For more than 60 years, sailboats dominated Bristol Bay’s commercial fishery. Motorized boats were illegal. Then, in 1951, the federal government finally allowed motorized fishing boats in Bristol Bay.
LaRece Egli, director of the Bristol Bay Historical Society Museum in Naknek, said almost immediately that the sail had become obsolete for fishing.
“I think it literally went down to 50 or 46 boats or something in 1954 and then they just disappear,” she said.
In 1952, motorboats were 4 times more numerous than sailboats. In less than five years, every commercial ship had an engine.
This year, local historians are bringing the tradition of sailing back to the bay with a ship named Libby, McNeil, Libby, No. 76.
Tim Troll is the executive director of the Bristol Bay Heritage Land Trust and one of the crew. They were launched from Homer on July 5.
“We took off this morning around 9 a.m.,” Troll said. “It’s a beautiful sunny day with very calm weather.”
The sailboat crossed the Cook Inlet, sailing towards Naknek.
“The boat is on its way,” he said. “He’s been sailing well at the moment, we’ve got four guys on board, and he’s just beautiful out there.”
Troll said in an email that they made their first stop in Williamsport on Wednesday night. They carried the boat through the portage and plan to reach Pedro Bay tonight.
The crew plans to visit Iliamna and Newhalen over the weekend, then head to Kokhanok and Igiugig next week. He will visit Levlock on July 17 and the ship is expected to arrive in Naknek on July 19.
Egli says the trip commemorates an iconic period in fishing history.
“These sails, sailing on the horizon of our bay, are truly visual icons and they are one of those ingrained visual markers both for our canning industry, for labor issues, l independence of our fishermen, and also for our indigenous history in our community,” she said.
Troll plans to update KDLG on its journey over the next few weeks. More information about their journey can be found on the Bristol Bay Heritage Land Trust website.
The Bristol Bay Heritage Land Trust and the Bristol Bay Historical Society Museum have also teamed up to purchase the Libby, McNeil, Libby No. 76 and have a fundraiser available on Facebook.
Contact the author at Brian@kdlg.org or call (907) 842-2200