Meet the Crew: Bruce Woodman, Boat Whisperer

Around here, we like to say, “Don’t own a boat? No problem! Come cruise with us!”. And, for anyone who has owned a boat or knows someone who does, the appeal of this is obvious – we make it easy to get out on the water without the hassle and the expense. Because, let’s be honest, boats are a TON of work. Now imagine, if you will, that your boat is a one hundred and twenty foot-long, steel-hulled vessel with two diesel main engines and two diesel generators. Then multiply that boat (and its upkeep) by five. This, ladies and gentlemen, is where Bruce comes in.

Bruce Woodman raised his family in Bath (the “City of Ships”) after graduating from Maine Maritime Academy. He’s had a number of maritime-related jobs over the years, and he’s traveled the world. But one thing has remained constant throughout – boats. When our Maintenance Manager position opened nine years ago, Bruce was working at the shipyard in Rockland where he had grown familiar with our fleet during dry dock – who better to entrust with our ladies?

One of the more senior members of our crew, he shares (with an infectious chuckle) how he introduces himself to the new recruits: “When you break it, I’m the guy that fixes it. Simple as that.” Age is no matter though, Bruce is as tough as the steel in the hull of the Auco. Regular hours are 7-3 but the job requires a constant “whatever it takes” attitude. Whether it’s shoveling a path through the snow before the earliest boat or pulling an all-nighter on a repair during the busy summer months, Bruce and our maintenance team go wherever they’re needed, 365 days a year, to keep everything running smoothly around here.

The result is an astonishing familiarity with each of our vessels that is too vast for my basic line of questioning. “What do you want to know about which boat?” he politely asks in return. He knows every vessel top to bottom and inside out. When faced with a mechanical challenge, Bruce tells me that he likes to sit back and listen for the outlier in an otherwise familiar hum, pinpoint the hiccup, and fix it. “It’s my job to keep them coming and going safely.” It’s the challenge he loves more than anything.

To keep things interesting, Bruce and his team must work around our regular operations to perform the never-ending regularly scheduled maintenance and upkeep. Because our boats run from 5 in the morning to nearly midnight each day, much of this work is squeezed in between trips or done early in the morning. Something that’s extra challenging during the summer months. That’s why, for Bruce, dry dock (not the Oscars) is the most anticipated event of the season.

Dry dock is the term used for when our vessels are hauled out of the water for a complete US Coast Guard hull inspection – each vessel every two years. We intentionally schedule this for the middle of winter to accommodate the larger crowds in summertime. And while the boats are out of the water, Bruce uses this precious time to ensure regular maintenance is completed and make sure everything’s in tip-top shape.

This can include anything from pressure washing seaweed and barnacles off the boat to ensuring that the boat’s sewage tanks are in working order. And the work is all done outdoors in winter weather conditions. Turns out, there’s no garage quite large enough! Because there’s so much work to do in a limited period of time, Bruce starts preparing for each dry dock at least two years ahead of time, working with the crew to identify what needs to get done and with management to prioritize and budget for the work.

This year, Bruce will get his hands on the Bay Mist, the Machigonne and the Aucocisco in dry dock. Currently, the Bay Mist is finishing up her time on dry land and we’re preparing the Machigonne II for her journey to Rockland. At this time, due to weather-related delays, we anticipate this will happen in mid-March. Depending upon weather and the schedule for repairs, she may be at the yard for approximately 6 to 8 weeks. During this period of time, as is the customary practice, Lionel Plante Associates will provide vehicle transportation to and from Peaks on a scheduled, yet limited, basis. Passenger service will operate on the regular sailing schedule.

We know that the longer our boats are out of the water, the more impact our island communities feel, but our maintenance schedule is critical to keeping us up and running strong year-round. As always, we will keep you posted when details become available.

In the meantime, our hats are off to Bruce the boat whisperer and one of the nicest guys you’ll meet. Keep doing what you’re doing and thank you for working so hard to care for Casco Bay Lines!