Walking into the office, Kate Tupper-England looked very little like the welder-dancer from Flashdance. Aside from the difference in hairstyles (no 80s curls on Tupper-England), there was also not a smudge of dirt to be seen.
Tupper-England had just finished a ten-day welding stint and was now looking forward to four days of freedom that would start with a visit to a spa.
The local welder has been busy working on the ferry being built down past the sewage treatment plant on the north side of Nakusp. Waterbridge Steel now has around 50 people working to get the ferry ready for its summer launch date this year and for actual service in May 2014. Workers have been hired out of Selkirk College programs as well as farther abroad, with some coming from the Okanagan.
For Tupper-England, the experience has been an opportunity to learn as well as be part of building something cool. Not only has she been picking up boat lingo (“It helps with Star Trek,” she told me) but she’s also been getting a ton of inspiration for her art.
“All the shapes that come with building a boat, they’re in my mind,” she said. “I’m finding this boat so inspiring.” Tupper-England compares being inside the ferry as it’s being built as like being inside a giant whale skeleton. Even the colour of the red oxide rust has sparked something in the artist.
“It’s the colour of birth and death,” said Tupper-England, telling me that when they died, ancient people were painted this colour and then put in the ground.
And, one of the best things about building the ferry is building something that will be used by people for a long time.
“You’ll get to ride it forever,” she said, noting that although lots of people don’t like the ferry, she loves it.
The ferry is like a giant 3D puzzle; each piece is delivered from Vancouver cut to shape and numbered. From there, the workers assemble the vessel from the plans. For her part, the Nakusp welder is really loving working with the fitters, who take each piece and fit it where it’s supposed to go; she then tacks them on with her torch.
The site is a busy, convivial place, says Tupper-England who says the whole crew feels like a bunch of brothers.
“Every single one of my bosses is so great,” she said. “It’s a good feeling. As a girl you wonder how’s this going to be. It wasn’t a problem.”
The work is physically demanding, which has meant the welder keeps building muscle, but she also knows when not to push it. If she knows she can’t lift something, she calls for a hand.
“There’s a lot going on but I feel very safe and trust every single person,” she commented.
Waterbridge owner John Harding is happy to have her as one of the three women on site.
“I’ve heard big things about her,” he said, referring to her reputation as an award-winning artist. “We enjoy having her.”
Everything is going swimmingly as far as being on schedule for construction, said Harding, with launch and service times right on track. When the puzzle is fully assembled, there will be in excess of two million pounds of steel floating in the water.