The Place that Launched a Thousand Ships

Nick Blenkey, Senior Editorial Consultant for “Marine Log”, is a very, very knowledgeable man about conditions in the world of shipbuilding, and we look forward to his monthly editorials. In his March commentary he wrote about the tearful departure of “Goliath”, the giant 1,200 ton crane holdover from the now-shuttered Fore River Shipyard in Quincy, Massachusetts. “The Yard”, as it was known locally, was considered to be one of the most prolific and best known shipbuilding sites in the entire world, and we wrote about it in our Volume III, Article 10 commentary.

“Few people are aware of it,” we wrote, “but the shipyard was founded in 1884 by Thomas A. Watson, the same Thomas A. Watson who answered Alexander Graham Bell’s first phone call. ‘Mr. Watson, come in here, I want you,’ were the famous words that inaugurated the fantastic world of telecommunications. Mr. Watson’s shipyard launched its first vessel in 1884 and followed up with a thousand more in the next hundred years. The largest schooner ever built, the seven-masted Thomas W. Lawson, was built at Fore River, and the Navy’s first nuclear-powered surface ships were built there in the early 60’s. The earliest LNG tankers (10 of them) were built in the 70’s, and what is probably the largest Gantry Crane in the world, the 1,200-ton ‘Goliath’, still dominates the skyline.”

But let’s return to Mr. Blenkey’s March commentary. “While shipbuilding nostalgia buffs may mourn the departure of the Quincy crane,” he writes, “ it’s the nature of the shipbuilding industry for highly capable, well-equipped yards to close — usually at a time when yard managers think they’ve got the shipbuilding productivity thing nailed.

“The thing is, you can’t build ships if you don’t get orders — and when times are lean the only yards that get orders are those with some kind of protection from international competition or some sort of subsidy.

“Right now, shipbuilding is in the midst of an unprecedented boom. Building spaces are tight, so some owners will pay a premium for early delivery and that has saved some yards from early extinction …”

In the same periodical we noted the uncritical coverage given to the U.S. Navy’s aim “to achieve a 313-ship fleet by the year 2020 … a $ 14 billion a year undertaking.” But in the most distressed economic conditions in memory, why should taxpayers be spending that kind of money?
• We’re subsidizing an enormous fleet of warships in spite of the fact that no country is, or could ever be, in a position to challenge our naval superiority.
• What could stop us from subsidizing the construction of profitable container ships instead?
• With $ 14 billion we could build, and sell, more than 150 container ships … annually;
• We could create jobs for hundreds of thousands of our nation’s unemployed;
• … and we could ward off our nation’s approaching economic depression.

[How about a little push, Nick?]