Last Friday, I got a tour of Vigor Industrial’s shipyard in Portland, Ore. My guides were three women: Hilary Pickerel, executive assistant at Vigor, Jessica Fetterman, a Vigor project engineer, and Athena Maris, owner of The Maris Agency, which provides marketing and communications services to Vigor.

New Tidewater towboat

I’ve been to the yard many times over the years, and I’m always impressed with its dimensions and the variety of vessels either under construction or in for repairs. This time, the USNS Mercy, a 894' Navy hospital ship was tied up waiting for its turn in the Vigorous, Vigor’s new 960' drydock (the largest in North America) that was still holding the 839'x118', 600-FEU North Star, a TOTE cargo ship from Tacoma, Wash.

The Vigor team was particularly excited about the construction of the first self-propelled vessel to come out of the shipyard since World War II. (They’ve been building a lot of barges.) Right now, the first of three new Columbia River towboats for Tidewater Barge Lines is close to completion and construction on the other two is underway. Designed by CT Marine in Maine, the new boats will also be the first new vessels for Vancouver, Wash.-based Tidewater since the 1980s. Vigor keeps calling these boats “tugs,” but with their square bows with big push knees and low-freeboard, flat main decks, riverboats like these are more commonly called towboats or pushboats (also pusher tugs), at least in my experience. Whatever the term, however, the first one is impressive. With four decks and 4,500 hp, the boats will definitely set a new standard for the inland waters of the Pacific Northwest.

I also noticed a few “12” signs and shirts in the Portland yard, which was encouraging for this Seahawks fan. Portland and Seattle tend to be quite competitive with each other, now in soccer and previously in basketball before Oklahoma City stole the Sonics, but both the Portland Trailblazers and Seattle Seahawks are owned by Paul Allen, so we have that in common.

Vigorous drydock

I also ran into Vigor CEO Frank Foti at the yard and shared a moment of “Seahawks, shipyards and love” with him.

Go Hawks!

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!).