Cutty Sark seeks tourism role
Norman Jensen is 81 and figures it’s about time to retire as a fish packer, but he hopes that his boat can find a new role as a part of the increasingly tourist oriented Blaine waterfront. “She’s sound,” he said recently, “having been completely rebuilt a little less than 10 years ago by the best in the business, Mike Bryant. There’s only one plank left from the original vessel, kind of like Old Ironsides.”
His boat is the Cutty Sark, one of the last survivors of Blaine’s once populous fishing fleet still doing what she’s always done - take fresh salmon directly from fishermen out on the water for cash and carry them to a processing facility, letting the fishermen stay out to catch more. Jensen said that it’s this connection with Blaine’s past plus her good condition that makes using the boat locally as a working boat that could also draw tourists a reasonable proposition, much like the Plover has done.
Richard Sturgill of Drayton Maritime, which owns the Plover, agrees. “This boat’s big and stable enough to take tourists on harbor tours. She’s got a past, and this way she could have a future.”
The boat is one of a type of small freighter variously called scows, fish packers or cash buyers. The Cutty Sark like all of the others can swallow tons of fresh fish into her hold. Once ubiquitous and highly competitive, they’ve dwindled in number along with the fish and the fleets of gill netters, seiners and trollers that have been used to catch them over the years.
Blaine’s fleet once numbered well over 500 fishing boats, and before being outlawed in the 1930s the numerous traps set up along area shorelines caught even more salmon. The Cutty Sark, with which Blaine’s Eugene “Cap” Hansen began packing fish in the summer of 1923, once served the traps and later the fishing fleets from here to Alaska’s Bristol Bay.
Blaine’s fleet is now down to about 25 boats that have active commercial licenses, but Jensen still buys fish in the immediate area for Blaine seafood processor Boundary Fish, going from Boundary Bay out into southern end of the Georgia Strait, through the San Juan Islands and into the eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca, where ever the fish are being caught. He was out earlier this week working his way around Whidbey Island through Deception Pass and down into Puget Sound.
Jensen used to operate in and out of Ballard’s Fishermen’s Terminal, and though he’s stayed close to home recently, he’s made more trips to the Alaska fishing grounds than he can count - “somewhere around 50 or 60.” He’s owned the Cutty Sark for 47 years and he has worked on her for 74 years in total, beginning in 1930 when he was just seven-years-old.
As with many connected to the commercial fishing fleet in recent years, Jensen’s math and science teaching career made it possible for him to continue as a fish packer in the summers following his submarine service during WW II. He eventually earned a doctorate in education, becoming a state-level audio-visual consultant for Oregon public schools, but always came back for the summer to Blaine and the Cutty Sark. Now retired and living in Ferndale, he says he’s ready to come ashore but said that “this boat still has a lot of life left in her. She has a past, and should have a future.”
The 84-year-old Cutty Sark began life in 1920 as a pilot boat on the Columbia River Bar. It was one of two fir-on-oak schooner hulled 58-footers built by Japanese shipwrights in the Hilton shipyard on the Washington side of the Columbia near its mouth at Illwaco. It was permanently anchored at buoy number seven, just outside the Columbia River Bar. As many as eight qualified river pilots lived aboard over the next two years, waiting for freighters who needed their help navigating into or out of the river’s entrance.
years later, after surviving the constant pounding from
some of the worst surf conditions in the world, the boat
was sold to two men who refitted her to be used as a
freighter between Port Angeles and Victoria. They took
out the original steam engine and replaced it with a
gasoline inboard, but on her very first return trip from
Victoria she was stopped by the U.S. Coast Guard and
busted with over 400 cases of Canadian Club rye and rum
on board, though reportedly no Cutty Sark scotch.
The boat was forfeited to the coast guard and then purchased at auction by the Port Angeles shipyard that held a $2,000 lien against her for unpaid bills. The boat sold a second time before Hansen came into the Port Angeles harbor in May of 1923 in his old boat, the George Washington, saw the Cutty Sark and ended up owning her for $3,000 and the old boat he came in on. That same year his nephew Norman Jensen was born in Blaine.
She’s been a Blaine boat ever since, working all over the west coast. Now that she and her captain are ready to retire, Jensen said he will continue working with Sturgill and Drayton Harbor Maritime, as well as other local tourism groups, to find a role teaching residents and visitors about her history and Blaine’s legacy as a fishing center.