Next into the dock at Seward Ship’s
Wolfgang Kurtz | For The LOG
Pinkney Cunningham stands ready as the new general manager at Seward Ship’s Drydock and Ship’s Chandlery.
Pinkney Cunningham has spent way too much time in Arkansas, but only two months into his position as general manager of Seward Ship’s Drydock and Ship’s Chandlery, he’s looking forward to a long stay in Seward. Originally from Vicksburg, Mississippi, Cunningham grew up on the big river. His schooling at Mississippi State started in mechanical engineering and when they developed a program in marine engineering technology, he took that up. Fresh out of school, Cunningham started out in the business in 1971 pulling double duty with design work and drafting at night, and then running a shipyard crew during the day.
In 1981, after a downturn in shipbuilding on the inland rivers, Cunningham leased his shop and left Arkansas for the Savannah, Georgia shipyards. He took a position at Thunderbolt Marine, one of Savannah’s three large shipyards, where he found work predominantly on Navy, Coast Guard and Army repair jobs as well as some new builds of deck barges and other craft.
When Lockheed brought in a contract for production of Army Runnymede large landing craft also known as 2000 class LCU’s, Cunningham was tapped to control design and production costs as on a commercial spec fixed price contract. In recent years, a significant part of the shipyard business in Savannah shifted into yacht work and commercial overhauls, with some new builds of pilot boats and Cunningham found additional duties in marine structural design and facilities management.
Seward Ship’s has been advertising for several management positions and when Cunningham googled the facility he says he thought, “Hey, that looks like the way I got into this business!” The mix between military and state and commercial fishing vessels was interesting and he was intrigued. After a call to owner Jim Pruitt’s cell phone, Cunningham came up for a July visit to the yard and one of the 2000 class LCU’s like he had helped design and build with Lockheed in Savannah, was awaiting repairs.
A quick study on the business side and already up to speed on Seward Ship’s infrastructure, Cunningham is looking forward to some upgrades to the facility that will provide better service to their customers. The ship lift, which is basically an elevator platform on rails that raises boats up out of the water, can handle vessels up to 80 feet wide and over 300 feet long. However, the transfer car which switches between rail sets, is only about half the length of the lift. That consigns larger ships to the first drydock space which is not enclosed.
With a longer transfer car and with the enlargement of the transfer car pit, multiple larger vessels will be able to be brought into drydock. That will include the option of “parking” them under the Seward Ship’s covered structure or in other adjacent existing slots. Beyond that, expanding docking space will create capacity for more craft, large or larger, to be in drydock simultaneously.
Cunningham’s first major contract will be the $6.3 million refurbishment of the M/V Tustumena, the stalwart ferry of the Alaska Marine Highway System. The Tustumena, first commissioned in 1964, will keep 45 employees of Seward Ship’s busy over the winter with all work to be completed by April.
Tasks include steel decking and bulkhead replacement throughout, electrical and data wiring upgrades as well as extensive refinishing and painting. The federally funded project will also employ several local sub-contractors.
Now he’s looking to let Jim Madden, who had been tapped for the transition, fire himself for the last time. Cunningham’s wife, a grade school teacher, will be joining him when the school year wraps up. Not a bad way to start.