THE YARD by Michael S. Sanders


Building a Destroyer at the Bath Iron Works
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An unhurried, meticulous, character-rich portrait of the Bath Iron Works, where the navy’s destroyers are built, is the subject of Maine writer Sanders’s first book. The massive complex of ways, cranes, and hangars along Maine’s Kennebec River, the Bath Iron Works, has been fashioning grand and enormous ships for over a century. It’s more than just an economic mainstay of the state, as Sanders’s history and tour of the works makes plain: it’s an institution that has as much to do with the art and pride of shipbuilding as it does with employing 5,000 workers: pipe fitters, marine architects, braziers, draftsmen, tinknockers, riggers, anglesmiths, straighteners, and blasters. These days the works feels fortunate to be one of only six remaining active naval shipyards in the US—commercial ships are built at subsidized yards in Korea, Finland, Russia, and Japan—and as the navy downsizes, it’s a precarious existence. Sanders follows the building of the destroyer USS Donald Cook, from first torch cut to commissioning, a massive enterprise where welders become performance artists, smithies pound red-hot steel in cavernous penumbral furnace buildings like something out of Norse mythology, crane operators nurse into position steel slabs weighing hundreds of tons, sometimes by increments of an inch and not by computer control, but by the delicate touch of experienced hands on levers. And as this ship is a fighting vessel, there is included a short course on modern warfare at sea, in which naval engagements are carried out at great, and what feel like anesthetizing, distances. Sanders chooses his words caringly, working with an engineer’s precision, a formal elegance, whereas the comments he records from the shipbuilders are more casual and a relief. Sanders depicts the works as part of a remarkable and increasingly rare industry that fuses technological innovation with proud craftsmanship and a work ethic that makes a shipfitter’s affectionate patting of a 9,000-ton hull a very natural gesture. (photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-06-019246-1
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1999


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