Poised at the edge of Pier 3, the Port of Astoria's new Travelift machine is now ready to haul boats out of the water and place them on blocks on dry land. Combined with the 10 acres of storage space available on the pier, this new facility should make Astoria a destination both for boat owners needing a place to work on their boats and the marine services companies who cater to them, according to port staff.
The Travelift is a colorful addition to Pier 3. Two big yellow slings are suspended from a bright blue scaffolding structure, which operators can steer into position. When a boat needs to be taken out of the water, operators maneuver the $265,000 Travelift down two concrete tracks that jut out over the water, fasten the slings below the hull of the boat, and lift the vessel up. Once it has the boat in the slings, operators can drive the Travelift to any site on the pier.
The port's new Travelift can lift vessels that weigh up to 88 tons and drive them to any spot on the pier.A market research study commissioned by the port a few years ago estimated that the pier could store 232 vessels of an average of 36.5 feet. The study also identified a need for a place where people could take their boat out of the water and fix it themselves.
"It clearly indicates that there is a definite need out there for this service," said Port Deputy Director Bill Cook, who first floated the idea of a haul-out facility in a letter to the Port Commission in 1989. "There's a large do-it-yourself market. People own a boat, and there is a lot of work they want to do themselves, but nowhere to do that in the immediate local area."
In its first week and a half of operation, the Travelift has safely delivered five boats to blocks on the pier. One owner has already started on a four-year project to fix up his boat, said Cook.
Two boatyards in the area currently use a track system to remove and then repair vessels, but the limitations of the tracks don't allow workers to store multiple boats elsewhere, or allow owners to repair boats themselves, said Cook.
Once more people start using the haul-out facility and tinkering with their boats on the pier, the economic benefits spread beyond lift or storage fees.
"The haul-out is a tool, and along with the ground, it provides support for the marine trades services," said Cook. "It's a platform, a matrix for people to expand and create new business opportunities on the North Coast."
When people come with their boats, they will look for places nearby to buy what they need, supporting local businesses and creating a market for new establishments, said Port Executive Director Peter Gearin.
"As the boats come in, it becomes like a shopping center, where people can get supplies," said Gearin. "Suppliers want to be there because that's where the demand is."
Englund Marine already has a lease for land at the base of the pier, and the Port would welcome other businesses or boatyards to the property, said Gearin.
Staff members looked to the Port of Port Townsend, Wash., as an example of how a haul-out facility and associated businesses can have a positive influence on a community.
"Watching Port Townsend develop from pretty much a small beach community for boats into what is now a premier boat yard is pretty remarkable," said Cook. The Washington community started with one lift approximately 30 years ago, and is now a destination for boaters and their families.
For now, the Port of Astoria's goal is to lift out 70 boats in the first year, and then continue to grow annually, bringing in an income for the pier and creating jobs in the process, said Cook.