ON THE WATERFRONT BLP High and Dry

Bayonne Dry Dock’s indispensable mission
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Unless you happen to be taking a cruise or are visiting the Tear Drop, you probably have never seen Bayonne Dry Dock up close. MOTBY is one of the most interesting locales in all of Bayonne. In previous issues of this magazine we’ve highlighted the Coast Guard station, the container terminal, and the cruise port, and in this issue we have a story on the Tear Drop (page TK).
These four entities comprise an unusual mix of industry, art, entertainment, and the military. When it comes to industry, the container port represents the commercial arm. Huge container ships ferry their cargo of foodstuffs and manufactured goods all over the world. The cruise port, meanwhile, which is part of the travel and tourism industry, is pure entertainment. As for art? If more people could find their way to the Tear Drop, it would probably be one of the Tri-State’s most visited pieces of outdoor art.
The Bayonne Dry Dock, along with the Coast Guard, represents the military arm. The ships are just as monumental as those at the cruise port, but they have the no-nonsense splendor of military vessels, everything the term “battleship gray” calls to mind.
We visit on a cold but bright afternoon. The entrance has all the high security you’d expect from a facility that serves the military, but it’s a friendly crew. When we get clearance, a worker approaches to show us the way. The main office is at the end of the yard; to our left, the Tear Drop’s stainless steel tear glistens in the sun.
We sit down in a conference room with Bayonne Dry Dock Manager Kevin Sullivan and Yard Superintendent Mike Dimesa. A few elegant ship artifacts, such as a vintage wheel, add a touch of class to the otherwise bland décor. The entrance to the dry dock office has been decked out with nautical elements, including 10,000-pound anchors and mammoth anchor chains. Propellers can be 24 feet in diameter.

The Job Description

Kevin and Mike are a tag team, explaining the day-to-day workings of the yard. The dry dock’s mission is to repair and overhaul naval ships as well as commercial vessels, such as tugs, barges, and ferries. Kevin says that the majority of the work is for the military.
On the day we visit, there are two military ships, officially called LMSRs, tied to the dock. The two docks are 1,050 feet and 311 feet; the ships are about 950 feet by 106 feet.
The ships come from everywhere, from home ports as close as Norfolk or Charleston to just about anywhere overseas.
The overhauls include upgrading freeboard, superstructure, decks, and hulls. Many ships need to be repainted every five years. The complete overhaul can take anywhere from 60 to 90 days. Rush jobs may be completed in as little as a month.
While some ships are in for routine repairs, others are in dry dock as a result of running aground in heavy weather, running into piers, or colliding with other ships.

Getting the Job Done

Repairing and overhauling ships requires highly skilled laborers. It’s a great gig but hard work. Kevin says that men and women work seven days a week for 12-hour days. With low temperatures, and wind whipping off the water, working outside in winter can be brutal. Kevin says that if the temperature falls below about 15 degrees, they suspend operations for the safety of the workers. With new technology, the electronics have changed over the years, but parts such as valves can be as old as 45 years.
He says the dry dock often “interacts” with its neighbors over at the cruise port, helping Captain Thomas Hinderhofer and his crew with any jobs that might need to be done.
“We’re neighborly,” Hinderhofer says. “If we need maintenance for something on the dock or pier or in the terminal, it’s like borrowing a cup of sugar or an egg. We look out for each other. We keep our eyes and ears open and communicate. They let us know when a ship is in or out of dry dock. They help us out with an emergency repair or cleaning crew.”
One of the dry dock’s most high-profile cases was painting the Intrepid. Many of us remember it being towed in 2006 from Pier 86 in Manhattan to the Bayonne Dry Dock, where the team worked on the flight deck and the underwater hull. Kevin says it was the only aircraft carrier they’d ever repaired.

The Rest is History

During World War II, ships were built at the Brooklyn Navy Yard and outfitted in Bayonne. Now that the navy yard has been transformed into a 21st century complex with a production studio, businesses, artist studios, and office space, it’s hard to imagine those fraught days.
On another historic date, Sept. 11, 2001, the managers and workers at the Bayonne Dry Dock were ordered to evacuate. From the end of the yard which faces downtown Manhattan, workers had a clear view of the second plane hitting the North Tower.
Dry docks may not have the exciting, anticipatory feel of a cruise port or the commercial hubbub of a container port, but you get a sense of purpose and majesty when you experience one. While they’re being repaired, the ships have a scrappy, rusted look. When the work is done, they may not be opulent, but they’re shipshape and ready for their important work. (Take a good look at Victor’s before-and-after pictures.)
“Ship repair is a great industry,” Kevin says. “It takes skill, and it’s hard work.”
Adds Mike, “We’re helping our navy, and it’s helpful to our country.”—Kate Rounds.