with the deal," says Thomas, calmly stifling a whoop.— 469 N.W. Bowdin Place, 545-8485, www.kvichak.com.