Gunderson Marine Barge Launch — More than Just a Vessel

Last month, I attended Gunderson Marine’s launch of the OneDREAM, an articulated barge built for Harley Marine Services with a capacity of over 80,000 barrels and a length of 428 feet. What struck me most about the whole affair, standing amidst 200-ton whirley cranes, gigantic hulks of steel, and robust workers watching the proud affair, is that there were tears. Tears! People get emotional about a barge launch. It’s not just because the Scottish bagpipe band, Clan Maclay Pipe Band, soulfully belts out “Amazing Grace,” it’s that people are proud of the accomplishment, proud of being a part of something created that seems to have a life of its own. Even though barges aren’t ships (for a myriad of reasons, most of all because they have no engines), they are afforded the same humble reverence as is bestowed upon ships…a pastor blesses them, speeches are made by the sponsors and the owners of the vessel, and champagne is broken on their hulls. Likewise, they are afforded the same pomp and circumstance upon their launch as are ships…bagpipes play, dignitaries get to ride on the top, the harbor fire department sprays giant sprays of water colored red, white and blue, and everyone hoots and hollers when the big splash is made.

Witnessing this event was a welcome reprieve and contrast to all of the toxic news in American politics lately because it illustrated the phrase “proudly made in America” without any negative undertones. Moreover, it was a reminder that the Gunderson workplace is a multi-cultural conglomeration of different faiths, languages and appearances and, as such, represents a microcosm of what America looks like today. Surely, had everyone at Gunderson participated in the recent Day Without Immigrants, less of a barge would have been built that day. So, maybe people are moved by the launch of a barge that was made proudly and well here in Portland, Oregon because it was made possible because of our differences, not despite them. And next time you see a barge out on the river (or a tug, they’re made locally too), maybe you too will see not merely a hunk of floating steel, but also a piece of all us on our next journey, together.

If you’d like to learn more about Gunderson and their barge launches, their Facebook page is here and a video of their launch of a heavy deck barge in 2016 can be found here.