Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Alasks history’

Here is part three of three parts of my boatbuilding in Sitka. Most of the research was done in 1989 and 1993, when I interviewed boatbuilders and their sons and daughters. Please contact me if you would like to use any part, if you have corrections, questions, or additional information.

Boatbuilder Peter Simpson, far right, and the Sheldon Jackson School superintendent Les Yaw to his right, with the crew building the seiner SJS. From left: Joe Ozawa, John James, David Howard, Peter Sing, Yaw and Simpson. Photo from the Sheldon Jackson collection at the Alaska State Library Historical Collections.

Boatbuilder Peter Simpson, far right, and the Sheldon Jackson School superintendent Les Yaw to his right, with the crew building the seiner SJS 1936-37. From left: Joe Ozawa, John James, David Howard, Peter Sing, Yaw and Simpson. Photo from the Sheldon Jackson collection at the Alaska State Library Historical Collections.

Peter Simpson and Sheldon Jackson School: The 1930s and 1940s

Peter Simpson built two seiners in the 1930s, when he was past 60. In 1934, he built the TWO BROTHERS, named for his grandsons, Henry and Sam Sing. The TWO BROTHERS still fishes out of Sitka. Herman Kitka rebuilt the TWO BROTHERS from the waterline up and opened up the bow somewhat. The boat now also has a larger wheelhouse than when she was first built, when the galley was below decks.i

Peter Simpson’s son, boatbuilder Louis Simpson, died in March of 1936 of pneumonia, at age 40.ii

In 1937 Simpson built the SJS for the Sheldon Jackson School. Les Yaw was superintendent of the school at the time. In his book Sixty Years in Sitka he writes that Simpson first came to him with a sketch of the boat on brown paper. Simpson may not ever have used plans, instead building with half models and sketches.iii

Simpson used yellow cedar for the ribs of the SJS. Simpson and Sheldon Jackson School students got the yellow cedar themselves, and milled it at the school sawmill. Yaw says Simpson preferred oak, but used yellow cedar because they had no money for oak, which has to be purchased from outside Alaska. The planking above the waterline, the deck beams and much of the superstructure were also yellow cedar. He used Sitka spruce for the planking below the waterline, because he said it was tougher.iv

Simpson had to lower the shop floor two feet to build the SJS,v so his earlier boats must have been smaller, or launched before the superstructure was put on, or, built in some other place. A photo of the building of the SJS shows Joe Ozowa, David Howard, John James, and Simpson’s son-in-law Peter Sing working on the boat.vi

The Sheldon Jackson School sawmill had only just been put together from an old mill that school staff and students salvaged from an abandoned mine on Indian River. The school annual says that this sawmill was the only one in town. Simpson helped get it running and ran it for the school. He also encouraged Les Yaw to salvage a donkey from the site of John Brady’s sawmill at the present Thomsen Harbor. The donkey was a portable engine and winch for pulling logs out of the woods or up to a sawmill. Simpson may have used this same engine when working for Brady just after the turn of the century. The salvaged sawmill burned down in 1940 but was rebuilt with different machinery in 1941 and operated into the 1960s, run at various times by Simpson or by Andrew Hope.vii (37) It probably provided wood for many of the Sitka boats built after that time. The donkey winch is still sitting next to the Sheldon Jackson College library.

The SJS

The SJS was renamed the MISS LINDA, and may still be fishing. The SJS had a few features that put her at the cutting edge of modern boat construction: she is supposed to have been the first boat built locally with the galley (cooking area) on deck, that is, in the wheelhouse, rather than below decks. The older seiners only had a small wheelhouse, with a place to steer the boat, and maybe a bunk, on deck. A large wheelhouse was a later addition to many of the old boats. In addition, the SJS is also supposed to be the first boat built locally with a high-speed diesel, instead of gasoline, engine. This was an innovation of the school engineer, Charles Stuart.viii (38)

Charles Stuart had been an engineer in the British merchant marine, and was the engineer at Sheldon Jackson for over two decades, from 1924 to 1945. He had been involved in the sawmill rehabilitation, and with his students was also involved with the metal and machine work on the PRINCETON HALL.ix (39)

Peter Simpson taught boat building and sawmill engineering at Sheldon Jackson from 1938 until 1945. He and his students built four skiffs and six round-bottomed boats in 1938 39, and built six skiffs and round bottom boats for the local military in 1942. For those boats he used red cedar and yellow cedar.x (40) His granddaughter, Isabella Brady, says he also built a new round-bottomed boat each spring for her grandmother (who died in 1936), which they would use a year, then sell.xi (41)

Older Sitkans remember his boats as well crafted, and a pleasure to row. His round bottom boats were Aon the Davis model.”xii (42) The Davis family of Metlakatla made rowboats in the 1920s and 30s which they would sell all around southeastern Alaska, for handtrolling and general purposes. Their early boats were double-enders, built for rowing, but the majority of their production had squared off sterns, for mounting an outboard motor.xiii

Simpson was a craftsman, who would not let his students use a dull tool. His grand nephew, George Howard Sr. says Simpson would tell him “Do it once and do it right.”xiv (42a) Everyone I have talked to remembers him as a pleasant man.

Peter Simpson was a founder, and more than once Grand Camp President, of the ANB. He is remembered as a calming influence, a persuasive, quiet man who was more important behind the scenes than in the spotlight. Land issues were very important to him. One reason the Gravina sawmill, of which he was a founder and shareholder, was not rebuilt after it burned was that the owners could not get title to the land because they were not considered citizens of the United States.

Peter Simpson was also an active member of the Presbyterian Church, and, in his earlier years, was active in various Cottages groups, including the Cottages band, in which he played trombone. Peter Simpson died in 1947.xv (44)

Andrew Hope Shop in the 1940s

At the beginning of World War II the Navy requisitioned the PRINCETON HALL then the school’s workboat, the seiner SJS, which had been built by Peter Simpson and Rudy James and crew in 1938. Sheldon Jackson School was left without a boat, so in the winter of 1942 43 Andrew Hope built the SJS II. He carved a half model for his boat. He used yellow cedar planking above, and spruce below the waterline. This was the same planking arrangement used by Simpson on the SJS, and later by Richard Peters, who worked with Hope, on the LAVERNE II in 1946. Hope used Douglas fir for the deck.xvi (17)

Boatbuilding Woods

Most of the trees in the thick forests around Sitka are western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla) and Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis). Hemlock wood is relatively hard and brittle, and doesn’t stand up to rot, so it is rarely if ever used in boat building. Sitka spruce, while also not particularly rot resistant, is light and tough. The largest cut was in World War I, when it was used for light aircraft frames.

Sitka spruce is still renowned by boatbuilders world-wide for spars (masts and booms). Locally, it has been used for planking, especially on small boats, like the sealers, but also on the larger fishing boats, because it is light, tough, and available in the woods around Sitka. Herman Kitka,a fisherman and shipwright who has worked with Andrew Hope, says it outlasts yellow cedar under the waterline.xvii (18) Peter Simpson used it under the water line, with yellow cedar above, on the SJS. Andrew Hope did the same thing on the SJS II and on the LAVERNE II.xviii (19a)

In addition, Sitka spruce can grow to several feet in diameter, and the large logs yield wide clear lumber, which is what is needed for planking stock.

Yellow cedar (Chameacyparus nootkatensis) is much less common in the forests. It often grows very slowly. The wood is yellow, and strongly fragrant when freshly cut; it is pleasant to work, and very resistant to rot. It also has a reputation for checking (splitting) and for not taking paint, but different builders and boat owners have different opinions on this. Yellow cedar is closely related to Port Orford cedar, which is a highly regarded boatbuilding wood. Yellow cedar has been used to build complete boats, including the planking, frames, and deckbeams,xix (20) but it has been used mainly for deckbeams, ribs, and planking above the waterline.

Local woods, Sitka spruce and yellow cedar, are economical to use if the boat owner or builder cuts them himself, but there has not always been a sawmill in Sitka. Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) is the usual wood for boat repair and building. It does not grow as far north as Alaska, but since the 19th century has been commonly available here because of the large timber industry in Washington and Oregon. Douglas fir is rot resistant and strong.xx (21)

White oak is actually several species of oak (genus Quercus) which share rot-resisting qualities. This also has to be imported to Alaska, but is desirable for the bent ribs of the boats. It bends extremely well, and is much harder and more durable than any local wood for ribs, which have to hold all the fastenings of the planking. Yellow cedar has sometimes been used for ribs, maybe again because of cost, but some builders may have preferred it.

Hope shop in the 1940s, cont.

The Hope shop was very productive. In addition to the boats listed earlier built in the 1920s and 1930s, Andrew Hope was recorded as the builder of the NEVA and the TAMARA SAN, both documented in 1942. Mark Jacobs Jr. says Hope built a troller LAVERNE, possibly the one built in Sitka in 1942. He is also on record as the builder of the HOPE, MARTHA K (now the NORTH CAPE) and SJS II in 1944; the ALLANAH in 1945; the EMPRESS (renamed the MARTHA K) in 1946; PATRICIA MAE in 1947; the GOTA in 1950; and his last boat, the gillnetter VALI for his daughter and son in law in 1961.xxi(22)

Andrew Hope was prominent in the ANB, and was Grand Camp President, and for decades was head of the Tlinget and Haida Tribes, which was formed to fight for land claims. After 1944 he was elected to seven terms in the territorial then the state legislature, and was on the Sitka Common Council for nine terms from the 1920s through the 1950s.xxii (23)

Hope has a reputation for strong, well built hulls. He preferred building to repair, but his main occupation was as a fisherman: he seined the Sheldon Jackson School boat SJS II,xxiii (23) and when the school got out of fishing seined his own boat, the NEVA. He would also pick up students for Sheldon Jackson School on the last trip of the season.

Mo Johnson worked on building the PRINCETON HALL as a Sheldon Jackson student, and also fished with Hope. He says he was great to work for, and had a good eye. He says the joints in a timbered stern fit with no gaps, and Hope would sight down the length of each plank to check for fairness.xxiv (23a)

Most of Andrew Hope’s boats were built by eye, from half models. The models were made to a scale of one half inch to the foot. The red cedar model of half a boat sliced down the centerline was cut transversely, and the sections enlarged and set up square and plumb. Herman Kitka, another boatbuilder, built with Hope and says that there was seldom any need to fair in the molds once set up.xxv (23b)

Andrew Hope, with Herman Kitka, built the NEVA for Todd cannery. They got some spruce logs, and some yellow cedar from Crawfish Inlet, which they cut at the Sheldon Jackson sawmill. The boat was built to Hope’s design but had some design flaws, not corrected. Kitka says Hope said, let it go, we’ll never see it again, but years later Hope bought the boat, and put on a larger wheelhouse.

Hope built the TAMARA SAN for Hans Peterson, with no cannery financing. The HOPE, a troller, was built for Henry Yrjana.

The MARTHA K, later renamed the NORTH CAPE, was built by Herman Kitka for himself. He bought lumber from Hope, which was mostly fir, except for yellow cedar for the beams.

The ALLANAH was documented in 1945, built for Fred Brandes. Richard Peters, Al Rottluff, and Fred Brandes helped build the boat with Hope. The builders had $12,000 to work with, which was almost enough, as Al Rottluff recalled.

The EMPRESS, now named the MARTHA K, was built in 1946 for the New England Fish Company. The boat was built all of fir, and was designed by Hope.

The Pyramid Packing Company financed the hard-chine Edwin Monk (a Seattle marine architect) design PATRICIA MAE, later renamed the NEKA QUEEN, for John Young.xxvi Hope built the SATCHEM, documented in 1952 for “Cap” Anderson from Chichagof for shrimping. He used all Douglas fir for this boat, which is still in Sitka.

Also working with Andrew Hope were Lawrence Widmark Sr. and Richard Peters, a dockworker, who ran a pile driver. Peters built his LAVERNE II with Hope, documented in 1946. The LAVERNE II is a small hard chine seiner, now used as a troller. Her current owner says that when the breaktimber, which is the large beam at the step in the deck, was replaced, they found the two sides of the hull identical, a mark of careful workmanship.xxvii (25) Mark Jacobs Jr. says that the original LAVERNE, a small trunk cabin troller, was also built by Hope. This might have been the LAVERNE built in Sitka and documented in 1942, owned by Elis Peterson in 1948.xxviii

Herman Kitka

Herman Kitka went to the Sheldon Jackson School, then went to the Wrangell Institute in 1935, where he learned boatbuilding from plans from a Norwegian named Gus Anderson. The program consisted of one year of academic work and a year of part-time apprenticeship.

Herman Kitka has always been a fisherman, but when his small gas troller blew up and he found himself “on the beach” with nothing to do, he built himself the MARTHA K in 1939. He worked on building several boats with Hope, including the PRINCETON HALL, the NEVA, his own MARTHA K (later sold and renamed the NORTH CAPE), the SJS II, and the EMPRESS. He later bought the EMPRESS and renamed her the MARTHA K, the boat he has now. Kitka has also done some major rebuilding projects on the MARTHA K. Herman Kitka is mainly a fisherman, with his own boat since 1937. When the Sitka Marine Railway started at Jamestown Bay in 1946 he also worked there sometimes.

Andrew Hope never liked to do repair, and there were not any facilities in town for hauling boats out of the water, so when the Sitka Marine Railway opened in 1946 boats went there for repair.xxix (24)

The canneries in Southeastern Alaska went into a decline after the war, and most closed by the 1970s. They stopped financing new boats and sold off their fleets. The canneries, and the seasonal migration to the canneries and fishing grounds, were once a way of life for many in Sitka. There is only one remote cannery now operating in southeastern Alaska.

The number of seiners around Sitka also declined    from twenty or thirty boats to only a few that still seine out of Sitka. One reason for this might have been the canneries= system of managing the boat’s finances, if not actually owning the boat, so the fisherman only had to fish and did not have to deal with the business aspects of fishing. This left fishermen unprepared to run their own operation when they had to.xxx (26)

The Howard Brothers Shop in the 1940s

The PRINCETON HALL

In 1941 Andrew Hope is recorded as the builder of probably the best known of the boats built at Sitka: the Presbyterian mission boat PRINCETON HALL. The 65 foot PRINCETON HALL was built to replace the Presbyterian Board of Home Mission’s boat PRINCETON, wrecked in 1939. These boats were used for transporting mission and Sheldon Jackson School staff and students around southeastern Alaska.

The PRINCETON HALL was designed by Seattle marine architect Harold Lee, and was to have been built in Seattle. Bids came in too high, and the Sitka builders took on the project. xxxi (1)

Andrew Hope had his own shop then, but he may have had a boat in it at the time, and it was smaller than the Howard shop. (The NEVA and TAMARA SAN were also documented in 1942.) The PRINCETON HALL was built in the shop of his brothers in law, George and David Howard, at the north end of Katlian Street.xxxii (2)

The Howard brothers’ shop had been built in 1940, the year before the PRINCETON HALL was built, replacing the smaller one their father, the first George Howard, had built around 1913. The new shop was then extended 25 feet for building the PRINCETON HALL. The extension was later taken off. This shop stood just east of the Seafood Producers Co op, until it was torn down in June of 1990.xxxiii (3)

The Howard brothers, especially George, and Sheldon Jackson School staff and vocational students worked on the boat. The students at Sheldon Jackson worked half days on the boat, and half a day and evenings on their schoolwork. Machine shop and metal working students under Charles Stuart installed the engine and fabricated the bronze railing, bow iron, and rudder.xxxiv (4)

The keel was fir, the ribs oak, and the deck teak. Teak is often used on yachts, and not on workboats. These were all usual materials for boatbuilding in the Northwest, and all brought up to Sitka from south. But the deckbeams were yellow cedar, either for economy, or because the builders preferred it.xxxv(5)

The boat was launched on December 4, 1941, just days before the attack on Pearl Harbor. She was soon requisitioned by the Navy for use as a patrol boat. The Navy mounted a gun on the foredeck and painted the boat gray. The Presbyterian Board of Home Missions got her back after the war, and sold her in 1961.xxxvi (5a) The PRINCETON HALL is still in use, after complete renovation, as a charter boat out of Juneau.xxxvii (6) Her current owner, Kathy Ruddy, has compiled a history of the boat’s Sheldon Jackson days.

Still other boats came out of the Howard brothers’ shop on Katlian Street in the 1940s and 1950s. The senior George Howard had died sometime in the 1920s or 1930s. His sons George and David, though they were mainly fishermen like their father, also built boats.

The NEW ENGLAND was built in the old shop, documented in 1935. The NEW ENGLAND may have been the second George Howard’s first boat. It took a while to finish, and George Howard Sr. (the third George Howard) remembers playing on the unfinished boat as a small child. This boat was built for George Ward, to replace his seiner MARY WARD, built for him in 1919 by Peter Simpson.xxxviii (6a)

In 1940 the Howards tore down the old shop and built a much bigger shop in the same place. The BETTY K, documented in 1940, may have been the first boat built in the new shop. Herman Kitka says this boat had planks half way up when Ted Kirkman purchased it, and that Kitka finished it. George Howard began the DENNY JO, documented in 1945, but in his later years he was increasingly disabled by tuberculosis; he suffered a hemorrhage when lifting something for the DENNY JO, and the boat was finished by Stanley Sutton. The JUNE K, built for Charles Bennett, was documented the same year.xxxix (7)

The JUNE K was built from a half model carved by Stanley Sutton, and then modified by George Howard, according to his son, George Howard Sr. The half model was then cut across its length into sections, from which the full sized molds were made. The molds are made in pairs, so that the half model provides the outline of both sides of the boat. The molds are set up at the proper intervals along the keel, and the boat is then built around these molds. The second George Howard also used plans for some of his boats.xl (8)

For the JUNE K, Howard used Douglas fir and white oak, and fastened the boat with galvanized boat nails. The JUNE K might still be on the beach at Angoon.xli (9)George Howard Sr., who was a child when the shop was built, does not remember ever seeing any machinery which might have been in the old shop.xlii (11)

The GOTA, which is still fishing out of Sitka, was built in the Howard shop, but after George Howard was too sick to work on it. The boat’s builder’s certificate names Andrew Hope. Richard Peters, who worked with Hope, also worked on the GOTA, along with the boat’s owner. This one changed hands before she was finished: George Howard Sr. says she was begun by Pete Anselm, and sold to Oscar Isaacson while still only ribbands and keel. Her current owner says she had a lot of yellow cedar timbers, with many spruce planks, on oak ribs.xliii (12)

When it was in full operation, the Howard brothers’ shop had grids on both sides, for boats needing repair. To haul a boat up into the shop itself, they used the city truck, which had a winch, and ingenuity. They put timbers across the doorway to keep the truck from being pulled into the shop. The boat cradle and slipway were made stoutly of wood; the cradle would be weighted with rocks at low tide, and the boat floated onto it at high tide. The boat was attached to the cradle with temporary shores and cross ties. Then the rocks were knocked off with poles, and the boat in the cradle was hauled up the greased slipway.xliv (13)

The 1940 shop had a bandsaw, a tablesaw, and a planer, which were all bought new when the shop was built. They ran off of belts from a five horsepower electric motor in the loft. The Howards also had a wood fired boiler for steaming planks and ribs, which was young George Howard Sr.’s job to tend.xlv (10)

The second George Howard’s sons say he did mostly repair, and was mainly a fisherman, and did not do boatwork every winter. His sons worked with him sometimes in the shop and also fished with him. His brother David Howard, and George Benson, who also built double-ended boats, also worked with him at times.xlvi (14)

The JENNY was documented in 1947. George Howard signed the builder’s certificate, but the boat was completed by Oscar Isaacson, a Seattle shipwright, or by Andrew Hope. Around 1950 the JENNY was found on the rocks by Sinitsin Island, deck awash, and no sign of her owner, Nestor Laakso, except for a slipper on the foredeck. The boat was towed into town and bought and restored by George Sarvela.xlvii In the summer of 1984, owner Victor Lane was killed by his deckhand, Michael Blackhurst near Kruzof Islandxlviii (14a). This troller has left her sad past behind and is still fishing, documented out of Elfin Cove.xlix(15)

George Howard died in 1956, from complications of tuberculosis.l (16)

The Sitka Marine Railway

The Sitka Marine Railway opened in November of 1945 at Jamestown Bay, at what is now Allen Marine. Wally Sims and Robert Wheeler and crew built several good-sized boats there before first Sims left, then Wheeler divorced his wife and left in 1949. Sims may have been mainly in the financial side of the business, and he was not a builder. Wheeler’s wife’s father Earl MacDonald, who had helped them set up, ran the yard after Wheeler left. This man, Earl MacDonald, had taught boatbuilding during the war, and one man at the Jamestown Bay yard had been a student of his. Wheeler had also once been an employee of MacDonald.li (1) MacDonald’s brother had been a partner in a Puget Sound yard called Prothero MacDonald.

An impressive total of four boats were documented in the year 1946. The MYRTH was the first boat built there, documented in 1946 for Rudy Sarvela. Some of the wood was spruce from a mill at Hidden Falls, but most of the wood was Douglas fir. The boatyard sometimes used yellow cedar, but mainly used fir.lii (2)

The yard mainly did repair, and became the primary repair yard in Sitka; Hope preferred building to repair, and did not have a way to haul boats out of the water. The Howard shop could pull boats out of the water, by using a borrowed truck with a winch, pulling the boat up a wooden ways.

Six or eight men worked at the yard the winter of 1946 47, but later fewer worked there. HER HIGHNES, JUNIOR, and WRJ were also documented in 1946, and the PT CRAVENS and ALRITA in 1947. Some of these were built on the same transom-stern, round-bottom design, drawn by Edwin Monk, a Seattle marine architect, in two sizes: the MYRTH and WRJ have the same register length of 37 feet, and the JUNIOR and PT CRAVEN are about a foot longer. The ALRITA is a little larger, and the hard-chine HER HIGHNES smaller. (Hard-chine means that the hull, rather than being round, has a v-bottom and a hard angle where the bottom meets the sides.) The HER HIGHNES was built by MacDonald at his home. The STEPHANIE, now the CHUCK A NAN, was built at Jamestown Bay in 1955, and is also a hard-chine design.liii(3)

Al Rottluff, a fisherman who worked for the yard in winters, says that the Sitka Marine Railway could not compete with the Puget Sound builders    wages were higher, and materials more expensive here. They also had to wait on all services that had to be done in Seattle. He says Sims and Wheeler had to put things into hock to pay the workers while waiting for the yard to get paid, especially on insurance work. The yard did mostly repair work, he says, and also built seine skiffs.liv (4)

Among other jobs, the yard rebuilt the NORTH CAPE, and the TWO BROTHERS was torn down for repair at the time Wheeler left.lv (4a)

The original buildings were salvaged from military buildings at Old Sitka. They had two railways for hauling boats up, one covered. MacDonald sold the yard in 1955 to machinist Ray Woodruff, who sold the yard to someone else, who sold it to Bob Allen in 1967.lvi (5) Allen put in the fill    the tide used to come right up to Sawmill Creek Road    but one of the old buildings is still standing, with fill coming right up to its pilings. Part of one of the railways is also still visible.

Bob Modrell and Boatbuilding at Mt. Edgecumbe School

After the war, part of the military base at Japonski Island was turned over to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which opened a boarding school for Native youth. Bob Modrell, a boatbuilder originally from Seattle, Washington, taught boatbuilding there from 1948 to 1955.lvii (6)

In 1937, Modrell had been in the first boatbuilding class at Edison Vocational School (later called Gompers, now part of Central Seattle Community College). The Seattle marine architect Edwin Monk was involved with the school, and the first edition of his book Boatbuilding has photos of a young Bob Modrell and his classmates, who included William Garden, who was to become another well known Northwest marine architect.lviii (7) After finishing his schooling, he worked at different yards; work was hard to come by because of the Depression. During the war he worked for the Navy shipyard.

Modrell’s Mt. Edgecumbe students, who included some war veterans in early classes, built a 32 foot troller to a William Garden design, on spec, which was converted to a pleasure boat. They also repaired and built a deckhouse for the shore boat ARROWHEAD. Modrell also built his lovely sailboat PUFFIN, designed for him by William Garden.lix (8)

Modrell taught boatbuilding in Hangar Two. The enormous clear spans available in the hangars were also used for carpentry classes, which built houses they moved to sites around Japonski Island. The hangars are still there – one is the B. J. McGillis fieldhouse, and the other is the Sitka campus of the University of Alaska Southeast. Though a large part of the building is now classrooms, part of the original hangar space remains.

Bob Modrell said that while some of the vets were interested in boatbuilding as a career, none of the high school students were; they were mainly interested in being able to repair their own boats. After the boatbuilding program was cut in 1955, Modrell went over to the Public Health Service, which administered the government installations on Japonski Island. He maintained the shore boat fleet, which ran passengers between Sitka and Mt. Edgecumbe until the O’Connell Bridge was built in 1972.

Bob Modrell painted, maintained and repaired the shore boats at the covered boat ways, which is still there, at the foot of the O’Connell Bridge. He had his shop in one side of the building, and the other side was storage. A large winch pulled the boat, in a cradle, up a railway track. When the boathouse did not have a shore boat in it, federal employees used it to haul out their own boats, through the Service Activities for Federal Employees (SAFE). For a time, after the

During World War II the military also had a second boat house, which they also used for maintaining their fleet of patrol boats and shore boats. The second one was a floating boathouse, located inside the 600 foot long pier, which extended toward the present bridge. Boats could be hauled out of the water with slings and hand cranks. There was a small shop in one end. Bob Modrell used it for painting, and never used the hoists.

Modrell also built harbor floats, and worked on the piers and floats of SAFE Harbor, on the Island side of the channel. He also ran the PHS tug, which they ran back and forth to Sitka with a scow.

After the O’Connell Bridge was built in 1972, Modrell went over to the carpentry shop, although he maintained the boathouse ways, the only covered ways in Sitka after the Sitka Marine Railway burnt, until he retired in 1981.

The World War II boathouse is now part of the Japonski Island National Monument. The boathouse is part of the University of Alaska Sitka campus.

Most of the shore boats had been built during the war, at the Bremerton Navy yard: the TEDDY in 1941, the ARROWHEAD in 1942, and the DONNA in 1943. The others were the DIANE, which had no document, and the DOROTHY, built for government contractors, in Seattle.lx (8a) They were all sold after the bridge was built.

Other boatbuilding

In 1946 Dave Halleck and “Pinky” Bergdahl built the SKEETER near the SeaMart Downtown store. Bergdahl had been in the military in Sitka in World War II. Halleck, his father-in-law, had been working for Pyramid cannery, and was also a carpenter and fisherman. They logged the yellow cedar for the boat, cut at Sheldon Jackson sawmill and at Baranof Warm Springs, and launched the boat in a cradle over the beach wall at the Crescent. They only fished a few years, then sold the boat, which is still fishing around Sitka.lxi (8b)

The SHARON ANN, documented in 1947, was built by some people named Rowley on the turnaround side of the Siginaka Way spit (near Thomsen Harbor), and used for carrying freight. A member of the same family may have built the MINNIE R, a halibut boat documented in 1945.lxii (8c)

Also in the 1940s, a man was building skiffs at Herring Cove.lxiii (8d)

Since the 1950s a few more fishermen have built their own boats. Paul Morgan designed and built the C RAE in 1962, across from where SeaMart is now. Morgan had done carpentry, and worked a winter at the Jamestown Bay yard. He used spruce planking because he got a good deal on some from the Columbia sawmill, but most of the boat is Douglas fir. He hauled the completed hull out Halibut Point Road after a snowfall, and launched her at Old Sitka.lxiv (9) The boat unfortunately burned in 1993, but not before providing years of service and enjoyment to the Morgans.

Harry Jimmy built the 33 foot 8 inch ANNETTE in 1955 on Back Street and in 1967 the PERIL STRAIT to a William Garden design, using mostly local materials.lxv (10) Gary Erb built the CHANCY, which he built using mostly lumber he had cut and milled himself, to his own design.lxvi (11)

Boat building and boat repair is still a living part of Sitka’s economy, and dozens of shops and individual tradesmen repair everything from electronics to planking.

Wooden boatbuilding has become unusual today in Sitka. Few wooden boats have been built anywhere in the Northwest since the 1950s. While the seine and troll fisheries were expanding in the first part of the century, there was a big demand for boats. Fewer small fishing boats are built now, and the ones that are are now built mostly of fiberglass, aluminum, and steel, which can be made into hulls more quickly. Labor is relatively more expensive now, and good boatbuilding wood is harder to come by.

Even though wood is not a common boatbuilding material any more, businesses in Sitka continue to build boats, now in other materials, when the need arises   for example rugged welded aluminum skiffs, custom built by various welding shops; fast custom fiberglass boats by Gerald Gangle; and large aluminum passenger boats, the largest 100 feet long, built by Allen Marine, many of which they still run in their own business, and recently have built some for New York City ferries.

Although the boats are not usually built of wood any more, the basic reasons for building are probably what they have always been. When the boats they could buy are too expensive or unsuitable, or when they just feel like a challenge to their skills and ingenuity, Sitkans still build boats, carrying on an old tradition as valid now as ever.

i Coast Guard Vessel Documentation (Two Brothers), Herman Kitka, Sr., interview by author, tape recording, Sitka, Alaska October and December 1988 and March 3 1992 (rebuild), Carlos Schwantes, phone interview, 16 November 1988 (galley below).

ii City of Sitka Death Records, #1167

iii W. Leslie Yaw Sixty Years in Sitka: With Sheldon Jackson School and College (Sitka, Alaska: Sheldon Jackson College Press, 1985), p. 70 (sketch).

iv Yaw, pp. 60-83 (SJS and sawmill).

v Verstovian, January 1937, p. 2 (lower shop floor).

vi Yaw p. 70 (workers on SJS).

vii Yaw pp. 60-83 (SJS & sawmill); 1936-37 Sheldon Jackson Annual, Sheldon Jackson Archives #814 (mill only one in town); Hinckley, pp. 329-30 (1902 log haul); Verstovian, Sept 1940, p. 1 (Hope runs mill); Yaw, pp. 175-195(Simpson taught sawmill).

viii Yaw pp. 60, 64, 65, 74. 75 (school boats)

ix Yaw, p. 24 (Merchant Marine) Yaw pp. 60, 64, 65, 74. 75 (school boats); Yaw, pp. 175-195 (staff).

x Sheldon Jackson School Verstovian, December 1942, p. 2 (10 boats for Navy); Yaw, pp. 175-195 (staff).

xi Isabella Brady interview (boats for Grandma); Verstovian, March 1936, p. 1 (Mrs. S. dies).

xii B. Sarvela interview (modeled on Davis, y c, easy to row); Bahrt interview (?).

xiii Loken, pp. 11-14 (hand trollers).

xiv G. Howard interview (do it once).

xv Brady interview; Paul interview; Sentinel, 31 December 1947, p. 1 (activities); Verstovian, Thlinget various issues (activities).

xvi Yaw, pp. 91-99 (SJS II); Simon Anderson, phone interview by author, 14 or 15 November 1988 (planking Laverne); Coast Guard Vessel Documentation (Peters).

xvii A. S. Harris, Sitka Spruce. USDA Forest Service American Woods circular series number FS-265 (Washington, D.C.: US Department of Agriculture, 1971) p. 5 (cut in WWI).

xviii Kitka interview (spruce on big boats) Yaw p 99 (materials on SJS II), Simon Anderson interview (Laverne II materials).

xix A. S. Harris, Alaska-cedar. USDA Forest Service American Woods circular series number FS-224. (Washington, D.C.: US Department of Agriculture, 1971) (yellow cedar booklet)

xx U. S. Navy Bureau of Ships, Wood: A Manual For Its Use As a Shipbuilding Material, First Collected Edition (Kingston, Massachusetts: Tea Party Books, 1983) (Douglas Fir).

xxi Coast Guard Vessel Documentation (Hope’s boat); Mark Jacobs Jr., note on draft 1992 (Laverne); Seesz interview (Satchem built by Hope).

xxii Hays interview; Sentinel. 15 April 1968; Andy Hope III, Founders of the Alaska Native Brotherhood ( ) (ANB, legisl, etc.); Verstovian, October 1941; Yaw, p. 77-78 (Hope Fished SJS); Verstovian, October 1949, p. 4 (Reelected to Common Council); Chronology p 217 (Hope’s terms in Legislature and Common Council)

xxiii

xxiv Johnson interview (Hope’s careful workmanship)

xxv Kitka 1992 interview (work methods of Hope).

xxvi Kitka interview 1992, Coast Guard Documentation Office, and Kitka 1992 (Martha K to North Cape, Empress to Martha K, Patricia Mae to Neka Queen); Kitka 1993 (Neva, Tamara San, Hope); Al Rottluf interview by author, tape recording, Sitka, Alaska November 21 1988 (Allanah, Satchem); Chronology p. 150 (Patricia Mae on Monk Design); Don Seesz phone interview by author (Satchem).

xxvii Coast Guard Vessel Documentation, Anderson interview (Peters), Kitka 1992.

xxviii Jacobs, note on 1992 draft, Coast Guard Documentation Office.

xxix Kitka interviews (his career)

xxx Johnson interview (decline of canneries, seiners).

xxxi Yaw, pp. 79-83 (P-H)

xxxii G. Howard interview, Jacobs interview (Hope had shop then); Coast Guard Vessel Documentation (two doc 1942).

xxxiii G. Howard interview (shop extended).

xxxiv Yaw, pp. 79-83 (P-H); Jacobs interview (kids worked)

xxxv Yaw, pp. 79-83 (who built); Ruddy interview (materials).

xxxvi Yaw, p. 90 (requisition Jan 4, 1942); Coast Guard Documentation Office (Princeton Hall sold 1961)

xxxvii Ruddy interview (restoration).

xxxviii Mark Jacobs, Jr. note on draft, 1993 (Mary Ward).

xxxix G. Howard interview, Coast Guard Vessel Documentation (boats built in shop).

xl G. Howard interview (June K).

xli ibid.

xlii ibid.

xliii G. Howard interview, Ernie Matteson, phone interview, 23 November 1988, Coast Guard Vessel Documentation (Gota).

xliv G.Howard interview.

xlv ibid.

xlvi G. Howard interview.

xlvii Kermit Olsen, interview by author, Sitka Alaska 1994 (Jenny).

xlviii Sitka Sentinel Nov. 19, 1984; Nov. 28, 1984; July 1 1985; July 2, 1985; July 16, July 26, etc. (Blackhurst)

xlix Coast Guard Vessel Documentation (Howard built); Jacobs interview (Hope built).

l Howard interview; Sentinel. 17 January 1956, p. 2 (obit, no mention of boatbuilding).

li Al Rottluff, interview 21 November 1988 (father); Rudy Sarvela, interview, December 1988 (uncle); Robert Modrell, interview 24 October 1988 (uncle); Chronology p. 98 (opened Nov. 23, 1945).

lii R. Sarvela interview, Coast Guard Vessel Documentation (Myrth).

liii Paul Morgan and Al Rottluff, interview December 1988; Rottluff interview; Kitka interview (yard).

liv Rottluff interview

lv

lvi Bob Allen, phone interview by author, November or December 1988; Rottluff interview; Morgan and Rottluff interview (yard after) Chronology p. 120 (sold to Woodruff 1955).

lvii Robert Modrell, interview by author, tape recording, Sitka, Alaska October 24, 1988 (Island)

lviii Modrell interview; Edwin Monk, Modern Boat Building (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1939).

lix Modrell interview (activities on Island).

lx Modrell interview

lxi Pauline Bergdahl phone interview by author

lxii Olson interview, Coast Guard Documentation, Chronology p. 98 (Minnie R)

lxiii Olson interview

lxiv Morgan and Rottluff interview (C-Rae); Sentinel, 20 March 1962, p. 1 (C-Rae).

lxv Coast Guard Vessel Documentation, Harry Jimmy, interview by author, tape recording, November 16 1988 (Peril Strait).

lxvi Gary Erb, interview on tape, Cas/Spe/44-19, Kettleson Memorial Library(Chancy); Matteson interview (Amanda Rose).

Read Full Post »