September 23, 2014 | Incorporating the Inter-Island News
BUSINESS, COMMUNITY, MARINE

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August 1, 2008
Editorial

Washburn & Doughty

by David D. Platt

When a shipyard like Washburn & Doughty burns down, a lot more is put at risk than a building and its contents. The East Boothbay yard isn't old by Maine standards, but during its few decades of existence it has built a strong reputation in the exacting business of constructing heavy commercial vessels. It has done so when most  American ship builders (except defense contractors) have gone out of business or headed overseas. Washburn & Doughty, seemingly a contrarian outfit, stayed here at home, building fishing vessels when there was still a market for them, then switching to yachts, ferries and casino boats, and most recently tugboats. In the last decade or two it has built nearly 20 tugs, many of them of sophisticated design.

"At 92 feet, with 5,100 horsepower and 136,000 pounds of pulling power, she will be the pride of the growing fleet of tugboats owned by Moran Towing Corporation of Greenwich, CT.," wrote reporter Bob Moore in Working Waterfront in May, 2002, covering the launching of the Lee T. Moran. "The launching ... also signals a new heyday in east coast tug building ... Advancements in propulsion and maneuverability - most notably the Z-drive - were adopted in Europe long before they caught on in the U.S." When the grounding of the Exxon Valdez raised concerns about ship handling and docking capacity, it also put an ambitious yard like Washburn & Doughty in an excellent position to capitalize on new construction. And capitalize it did.

What the fire has put at risk, of course, is the security of Washburn & Doughty's skilled labor force. Maine Gov. John Baldacci realized this right away, visiting the yard and promising assistance within days of the fire. The yard's owners know this as well, and that it will be in an entire region's best interest to make decisions - about jobs, rebuilding, modernizing, salvaging the two unfinished hulls that survived the fire, even moving to a bigger space - as promptly as possible, and then going ahead with the actions decided on. Given Washburn & Doughty's reputation for efficiency, there's little doubt that the firm and its piece of the working waterfront will survive and thrive.

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