The Portland Ship Repair Facility

In the early 1980s, BIW was busy with the FFG program and a substantial ship overhaul business, and looking forward to the Aegis cruiser program. It was clear the cruisers would be too large for BIW’s existing floating drydock, so a new facility was needed.

BIW initially explored the possibility of leasing a former Navy graving dock in South Boston. The 1,150-foot-long drydock there is among the largest on the east coast, and was well suited to any project BIW might undertake. Despite an attractive lease offer, the distance from Bath would have required a completely separate shipyard, operating independently from BIW’s facilities in Maine.

The city of Portland, seeing an opportunity to bring business to an unused waterfront, proposed a partnership among the city, the state of Maine and BIW to develop a facility on the city’s eastern waterfront. Although there was nothing resembling a shipyard in place, Portland offered a local, deep-water port with easy access to the Gulf of Maine and, just as importantly, to BIW’s facilities and personnel in Bath and East Brunswick.

The crucial drydock came in the form of a former U.S. Navy, WWII-era floating drydock, donated by the Navy to the state, leased to BIW, and overhauled at BIW’s expense. The drydock, built in nine sections and measuring 744 feet in length when assembled, was built for service at remote, unimproved harbors during WWII. After service at Guam during the later years of the war, the dock had been laid up stateside for decades before coming to BIW.

The Portland facility opened in 1983 and was soon busy with a number of ship overhaul contracts, mostly for U.S. Navy destroyers, completion of ships built in Bath, and post shakedown availabilities (PSAs) for Bath-built ships. BIW’s older drydock was moved to Portland a few years later, as the yard was overhauling four U.S. Coast Guard cutters.

One of the more unusual Portland jobs was construction of a new double hull under the former ferry that is now DiMillo’s floating restaurant, a long-time fixture on the Portland waterfront. Another notable job was the 1989 repair of the Bath-built USS Samuel B. Roberts (FFG 58) following battle damage in the Persian Gulf, a job which required construction and installation of an entire new engine room.

Unfortunately for BIW, within a few years the Navy decided to shift most ship repair and overhaul work to the homeports – more economical for the taxpayer and more convenient for the crew, but a heavy blow to BIW’s overhaul business. Without a steady stream of overhaul work, Portland became a part-time operation. Each new DDG would spend about a month at the facility for installation of the sonar dome, and some ships returned for a three-month PSA.

By the late 1990s, as the drydock aged and BIW planned a shipyard expansion in Bath, Portland’s days were numbered. The future USS Howard (DDG 83) was the last ship drydocked in Portland, late in 2000, and the facility closed soon after. The drydock was sold and shipped to Croatia, where it remains in service today.