Wood Boat Reconnaissance

To help make these ideas more than just a bunch of talk, we decided to go across the Naknek River on Saturday, May 31, and take a look at the wood boats that are hiding in the warehouses of Trident South and the old Bumble Bee cannery. The tides didn’t agree with taking a skiff, so Simon, Nellie, Dave, Edward, Mike V, Anthony, and I hired a plane from King Flying Service to the South Naknek “International” Airport (that’s what the sign says). It was a wild ride in the small plane on a windy day, and everyone agreed it was worth the price of admission right there.

Shortly after we landed a guy came by to see who was on the plane. It was just us jokers, but he gave us a ride to the Trident plant nonetheless. Our “taxi” driver told us how Trident has been cutting old wood boats up and sending them to the burn pile to make room in their warehouse for the active fishing fleet. This news gave a heightened intensity to the CHA mission, which is to preserve the heritage of fishing by preserving the old equipment with which the fishery evolved. If they could make maintaining a wood boat in Bristol Bay as simple as a fiberglass or aluminum boat, maybe people wouldn’t be sending these beauties to the incinerator.

At Trident we saw a few beautifully maintained boats, like the Joann, but most of them showed quite a bit of wear and tear, and ultimately lack of maintenance, that made them more of a liability than an asset. One boat was so thrashed I was convinced the owner had a heart attack and had to be flown out in an emergency, so his boat never got put away properly, or even scrubbed. Nope — it turned out his boat always looked like that. We checked out the carpenter shop as well, and those wood boat freaks were drooling at the thought of fixing these old boats out of this shop.

After taking full inventory of Trident’s fleet of wood boats, we walked over to the Bumble Bee cannery about a mile downstream. We met up with Leroy, who bought the entire plant for around $250,000 in the middle of the salmon slump a few years back. The cannery came with a number of old company-owned boats, of which Leroy took ownership as well. And just like everything else around the place, those boats were for sale.

This is where Dave first laid his eyes on the Redman, an early-1960s Bumble Bee boat that was set up quite well to fish competitively. It had an articulating net reel and upgraded power roller, and was for sale for $11,000. Right in front of it was the BB-43, which was the boat Mike, who I fish for on the Discovery, bought at the end of the season.

Leroy gave us a tour of the plant, and there’s a lot more than old boats lying around. There’s a huge net loft, where probably 60 fishermen kept their gear, and miles of pipe stashed here and there, and giant galvanized bolts, nails, nuts, screws and you name it. There are empty bunkhouses, outbuildings, the old office and mess hall, and of course the old canning line, freezer, and machine and carpenter shops. It is a huge facility, and Leroy is the only guy there. It’s kind of weird, really.

We also looked at boats on the north side of the river. There are a ton of wood boats at the Red Salmon cannery, which is now owned by Yardarm Knot. I saw the sistership to my brother’s old boat, the Annie-M, which was the first boat I fished on in Bristol Bay. Later in the year I heard somebody had chopped the whole cabin off to access the engine, which was easier than taking a panel off the back of the cabin.

YAK doesn’t have any interest in seeing the old relics come back to life — they would just as soon leave them where they lie, tucked way back in an unused warehouse. It’s more work for them to pull one out than they would care to put into the task. So there they sit, not being used, until… The CHA team comes to the rescue?


About the author

© Diversified Communications. All rights reserved.