Boat of the Month March 2017: Mary Louise B

When Mike Ellestad, operator of the Mary Louise B in the Washington Dungeness crab fishery, described the boat, he was excited: “2017 is our 50th year afloat. There’s no reason a boat like the Mary Louise B can’t keep fishing for another 50 years… she’s plenty tough.”

Thomas John “Jock” McIlraith owns the Mary Louise B and runs it for the Southeast Alaska salmon seine season. He first skippered the boat in 1973 when it was owned by Wards Cove Packing and then purchased it from the processor in the early 1980s. Brothers Alexander “Winn” and Harold Brindle ran Wards Cove Packing and named this boat after their mother, an English immigrant who raised six children in Southeast Alaska.

McIlraith said he’s kept the boat much as it was in the 1970s — it hasn’t even undergone the ubiquitous fly bridge to wheelhouse transformation. “I don’t like change… I don’t even like the weather to change,” he said.

Still, the boat has seen at least a few changes over the years. Most noticeably McIlraith tanked and refrigerated the hold in the early 1990s in Port Townsend, Wash.; replaced the original cut-down transom with an aluminum transom; traded a traditional boom for a knuckle boom; and rebuilt the Cat 343 engine this winter.

During Jock’s 44 years running the Mary Louise B, he’s had 16 male family members work on the boat, including his four sons. Six female family members also worked in canneries because of the connection. “It’s been a real family bonder. [Family is] more important to me than the boat,” he said. “I’m hoping my kids will take it over.”

That doesn’t seem too far-fetched — two of his boys still work with him in Southeast, and Mike Ellestad is Jock’s nephew.

Shipwright work will be key to keeping the boat in working order, but Ellestad seems excited about the prospect.

“With the help of [shipwright]Clint Thompson in Port Townsend, the boat’s had a lot of rib work and plank work. She’s a lot drier than she was when we first started crabbing her,” he said. Looking at the boat’s next 50 years he said, “Anything is possible.”

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