Work for an engineering company and, it goes without saying, you are certified and trained as an engineer.
But work for Appledore Marine Engineering, and you’re not only an engineer, you’re a certified underwater diver both in the use of self-contained air tanks and surface-supplied air.
“All our engineers are divers,” said Appledore president Noah Elwood. “We make the effort to hire the best engineers, then we invest heavily in training them as divers.”
It’s one of the features that sets Appledore apart from other engineering firms as the company embarks on a $10 million, 5-year contract at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard that includes expanding the capabilities of the dry docks so the yard can accommodate the larger Virginia class submarines.
The firm also will work on assessing the needs to repair and rehabilitate existing piers and wharfs. It also will do a study to assess the feasibility of a berth to increase the capabilities of the Navy to moor vessels there.
Elwood said the company, which has contracts across the country and around the world, is thrilled to have the contract essentially in its back yard.
“It doesn’t get any closer than that,” said Elwood, smiling at the prospect. “It’s a good size contract for us, and it’s really important to us.”
According to Elwood, a good portion of the company’s business is with the federal government, doing projects for the U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard.
The company started in 1987 in Newmarket as Appledore Engineering with a division that specialized in marine engineering. That division was spun off in 2004 as Appledore Marine Engineering and moved to 600 State St., where it remains today.
“We did that to be better focused on our core clients,” Elwood said. “We focus exclusively on underwater construction.”
Their skills as engineers and their skills as divers combine to give them expertise marine-related projects out of and in the water. Elwood said about 80 percent of Appledore’s engineers are graduates of the University of New Hampshire. Women engineers make up a third of the dive teams.
According to Elwood, the engineers/divers work in teams of four, with a supervisor above water who’s in charge of communication and the safety of the dive team, a lead diver and a back-up diver. In a scuba team, the fourth member of the team is a second engineer diver in the water assisting. In the surface supplied air team, the fourth member manages the diver’s umbilical topside while the back-up diver is suited up topside and ready for deployment if needed.
To assess the structural soundness of pilings that might be used in the construction of a new pier, for example, the dive team will do an initial visual assessment — a “swim by,” as Elwood called it.
Then they’ll get underwater to clean the marine growth (algae, barnacles, oysters, for example) from sections of the pilings to do a closer visual inspection, then assess the strength of the pilings by using instruments to measure the thickness of the steel or get core samples if the pilings are wood or concrete.
Information is communicated via two-way radio to personnel on the land. They have a system to take notes on iPads that was developed during an Employee Exploration and Enrichments Day, a quarterly event set aside for workers to talk of a subject of their choosing to better themselves as employees or better the company.
Conditions in the field can be challenging, according to Elwood. He told the story of a project the company had at a U.S. Air Force base in Greenland, 750 miles north of the Arctic Circle. The Air Force had a pier it used to bring in supplies and the good-weather window to do the work was only eight weeks, with the water temperature about 30 degrees.
Each job, said Elwood, is its own lab.
“They see a lot of what works and they see a lot of what doesn’t work,” said Elwood, who has been company president since 1994 and is also an engineer diver.
The company leadership consists of Elwood, Robert Snover, PE, vice president and Lawrence Wagner, PE, vice president. Appledore has a total of 22 full- and part-time employees and 10 of them are professional engineer divers. The remainder consist of engineer tech divers and administrative support staff.
The team members rotate among themselves to form new teams, so the experience of what worked and what didn’t from different jobs is ultimately shared among everyone.
There are a number of factors to take into account as Appledore begins its work at the shipyard. Included among those factors is the fast-moving current of the Piscataqua River as it empties and fills the Great Bay estuary with every tide. “The loads can be tremendous,” Elwood said.
He said he and his partners worked hard to get the shipyard contract in a competitive process with other engineering firms.
An Appledore engineer assigned to a project stays with it from beginning to completion, according to Elwood.
There’s no risk that something might be lost or missed in the transfer of information from one engineer to another.
“Whenever you hand something off, you lose something,” Elwood said. “Something can get lost in the translation.”
The value his engineers bring to a contract such as the shipyard, said Elwood, is that their quality work will keep the project costs under control and on budget.
“It means a lot,” he said of securing the shipyard contract. “It fully galvanizes our relationship with the shipyard for the next five years.”