Portland’s Enormous New Industrial Shipyard Is Bigger Than Ours

The other day I was corresponding with former Potrero View publisher Lenny Anderson and he mentioned that the Portland shipyard run by Vigor Industrial had “just lifted the first ship in its brand new 960′ dry-dock…said to now be the largest in N. America!”

Grim news for a neighborhood so proud of BAE’s formerly largest floating drydock on the West Coast: we’ve been emasculated!

The Vigorous, at 293 meters (960 feet), is staggeringly large. It’s 19 meters longer than our poor 274.39 meter (900 feet) drydock. You could snugly park three Cadillac Fleetwood 75s in the difference (but you’d never get ’em out!).

Infographic: as big as three Statues of Liberty

But wait, if you look at the incomplete list of drydocks on Wikipedia, you can see that the Newport News Drydock #12 is clearly the largest drydock in North America, at 675 meters. Following that is Baltimore, Victoria (Canada!), Marinette Wisconin (on Lake Michigan!), Boston, another at Newport News, Brooklyn, two in Philadelphia, Pearl Harbor, Panama, the Bahamas, San Diego, another in the Bahamas, ANOTHER one in Philadelphia, and YET ANOTHER at Newport News.

Finally, we get to the Vigorous, which technically is the largest floating drydock in the country, followed by our drydock, literally called “Drydock #2”. Oh, Baltimore has a bigger floating drydock than us — but they are on the East Coast and, given the second season of the Wire, probably totally mobbed up.

“You want a ship? I can get you a ship.”


A floating drydock is like a ship that opens at one end and can be partially sunk and then raised back up with another ship inside of it. A graving drydock is basically just a big hole into which a ship can be piloted and out of which all of the water can be pumped — and yes, graving refers to a grave. I asked Caitlin Sause of Vigor if she could explain why a floating drydock would be preferable.

Caitlin said:

There are pros and cons for both types of docks; however some of the advantages we see with a floating drydock are: 1. vessels can be transferred to/from shore easily 2. The dock can be operated with trim/list, thus reducing block loads and eliminate vessel stability problems and 3. a steel dock can be easily lengthened/modified to accommodate specific projects.

The first and third points are pretty clear, but the middle one might bear a little explaining. A boat or ship usually has a V-shaped bottom. A shipyard must place appropriate blocks under the ship before pumping out water. With a floating dry dock, you could angle the whole thing to one side (list) or end to end (trim) to get the blocks evenly under the ship.


Our dock comes in behind the Vigorous, but we’ve got nothing to be ashamed of*. We’re now the second largest drydock on the west coast. It’s above average in length! Anyway, it’s not the size of the dock that matters, it’s how the shipyard scrapes the barnacles.

I sent an email over to BAE. Dennis Deisinger, Dir. Business Development, who admitted that the Vigorous was definitely in competition with our old Number Two.

Dennis also said:

We do appreciate the support you ‘Dogpatch-ians’ give the yard. The daily whistles and changing view with each ship that comes by is definitely a part of the neighborhood.

Ain’t nothin’ wrong with tootin’ your own horn, but I could swear that I have heard tell of newly arrived neighbors breaking in and stealing the 150 pound whistle from the shipyard.

Toot toot!

If you believe the PR speak, Vigorous could invigorate the whole US business of shipbuilding.

Caitlin also said:

The arrival of the Vigorous opens the entire west coast up to new customers and more work across all shipyards. Maritime is considered to be an old industry, but we are evolving and revitalizing. Our vision is to prove that America is not a “post-industrial nation,” by building a US-based industrial business that doesn’t merely survive, but thrives. We are looking to provide stable, long-term, family-wage careers for the skilled artisans who build things with their hands. There’s tremendous opportunity ahead and we are working hard to keep those family wage industrial jobs here on the west coast.

Toot toot, indeed!

At 960 feet long, the Vigorous should be able to satisfy the needs of most Panamax ships: if the ship can fit in the old locks of the Panama Canal, it can fit into the Vigorous. The New-Panamax (Post-Panamax?) is slightly larger. Those ships won’t fit in the Vigorous. They also won’t fit in our #2.


So, if our drydock is “Drydock #2”, what was “Drydock #1”?

Aging S.F. dry dock will be China-bound

Awesome! Oh, wait, wasn’t that the drydock that had a body trapped under it?

Body discovered near S.F.’s Pier 50

It’s not clear if they actually recovered and identified the body. Sometimes I think that they should just go ahead and film a season of the Wire in San Francisco.

There are some nice photos of the drydocks on the Pier 70 SF phototour.

Don’t forget that the Third Rail used to be Tom’s Drydock, and I wrote a brief article about it: Tom’s Dry Dock

The Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Nagasaki Shipyard & Machinery Works has a 990 meter drydock. You can pretty much see it from space.
I’m not saying that I have drydock envy. (maybe I am)

Okay, well, watch some cool drydock videos!

Here’s a video that I filmed while kayaking near the drydock on Pier 70s dime:

Oh yah

Dry Dock 12 Flooded at Newport News Shipbuilding

The MV Blue Marlin carries massive Vigor drydock into Portland

Huge ship, the MV Blue Marlin, transports enormous dry dock

Vigor Industrial’s giant drydock gets first customer

On the other hand, here’s a robot painting a ship in our shipyard, with a suitable soundtrack:

Star Princess in San Francisco Drydock #2 Time Lapse

Time lapse of the SS Jeremiah O’Brien’s arrival at dry dock on January 24, 2012

And the Union Iron Works in 1898:

If you made it this far, you might enjoy this 1981 Report on Survey of U.S. Shipbuilding and Repair Facilities.

* I can’t seem to find a resolution to this lawsuit, the allegations of which are upsetting:
Black Workers From Bay Area Shipyard Allegedly Called ‘Aunt Jemima,’ N-Word Refuse Cash Settlement Requiring Silence

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