The true history of the Westman Marine shipyard

Published on Thu, Dec 23, 2010 by By Jan Hrutfiord

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S On board the Dakota: John Berg and Eythor Westman, co-owners of F/V Dakota, Ed Dunn, brother-in-law of Berg, Les Olson, brother-in-law of Westman all worked on the Dakota in 1945. I read with interest the article in The Northern Light about the shipyard in the Blaine harbor closing down at the end of this year. While I am very sorry to hear about that happening, I was also struck with some inaccuracies concerning the shipyard and the boat building industry here in Blaine. It is a convoluted story, with too many same-named people involved, but I hope this will straighten at least some of it out.

Andrew Berg first started the Berg Shipyard in the mouth of Dakota Creek in 1942. He had contracts with the U.S. Navy to build minesweepers and other vessels for the Navy and, finding himself with an extra keel not needed for a minesweeper, built the fishing vessel Dakota in 1944. The Dakota was built for my father Eythor Westman and Andrew’s son Johnny Berg and was the prototype of the whaleback fishing boats which are now common among vessels used in the Bering Sea, among other fishing grounds.

Since it was difficult, if not impossible, to get these large, heavy, finished vessels out of Dakota Creek and across Drayton Harbor during a high tide, they had to tow the unfinished boats to Blaine Harbor for fitting of heavy gear, engines, etc. There was a dock and hoist along the south wall of the harbor land (approximately between where Boundary Fish and the current Westman Shipyard now are located) where the boat hulls were fitted with the heavy gear.

In the early 1950s, Carl, another son of Andrew Berg, leased what was then Iverson’s Fish House from the Port of Bellingham, put in the ways to lift boats out of the water and outfitted it into a shipyard. This was the first shipyard in Blaine Harbor, then a part of Berg Shipyard. Boats were not built there, but it was used to finish the boats built in Dakota Creek. It was probably also used for repairs and work on other fishing vessels, but this I do not know for sure.

In 1967, Carl Berg sold the Blaine Harbor shipyard to Jack Davis, who ran it as Davis Marine until 1972. He then sold the Davis shipyard to Carl Westman, who ran it as a shipyard named Westman Industrial. (As a footnote to those who are interested, Carl Westman and my father Eythor Westman were not related in any way. They were both Icelanders working in the fishing industry, and both had businesses in the Blaine Harbor. They were friends, and their families are still friends.)

Carl Westman sold the shipyard in 1989 to Jack Dawson and Jim Prill, who renamed it Westman Marine, and are still partners in the shipyard. Bob Gudmundson bought into the shipyard in 2003 as a partner and manager of the shipyard, which he has been up to this date. As of the end of 2010, Gudmundson will be retiring and closing down the shipyard unless the Port of Bellingham can make arrangements with someone else to continue running the yard.

There are about 10 people working at the Westman Marine shipyard, and it would be good if they could continue working out of Blaine Harbor. This shipyard is big enough to haul out many large boats which most shipyards cannot handle. They have customers who come down with their large vessels from Alaska every year for haulout. They are the only ones in Blaine who can haul out sailboats. They have the ability to put in or take out engines for boats of many sizes. When it closes down, the closest yards that can handle the large boats and equipment would probably be Fairhaven or Anacortes shipyards. This shipyard will certainly be missed and will cause a financial hardship for many local residents.

As to the Berg Shipyard in Dakota Creek, they continued operation until the 1980s or so, building many wooden hulled and then steel hulled vessels. One familiar Blaine steel hulled fishing vessel built there was the Milo. The building is now gone, but the cement ways ramp is still visible on the south side of the mouth of Dakota Creek.

I want to thank those whose families were involved in the shipyards for information, including Larry Westman, Paul Berg, Bob Gudmundson and especially Marie Berg Dunn, who will be sending me a copy of an article she wrote about her father’s Berg Shipyard, and which I hope to have published later in The Northern Light.


 

 

From left, Johnny Berg, John Bylsma, Ed Dunn, Eythor Westman and Les Olson.