It seemed like at least half of the 50 or so people at the christening came down to Seattle from Barrow and other North Slope villages. Clearly, the new freight landing craft is not only a big boat, it’s a big deal for these North Slope residents. “We need this type of ship,” said one during the ceremony. “We’ve been waiting for 40 years for this.” Another said, “This boat will bring us things we can use to make money.”


The boat is the Unalaq, a 150'x50'x8' steel-hull/aluminum-house, triple-screw landing craft with a huge bow ramp to facilitate the loading and unloading of all kinds of cargo that literally sustains these Arctic people during their long and dark winters.

Designed by Columbia Sentinel Engineers, Seattle, and built by Nichols Brothers Boat Builders, Freeland, Wash., the Unalaq is powered by three Caterpillar C-18s and a pair of John Deere/Marathon 75-kW gensets. The open cargo deck is almost 5,000 sq. ft. and can pack up to about 400 tons of freight, most of which it will lighter in from coastal barges. But with berths for 16, the big landing craft can also work as a scientific research platform, a near-shore, oil-spill response vessel, crew transport and diving/salvage work.

Presenting the namesake plaque.

There's nothing fancy about the Unalaq. She’s utilitarian from top to bottom, but when she drops that 27'x24' bow ramp and delivers food, fuel, medicine, building materials, etc., she’s sure to be a thing of beauty to Daisy Unalaq Shugluk’s many descendents who still call the North Slope home. 

With a degree in English literature from the University of Washington (Go Dawgs!), journalism experience at the once-upon-a-time Seattle P-I, and at-sea experience as a commercial fisherman in Washington and Alaska, Bruce Buls has forged a career in commercial marine trade journalism, including stints at Alaska Fishermen’s Journal and National Fisherman, WorkBoat’s sister publications. Bruce spent 16 years as WorkBoat's technical editor before retiring in May 2015. He lives on Puget Sound’s Whidbey Island, about 20 miles north of Seattle (go 'Hawks!).