The first thing you notice upon arriving at Washburn & Doughty’s East Boothbay shipyard is the smell. On a damp foggy morning, the stench rises from the charred wood and ash ground into the earth along with scraps of metal, insulation, and fiberglass.

The smoke ended a week after the fire, but this site will always bear scorch marks from the inferno that swept through on July 11.

Mark Smelcer, normally in charge of planning and scheduling at Washburn & Doughty, recalls how he had just begun moving into the company’s new office building that morning. He acted as general contractor for that project. “I hadn’t even opened the new file cabinets to move in, when the fire happened,” said Smelcer. Three-and-a-half hours later that building no longer existed. In fact, there was nothing left of the shipyard but two scorched hulls of twisted steel and piles of smoking debris.

A month later, the yard is active, and cleanup and salvage work continues alongside planning the next phase of Washburn & Doughty Associates, Inc. Customers await, the world tug market is hot, and there is no time to waste.

If there is a silver lining to the catastrophic fire, it is that the company had already initiated plans to expand operations on a recently purchased acre of land occupied by a former marina adjacent to the shipyard, essentially doubling their water frontage.

“Washburn & Doughty had a big addition planned on that site,” said Boothbay Town Manager John Anderson. “The timing was advantageous that they’d already initiated state and federal permitting. Governor Baldacci and Commissioners [John] Richardson (of the Department of Economic and Community Development) and [Laura] Fortman (Department of Labor) really helped get it going on a fast track.”

Plans initially called for a causeway connecting the yard and the newly acquired lot next-door. A large building on the site would offer needed storage capacity for tools and parts, to satisfy the company’s growing operation. That building also went up in smoke, and today the site is bare, few scorched spruces the only upright evidence of a fire.


A clean slate

The fire handed Washburn & Doughty a clean slate and a rare opportunity to look at these two sites holistically to determine optimal use of land and waterfront for a fully modern shipyard. The two office trailers are only temporary; Washburn & Doughty is rebuilding and the future-not too far off-looks promising. There is a spirit of can-do energy on the site, even as workers continue to haul barrels of charred debris to a loaded dumpster.

Everyone working on the site seems to be out-straight, starting at the top with bosses Bruce Washburn and Bruce Doughty on down.

Staying focused on cleanup, salvage, finances, insurance, planning, and building new tugboats is a high-wire juggling act. Of the three hulls under construction, not all were a total loss, and salvage is one priority on the company’s triage list. Large sections of pre-fabricated steel lifted from scorched hulls lie scattered around the yard: a pilothouse, a bow section, a tug’s H-bit. Each represents many hours of precision work. “Whatever we can save, it saves that much time,” said Smelcer.

Marine surveyors inspect every plate and weld, and parts too warped by heat are being cut off and rebuilt. A tug’s huge emergency generator couldn’t be saved, and sits scorched on a palette waiting to be shipped back to the manufacturer. A crane lifted a 3,300 HP engine out of hull number 94, a 120-foot articulated barge tug (ABT). Company spokesman Matt Maddox says that hull appears salvageable. The engine inside survived with minor damage.

Another 120′ ABT, the Linda Moran, was just one week from delivery the day of the fire. Workers managed to save her from damage by floating her away from the intense heat. Her captain was readying her to sail away August 15. “Delivery was delayed only a week,” said Maddox, “but hull number 95 [a 92-foot tug] doesn’t look that good. The boat was midway through construction, scheduled for delivery in mid-December.” She rests awkwardly on a twisted skeg of inch and a half steel, her cradle collapsed under her.

The company plans to start two hulls, numbers 96 and 97, on the new adjacent site, with a crane situated between them. (Hull 96 had been in the early phase of construction, with little more than her keel laid. She was a total loss in the fire, and the yard will have to start over on a that boat.) Starting in late summer that means much of the foundation work for these two tugs will happen outside in the open as autumn changes to winter. No problem; everyone you meet at Washburn & Doughty says the company started building boats outside, and “this is going back to our roots.” Work outdoors will pose significant challenges though, especially in winter. “You can’t weld steel at 20°F unless you heat it first. Same goes for painting. The old building wasn’t heated, but it was dry, and you could work in there during winter wearing two sweatshirts,” said Smelcer.


Workforce on hold

At the time of the fire, Washburn & Doughty had over 100 employees. Approximately one third were retained, but the rest had to be laid off temporarily. Anderson, the Boothbay Town Manager, says his community feels the economic impact. “The tourist season tends to hide it a bit, but come Labor Day if they can get significant number of workers back, it’ll help a lot. Tourists go home around Labor Day,” said Anderson.

Anderson says although the largest employment impact was on the Boothbay peninsula, the impacts are regional. “We were helping people as far away as Whitefield, Rockland, Rockport, and all over Lincoln County,” said Anderson. “One guy came to work [at the shipyard] from [the town of] Lincoln-he stayed here during the week and went home weekends.”

Within days of the fire Baldacci asked state agencies to work together to assist the company and workers as efficiently as possible. A Department of Labor Rapid Response Team is helping employees deal with layoffs and file for unemployment benefits. Employees can also go to career centers in Rockland, Bath, and Augusta to find out about jobs, unemployment benefits, accessing health care, and other community, state, and federal resources and programs.

“Washburn & Doughty is a significant employer for that region,” said Department of Labor spokesman Adam Fisher. “These are skilled workers, bringing home good wages. Their skills are in very high demand, and the company recognizes the value of that workforce they have, and wants to get them and the contractors back on board as quickly as possible.”

Washburn & Doughty spokesman Maddox seemed confident in the prospects for calling back workers in the near future. “We called it a layoff until we could get a sense of what lay ahead of us,” said Maddox. “We’ve been able to bring about 40 people back. As we start repair work on the boats, we’ll be able to add workers.”

Several Washburn & Doughty workers have been at work since early August at Northeast Doran, a Skowhegan-based subcontractor the company uses to assemble hull sections. “We pay them, but Northeast Doran provides space up there to fabricate parts,” says Maddox. “I anticipate having most people back by mid September-early October.”

It took an all out effort to get to the point where Washburn & Doughty could say that with confidence.