After years of looking, the Port of Grays Harbor has its new pilot boat, the Vega, to replace the 60-year-old Chehalis.
The search for a vessel that can handle the unique conditions on Grays Harbor took the Port’s team across the country and beyond.
“We started with the idea of looking at used boats just because of the cost,” said Port director of environmental and engineering services Randy Lewis. “We checked with other ports and pilot associations to see what they were running and what the costs were.”
The cost of a new custom built boat would have run $5 million to $8 million, “way beyond what we wanted to do,” said Lewis. He said the Port team began its due diligence, studying standard designs by manufacturers being used in the northeast, Alaska and areas in Canada that had “somewhat similar conditions” to those faced on Grays Harbor, and researching brokers to find the right fit at the right cost.
Then the Vega came available. The 17-year-old, 64-foot vessel, built by Hike Metal of Ontario, Canada, had what the Port was looking for, at a significantly lower cost, about $400,000. Lewis said even a used boat suitable for the task could have run $2 million to $3 million.
Law requires experienced ship handlers to guide large vessels in and out of ports such as Grays Harbor. The local pilot goes out in the pilot boat, which is skippered by another person, and transfers to the incoming vessel to be guided through the harbor’s navigation channel.
“With certain exceptions the captain is not allowed to bring the vessel into anchor or the terminal,” said Lewis. “It requires a pilot who is specially trained, a captain that knows the area, the currents, the conditions, and he actually gets on board and takes command of the ship all the way to the terminal.”
Basically, any time a vessel is moving inside the harbor it is piloted by that specially trained pilot, knowledgeable about the local conditions.
“We tend to deal with a larger swell, and add on to that the winds and the whole combination of things,” said Lewis.
The Vega was attractive because the owners in Long Beach, California, had purchased it to be their heavy weather boat. “Their heavy weather is like most of the conditions we operate in,” said Lewis.
The Vega is pretty fast as well. Modern pilot vessels are often built for speed, with most ports having to ferry pilots longer distances than the Port of Grays Harbor has to. Lewis said the Vega tops out at about 24 knots, “way faster than the 10-12 the Chehalis will do,” and will reduce travel time and increase efficiency without having to compromise heavy weather performance.
The Vega is now docked at Port property but has some more work that needs to be done before it is ready to go, said Lewis.
At a recent Port Commission meeting, a list of some of the modifications noted by the Port team was presented. These modifications include a lot of safety factors, like accounting for man-overboard retrieval, heavier windows to accommodate heavy northwest seas, and safety rail systems that allow the pilot and crew to connect harnesses to. There’s also protection for propellers and shafts, and safety railings and fendering.