Plover repairs on track to finish by summer


Major repairs on the historic Plover passenger ferry appear to be cruising in the right direction for the 80-year-old vessel to become seaworthy before Memorial Day weekend. 

The U.S. Coast Guard inspected the ferry on March 20 to review progress of Drayton Harbor Maritime (DHM), the nonprofit repairing and operating the vessel. DHM is running against the clock to complete a full restoration of the boat by May 15, when it’s contractually obligated with the city of Blaine, which owns the boat, to finish restoration. 

Chris Schilling, civilian marine inspector with the U.S. Coast Guard, estimated the Plover was about 60 percent finished and, while there were still obstacles, it looked like the boat could be completed by May 15. 

“They got the hard part in,” Schilling said. “The rest is labor intensive.” 

In fall 2022, the U.S. Coast Guard discovered the vessel needed significant repairs, including fixing soft spots on the wooden hull and stem post, before it could resume transporting passengers between Blaine Harbor and Semiahmoo Spit.

Plover captain Richard Sturgill, who oversaw the ferry’s original restoration in the ’90s, previously said DHM realized repairs were more extensive than three decades ago as it took the boat apart.

“It’s been an arduous task that’s been very difficult and time consuming,” Sturgill said. “If Drayton Harbor Maritime hadn’t done it, it would have been cast aside.” 

The crew recently made significant headway in the project after finding someone willing to sell them old growth Douglas fir, which Sturgill said is now a scarce commodity for boat building. Gordon Plume, of Bellingham, sold the crew about 350 linear feet of lumber. 

Shipwright Steve Alaniz, who is leading restoration efforts, is in the process of adding back planks. The crew then needs to cork the planks, waterproof and paint them before returning the ferry to the water.

The U.S. Coast Guard plans to inspect the Plover in mid-April and will return again for an in-water inspection, Schilling said.

“I think they’re doing a really good job with the repairs,” Schilling said. “They have a great shipwright.”

Repair expenses are estimated to be $128,000, over four times the original estimate of $30,000.

The city of Blaine solicited bids last September for a contractor to complete the Plover’s repairs after the city’s contract with DHM expired. After DHM was the only bidder, the city entered into a new agreement with the nonprofit that requires DHM to pay $200 of liquidated damages to the city for every day past the May 15 deadline.

City manager Mike Harmon said during Blaine City Council’s March 25 meeting that city staff explored alternative options for 2024 ferry operations, including turning the ferry over to Semiahmoo, but ultimately recommended council continue the city’s contract with DHM.

“I believe they’re going to make it,” Harmon said. “Everything we know today suggests the Plover will be repaired on time.”

Apart from the city’s deadline, DHM wants to get the Plover into Drayton Harbor this summer for its 80th birthday. Sturgill said he would like to throw a birthday party for the 1944 vessel that once transported workers to the old Alaska Packers Association salmon cannery on Semiahmoo Spit.

“We’re on track. We can’t go any faster,” Sturgill said. “It’s been way more difficult than we originally thought but we’re all working to get ’er done so she can celebrate her 80th birthday in Drayton Harbor.”


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