Alaskan boatbuilder celebrates 100th aluminum boat

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Alaska-based Bay Welding is building its 100th aluminum boat, celebrating 19 years of boatbuilding and 39 years in the welding business, on Saturday from noon to 3 p.m.

From a 20-foot skiff to its newest and biggest boat, the 42-foot P/V Churchill, Bay Welding has been building an average of about six Bay Weld boats a year since 1994, but the pace has picked up. In three main boat sheds, workers are building five boats, from a bare keel laid down for a skiff to the towering Churchill, almost ready for its late-April delivery, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Allen Engebretsen started Bay Welding out of a truck in 1974 at age 24 and then moved into a shop.

Named after Alaska Wildlife Trooper Sgt. David Churchill, who died at age 51 of a heart attack while on duty in 1998, the P/V Churchill is the fifth Bay Weld patrol boat built for the Alaska Department of Public Safety, Eric Engebretsen, general manager and son of company founders Allen and Linda Engebretsen, told the newspaper.

The first trooper patrol vessel built by Bay Welding was the P/V Augustine, launched at Homer Harbor in 2003. The boats are built for general-purpose Alaska Wildlife Trooper patrol and are available for search and rescue.

Bay Welding won competitive bids each time for the patrol vessels, Eric Engebretsen said. Using an Alaskan contractor works out to the state of Alaska's benefit, he noted.

At 42 feet and with a 14-foot beam and quarter-inch thick plating on the bottom and three-sixteenths-inch plating on the sides, the Churchill is the largest Bay Weld boat. Built to sleep four troopers, it has a heated cabin, a full galley, a head with shower, a winch and a cradle for a smaller skiff and can carry 800 gallons of fuel. Three 300-hp Suzuki four-stroke outboard engines can push the Churchill up to 30 knots.

Bay Welding does the entire construction, from laying the keel to installing electronics, but buys from local suppliers such as Nomar for cushions, Southcentral Radar for electronics and Redden Marine-Kachemak Gear Shed for boat parts.

At $500,000, the Churchill might be out of the budget range of most Homer boat lovers. The other extreme, the $25,000 Bay Weld Basic 20-foot skiff, gets back to Bay Welding's roots, Eric Engebretsen said.

A new line for Bay Welding is its Alaska Xtreme all-terrain vehicle and snowmobile trailers, sold through dealers in Homer and elsewhere in Alaska. Friends who ride four-wheelers and snowmobiles complained about having a hard time getting trailers to Alaska. Bay Welding designed a trailer that would appeal to Alaskans and has three models.

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