The Mexican Revolution, suffragettes, Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration: Those were the topics making news when the F/V Vansee starting fishing for halibut in Alaska. When current skipper Shawn McManus and crew left the Gulf of Alaska headed for Bellingham, Wash., in early September of this year, it marked the 108th straight season for the 87-foot schooner, which also fishes blackcod now. Built by John Strand out of a single Douglas fir in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood, the Vansee was finished in 1913. It once toted six dories that were sent out with longlines, but the dangerous dory fishing was banned in the 1930s.
Hauling gear was installed, and other than the recent blackcod slinky pot revolution and a bunch of new electronics, not a whole lot has changed in what McManus calls something of floating museum. Current owner Per Odegaard retired from skippering 10 years ago but still runs the business side of the Vansee.
“Guys have been working their entire careers on this thing since 1913. Just look at all the people who have been on there, who have made house payments and sent their kids through college, done what are considered normal American things,” said Odegaard.
The Vansee has been in the Odegaard family since the early 1960s. A partial owner since the late 1960s, Odegaard bought out his father Nils in 1982, and Odegaard’s son, also Nils, now crews. And while the Odegaard’s multi-generational story with the centurial boat has a romantic side, Per’s feelings about the old boat are tempered by a healthy dose of realism.
The Vansee, Odegaard said, has helped him avoid the highly leveraged situation many modern fishermen find themselves in, saying it would cost at least $3.5 million to build a new steel boat to fish for halibut and blackcod
McManus and crew split a seam in some rough weather in late August and pulled into Seward, where by chance they tied up next to the F/V Lindy, another old schooner.
The Lindy just happened to have an old-time expert aboard, who helped the Vansee out, driving cotton and then oakum into the opened seam with irons, then covering the freshly packed seam with a layer of quick-setting concrete.
“He had much more experience corking than any of us and was instrumental in getting it done. There’s a camaraderie with these old boats. We’ve become such a minority that we all kind of stick together and help one another out,” McManus said.
HOME PORT: Seattle OWNERS: Vansee, Inc. Builder: John Strand YEAR BUILT: 1913 FISHERIES: Halibut, blackcod HULL MATERIAL: Douglas fir LENGTH: 87 feet BEAM: 18.5 feet DRAFT: 10 feet TONNAGE: 58 net, 76 gross CREW CAPACITY: 10 bunks, 5 crew MAIN ENGINE: Cummins KT 19, 360 hp REDUCTION GEAR: Twin Disc 514 GENSET: Isuzu 25 kW PROPELLER: Four-blade bronze SHAFT: Stainless 4.5 inch SPEED: Cruising 10 knots FUEL CAPACITY: 4,800 gallons FRESHWATER CAPACITY: 2,000 gallons HOLD CAPACITY: 95,000 pounds iced halibut ELECTRONICS: Two Furuno radars and depth sounders; four Furuno GPS; VMS; AIS; Sailor Satphone; two Furuno VHFs; one single sideband