Not your dad’s crab boat

The crabber Cornelia Marie gets much-needed and speedy TLC

By Michael Crowley

Life is different now on the Cornelia Marie, the Bering Sea crabber that’s a well-known cast member on Discovery Channel’s “Deadliest Catch.” The noise levels throughout the boat are a lot lower and the accommodations areas are, well, more accommodating. She is also quite a bit easier on the fuel.

Where the Cornelia Marie used to burn 1,400 gallons a day, now it’s 900 to 1,000 gallons. 

“That’s cruising at 9 to 9 1/2 knots,” says Roger Thomas, who with Kari Toivola, bought a 50 percent stake in the boat in November 2014, after flying down the Aleutian chain to Dutch Harbor to check out the 128' x 28' crabber and tender. 

This isn’t the first time Thomas and Toivola have joined forces to overhaul an older boat. Back in 1986, the two men converted an oil supply boat into a crabber and tender. In fact, they still own the 128-foot Deception.

She hasn’t been fished for the past several years because “after rationalization it didn’t shake out with enough to make sense to fish with the boat,” says Thomas. So for six or seven years they were buying quota, and planned to start fishing the Deception again in January 2016. 

But in November 2014, they called up Casey McManus — who is a partner and skipper with Josh Harris on the Cornelia Marie — to see if McManus was interested in running the Deception. That’s when everything changed. “He offered Kari and I as partners to buy into the Cornelia Marie,” says Thomas.

Thomas and Toivola knew the hull and keel were in good shape, but when they flew up to Dutch Harbor to look over the boat, it was obvious a lot of work was required. “The equipment was real tired,” Thomas remembers. That included engines, generators and more. Thomas has worked through a number of repowers, so he understood what needed to be done with the engines. 

But then they were faced with what Thomas refers to as “a big obstacle.” That was concrete that had been poured between the steel floor framing when the boat was built, mostly to serve as a sound deadener. 

“Over the years it had gotten wet,” says Thomas, “and 70 percent of the steel was shot.” Besides the corrosion problems caused by moisture, the lime in the concrete “really eats up steel. It’s a real common problem.”

Despite the financial issues to get the 26-year-old boat into prime shape, the Cornelia Marie had a couple of things going for her. She has a reputation as an incredible sea boat and she packs a lot of crab for a boat of her size — between 265,000 and 315,000 pounds depending on the species. It’s about 150,000 for the Deception, which is the same length. 

And the Cornelia Marie carries 200 pots on deck no matter how she is tanked down and how much crab is below deck. On the other hand, Thomas and Toivola’s Deception carries only 160 pots with two holds tanked down, “but if we tanked all four tanks then we are down to about 60 pots,” says Thomas. 

The ability to carry 200 crab pots is especially important “in an open fishery where you are traveling a long distance and fishing around ice. To be able to put that much gear on deck is huge,” says Thomas. “It brings a whole new dynamic to fishing compared to... 

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