Meld wooden boat nostalgia with fishing vessel functionality, and you’ve got Bob Thorstenson Jr. and his Southeast Alaska seiner the Pamela Rae.
“I grew up on it,” says Thorstenson, who’s found adventure aboard her decks since he was a lad of 7 years.
The wooden boat, named after his mother, was built in 1949, and continues to make grand hauls out of Petersburg each salmon season.
But that’s summer, and only one of four critical seasons in the life of a wooden boat. Thorstenson well knows what chores lie in store when his catch is delivered and it’s time to take the boat south for winter.
In autumn, he hauls her to the grid and inspects the hull for signs of rot, cracking or staining in the planks. In winter, she lies tethered to the docks in the freshwater safety of Seattle’s Lake Union. Thorstenson says fresh water kills keel-eating critters and other salt water ills that can compromise the integrity of the cedar planking below the waterline. As for treatment to the interior of the hull, he counteracts summer’s moisture by circulating copious amounts of air throughout the forepeak, the lazarette and even the shaft alley with large fans.
“We run massive air fans to pump warm air through the inner passageways,” says Thorstenson.
But the hardwood decks prove equally important to protect.
“They don’t rot from the bottom up,” says Thorstenson. “They rot from the top down.”
Despite stringent maintenance, time still takes its toll: The boat has undergone three engine replacements and serious aluminum retrofits to its bulwarks, bridge and top house since the 1970s. As for the decking, the original fir has been replaced with purple heart — a Central American hardwood proven against rot and three time more dense than the original fir — while other portions of the aft deck remain planked in cedar. The white oak ribs have since been sistered with more white oak throughout the hull.
That paid off one summer when Thorstenson and his crew pursed up around 50,000 pounds of pink salmon on a falling tide and the boat settled up on a rock. Thorstenson says he and the crew remained vigilant in watching the hull as it settled with its immense weight on the sharp rock.
“We kept watching it, and the planking didn’t move in a fraction of an inch,” he says.
As for the future, Thorstenson hopes the Pamela Rae will prove to be a worthy fishing platform for generations to come.
Home port: Petersburg, Alaska
Owner: Bob Magnus Thorstenson Jr.
Builder: Sagstadt Boats, Seattle
Year built: 1949
Hull material: Wood fir planks on oak frames
Length: 58 feet
Beam: 18 feet
Draft: 8 feet
Crew capacity: 5-6
Main propulsion: 440-hp Cummins N14
Gearbox: Twin Disc 5114, 4:1 reduction ratio
Propeller: 52-inch four-blade Rice, bronze
Speed: 8 knots cruising, 10 knots max
Fuel capacity: 2,200 gallons
Freshwater capacity: 400 gallons
Tonnage: 47 tons gross, 37 tons net
Hold capacity: 72,000 pounds
Electronics: Micro commander steering system, Comnav autopilot, satellite phone