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May 31, 2013 8:10 PM by Keli Moore, KSBY News

Yaquina makes its annual stop on the Central Coast

You may have noticed a ship towering above the rest of the boats in Morro Bay's harbor.

The Army Corps of Engineers Yaquina is here for its annual maintenance visit. The 200-foot-long ship arrived May 17th and is leaving on Monday.

"This year, we are working the entrance and the main channel. These are the two priority areas," said Jon Blake, who is the Skipper for the ship and has been working on it since 1985.

"We operate 24 hours per day," said Blake.

With a crew of 20, their project is to make the harbor 30 to 40 feet deep to keep it safe for boaters and prevent swells from creating large waves at the mouth of the harbor.

"We are a dredge and if you think of a dredge as a large vacuum cleaner, every time we make a pass, we make a little slice off the bottom," said Blake.

The little slice is sand that builds up from runoff and from the currents. The sand is sucked through two dredging arms and ends up in the center of the boat in a holding tank, which is called the hopper, explained Blake.

"We are taking a little slice off the channel and trying to get that down to where the channel mark is at 18 feet," said Blake.

The ship goes back and forth until the hopper is full. It can hold more than 1,000 cubic yards of dredge material. The ship then takes the sand out to sea, about a mile, and makes a dump.

"Most of us work six hours on and six hours off, but that doesn't mean you are sleeping. You have to do laundry and clean," said Brandon Martin, who works onboard the Yaquina.

Yaquina is busy and will make roughly 200 trips between the harbor and the dumping spot during its 19 day stop on the Central Coast.

The ship has made annual visits to Morro Bay for the last 13 years. This visit is $2.5 million, and is federally funded.

As far as environmental impacts on the harbor, surveys are conducted prior to dredging. If there is eel grass growing in the harbor, the ship will avoid that area.

The Yaquina dredges ports up and down the west coast, from Washington State to the Central Coast.

On Monday, the Yaquina will head home.

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