Sailboat secures past to present with Homer’s trip to Bristol Bay

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Among the thousands of visitors to last weekend’s Salmonfest was a 29-foot-long wooden ship with a 9-foot beam, a 25-foot mast and a plaque identifying it as “LML 144”.

On its bow was the sail, useless in the protected environment of the Ninilchik exhibition center. Accompanying him were Tim Troll from Dillingham and Dave Seaman and Kate Mitchell, both from Homer, organizers of “Sailing Back to the Bay”.

“The goal is to launch on July 5, 2020, from Homer, probably from the small craft harbor, with a send-off party planned on the Homer’s side,” said Mitchell, owner of NOMAR and former chairman. by Homer Marine Trades Association. .

The ship is expected to take off and then follow a route that has linked Homer and Bristol Bay for decades. It will sail west, cross Cook Inlet to Williamsport, do a 26 mile portage to Lake Iliamna, sail along the lake with stops in villages along the way, sail the Kvichak River, and then will head over Bristol Bay to the community of Naknek, arriving approximately two weeks later in time for the Naknek “Fishtival”. Total trip distance: over 200 miles.

“It ties the two communities together as they have been over the years with the fishery,” Mitchell said.

Wind, tides and road conditions will also have an impact on the timing of the event, said Troll, who came to Alaska as a VISTA volunteer lawyer in 1978 and is the executive director of the Bristol Bay Heritage Land Trust. .

The planned event also draws attention to Bristol Bay salmon, the habitat salmon need and the state’s commercial fishing industry. Bristol Bay is the world’s largest producer of sockeye salmon. The return of 62.3 million sockeye salmon in 2018 was the largest on record since 1893, according to the Alaska Department of Fisheries and Game. A 2013 study by the University of Alaska’s Institute for Social and Economic Research found that in 2010, the Bristol Bay sockeye fishery supported 12,000 summer jobs in fishing and fishing. processing, the equivalent of nearly 10,000 year-round jobs nationwide, and grossed Americans $ 500 million. in income.

“Over the past century, look at the west coast of the United States, how many river systems have become uninhabitable for salmon? ”Asked Seaman, who, at 18, landed his first fishing-related job and built his first boat for transport after settling on the south side of Kachemak Bay. “Do we want to let this happen in Bristol Bay? I’m on the commercial fishery side, so I don’t want that to go away.

From Bristol Bay’s first Cannery, built in the 1880s, wooden sailboats, costing $ 200 apiece, were supplied to two-man crews. The design of the boats led to the nickname “double ender”, with the bow and stern of similar construction. Not prone to rot, the planks of yellow cedar covered the veins of white oak and the bark of iron formed the keel. Well suited to the task assigned to them, the vessels were capable of carrying loads of 1,500 to 2,000 sockeye salmon weighing 5 to 7 pounds each.

It was not a fishing for the faint of heart. The laying and hauling of heavy linen nets with wooden floats was done by hand. Fishing periods were generally 24 hours, six days a week, with only Sunday off. The weather can be windy, wet and cold. Instead of a hut in which to warm and dry off, a piece of canvas formed a small tent near the bow, giving fishermen a small space to sleep and prepare their meals.

“These men were made of iron,” is how Robin H. Samuelson, Bristol Bay commercial fisherman and Chairman of the Board of the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation, described these early fishermen in Troll’s book ” Sailing for Salmon, the Early Years of Commercial Fishing in Bristol Bay, Alaska, 1984-1951. Samuelson was the grandson of John W. Clark, for whom Lake Clark and Lake Clark National Park and Preserve are named.

In 1951, the year that motorboats were legalized for Bristol Bay, there were 631 sailboats and 86 motorboats. A year later, the number of sailboats had fallen to 223, with motorboats increasing to 895. By 1953, the number of motorboats had increased to 1,108 and sailboats, once in the thousands, had fallen to 62. No longer needed, the ships were simply piled up, burned or left to rot in the tundra. Some, however, managed to survive and were converted into motorboats and used in other Alaskan fisheries. LML 144 came to Homer along with 10 others in the early 1970s.

“They were among the first fishing boats of the inhabitants of Homer and had just come to work in the (local) fabric. The human stories that accompany them are just as fascinating as the boats, ”said Seaman.

Mitchell chose the Bristol Bay sailboat as her logo in 1980 when she purchased the Homer Boat Yard.

“We were looking for an iconic logo of Alaska fisheries and Alaskan history,” Mitchell said. When NOMAR moved to Pioneer Avenue, Mitchell hired Seaman to build the Bristol Bay sailboat model that decorates the building’s exterior.

“Even after the (sailboat) fishing ended and boats became redundant, they had a life beyond sailing,” Troll said. “Outside of the kayak and the umiak, this is probably the boat with the longest history in maritime Alaska.”

Ahead of the 2020 launch, Seaman will perform some necessary repairs on the LML 144 and install a 24 horsepower engine. The ship is scheduled for another public appearance, this time to Homer at the Kachemak Bay Wooden Boat Festival over Labor Day weekend.

Funding for the event comes from the sale of the Troll Book, Bristol Bay Forever t-shirts and iconic white fisherman’s hats, all available from NOMAR. Donations can also be made through the Bristol Bay Heritage Land Trust, the 501 (c) (3) non-profit society under which “Sailing Back to the Bay” is organized. Established in 2000, its mission is to preserve and protect an important area of ​​Southwest Alaska’s environment, resources, and culture.

For more information or to donate, visit www.bristolbaylandtrust.org.

McKibben Jackinsky is a freelance writer who lives in Homer and a former Homer News reporter. She can be contacted at mckibben.jackinsky@gmail.com.

From left to right, Tim Troll, Kate Mitchell and Dave Seaman stand in front of LML 144 on Sunday August 4, 2019, at Salmonfest in Ninilchik, Alaska. They are organizing ‘Sailing Back to the Bay 2020’, which will take Homer’s unique fishing boat to Bristol Bay. (Photo by McKibben Jackinsky)

From left to right, Kate Mitchell, Dave Seaman and Tim Troll take to the main stage at Salmonfest on Sunday August 4, 2019 in Ninilchik, Alaska to talk to the crowd about ?? Sailing Back to the Bay 2020. ??  (Photo by McKibben Jackinsky)

From left to right, Kate Mitchell, Dave Seaman and Tim Troll take to the main stage at Salmonfest on Sunday August 4, 2019 in Ninilchik, Alaska to talk to the crowd about “Sailing Back to the Bay 2020”. (Photo by McKibben Jackinsky)

LML 144 is docked at the Homer Harbor Loading and Launching Ramp on July 30, 2019, in Homer, Alaska.  (Photo by Michael Armstrong)

LML 144 is docked at the Homer Harbor Launch and Loading Ramp on July 30, 2019 in Homer, Alaska. (Photo by Michael Armstrong)

Leaving Homer during the 4 July 2020 celebrations, the LML 144, a Bristol Bay sailboat once used for commercial fishing, will follow a decades-old route to the bay, as shown here on a map showing its proposed voyage.  (Card courtesy of Tim Troll)

Leaving Homer during the 4 July 2020 celebrations, the LML 144, a Bristol Bay sailboat once used for commercial fishing, will follow a decades-old route to the bay, as shown here on a map showing its proposed voyage. (Card courtesy of Tim Troll)



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