by Kirby Lindsay
Since 1981, Kvichak Marine Industries has built work boats. “It’s not about flash,” explained Keith Whitemore, who started, and continues to operate, the company with Brian Thomas and Jim Meckley, “it’s not about growth,” rather Kvichak builds boats for people who need it to get a job done. “It’s about building excellent, high-quality, technologically advanced work boats that our employees can be proud of,” he recently declared.
Skim The Oil
“We are a home-grown company,” Whitemore pointed out, that began building aluminum-hulled boats in a garage in Wallingford. Today the primary Kvichak shop is located at 469 NW Bowdoin Place, in Free-llard, as Whitemore called it. They’ve also come a long way from 1989 when, Whitemore explained, 95% of company revenues came from building fishing boats.
In 1990, 5% of revenues came from fishing boat sales because, Whitemore explained, nobody had money to buy a new boat. That year, with Marco Pollution Control, Kvichak started building oil skimmers. The small, effective boats (operated by a crew of two persons, they can hold 1,000 gallons of recovered oil) have been purchased, at a normal rate of about 2 or 3 orders a year, for use all over the world.
Last April, when the oil spill disaster struck the Gulf of Mexico, the Kvichak shop scrambled to fulfill orders that flooded in for 55 of their 30’ Rapid Response Skimmers. A skimmer is now completed, “almost at an output rate of one a day,” Whitemore reported.
When calls came in for the skimmers, Kvichak moved current projects to a tent alongside the shop (according to Whitemore, customers instantly agreed to wait on their orders so Kvichak could deliver the skimmers faster.) To meet the demand, Kvichak also subcontracted with four other boat builders - in Anacortes, Whidbey Island, Oregon and Mississippi.
The work load has come as a blessing – a silver lining on an oily black cloud. Everyone, Whitemore said, is working seven days a week - at Kvichak, their subcontractors and in their supplier’s businesses. One supplier had planned to fly to the Gulf to help clean wildlife, until he got the call to build the windows needed for the skimmers. As Whitemore explained, “We’re at a production level we’ve never seen before,” with 130 people (carpenters, welders, electricians, fabricators and mechanics) at work in Fremont – and hiring more.
Look To The Future
The skimmers still only exist as a small part of Kvichak’s diverse production line of aluminum-hulled work boats. At their shop in Kent, they continue to complete an order for 120 Response Boats – Medium – for the Coast Guard. They’ve also recently completed ferry boats for San Francisco and submarines for Special Forces.
“We have grown to be the most, or one of the most, technologically advanced boat building companies in the world,” Whitemore stated. This is why he believes that the Dutch pilots’ organization, Loodswezen, contracted Kvichak to build the first three boats of a proposed fleet of 10, to extremely high environmentally-friendly standards.
The 72’ Pilot Boats use a U.K. design, an advanced Swiss emission system and must be able to exceed speeds of 28 knots. “This is developing a boat around the system,” Whitemore explained, about the cleaning system for the exhaust, which “took up more space, and cost more, than the main propulsion engines.”
The final work boat meets Tier IV emission standards, a higher level than will be required in the next several years. “No pilot boats in the U.S. are at this standard,” Whitemore admitted. While Kvichak continues to crank out oil skimmers, a boat “not new but it works,” they’ve also helped develop a boat Whitemore described as, “a stepping stone to the future.” Kvichak continues to build boats short on flash, but high on what matters most from its corner of Fremont.
©2010 Kirby Lindsay. This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws. Reproduction, adaptation or distribution without permission is prohibited.