A Quick Factory Tour
Sometimes things work out. As it happened, a business trip I needed to take to Seattle moved earlier than expected, and some parts delays moved the ship date for Enemy Glory a little later than expected. Thus, since I needed to be in Seattle on other business anyway, I was able to book an extra day and have a quick tour of the Nordic Tugs Factory in Burlington, WA.
The tour was a great way to top off a business trip and was even better at making more excited about our impending delivery! It was very interesting to see how these boats are made, up close and personal. Corey Gracey (Nordic Tugs) did a great job showing us around and explaining as many of the steps in the process as we cared to know. Me being an engineer, that was a lot of steps – I applaud Cory’s patience with me!
I’ll make no claim that the photos below are in the correct order relative to making a boat – the order is chosen by me because it makes sense to me. My apologies if I offend a real boat-builder’s sensibilities. I’ll also apologize to Nordic Tugs if I get something wrong!
The first thing I was struck by was the magnitude of the molds that are used to lay-up the hull. Below is the mold for the NT39 hull. When the hull is laid up the mold is actually laid out horizontally. In this position, for each half of the hull gelcoat is applied to the waxed mold, followed by layers of fiberglass. The hull is solid fiberglass – no coring.
Once the fiberglass has cured, the two halves of the hull mold are bolted together to form the shape of the hull. The closeup shows the magnitude of the steel structure supporting the mold and the flanges that are used to bolt the two halves together.
Once the two halves of the hull are brought together, the seam is bonded and fiberglassed in order to create a single rigid structure for the hull. The next picture shows a view down inside an NT39 hull which is still inside the mold.
To this empty hull, several stringers are added to add strength longitudinally along the hull.
The material used in the stringers is a composite material that is CNC cut and, as seen above, jig-fitted into the hull. The material is an excellent absorber of fiberglass resin, and contains no wood. These stringers are bonded into the hull as shown in the above photo.
One thing that struck me is the finish of the raw fiberglass. Since Nordic Tugs is hand laying the fiberglass sheet and hand rolling the resin, the resultant interior finish, while noticeably rough, is not strewn with all the sharp bits of fiberglass that stick up when using guns to spray the fiberglass + resin. It was actually a pretty good interior finish, even unfinished.
Regardless, rather than leave the rough finish in places you might be accessing, Nordic Tugs finishes the interior surface of the hull to yield a bumpy, but smooth surface. I’m sure I’ll be glad that finish is there the first time I spill something below deck!
While the hull is open and accessible the major mechanical components are added. For example fuel tanks, gray and black water tanks, engine, generator, etc., etc. During my tour, I didn’t see any boats undergoing that part of the process yet – just one other that was undergoing wiring and interior finish work. When I get the build photos for Enemy Glory I’ll put those details online.
Once the mechanical components are in place, the deck is fitted into the hull. This deck is cored fiberglass and is laid up on a large flat table. Once the deck is in place, the topside can be bonded to the hull. Below is the interior deck for an NT42.
The pilothouse and exterior shape of the tug including the cockpit and outside decks is built in one piece on a large mold. Here is one of the molds in the process of being cleaned up in preparation for the next topside.
When laying up the topside certain sections have either a foam or balsa wood core material to add rigidity and strength. Both materials are used, depending on the requirements of the specific area being cored. Those areas that need to receive screws, such as around the windows, have plywood coring to improve screw holding power. Below is a close-up of a cored section of the deck. I believe this is part of the ceiling.
Once the deck is laid up, the mold is removed and the raw deck is ready to have its interior installed. The deck in the background is for an NT42, I believe the foreground is for an NT34.
And once it’s all done, we have a boat!
This is Karen and I on the bow of our (almost) finished NT39 – Enemy Glory!