Onthe Waterfront

Published on Thu, Jan 27, 2005 by an Hrutfiord

Read More News

On the Waterfront

By Jan Hrutfiord

A part of Blaine’s fishing history sailed away from our harbor this month.

The Fishing Vessel Dakota was built on Dakota Creek by Berg Shipyard in 1944, for Eythor Westman and his fishing partner Johnny Berg. This 72-foot fishing boat was the first whaleback fishing boat to be built. Being a prototype, there were many who didn’t think the Dakota would make it on the rough seas of Washington and Alaska.
The high bow, a full level higher than other boats, made it very noticeable, and some thought it would quickly turn over in any wind. Sixty-plus years later, it is still afloat, and has been through more hard weather and high seas than most boats would ever get into.

The Dakota was built tough. Where it was called for to have a beam of a certain size, Eythor had the size doubled, so the hull was heavier and better built than any other boat around, with its oak ribs and straight grained fir siding, with iron bark bow sprit and siding at the water line. The keel was a minesweeper keel which was an extra. (Berg Shipyards was building minesweepers for the Navy at the time.) The boat could cut through ice, which it had to do at times in Alaska, and which a lesser boat could not do without danger of the ice cutting into the boat itself.
After the death of Johnny Berg here in Drayton Harbor shortly after the Dakota was built, Eythor bought out Johnny’s share in the boat, and was the owner from then on until he passed half of the shares over to his son Gary Westman.

Eythor fished in Alaska, opening up many fishing areas which are used today in southeast Alaska, as well as the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska. The Dakota was primarily a dragger, fishing for cod, sole and other bottom fish, but was also used for salmon fishing as a purse seiner, opened up shrimp fishing out of Sand Point, Alaska, went tuna fishing off of California, and had a brief stint as a crab boat in Puget Sound.

For many years, the boat fished southeast Alaska, and Eythor said he’d been through the inside passage to Alaska 1000s of times over the years. He sold his catch to Bornstein Seafood in Bellingham for many years, making a 10-day turnaround with his heavily iced fish to Bellingham, then having two or three days off with his family before going out again for another ten days of fishing.

In those years, the Dakota weathered many storms, and rescued many other boats which were in trouble on the high seas.

During World War II, the army refused to let the Dakota stop fishing, saying it was of high importance to bring in the fish to feed our army as well as the citizens of the area.

At that time, the Japanese laid a chain of mines around their harbors, and some of those mines broke loose, floating to our coastline. The Dakota found several of these floating mines, and there was always a rifle aboard (Eythor had a 30.06) to shoot at and explode the mines before some unsuspecting boat could bump into them and become a statistic of the war.

In later years, the Dakota was a familiar sight here at Blaine harbor. It was used fishing off the coast of Washington for bottom fish, and salmon fishing summers here in Puget Sound. After the deaths of Eythor in 2000 and Gary in 2001, Mike Flotre, the last skipper, fished it for a couple more years until the boat was retired. The license was sold in the federal buy-back in 2003, and the boat could fish no more.

The Dakota was donated by the Westman family to the Pacific Marine Foundation in January of this year, and sailed away under its own steam January 13, headed for Seattle, where it is now at Fishermen’s Terminal, and will undergo renovation for its next life as a live-aboard or whatever seems best for the boat. We will sorely miss this boat, which was the heart of Blaine’s fishing fleet. I do hope that we can see it again someday. I will let you know where it will be next if I hear more.