By Steve Guntli
Members of Drayton Harbor Maritime (DHM) are working on giving Blaine its own vintage sailing vessel.
On June 10, representatives from the U.S. Coast Guard came to Blaine to inspect a 109-year-old Columbia River salmon boat for possible passenger use.
Members of DHM, including Captain Richard Sturgill, Graham Hunter, Jake Jacobson, Steve Alaniz, Steve Ince and others, have been restoring the ship for three years.
When restoration of the vessel is complete, DHM members hope to take up to 12 passengers at a time out into the bay on educational tours similar to those conducted on the Plover ferry.
Lieutenant Jessica Ward from the U.S. Coast Guard conducted the inspection with her colleague, chief warrant officer Stephen Carlson. Ward and Carlson inspected the ship for hull integrity and safety measures. Ward said since this vessel is so unusual, a lot of the inspection procedures are being tailored around the boat itself.
“The route the vessel is able to operate will be specific to this vessel,” she said. “Since it is an open deck wooden vessel operating in cold waters, there may be additional life-saving requirements, such as immersion suits, for all passengers on board.”
Alariz and Ince are the primary shipwrights, and Sturgill is the project manager. Norm Walsh of Walsh Marine has donated space at his facility for the restoration, which has made the whole project possible, Sturgill said.
“Normally it would cost too much money to store a ship that size for a restoration project like this,” he said. “I can’t stress enough how generous Norm has been.”
The sailboat was built in Astoria, Oregon in 1906 as a salmon fishing vessel for the Alaska Packers Association’s Diamond NN Cannery in Nanek, Alaska. The ships first fished the Sacramento River in California, but gradually worked their way north to the Columbia River and Alaska’s Bristol Bay. By the mid-1880s, the ships were so ubiquitous in Alaska that they became known as “Bristol Bays.”
Approximately 8,000 Bristol Bays were made between 1884 and 1952. With the introduction of powered fishing vessels, the ships became obsolete and today very few remain intact, according to Sturgill.
The Trident Seafood Corporation, which operated the Diamond NN Cannery, donated the vessel to DHM earlier this year. Once restored, the ship will be one of the last of its kind in working order.
“Vessels this old are truly unique,” Ward said. “Only a handful can be found in the Puget Sound. Of those, even fewer are certificated for use as passenger vessels.”
Sturgill hopes the vessel can be used to demonstrate classic fishing and sailing techniques.
Sturgill didn’t have an estimate as to when the ship would be ready for passengers.
“We’re just saying it’ll be ready when it’s ready,” he said. “We have volunteers working on it all the time. We’d like to get it done sooner than later, but we’re not compromising the integrity of the project to meet some deadline.”
Sturgill added that restoring a ship for passenger use is a much more complicated endeavor than restoring a ship for a museum.
The U.S. Coast Guard’s inspection is not yet complete. The builders will have to apply for a waiver to the Jones Act, which states that ships operating in the U.S. for commercial purposes must be constructed in the U.S. and owned by U.S. citizens. Since the ship is so old, DHM cannot provide documentation confirming its U.S. construction. Once this waiver is attained, the ship will go through another battery of hull integrity and stability tests before it’s allowed to take on passengers.
“Allowing children and adults to experience the lore of the sea in the hands-on manner this historic vessel will provide is a valuable endeavor,” she said. “We are committed to helping Drayton Harbor Maritime’s efforts by ensuring the safety and security of all who step on board.”