A piece of seafaring history finds a home in Blaine

Published on Wed, Oct 23, 2013 by Brandy Kiger Shreve

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Drayton Harbor Maritime knows a good catch when they see one. 

When Richard Sturgill, the founding director of Drayton Harbor Maritime, caught wind that Trident Seafoods Corporation was 
looking for a new home for its vintage 29-foot Bristol Bay sailboat, he looked for ways to have it end up as part of their maritime heritage collection. “They wanted to give it to a nonprofit who would take stewardship of it and display it to the public,” Sturgill said. “So we developed a plan to do that and they agreed.” 

On October 17, Trident Seafoods officially donated their 1906 seafaring relic to Drayton Harbor Maritime (DHM), the non-profit historical society that operates the Plover ferry and the county’s Alaska Packers Association (APA) Museum at Semiahmoo Park. Sturgill and others from DHM trekked to Anacortes to haul the boat home. 

Trident Seafood had formerly used the boat as part of an exhibit at trade shows.

The boat, originally built in Astoria, Ore., is made of Port Orford cedar, a unique species of tree that grows in a small area of Oregon and California.

Sturgill said these boats were originally built in the 1860s for use in California fisheries, but eventually became so popularly used by the canneries along the Columbia River that they became known in the industry as Columbia River salmon boats.

For decades, these tiny, open sailboats trawled the waters along the western U.S. coast with gill netters aboard in search of salmon. The sturdy, double-ended boats were characteristic of the booming salmon-packing industry that monopolized waters during a time when federal regulations kept motorized vessels out of the fishing lanes. 

Known as Bristol Bay sailboats, they were used by canneries all along the coast, and were leased out to fisherman for the season. The small two-man vessels were utilized six days a week to haul in the catch. “There was a captain and puller on each boat, and it was all business from Monday morning when they set out, until Saturday night when they returned with the haul,” said Sturgill. 

Sleek yet unwieldy, the boats were heavily used in the industry until 1952, when the federal regulations prohibiting motorized 
boats in Bristol Bay were repealed.

Shortly thereafter, the boats that the APA had used for years began to fall out of fashion and out of production, leaving few remnants of their storied history.

Sturgill said even though this particular boat never fished in local waters, it is still a link to Semiahmoo’s past, noting that it was part of a fleet operated in Bristol Bay by an APA cannery known as Diamond NN on the Naknek River. 

This particular vessel is designated as the Diamond NN No. 59.

“These boats are wholly unique to the west coast,” he said. “They built a lot of them and could build them in three days’ time here at APA carpentry shop at Semiahmoo.” It was just one of many canneries, including a major fixture here in Semiahmoo, whose only remnants are the water tower and large buildings on the spit. The Semiahmoo APA operated until 1964.

Sturgill said his group has ambitious plans for the craft, and will get to work straight away in hopes of meeting their self-imposed deadlines.

“Our first goal is to get the boat ready for the Fourth of July parade,” Sturgill said. “We’ll be sanding and repainting the hull to make it look presentable for that event. Then, as funds allow, we will be replacing 16 planks, fixing several ribs and recaulking it to get it back in the water. We want to make it seaworthy so we can offer a maritime heritage excursion out on an authentic Bristol Bay sailboat.”

Norm Walsh, owner of Wash Marine Shipyard in Blaine, has donated space at the shipyard to allow the group to work on 
restoring the boat. Walsh’s father, Ron Walsh, was a shipwright at the former APA shipyard at Semiahmoo.

Sturgill said to complete the restoration, the DHM will be launching a capital fundraising campaign that will allow folks to purchase a plank to help with the costs. 

“We’re offering corporations and individuals an opportunity to be plank sponsors,” he said, noting that it will cost $500 for the purchase, fit and installation of each plank by a shipwright. 

Sponsors will have their names engraved on a bronze plaque.

Though the boat is more than 100 years old, Sturgill said they still have good bones to work with in the rebuilding and hopes the process will go well. 

“It’s in remarkable shape for its age,” Sturgill said. 

For more information on how to be a plank sponsor, call Sturgill at 360/201-3062.