HistoricMars fish boat goes down

Published on Thu, Aug 19, 2004 by Jack Kintner

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Historic Mars fish boat goes down

By Jack Kintner

A boat that was a mainstay of the local fishing fleet for decades, the 77-year-old wooden purse seiner Mars, sunk at her moorings last Thursday night in the commercial section of the Blaine marina. Owner Doug Finley of Des Moines, Washington, was in Hawaii at his daughter’s wedding at the time, and said he got the news early Friday. “The port said they’d called Mark Gumley because he was local and could deal with it,” Finley said, “so I told them to go ahead.”

Gumley and Bellingham diver Stephen Croft spent several hours assessing damage to the hull, much of which had to be done by crawling underneath the submerged vessel, and eventually determined that the boat could be pumped out and raised. By Tuesday of this week they had it nearly back up to its waterline using four high capacity pumps.

“It’s a little early to tell just what happened,” Gumley said, “whether it’s a pump failure or something else.” He said that much if not all of the equipment on board, including the engine, was probably damaged beyond repair after being immersed in salt water.

Finley said his partner, Sasha Howlett, had visited the boat just three days before it sank “and everything seemed fine.” Finley said that after buying the boat at auction for $700 he took it to Westman Marine for needed work. “We spent over $2,000 on batteries and pumps,” he said, “so I guess I’m a little suspicious about why it went down.”
Bob Gudmundson of Westman Marine said that “Finley stopped the work once he felt he’d spent enough money, so what we did mainly was patch it here and there.”

Finley arrived in Blaine Tuesday to inspect the vessel and said he “discovered Gumley stealing things” off the boat. A confrontation followed during which the Blaine police were called.

“Look,” Gumley said, “I’m underneath that thing and if one of those flotation bags lets loose I’m dead, and if Mr. Finley gets hurt because the boat suddenly turns over then I’m liable.” Gumley said that it’s normal procedure for the salvage operator to remove items for safe keeping that otherwise might be stolen, “and anyway, it’s against the law for him to be on board during a salvage operation.” Gumley added that he was hired by the Port of Bellingham, not Gumley, “so my first question for the guy was to ask him who the real owner is. I think he walked away from it, and once it sank the port needed to do something.”

Bob Gudmundson, owner of Westman Marine, agreed, saying “Mark’s right, Finley has no business being on board or even on the job site. It’s a federal law that’s designed to keep salvage operators safe from intruders who claim to have a share in the boat. If Mr. Finley is still the owner, then he’d be paying Mr. Gumley to do the work and there’d probably be no disagreement. As it is, if he’s abandoned the vessel then the taxpayers will pick up the tab.” If not, Gudmundson concluded, Finley can always pay for the work himself.

“It’s too bad such a historic boat comes to this, though,” Gudmundson said, “she’s got a lot of stories to tell.”

The 67-foot seiner was built in Tacoma of fir on oak frames for the Sebastian Stewart Fish Company of Seattle. It was later purchased and operated for many years by high liner Paul Berg of Blaine as a local area salmon seiner.

Finley said the boat will be going to Westman Marine to be dismantled, but Gudmundson said that the port told him if he accepts it he needed to be able to store it for 30 days, “and I can’t tie up my yard like that.” Port director Pamela Taft is on vacation and was unavailable for comment. Stay tuned.