Island outfit sails for the Navy

You know how difficult it can be to get home-repair professionals to arrive on time. Imagine the problem of getting several hundred to show up together, especially if they are coming from the other side of Puget Sound

Then imagine the added complication of subjecting them all to a degree of security far more intense than anything you see at an airport.

That’s the challenge the U.S. Navy faces in Bremerton, where the USS Abraham Lincoln begins a year-long overhaul today at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, using personnel based mostly in Everett, the ship’s home port.

The Navy’s solution? Don’t depend on everyone to “drive around,” or catch the right ferry. Instead, charter your own passenger-only vessels, and transport everyone as a group.

To manage that operation, the Navy called on Bainbridge-based Pacific Navigation, a maritime operations and consulting firm whose main office is on Parfitt Way, and whose business is taking on maritime work for clients without the time or expertise to manage the job themselves.

“We are a group of guys who worked their way out of the fleet into management positions, but are all licensed mariners,” said president Greg Dronkert. “We have a high concentration of expertise.”

The firm typically manages marine operations for clients with a broader focus, such as the ferry to Anderson Island operated for Pierce County.

“They own the boat, the terminal and the brand, but don’t have the expertise,” Dronkert said. “The revenues end up in their hands, and they pay us a fee to make it happen.”

The Navy faced problems not only of time, distance and security, but of logistics – daily personnel needs ranged from as many as 600 to as few as 100. To make that work, Pacific Navigation had to charter two high-speed catamarans, one with a capacity of 450, the other about half that size. Depending on the needs of the day, one or both of the boats will run.

Pacific Navigation will furnish the masters and engineers, while its partner on the contract, a company called C-Port, will furnish the deckhands.

For security purposes, the Navy wanted the ferries to vary routes: some days, the boats will skirt the island’s north end and go through Agate Passage; other days, they will use the Rich Passage approach to Bremerton on the island’s south end.

In both instances, Dronkert said, the boats will slow well below their 30-knot top speed in the tight areas, in an effort to avoid erosion problems. The run will take roughly an hour and a half each way, Dronkert said.

Maritime man

A native of the San Francisco Bay area, Dronkert grew up around boats, and graduated with an engineering degree from the California Maritime Academy.

After serving aboard tugs and offshore transports, Dronkert moved to Alaska in 1989, where he became chief engineer and eventually director of the Alaska State Ferries.

When that appointed position ran out in 1995 with the advent of a new governor, Dronkert began consulting, eventually coming to the Seattle area on a job and moving to Bainbridge Island.

Pacific Navigation currently has 28 fulltime employees – four at the Parfitt headquarters, the rest on various job-sites in Alaska and Washington.

The combination of in-office consulting – necessary to stay current with an increasingly complex regulatory climate – and actual vessel operations is one of the attractions of the job, Dronkert said.

“As we moved into management, we got farther and farther away from actually being on a boat,” he said. “The joy is in doing it hands on, actually getting out there to touch the product.”

While the island is an ideal business location from a community standpoint, Dronkert laments the loss of most of the island’s marine infrastructure and hopes it can be restored.

“We are inextricably a maritime community,” he said. “To be true to our roots, we need to have a working waterfront.”

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