Tisbury, boatbuilder differ on patrol/fire boat punch list

Steve Myrick

Tisbury’s new harbor patrol/fire boat is in Tiverton, Rhode Island for completion of a 26-item punch list sent by the town to its builder, Welded Boat Company in Palacios, Texas. The boat was delivered to Vineyard Haven by trailer on September 26.

A copy of a letter dated October 19, obtained by The Times and written by Phil Hulzier of Welded Boat to Tisbury harbormaster Jay Wilbur suggests that the builder and town are not in agreement on what led to some of the issues.

In his written responses to items on the punch list, Mr. Hulzier notes that several of the town’s complaints relate to features that meet industry standards or changes made in response to Mr. Wilbur’s requests.

The federal Department of Homeland Security funded the vessel with a $265,306 grant. The 34-foot aluminum boat was designed with security, law enforcement, rescue, and firefighting capabilities, as well as features for tasks such as patrolling, towing, and mooring maintenance.

Mr. Wilbur oversaw construction of the boat, which was not an off-the-shelf design. During construction, Mr. Wilbur requested changes in the boat design to meet his requirements and the conditions under which it would operate.

Capt. Richard L. Frenzel, a marine surveyor the town hired to inspect the boat project, said in a survey letter dated May 21 and in a conversation with The Times that Mr. Wilbur and John Bugbee, town administrator and chief procurement officer, lacked the skills and experience to plan and oversee the boat’s construction.

Mr. Frenzel also said Tisbury was using Homeland Security money to build a type of boat found in waterfront communities, also built with federal dollars and readily available.

In a phone conversation with The Times this week, when asked about Tisbury’s design process in light of the punch item list, Mr. Bugbee said he disagreed with Mr. Frenzel’s criticism.

“We needed to have a design that would allow Jay to be at the steering wheel to speak to other boaters; that was one of the hurdles,” he said. “He’s done this for more than 25 years. We did look at other boat designs, and we found there wasn’t a boat out there we could buy off the rack that did everything we wanted it to do.”

Mr. Bugbee said he did not consider the number of punch list items unusual.

“I think this is the nature of putting a boat on paper and then putting it together in field,” he said. “Oftentimes what looks good on paper doesn’t work in the field.”

Mr. Bugbee said he and Mr. Wilbur walked through the boat together to make the list after it was delivered.

“I added a few items,” he said. “Some of the punch list items aren’t necessarily mistakes as much as a change of mind in terms of the layout of boat.”

For example, Mr. Bugbee said, he and Mr. Wilbur thought it would be desirable to remove a dive rescue door completely. However, after looking at it, they agreed a swinging door would make more sense and added that to the punch list.

“There are a lot of little things that we just decided would work better,” Mr. Bugbee said. “That doesn’t mean the boat was built incorrectly. We just want it to be as user-friendly and effective as possible, and because of that, we want to have these changes.”

While Welded Boat is willing to correct any deficiencies for which it is responsible, Mr. Hulsizer noted that there would be added charges for some of the changes made after construction by the town, the dive door being one.

Mr. Bugbee said there is still money left from the grant to cover additional costs.

“We anticipate the boat coming back fairly soon,” he said. “When all is said and done, it will be a great boat, and more importantly, it will improve the level of safety in the waters of Tisbury.”

Mr. Wilbur could not be reached for comment.