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Nordcap Steel Docks

Experience counts when challenges arise

Building steel docks may seem like an easy task to the untrained eye: drive some steel into the ground, then frame a dock above the water level. How hard can it be?

Building steel docks may seem like an easy task to the untrained eye: drive some steel into the ground, then frame a dock above the water level. How hard can it be?

Well, doing a great job that will last through the generations takes an enormous amount of knowledge and skill. Even the best laid plans can be undone by the environment – be it soft lakebeds, high water levels, shifting ice, or shallow water frost heaves.

“There is a lot more to building quality steel docks than meets the eye,” explains Philipp Spoerndli of Nordcap Steel Docks. “Often it’s what you don’t see that proves to be the most challenging aspect of building a steel dock.”

Over 32-plus years as a steel dock builder in the region, Nordcap has encountered the full spectrum of challenging conditions. There are lakebeds so soft the piles drop down in them like arrows; steel piles that become suddenly magnetic; and sudden winds that can whip the lakes from flat calm to five-foot waves, depending on the exposure.

Then there are the basic challenges of Muskoka geography, like building steel docks in 45 feet of water, or drilling pins to attach the piles to a sloping underwater rock face (both of which require the use of dive gear).

“Or there’s how to keep the fascia from shearing off when the client forgot to turn on the de-icer before Christmas, and now the dock is frozen solid,” says Philipp. “And there’s spring, when we need to ensure that wood decking stays in place even though the dock is a foot or two underwater.”

There are also concerns that afflict lower-quality steel docks, such as steel piles rusting prematurely, frost heaves causing piles to shift in shallow water, or ice movement that damages cross bracing. But Phillipp and his team are resolving these problems by developing new building techniques and materials, and constantly upgrading and researching even better solutions.

That quest – to anticipate problems before they arise and craft innovative and creative solutions – has helped Philipp and Nordcap establish a reputation for being the area’s premium waterfront design specialist.

They have pioneered techniques like using insulation for piles in clay rather than heat lines (which are subject to failure); using batter piles, which are driven at a carefully selected angle to resist ice movement; and other structural features to ensure longevity.

Challenging projectsWhether it involves finding innovative solutions or using special equipment – or both – they have faced and overcome many challenging projects over the years. Two of them were at the Muskoka Wharf in Gravenhurst.

Nordcap installed the docks when the Wharf was first developed, 20-some years ago. “We needed to use a 50-ton pile driver and batter piles to achieve the necessary foundation for the heavily used dock,” explains Philipp.

More recently, the team returned to work on the addition to the Muskoka Discovery Centre. Part of the large building sits overtop of the water and includes a boat lift capable of hoisting the 94-foot Wanda III, the largest private steam yacht in the country. That required building a comslab system – a steel and concrete deck that is fused into one piece. “We needed to be sure the dock was built strong enough to support the weight of the building, the Wanda III and its hoist, and all the visitors,” says Philipp.

Then there was the swim dock on Lake of Bays that was cantilevered out over the water to eliminate the need for de-icers; the shallow-water dock where batter piles eliminated the need for angle braces; and presently an existing aerodrome that needed to be supported on 100-foot piles because it was sinking into the soft overburden.

“And we had one project on McVittie Island that was particularly interesting,” recalls Philipp. “We used a specific pile system to get a solid bearing with 35-foot piles for a two-storey cottage. The alternative would have been driving 130-foot piles to bedrock.”

On every project, Nordcap doesn’t only plan for the immediate build, but also for what the dock may be used for decades down the road.

When talking about a structure that will last this long, change is inevitable. Children and even grandchildren will inherit the cottage with their own plans. They may want to build a boathouse, or add boat slips, or maybe a helipad. And all of it will require the solid foundation of a superb steel dock.

“We plan our customers’ docks to be useful for the present while keeping an eye on the future,” says Philipp. “This foresight makes your waterfront versatile and adaptable for the next generation.”

TEXT CHRIS OCCHIUZZI | PHOTOS ANDREW FEARMAN

www.MuskokaDocks.com

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