In August, a large group of Alaska natives from Barrow, Alaska, congregated in Seattle to christen their newest vessel, the Unalaq, a 150'×50'×8' landing craft with a loadline draft of 5'6". 

Owned by Bowhead Transport, Barrow’s native corporation’s marine transport subsidiary, the Unalaq was designed by Columbia Sentinel Engineers, Seattle and built by Nichols Brothers Boat Builders, Freeland, Wash. The boat is powered by three 600-hp Caterpillar C-18s turning 2.57:1 Twin Disc gears. A pair of John Deere/Marathon 75-kW gensets generate electric power. The open cargo deck is almost 5,000 sq. ft. and can pack up to about 400 tons of freight. 

In the summer, after the ice goes out, Bowhead sends cargo north along Western Alaska and then east to Prudhoe Bay, Barrow and other North Slope communities and work sites. Whether containers, heavy equipment or building materials, the cargo is towed on oceangoing barges and lightered to the beach by landing craft. 

In addition to hauling stuff north, Bowhead’s landing craft will also load cargo from the beach for trips to other Arctic villages or for transport outside. This can be empty containers along with garbage, scrap and debris from remediation sites. 

“The bow ramp is the key to the landing craft,” said Jim Dwight, general manager of Bowhead Transport in Seattle. “Without the bow ramp, it’s just another self-propelled barge. But with the ramp [27'×24'], we can roll heavy equipment on and off and back tractor-trailers on and off.”

The Unalaq can carry up to about 210,000 gals. of ballast water. “We have six ballast tanks for stabilizing the load and putting it down further in the water if it’s too lumpy or lightening it up if it’s too drafty,” said Dwight.

The 63,660-gals. of fuel are carried in tanks isolated from the bottom of the boat for safety. 

In addition to hauling cargo, the Unalaq is looking for additional, more diverse work.

“The Unalaq was built with other activities in mind, including support for offshore oil exploration and production,” said Dwight. “There’s a lot more capacity than on other landing craft. We have 16 berths and a galley that seats 16, so we accommodate scientific researchers or marine mammal observers or even shuttle people to and from other vessels. The deck will accommodate a 20-ton crane and a large towing winch on the stern.”

The current stern winch is paired with a stern anchor, which is sometimes deployed to help pull the landing craft off the beach or as part of a three-point anchoring system. The Unalaq will spend this winter in Puget Sound, where it is available for charter.