Classic wooden troller lost to fire in Pelican, Alaska

Two friends from Hoonah, Alaska, met up Thursday, Aug. 17, in nearby Pelican, a small Southeast port, for some dinner and drinks. They ordered their burgers and soon heard yelling coming up the road. The troller Marilee was on fire at the docks.

“We had just tied up next to each other and gone up to Rosie’s for some burgers and a couple drinks,” said Jackson Combs, who was sitting with Marilee’s owner and operator Jay Erickson when the fire broke out. “Within a few hours, we were down to only a garden hose off the dock and my deckhose, trying to fight the flare-ups. The fire department made the call to cut her off the dock.” She drifted off into Lisianski Inlet and burned herself out.

Marilee May 2017

Jay Erickson on the Marilee earlier this year. He bought the boat in May and had only been fishing her for a few months.

The 58-foot wooden troller Marilee was built at Hansen Boat Co. in Everett, Wash., in 1936. Forty years later, Erickson, her fourth and final owner, was born in Hoonah to a fishing family. At three months old, he headed out on his first fishing trip. By the time he was 18, he was ready for his own boat, and he bought his first troller. Erickson owned two other trollers before settling into the Marilee in May.

“I did some scraping and painting,” said Erickson, but the Marilee was pretty much good to go for the Southeast salmon troll season.

On Wednesday, Erickson was back home in Hoonah, preparing to travel back to Pelican to clean the Marilee’s remains off the beach.

Onboard were his all of his belongings, including his great grandfather’s rifle. But both of his crewmen were safely off the boat. No one was injured. The fire is believed to have started in the exhaust.

Marilee on the beach

All that remains of the troller Marilee after she caught fire on Saturday, Aug. 20, 2017. Friends have started a GoFundMe account for Erickson.

Erickson was in Pelican to help Combs fix the autopilot on the Gold Dust, Erickson’s old troller, which he sold to buy the Marilee. Now Combs wants to help his friend get back on his feet and out on the water again.

Combs announced the loss on Facebook Saturday night. Friends and family started a GoFundMe with a goal of $30,000. Any contribution helps, no matter how big or small.

“We take care of our own,” said Lori French, a California fisherman’s wife, fisheries advocate and NF columnist. “No shame in a helping hand. I think only other fishermen realize how devastating this is.”

About the author

Jessica Hathaway

Jessica Hathaway is the editor in chief of National Fisherman. She has been covering the fishing industry for 12 years, worked in maritime publishing for 17, and has served on the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute’s Communications Committee for two years.

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