Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Bristol Bay Gillnetter

This salmon fishing boat was known by several names. In San Francisco, California it was a Sacramento River salmon boat. In Astoria, Oregon they called it a Columbia River Gillnetter. From Seattle to Alaska it became the Bristol Bay Gillnetter.

The earliest of these boats were built by J.J. Griffin of San Francisco in 1868 and were used on the Sacramento River for commercial salmon fishing. Previously, gillnetting had been practiced from rowboats for subsistence fishing.

It had a crew of two, could carry three tons of salmon and was used as a sail / power fishing boat on the bays and rivers of the Pacific Coast from around 1900 to the 1960s.

The providence of this particular vessel is not known. A friend had salvaged her and though she had a gaping hole in her port side and would not float, he had great plans. He told me these old wood double-enders made great sailboat conversions.

He called it the whaleboat and so did I.

Back then, Hope Island, in the southern Salish Sea was privately owned (it is now a Washington State Park). A friend of mine had convinced the absent owners that they needed a caretaker.
This clever, enterprising young man planned to build a boat there despite the fact there was no potable water, no electricity and no access except by water to a gravel beach.

Gordon completed his task, launched his boat, and sailed off to the Marquesas.

Hope Island needed a new caretaker and another boat project.

The Gillnetter was already beached in a cove nearby, filling with sand and mud each high tide. All that was required was to float the boat over to the boatshed Gordan had built, haul it up the bank and get to work.

I was a much younger man then and often foolish enough to prove something could be done the hard way, just because.

So began months of hand tools, come-alongs, Spanish windlass and pure sweat. New planks and sistered frames cut and shaped by hand. Brace and bit, hammer and chisel, sanding with a wood block. Some oakum, a lot of corking, clamp, fasten, glue and caulk.

Go for a swim at the end of the day to wash off the dust.

Haul all repair materials, food and water over a half mile of inland sea, in a rowing dory.

I didn't really know what I wanted in this boat and it shows. The memory of the old gillnetter comes back to me often these days.

I know how she'd be treated today. Forget that pilothouse, maybe no cabin at all. A low aspect schooner rig and two tons of ballast would set this little 26 footer just right.

I moved off the island and kept her on a mooring just below my new home for several years. She never did get a proper motor, just the outboard hung off her stern. For awhile she had a mast with a handkerchief for a sail and she sported a fine pair of fourteen foot long sweep oars. She and I explored every inch of the Puget Sound south of Seattle and had way too much fun.

There are a lot of great stories connected to this boat - remind me to tell you some one day.

These photos were scanned from prints over three decades old. A crummy old camera too.

I often wish I'd made more effort to document these projects better, but I never in this world imagined I'd live long enough to forget.

This Gillnetter was built with Port Orford cedar carvel planks on white oak frames fastened with bronze screws. She was 26 feet long and 8 feet wide and rode the waves like a canoe.

If you're not bored yet, there are more old photos on Doryman's Flickr site.


Michael said...

Now that is a world-class tale and great tribute to the boat and her rescuer.

What years did you do the overhaul?



doryman said...

This boat fits into a period between '78 and '89. Some of the other boats in these pictures were projects of mine too, during that time. Then, as now, all these projects blend together as one.
My time on Hope Island spanned the eighties. This project was launched from there in '83, but was still morphing six years later.
I sold this boat (and all the others) to begin work on my cruising dory, Mistral, in 1990.

(While all this was going on, I ran my own construction company. Oh, what I'd give for some of that energy today!)

Anders Eliasson said...

Very nice story and a nice boat.
It takes me back to the charming and inocent eighties in Scandinavia, where I had the most charming 20´ Utzon doubleender with a 2 berth cabin, a lot of sail and weighing some 2100 pounds. Pine over oak. I did some of my best sailing in that one, cruising around in Denmark. Some pretty long distances singlehanded. Unfortunately I lost all photos. But she was sweet.

doryman said...

I wish you still had photos, Anders.
Charming indeed!

Anonymous said...

Youthful dreams and energy! I have a friend who lives across the channel in Carlyon Beach and we regularly paddle around Hope Island. It is such a great place. Thanks for the views of another time.

The DoryMan website is a favorite!

doryman said...

Then you know about how tricky the currents can be in that area. Imagine hauling a dory full of lumber when the wind is blowing and the tide is running in the opposite direction.
I would occasionally row around the island to take a break from work. What a life!
When I moved from the island, it was to live on Totten Inlet, just around the corner, so trips to Hope continued from there. I haven't been back to Hope Island in over 20 years.
It's time.

If you see a Stone Horse moored off the southern beach this summer, come by for a visit.

Bruce Bateau said...

Great story. Having spent a few nights on that shore, I can imagine what it would have been like. The quiet forest behind, the open water ahead, and if you're careful not to look too far west, you can avoid seeing all the darn houses. I was somehow surprised to see they were there back then.

It's wonderful to think of how many other stories lie waiting to be discovered in other places I've been.

I hope to see you out there with my family this summer.


doryman said...

The mainland and Steamboat Island have been developed for a long time and Carlyon Beach "yacht club" is well established, too.
One thing to remember when you are enjoying the solitude of your favorite vessel, most anywhere on the Puget Sound: Most people who have a view of the water from their home have a high power scope or binoculars set-up on a tripod in the front room.
I plan to launch the Stone Horse "Belle Starr" in May and will be sailing out of Olympia regularly for the rest of the summer. I'll let you know when launch day comes, right here on this station. Please stay tuned!