Boat given to Drayton Harbor Maritime
By Jack Kintner
Drayton Harbor Maritime (DHM) director Richard Sturgill wants to take you sailing on a restored Bristol Bay gillnetter of the type once built and used by the Alaska Packers Association (APA) that once flourished on Blaine’s Tongue Point, now the site of Resort Semiahmoo.
This will soon be possible thanks to Jeremy Snapp of Lopez Island, who recently donated to DHM an original APA-built hull. After a thorough inspection by Bellingham shipwright Peter Lamb, Sturgill hopes to restore it to seaworthy condition for public excursions.
Sturgill led the effort to restore the popular passenger ferry Plover that began over 20 years ago, turning it into a major tourist draw for the Blaine waterfront as it plies its original run from Blaine to the old cannery site across Drayton Harbor. It has just completed its thirteenth season.
“We can do the same thing with old Number 59,” he said, referring to the number stenciled on the bow of the 30-foot wooden boat next to the identifying legend APA.
It’s a type known generically as a Columbia River Salmon Boat, double-ended with a single sail, built originally for fishing in the Sacramento River.
It was quickly adapted to the Columbia by George and Robert Hume, the stability, weight and design making it suitable for crossing the dangerous Columbia River Bar. By the 1920s the type was in general use in Alaska, and APA copied them when building their own boats in their Blaine shipyard.
Number 59 is a little less than ten feet wide and, despite weighing close to two tons, draws only 18 inches with the centerboard up. It’s built of cedar planks on steam bent white oak frames, and may have been built in Blaine. Retired shipwright Bob Metivier of Birch Bay said that it took a full six-day week to build one of the boats. “We’d finish the hulls in three days and spend the rest of the time on fittings and rigging,” he said.
Snapp said his kids learned to sail in the old hull that still has its original mast, boom and “sprit,” a long pole that gives the sail more height while still allowing for the rig to be compact enough to fit inside the boat. Technically it’s a sprit-rigged shallop.
“They were built cheap and fast,” Snapp said, “to be stacked on board the square riggers APA used to get them north to the fishing grounds.” The crew, usually two people, would stay out for up to several days, using the sail as an improvised shelter. Gillnetted salmon were hauled aboard over the side by hand and then unloaded into a tender or barge one by one using a pick.
Snapp said he got the boat from Lee Greely, a one-time resident of Stuart Island who now lives in Port Townsend. “She told me it was mine for the asking, but that it had sunk,” Snapp said. Greely got it from Gary Vasoja and Graham Hart who used it for many years to make freight runs between Roche Harbor and Stuart Island. Before that it belonged to Frank Prothero, a well-known northwest wooden boat builder and founder of the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding in Port Townsend.
Its origins are obscure, but according to Metivier the planks would give away its origins. “If it’s made of Port Orford Cedar, it was built in 1941 or earlier, and if built of Western Redcedar then it was built later,” he said.
It’s the third such hull to be donated to DHM, Sturgill said. One is in the Semiahmoo County Park museum and a second one was judged to be too far gone to restore. For more information, contact Sturgill at 332-5742.