A bold step backward
A Bristol Bay salmon fisherman returns to his roots with a 49-year-old wooden gillnetter built by Bumble Bee
By Matt Marinkovich
It was a stubborn cold start, but once the old Perkins fired off it rolled along like a good diesel should. Mike Carr was like a kid on Christmas morning with his new toy, grinning in anticipation of the upcoming season, as he revved the throttle, the engine screaming.
After 44-years' gillnetting in Bristol Bay and operating seven boats — three he had built — Carr had decided his next boat would be affordable, fuel efficient, cheap to maintain, refrigerated, and have a bow thruster for maneuverability. Surprisingly, the boat is made of wood.
"Wood boats are great fishing boats," Carr declares. "They get in real shallow, can pack pretty well, and ride like a duck in nasty weather. And it's not like a fiberglass boat is free of problems," he points out. "The plywood bulkheads [under layers of fiberglass] soak up water and rot out, and fiberglass cracks and delaminates [around damaged or stressed areas].
"No matter what it's made of, a boat requires maintenance."
Carr began gillnetting in Bristol Bay in 1965, hand-hauling out of a 24-foot wooden skiff with a 65-hp Mercury outboard. The next year he bought a wooden boat from Commercial Marine Construction in Seattle, where he worked from 1960 to 1967, when Commercial Marine Construction shut down. He fished another wooden boat as well before he began running the first of three fiberglass boats he built for himself.
Each boat Carr built grew progressively wider and deeper because of Bristol Bay's 32-foot length limit — until he wound up with his last Bristol Bay boat, which he didn't build. It was an enormous aluminum slab Carr called a "hotel." It had a 590-hp engine, four giant bunks, head, shower, refrigerator and freezer, and too many comforts from home for a fishing boat.
In a bold step backwards, away from high-horsepower and creature comforts, Carr returned to his beginnings when at the end of the 2008 season, he laid down $6,000 for a 49-year old wooden boat with a 10-foot beam, the BB-43. He shipped it south to his home-based shop on Discovery Bay near Port Townsend, Wash., and was all set for his winter project. Carr's 17-year-old son, Rich, and his nephew Drew Carr have been his crew for the past few years, and Rich helped out quite a bit when rebuilding the wooden boat.
The BB-43 was built in the Bumble Bee shipyard in Astoria, Ore., in 1960. Bumble Bee was primarily a fish packing company, but back in those days fish packers owned the boats and the fishermen just ran them. Carr guesses that about 60 Bumble Bee boats were built to the same design as the BB-43, with oak frames, Port Orford cedar planking and a six-cylinder, 85-hp Waukesha (sometimes earning the name "walk-ashore") diesel.
When Carr bought the BB-43, it had a 135-hp Perkins diesel driving a Borg-Warner 2.5:1 marine gear. With only 2,000-hours on the engine, it will continue its service with the boat, but he tuned up the Perkins and rebuilt the gear for good measure. This modest power package is easy on fuel, but only pushes the boat along at 8-knots.