National Geographic – A Repeat Customer at Alameda Shipyard

If you’ve ever considered taking a National Geographic cruise to destinations between Alaska and the western tip of South America, your ship will have been serviced right here in Alameda.

Bay Ship and Yacht Company near the Alameda/Oakland ferry terminal performs annual maintenance, repairs, and upgrades to two of National Geographic’s five cruise ships.  The NG Sea Lion recently finished its annual repairs and inspections here.  Its sister ship, the NG Sea Bird, is here now.  To meet this year’s schedule, crews worked overtime during the six weeks the Sea Bird was in dry dock.  It was put back into the water on December 13 and will set sail for La Paz, Mexico and the Sea of Cortez on December 20, after Coast Guard and American Bureau of Shipping inspections and tests are completed.

The NG Sea Bird is a fairly utilitarian expedition vessel, designed to get passengers out into the wilderness, with naturalists on board to foster learning.  Due to its small size, the Sea Bird can reach places inaccessible to larger ships.  There are 31 private cabins that all face outside with windows and direct deck access.  The Sea Bird’s expedition equipment, which is available for use by passengers, includes an underwater video camera, a video microscope, bow camera, hydrophone, kayaks, snorkeling gear, splash-cam, Zodiac landing craft, and wetsuits.  Throughout the year the Sea Bird sails to places such as Alaska, Mexico, and the Galápagos Islands.

National Geographic sends their west coast ships to Bay Ship because the company “has a history of delivering quality work on time,” according to Project Manager Jim Becker.  In the Bay Area, large ships usually get repaired at BAE Systems in San Francisco, but Bay Ship in Alameda specializes in servicing smaller vessels.

The Bay Ship shipyard allows for work on 12 vessels at once.  Becker, who has worked at Bay Ship for 16 years, says “It’s a great place to work.”  Besides being outdoors, “it’s the safest place I have ever worked.”  Workers at Bay Ship have daily safety meetings and specialized ones once a week.  They repair all kinds of vessels and propellers, performing work that entails sandblasting, painting, joinery, and fabrication.  Since arriving in Alameda, the Sea Bird alone has had 11,000 pounds of metal cropped out and replaced.

Unlike the old days when waste material was simply dumped into the water, companies like Bay Ship must now follow strict state and federal regulations.  For example, drainage goes into a processing tank and is then taken to a plant where it is cleaned before it enters the sewer system.

Bay Ship has reached out to local graduates of trade schools and the College of Alameda and Laney College who have an interest in becoming welders and machinists.  The company is willing to give entry level laborers specialized training in working on small ships.  Project Manager Becker also pointed out that repair crews climbing around ships don’t need to spend time at the gym – they get a full workout just doing their job.

Originally published in Alameda Sun

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