Blessey Honors Longtime Captain 'Wewa' Strickland

The Ken “Wewa” Strickland was built by A&B Industries of Morgan City.
—courtesy Robert Montero Photography

By Frank McCormack

The atmosphere inside the New Orleans Hilton Riverside ballroom was equal parts family reunion and festive ceremony December 11 when employees and friends of Blessey Marine Services gathered to christen the mv. Ken “Wewa” Strickland.

Strickland, the energetic Blessey captain called “Wewa” after his hometown of Wewahitchka, Fla., has been with Blessey Marine since 1994. He started out as a tankerman and wheelman before moving on to captain. He first captained the mv. Jerry Tichenor, and he now leads the mv. Jack Haskell, a Blessey vessel christened just four months ago.

Blessey Marine Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Walter Blessey needed to tell only two stories to illustrate why Strickland is not only well-liked but also well-loved among his peers.

“He’s an avid outdoorsman. He makes his own deer jerky, and he always sends me some. I get to enjoy his efforts,” Blessey said. “Here is a true story, no embellishing.”

Strickland, while driving his wife’s new car one day, came upon a deer standing near the road, Blessey said. “He pulled over, took out his gun, and shot the deer on the side of the road. He then proceeded to put the deer in the trunk, thinking it was dead.”

On his way home, Strickland began to hear noises coming from the trunk and came to the realization that the deer was indeed still alive. When he got home, he called his wife, Lisa, to come outside with a video camera.

“He slowly opened the trunk, waiting for the deer to jump out; all the while Lisa’s warning him not to shoot her brand new car,” Blessey said. “This deer was smart. He played possum. When Wewa got close, the deer jumped up, scurried out of the trunk and took off.”

Strickland was ready; he shot the deer again, with the whole episode caught on video.

The crowd at the christening ceremony roared with laughter.

Blessey followed that story with a moving account of how, when one of Strickland’s children was ill with cancer, he took an extended leave of absence to spend as much quality time with his son as possible. The son beat the disease, Blessey said.

“Thankfully, it did work out, but that just shows what kind of man and father Wewa is,” Blessey said. “He was going to be there with his son during a time of crisis.”

Blessey said in conclusion: “So Wewa, you’re quite a guy. Quite a captain. I know how you treat your crew, how you treat your fellow mariners, how you treat us in the office, how you treat me. We love you—no question about it.”

Strickland, in turn, reflected much of that sense of gratitude and honor back on Blessey and the friends, family and coworkers gathered for the christening.

“As I look out in this audience, I see all my family here. That’s what’s so great about this company. And that man right there [motioning to Blessey], he made a company that’s unreal,” Strickland said.

Strickland said one of the things that’s always impressed him most about Blessey is that he treats everyone equally.

“It wouldn’t matter if he were with the president; of course I doubt he’d be with the president,” Strickland said, evoking another round of laughs as he referred to Blessey’s outspoken support for the Republican party. “But if that man right there was with him, and an old country boy like Wewa came along and he seen me over there, it wouldn’t matter. He’s going to say, ‘Hey Wewa! How are you doing?’

“He’s not ‘Mr. Blessey.’ He’s just Walter, and that’s how he feels,” he continued.

Strickland went on to thank Lisa, who “stood by me,” and he recognized his 20-year-old son James, who is now a tankerman trainee with Blessey.

On having a boat named after him, Strickland said, simply, “Just think, it’s beyond any dream to have a boat named after me.”

Vessel Specs

The mv. Ken “Wewa” Strickland measures 66 by 30 feet and was built by A&B Industries of Morgan City Inc., from a design by Parfait Maritime Designs.

The mv. Strickland is outfitted with twin Cummins QSK19-M engines from Cummins Mid-South that combine for 1,350 hp. Cummins Mid-South also supplied the Cummins 6BTA5.9DCMJ 60 kw. generators on board.

Karl Senner Inc. provided the ship’s Reintjes WAF 364 marine gears, which have a 6.048:1 reduction ratio. The four-blade stainless-steel Kahlenberg propellers have a 66-inch diameter and a 54-inch pitch. The follow-up/non-follow-up steering system was provided by Hydra Force LLC.

Frank Beier Radio provided the ship’s electronics. Baton Rouge Marine Electric outfitted the vessel with its alarm system. Dale’s Welding & Fabricators supplied the mv. Ken “Wewa” Strickland’s doors and Wintech 40-ton winches. CSP Electronics supplied the fuel-monitoring system, while Herbert S. Hiller outfitted the mv. Strickland with its fire suppression system.

The hull has tankage for 26,500 gallons of fuel, 22,500 gallons of water and 210 gallons of lube oil.

The mv. Ken “Wewa” Strickland’s four-person crew will primarily work the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway between Houston and Corpus Christi, Texas.

After the Rev. Harry Bugler of St. Philip Neri Church in Metairie, La., led a prayer of blessing for the vessel and its crew, Strickland made his way onto the deck of his namesake, raised a bottle over his head, and crashed it onto the railing, officially christening the vessel for service. He then raised the shattered bottle above his head again in triumph and celebration.

And then for good measure, Strickland crashed it against the railing a second time.

Ken "Wewa" Strickland Christening

Capt. Ken “Wewa” Strickland christens namesake vessel.
—photo by Frank McCormack

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