Fishing boats hold family, community history

Published on Thu, Jan 31, 2002 by Jan Hrutfiord

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Fishing boats hold family, community history

By Jan Hrutfiord

The Westman family has sold their fishing vessel Rosella to Richard Parker, her captain of about 25 years.

The 92-foot steel-hulled Rosella originally came fromBrownsville, Texas, where it was a shrimper in the Gulf of Mexico. Long time fisherman Eythor Westman, his wife Margaret and son Gary, flew to Texas to buy the boat and bring it to its new home in Blaine. This was around April of 1975.

At the same time, Hannes Westman and his sons Ken and Jim, flew to Bayou la Batre, Louisiana to buy the 86-foot steel hulled shrimper Miss Leona, and meet up with the Rosella at sea on the way to the Panama Canal. They rendezvoused at the northeast end of Honduras on their way to Panama.

These two boats were the best available at the time, and have proved to be very well made indeed. There was a compass on the Rosella that worked pretty well, but the one on the Miss Leona wasn’t very accurate. The Rosella was stripped down of extra equipment, there wasn’t even an extra chair aboard. There were window holes in the pilot house, but no glass in the windows.

It was so hot, they were glad to sleep on the deck of the Rosella behind the pilot house most nights, in the sleeping bags they had brought along.
To communicate, the lead boat would put a message in a plastic milk jug, tie it onto a line, and drop it overboard, to be fished out by the boat following. They took turns leading the way, but relied on the compass from the Rosella.

After they set out to sea, they had several adventures, including getting past Cuba without alerting pirates in the area. They stayed close to the Mexican side of the Gulf.

The seas were very rough in the Gulf of Mexico – Margaret said it felt like they were going over log booms. She got very seasick and for three days she couldn’t eat anything. She still remembers how good the canned tomato soup and toast tasted that Gary fixed for her after she started to feel better.
They saw big sea turtles, often with a bird sitting on top of them. There were many birds, which sometimes came to sit on the boat. One huge whale jumped out of the water right in front of the Miss Leona. They were constantly escorted by dolphins, which would swim and dive on either side of the bow of the boat. These were very beautiful.

Ken said they enjoyed fishing with hook and line while they were traveling and would catch tuna and other fish to supplement their diet.

To go through the Panama Canal, they lined up about 5 a.m. at the city of Colon, and were escorted two ships at a time into the canal as the canal was too narrow for more than two ships to pass through side by side. There was a pilot put on each boat. The trip through took most of one day.

When they got to San Diego, Margaret got off the Rosella and flew home. The boats took a week more to get here. The whole trip lasted 32 days
After arriving in Blaine, the ships had to be readied for our much colder climate. The Rosella was cut in half through the middle, and an additional 15 feet of cargo space was added, making her a total of 92 feet in length.

Both boats ended up having similar fishing histories. They fished out of Squaw Harbor for shrimp until about 1977, and for hake from California to the Canadian border, and cod in the Bering Sea as catcher vessels for joint-venture foreign ships – Polish for the Miss Leona and Russian for the Rosella. This went on until about 1987 when the Magnusson Act prohibited foreign vessels from fishing within 200 miles of our shores.

After joint venturing, the boats fished the Washington coast for rockfish and hake, as well as cod and pollock fishing out of Dutch Harbor in Alaska.

One bad mishap happened to the Rosella on its way home from the Bering Sea when it hit a rock and sank in the Aleutian Islands in the late 1980s.
The insurance company declared it a total loss, but Eythor wouldn’t give it up. He loaded his 72-foot wooden dragger Dakota with cables, pumps, and other rescue equipment, and sailed from Blaine with a crew of experienced fishermen and headed across the Gulf of Alaska to try to rescue the Rosella. They took on three divers from Alaska, and together repaired the hole in the hull, pumped out the boat and raised it in three days. They towed it to Sand Point, getting there just ahead of a storm. It took many weeks to replace all the electrical wires, electronics, and to rebuild the engine, but the Rosella eventually came back to the fishing grounds, good as new.

Just last week the Miss Leona ran into a ferocious storm after leaving Blaine January 16. Travelling to Dutch Harbor with the Windjammer, another dragger from Seattle, they were hit with 80 knot winds, 40-foot waves and below freezing temperatures. As the boats started to ice up, crew members got into survival suits, chopping off ice in wild seas to keep the boats from capsizing. The two boats were in radio contact until two 50-foot rogue waves smashed the pilothouse of the Miss Leona, smashing the steel door, breaking windows and knocking out the radio.

With Coast Guard boats rushing to meet her, Miss Leona turned her bow into the storm and headed south, the crew struggling to keep off the ice but held below decks much of the time by dangerous conditions.

Early this week the Miss Leona was headed for Ketchikan and the repair yard, accompanied by the coast guard cutter Mellon.

The Rosella and the Miss Leona were pioneers in much of the fishing in which they took part. There have been many Blaine fishermen who worked as crew members on these boats. The Rosella is fishing right now out of Kodiak, the Miss Leona will return to fishing out of Dutch Harbor once repairs are made in Ketchikan.

Hannes Westman died in 1994, Eythor Westman died in February, 2000, and Gary Westman died August 6, 2001. This ended a long span of family fishing careers, which is now being taken on by other fishermen. We are happy that the two ships that came here together are still being fished by long time skippers. .

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