By Naomi Klouda
A research vessel and a former crabber were getting hauled out on the beach below Pier One Theatre at the Homer Spit last week, an endeavor attracting its own reality show audience in the cars that pull over to watch.
The Qualifier 105 research vessel and the F/V Susitna are each more than 100 feet in length and form quite a contrast. One is a sleek white craft that’s traveled the Alaska coast for gold mining divers in Nome and field biologists. The other is a hulk that’s retired from its Bering Sea crabbing days for a new life in freight.
When Earl Brock, owner of Salvage and Sales, orchestrates their haul-out, the vessels sit on dry land in the camping grounds to get repaired by marine tradesmen. Since Homer doesn’t yet have a heavy vessel haul-out facility, the process for pulling these behemoth boats out of the water is a large logistical undertaking.
“I had to figure the process out. I had no mentor and few resources when I started,” Brock said. “I watched them do it on an easy boat and thought, ‘I would never do it that way.’”
Brock has hauled boats out in Nome, Bethel and other coastal areas since 2006. He brought his operation to Homer when requests came in last year.
For the first time, six vessels were onshore near the Homer Harbor to get their work done. The advantage allows the big vessels to remain near their own home port, instead of expensive traveling to one of Alaska’s shipyards in Seward, Kodiak, Ketchikan or Dutch Harbor — or farther away to Puget Sound.
“All of the shipyards have their own circumstances,” Brock said. “You might wait six months in Ketchikan to get your boat in. In Seward, you might get your boat in, but won’t have all the marine trades you need to get things done.”
Brock’s system uses high-powered haul equipment, industrial air bags and natural tidal power to bring even the largest boats in the harbor to dry shore. There they undergo hull work, painting, repairs or prop work.
It’s a careful series of steps based on ancient concepts probably first strategized in Egypt, Brock said.
“I think of it as a logistical opera or opus,” said Peter Ford, one of Brock’s crew. “There are so many movements. Each has to be in place and doing its part, and it has to come together all at once.”