Cordova Chronicles: Elements and vessels damage Cordova marine facilities

Steel boats Celtic Cross and Discovery emerged from windstorm unscathed

On Dec. 11, 2017, the bow of the Celtic Cross can barely be seen behind the collapsed boathouse and toppled container vans at the north boat yard following a storm with wind gusts over 100 mph. Dick Shellhorn/The Cordova Times

Winds, tides, ice and even a few vessels have not been kind to Cordova’s marine facilities this past year. Fortunately, no one has been injured, but the resulting damage has impacted operations at the boat haul-out shipyard near the Ferry Terminal, and the North Fill boat ramp adjacent to the AML/Lynden Transport container storage area.

Jerry and Vicki Blackler’s covered boat house at the shipyard bit the dust in the unusual storm on Dec. 11, 2017, which produced gusts over 100 mph in directions that still baffle locals.

Amazingly, two vessels that were within Blackler’s arched steel structure did not suffer serious damage, despite winds that lifted the entire framework and tipped over two rows of stacked containers that were used to anchor the cover in place.

Two months later, the damaged structure has been completely removed, and the Celtic Cross, which suffered only minor damage, sits among other vessels.
Dick Shellhorn/The Cordova Times

Both the Celtic Cross and the Discovery were under the cover when the storm struck.

“Thank goodness they are steel boats,” said Alpine Diesel owner Jerry Blackler. “If they had been fiberglass, it would have been a pile of rubble.”

The collapsed structure has been cleared away, and the Celtic Cross has been moved to a different location. Work on the Discovery continues, now inside wooden-framed plastic covers that have been built around its superstructure.

Under plastic and wood covers, work continues on the Discovery, which somehow avoided major damage when the covered arches over it collapsed in the December storm.
Dick Shellhorn/The Cordova Times

A stack of metal arches that supported the covered shelter have been cleared away, and now stand leaning against a row of container vans that have been stacked back in their original upright position.

Containers that had been tipped over are now upright, and the arches from the boat house have been salvaged, but the Blacklers do not plan on rebuilding the cover.
Dick Shellhorn/The Cordova Times

“Right now, we have no plans on rebuilding,” Blacker said. “So, it will be business as usual, but not within a covered boathouse.”

Meanwhile, the North Fill ramp is undergoing repairs caused by mishaps with vessels involving the outermost two floating sections.

An unknown vessel caused significant damage to the outside float on July 18, 2017, and it was removed. Three months later, on October 26, 2017, the Alaskan Challenger, a 90-foot landing craft that is used by the Prince William Sound Aquaculture Corporation to haul supplies to its hatcheries, had a mishap involving the next section.

Both sections are being replaced. According to Harbormaster Tony Schinella, PWSAC is having a replacement section built here in Cordova by Wilson Construction. The other section is being fabricated by Mathews Marine in Washington, the company that built the original floats. It will be shipped north upon completion.

Schinella mentioned that right now the number of floats beside the ramp is limited.  “We pull most of the sections out during the winter to prevent ice damage, but will soon have them back in place,” he said.

The replacements for the damaged sections will be installed as soon as they are available.

The North Fill boat ramp looks very short on a high tide in February 2018. When damaged dock sections plus those stored for the winter are back in place, the floats will once again extend out along the three-steel piling.
Dick Shellhorn/The Cordova Times

More and more boat owners have begun using the North Fill ramp as an alternative to the ramp inside the harbor across the street from Baja Taco, due to the traffic and crowding in that area, especially during the early gill net season.

However, a major drawback at the North Fill ramp is wakes caused by boats going past at high speeds while people are trying to launch or haul out craft on trailers.

“Because it is outside the boat harbor, there is really nothing we can do about it,” Schinella said. “Hopefully, operators will become more aware, and slow down if they see boats being launched or pulled out, much as they do when vessels are refueling down at the Shoreside facility.”

Schinella also mentioned that boat wakes can be an issue when crews are hauling out large vessels using the City Traveling Boat Lift down at the shipyard.

Winds, tides and ice are clearly natural elements beyond mariner’s control.

Being observant and considering the impact of manmade boat wakes are not.

On a calm February day, Prince William Sound Aquaculture Corporation’s Alaskan Challenger, as well as the city of Cordova’s traveling boat lift, sit idle at the boat haul out area.
Dick Shellhorn/The Cordova Times
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Dick Shellhorn, author, reporter, ref and grandpa, can be reached at shorn@gci.net. Shellhorn was born and raised in Cordova, Alaska, and has lived there his entire life. He has been writing sports stories for the Cordova Times for over 40 years. In his Cordova Chronicles features, he writes about the history and characters of this Alaska town. Alaska Press Club awarded Shellhorn first place for Best Humor column in 2016 and third place in 2017.