Sail-powered fishing boat donated to Blaine historic group

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDOctober 20, 2013 

BLAINE - A 1906-vintage Bristol Bay sail-powered gillnet boat has been donated to Drayton Harbor Maritime, the non-profit historical society that operates the Plover ferry and the county's APA Museum at Semiahmoo Park.

Richard Sturgill, founding director of Drayton Harbor Maritime, said the boat is a link to Semiahmoo's past, even though it never fished in local waters. It was part of a fleet operated in Bristol Bay by an Alaska Packers Association cannery known as Diamond NN on the Naknek River. APA also had a major cannery on Semiahmoo that operated until 1964. The old water tower near the Semiahmoo Resort's hotel is the most visible remnant of that era. Old cannery bunkhouses were moved from that site to the county park farther south.

Trident Seafoods Corp. owned the vessel and used it to enliven trade show exhibits for many years, Sturgill said. He expressed gratitude to Trident for agreeing to donate it to his group.

The 29-foot vessel was built in Astoria, Ore., and is made of Port Orford cedar, a unique species of tree that grows in a small area of Oregon and California.

Vessels of this type were first built in the 1860s for use in California fisheries, Sturgill said. Eventually, canneries on the Columbia River used them in large numbers, and they became known in the industry as Columbia River salmon boats.

Up to the 1950s, federal regulations prohibited motor fishing vessels on Bristol Bay, Sturgill said. The canneries favored that regulation because it prevented fishermen from catching too many fish at once, and kept independent fishermen with motorized vessels out of the bay. Fishermen who wanted to unload salmon at APA's Naknek cannery had to lease one of the sail-powered wooden boats from APA.

Sturgill said he and other Drayton Harbor Maritime volunteers hope to fix up the boat, known as Diamond NN No. 59, in time to show it off in Blaine's annual 4th of July Parade in 2014. He also wants to have the boat on public display and back in the water alongside the Plover, docked at the tip of Semiahmoo Spit.

For now, No. 59 is occupying donated space at Walsh Marine in Blaine, where Sturgill expects to be busy stripping and repainting it. He noted that Walsh Marine owner Norm Walsh also has strong ties to APA: His late father Ron was an APA shipwright.

"These boats are unique to the Pacific Coast," Sturgill said.

Reach John Stark at 360-715-2274 or john.stark@bellinghamherald.com. Read his Politics Blog at bellinghamherald.com/politics-blog or follow him on Twitter at @bhamheraldpolitics.

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