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Mechanical engineer adds expertise for emergency repair on CURRITUCK

Published April 10, 2007

   Susan Brokenshire was always good at math and science in school.  The daughter of a career U.S. State Department diplomat she grew up in several different countries, but worked her way back to the states and got a degree in mechanical engineering from Duke University.  Before coming to the Wilmington District in North Carolina, she was a facilities engineer on a U.S. installation in Germany, but she switched gears when she became a mechanical engineer for Wilmington District Navigation.  With her experience as a budget number cruncher and her natural knack for fixing things, she was the perfect candidate to help oversee an emergency pit stop last winter for the Currituck, the Wilmington District’s special purpose shallow draft dredge vessel. 

   “The Currituck sprang a leak in its hull,” she said.  “We didn’t have a choice but to bring her in for an emergency repair at the state port in Mann’s Harbor near Manteo because of its dry dock facilities.”    

   The Currituck is usually out of sight and out of mind.  It averages 340 days of work each year, and its places of duty stretch from New England to Florida.  Brokenshire said the wear and tear on the vessel means on average a major shipyard contract every three years. 

   “When she stops we need to do a superb job of fixing her.  We use the down time to buy her life again.”

    By a contract with the North Carolina Department of Transportation Ferry Division, state workers pulled the Currituck onto their dry dock and made the emergency repair to the hull.  After that, the vessel remained at the ferry yard to take advantage of the dry dock.  By bringing in Wilmington District crew members who have years of experience working on all SAW vessels what could have been at least a four to five month stay in Manteo turned out to be an incredible two-month overhaul.     

   “Our guys put in 12-hour days, seven days a week to get the Currituck in the water again,” said Brokenshire.  “We had a long list of repairs like replacing pumps, putting on a new mast and smaller things that only crew members would know how to fix.”

   SAW Engineer Yard Supervisor Ken Bailey likened crew members to “industrial Special Forces” who were able to do several different jobs rather than just one or two.  Many of them are military veterans who need little or no supervision. 

   “Things wear out or become out of date,” Bailey said.  “Our guys are so familiar with all of the vessels that they can tell when something’s not right and needs repairing,” he said.  “And since they knew how important it was to get the Currituck back in the water as quickly as possible, they worked on the weekends to stay out of the Ferry Yard workers way.”

   In addition to inspecting the work on the Currituck, Brokenshire also had to make sure that work stayed within budget.  Allotted only $100,000 for the repair job, her meticulous nature for saving a buck saved hundreds of thousands of dollars. 

   “With everyone pulling together to make the repair as fast as possible we estimated that it would have probably taken between $400,000 and $500,000 if we had contracted it out.”

   The Currituck is a high profile vessel able to put sand in the surf zone on beaches in water less than 10 feet deep.  Studies have shown that material placed in this area move predominantly onshore, which mimics the natural process of putting sand on a beach.  The dredge is constantly in demand and Bailey said the race to get it repaired in such a short amount of time meant that the Wilmington District was able to keep pace with the demands up and down the east coast. 

   “Everybody was waiting on us,” he exclaimed.  “She went straight to work as soon as we were finished.” 

   Brokenshire said Wilmington District Navigation has developed over the years into a “one stop shop” able to do shallow draft dredging with its custom designed vessels.

   “Not only are we experts at shallow draft dredging up and down the east coast, but we have hydrographic survey capabilities with five survey boats that can respond immediately if necessary.  And our vessel crews have the knowledge that’s needed to keep our boats maintained, working double shifts and seven days a week if that’s what it takes.”