Icelandicdescendant reflects upon marina life in Blaine harbor

Published on Thu, Mar 3, 2005 by Lowell Jackson

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Icelandic descendant reflects
upon marina life in Blaine harbor

By Lowell Jackson

In the early 1970s, a man of Icelandic descent became the successor to Berg Shipyard on the Blaine Harbor landfill. He named the family business the Westman Industrial Company, which previously had a few owners. At the time, the nearest neighbors were the Blaine Marina, CK Fish, Boundary Fish and the Harbor Cafe.

Until l989, Carl Westman, his wife Berdine and son Larry operated the company that engaged in boat repair and the manufacture of fishing equipment. The latter included purse seine net reels and hydraulic equipment, with customers flocking to his business from Kodiak, Dutch Harbor and up and down the Washington coast to Oregon.

“Berdine became the office manager while Larry assisted in the office and parts department,” Westman said. “My wife was very outgoing while I am rather quiet and soft-spoken. With limited experience and training, she nevertheless did an outstanding job in helping our business to prosper.”

“When you’re the owner, you do practically everything,” he continued. “You procure the jobs and supervise the construction and rebuilding of boats. We had mostly wooden boats to begin with and did almost all kinds of work on them. We shortened, lengthened, rebuilt, and did general repair on pleasure and commercial fishing boats, including shafting propellers, engine replacements and general overhauling.”

Westman’s major business came from Alaska, from crab fishermen, bottom fish and salmon boats. Vessels, however, came from all over the country – scallopers from Maine and Massachusetts and shrimp boats from Louisiana and Texas who reached Blaine Harbor via the Panama Canal.

In Blaine alone, there were 50 fishing boats. During peak years, Westman hired up to 32 employees on a seasonal basis. They included marine carpenters, welders and fabricators, electricians and hydraulic personnel. On average, the company employed 15 to 17 full-time employees who Westman still keeps in contact with and regards as close friends to this day.

After more than 15 years, Westman sold his business to Jack Dawson. “Bob Gudmundson is the primary owner now. It still operates under the name of Westman Marine, although I sold out and got out. I was 65-years-old and ready to retire,” he smiled whimsically. “I could see the handwriting on the wall.”

“The fishing industry has now diminished greatly. Fewer salmon are caught and there’s the depletion of crab. Alaska Packers on the Semiahmoo spit had a great fleet of fishing vessels and hired approximately 100 people – all faded into history now. The shrimp from Kodiak is completely gone. I’m guessing, but I think there are only 10 commercial fishing vessels in Blaine and a similar downsizing in Bellingham as well.”

Carl Westman was born in Bellingham and grew up in Marietta, five miles west of Bellingham, which he describes as ‘a quaint little village right on the Nooksack River.’ Both of his parents were born in Iceland. His father, Carl, came from an area near Husavik; his mother, Anita, from Djupogvur. He has a sister, Sigrid Powers, who resides in Bellingham.

After graduating from Bellingham high school, he attended Bellingham Normal School, now Western Washington University. In 1942, he enlisted in the Army Air Force and became a pilot on B-24s, completing 30 missions over Europe. He married his wife, the former Berdine Markwood of Bellingham, prior to release in 1945. She died in 1996 from cancer and other complications.

Following the war, Westman operated a service station business in Bellingham for a couple of years, then moved to Point Roberts in 1948 to manage The Breakers nightclub for five years. Returning to Bellingham, he started working at Weldcraft (Steel & Marine) Shipyard (now Northbound) and remained there 15 years, supervising the yard for 11 years. Prior to buying his business in Blaine, he started Post Point Industries, successor to PAF (a big salmon company) for four years.

Fifteen years ago, Carl Westman built an impressive home on Birch Point Drive at Birch Bay where he entertains often. The two-story, 3,000-square foot house, painted salmon pink, boasts two kitchens, upstairs and down, to cater to family reunions held at Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, Fourth of July as well as other gatherings. Once a month, he hosts Monday evening get-togethers with upwards to 20 friends for pot luck and programs involving poetry, videos, music and readings of short stories.

On Sunday, February 20, he hosted a potluck for the Icelandic Heritage Society, a membership of 15 from Point Roberts and Blaine. Jerry Gay, Pulitzer prize-winning photographer, chaired the meeting. “There are probably 6,000 Icelandic descendants in our area at this time,” Westman said.

“I have been to Iceland three times. The first time I camped out with friends and cousins all around the island, which is about the size of the state of Washington with a population of approximately 270,000. The scenery is so unusual and beautiful. Land there to the south is very verdant and green with unusual glacier formations and hundreds upon thousands of migratory birds.”

“Reykjavik, the capitol, is quite modern. The whole city is heated by thermal energy and has one of the highest standards of living in the world. It also has the highest literacy and the oldest parliamentary form of government in the world.”

Westman maintains his home without assistance and is an avid gardener. His front garden is one of the show places along the bay waterfront in Birch Bay.