Sketched Sept. 10-11, 2019
On a recent weekday afternoon, more than 100 workers were fixing up several ships at one of Seattle’s oldest shipyards, Lake Union Drydock Company, right off Fairview Avenue East in South Lake Union.
The Washington state ferry Elwha, which can carry up to 2,000 passengers, was docked pierside. A sleek white-and-blue fuel barge named Global Pilot took about half of the main dock, which is 400 feet long. And the Whatcom Chief, a small ferry that provides service between Bellingham and Lummi Island, rested on a smaller dry dock as workers gave its hull a fresh coat of paint.
I had a lot to take in, and a lot to learn. Operations manager Hobie Stebbins, whose grandfather bought the business from the original owners, told me to keep an eye on the cranes that travel back and forth along the main dock. Ron Fry, the assistant dock master, explained the mechanics that go into flooding the docks so the ships can float in and get set up for repair. Facilities engineer Anna Stebbins (Hobie’s daughter) reminisced about roaming around the docks when she was growing up. “My father would bring us here to see the Virginia V being restored,” she said.
Lake Union Drydock celebrated its 100th anniversary a few months ago without much fanfare. I don’t recall seeing many headlines about the milestone, so these sketches may bring attention to a family-owned business as deeply rooted in the city’s maritime history as it is in the landscape of beautiful Lake Union.