The Giant Floating Drydock That Fixed Shell's Arctic Oil Ship Is Just Getting Started

What the nation's largest floating dry dock has to do with #SHELLNO and the Portland economy

By Marty Patail September 21, 2015 Published in the October 2015 issue of Portland Monthly

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On August 25, 2014, Vigorous—the nation’s largest floating dry dock—arrived at its new home in the Portland shipyards. Built in Qidong, China, the 960-foot dry dock nearly doubled the shipbuilding and repair capacity of its owner, Vigor. The dock brings in larger projects like the floating naval hospital the USNS Mercy and the cruise liner Norwegian Star—both serviced in Portland earlier this year.

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$40 m - Cost of construction in Qidong

$10 m - Cost to transport to Portland by a heavy-lift ship

422 - Number of feet by which Vigorous’s length exceeds the height of Portland’s US Bancorp building

24,000 - Weight, in tons, of the dry dock

80,000 - Tons it is capable of holding at once

12 - Ships the dry dock has repaired since arriving

250,000 - Paid hours of shipbuilding and repair the dry dock has contributed to Portland’s economy


Thanks to its broad U-shape and size the dry dock is extremely stable and can operate in almost any weather.

Inside the walls of the hull are 20 tanks that empty or take on water to raise and lower the dock.

A floating dry dock needs to pump out only the equivalent water of the weight of the ship in order to lift itself, making it generally much faster than a traditional “graving” dock that must empty all of its water.


“Shipbuilding is a big industry. The [new plant] will undoubtedly be a factor in making shipbuilding a general and permanent industry for the community. A business of the magnitude of shipbuilding lends prestige to Portland as a city and as a port, now even one of the leading maritime and commercial centers of the country. It adds prestige to the Willamette River.”
The Oregonian on the arrival of a new shipbuilding plant, May 17, 1916


“Portlanders sometimes forget that there is a strong industrial sector in our economy. This very visible expansion, right here on Swan Island, is a good reminder that skills like welding and machining play key roles in the lives of working Portlanders.”
Mayor Charlie Hales on the arrival of Vigorous, August 26, 2014

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This summer, Greenpeace protesters suspended from the St. Johns Bridge temporarily blocked Shell’s Arctic icebreaker Fennica from leaving, after being repaired on Vigorous. We asked Dave Whitcomb of Vigor whether Shell will be back:

“Private companies have a choice beyond pure bidding. But generally, there’s not a plethora of floating dry docks. They’re gonna come where they think they’re going to get the best service and work around whatever issues transpire. If you’re getting protested here, you’re gonna get protested in Seattle or California if you’re Shell. You’re going to deal with it. The relevant question is: where do you want to deal with it?”

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