By Alex Binkley

Heddle Marine Service Inc. wants to be recognized for the wide range of ship repair services it offers through its facility on the Hamilton waterfront. So when the chance came along to participate in the restoration of the retired Royal Canadian Navy submarine Ojibwa, the company didn’t hesitate to participate. “We saw it as a high profile opportunity to gain attention, says President Richard Heddle. “It was great opportunity to showcase all the different services that we offer.”

The submarine, now on permanent display in Port Burwell, Ont. generated a lot of attention for the company, he adds in an interview. “We got lots of questions about it from customers and others.” Yet to the company’s 60 employees, “it was just another ship that needed work. No one was concerned that there would be anything about it we couldn’t look after. We were able to demonstrate that our company is situated to respond to the needs of our customers.”

Started in 1987, the company is the largest Canadian-based ship repairer operating floating drydocks on the Great Lakes. Its first floating drydock came into operation in 1990 and it now has three, with plans for a fourth if there is the demand for it from shipping lines. It would give the company the ability to handle Seaway maximum sized vessels, he adds. It can currently take ships up to 650 feet long. Its array of different drydocks means Heddle can provide services for small and larger vessels.

Joseph D’Achille, Heddle’s Project Manager, notes that submarine contract enabled Heddle to demonstrate its flexibility. It used one of its floating drydocks to carry the sub from Halifax to Hamilton where the restoration work was carried out. Due to its age, the vessel could not be towed in the water.

The company works from land leased from Hamilton Port Authority, which includes 1,000 feet of wharfage and dock frontage, a 30,500 square foot fabrication shop and 5,000 square foot of machine shop.

The ship business is “a tough, cyclical industry,” D’Achille points out. In addition to work on domestic vessels, the yard has worked on European ships as well. In an average year, Heddle will work on 20 to 30 ships doing all sorts of light and heavy-duty work. Among the services it offers are hull repairs, vessel fabrication, tug and barge connection systems, naval architecture, steel fabrication, sandblasting and painting, machining, electrical, propeller, hydraulic, piping and plumbing repairs, tank cleaning and gas freeing, woodworking, and shaft cladding. Some of the projects Heddle conducted include the accommodation, refurbishment & repowering of the Lower Lakes freighter the Objiway to diesel power from its old steam system. It has also handled the repowering of Canadian Coast Guard vessel Limnos as well as its full accommodation renewal and alarm system modernization. Heddle has manufactured and installed many types of articulated tug barge connection systems for its customers. It also works on smaller cruise and other lake vessels when their need for recertification comes due.

Its original drydock is 76.2 metres (250 feet) long with a 3,200-tonne capacity. In 1998, it added a second, larger drydock offering a 6,000-DWT capacity that can service vessels up to 121.9 metres (400 feet) in length. It added a third drydock with a 1,000-tonne capacity in 2002. In addition to determining whether there is sufficient business demand for another drydock, Heddle is waiting for completion of the cleanup of Hamilton Harbour before it considers whether to proceed with the dredging required to enable a new dock to be brought alongside the Heddle facility, D’Achille noted. “The design work has been done. The market will determine whether we proceed.”

Heddle Marine Service Inc. has expanded into Eastern Canada by opening a division in Mount Pearl, Nfld. Currently the focus of work at that facility is on top-side repairs with the potential of drydocking capabilities coming on line in the near future.