ILWACO — Busy off-season boat preparations for upcoming recreational and commercial fisheries are well underway at the Port of Ilwaco Boatyard.
The boatyard has been even more abuzz than normal since the arrival of a much-anticipated new 75-ton marine Travelift on Nov. 3. The new lift completed a roughly 2,100-mile journey from Sturgeon Bay, Wisc., where the mobile boat hoists have been built since 1954. The new lift replaces an antiquated 1977 50-ton marine Travelift, according to Port Manager Guy Glenn Jr.
“Boats are getting bigger and wider and we want to modernize our facility to meet their needs,” Glenn said. The colossal new machinery has already eased haul-outs, as more boats begin to arrive, eager to complete annual maintenance ahead of upcoming fishing seasons, starting with Dungeness crab — typically in December. The new marine lift was assembled over two days outside the boatyard before making its first official haul out with the F/V Branko Storm on Nov. 5.
The new lift left an immediate impression.
“It’s a huge deal. It’s just so much smoother and a lot faster,” said F/V Branko Storm owner Paolo Jurkovich.
F/V Branko Storm, owner Paolo Jurkovich
As Paolo Jurkovich watched his boat hoisted out, he reflected on this history of the 42-foot vessel.
“Branko is my dad’s name. We built Branko boats ourselves for years. We built 50 boats for Area M, a False Pass (Alaska) fishery in the Aleutian Chain,” Jurkovich said.
The vessel, homeported in Chinook, is used to crab locally in the winter, then spends summers gillnetting out in the Aleutians in Alaska.
“We bring the boat back and forth from Alaska,” Jurkovich said. “We’re just getting geared up for crab season now.”
He said he plans to do mostly routine maintenance, including adding new zincs and fresh bottom paint. (Fisheries Supply explains “Boat anodes, also referred to as boat zincs, protect the metal parts of a boat from galvanic corrosion, which occurs when any two dissimilar metals are physically or electrically connected and immersed in water — such as the shaft, rudder, outboard, stern drive or propeller.)
Jukovich, who is licensed to run 600 pots between Oregon and Washington, said the 2019-20 crab season was “decent,” but he’s feeling uncertain about the upcoming season.
“I’m a little insecure with covid going on. How much we’re actually going to get paid for the crab is kind of a question mark. There’s quite a bit of uncertainty,” he said.
F/V Marr-B III, Rob Gudgell
Rob Gudgell let out a sigh of relief as he finished painting the F/V Marr-B III.
“This is the last boat I’ve gotta do,” said the charter skipper, standing in paint-stained overalls next to the 1976 43-foot vessel, one of five in the Pacific Salmon Charter fleet.
“I’ve already done all the bottom paint and inspections on all the others. Now I can go hunting,” he joked.
Gudgell had already rewired the mast, added new lights and new carpet in the interior, as well as general maintenance that included fresh bottom paint, zincs and a Coast Guard inspection.
“I have all the Coast Guard inspections done in the fall instead of the spring in case they find something major wrong I have all winter to fix it,” he said.
Rob had help with the work from his brother, David Gudgell, fixing the fiberglass, zincs, bearings and bottom paint, he said.
“We got the F/V Westwind done and put it in the shed,” Rob said, adding that they completed a few recent buoy jobs after the fishing season.
Finding the motivation after a busy charter-fishing season is sometimes the hardest task, he said.
“You’ve been working seven days a week for several months and just want to relax and spend some time with family while the weather is still good,” Gudgell said.
The charter fishing season typically kicks off in March, but faced a delay this past season for several months through much of the summer after covid-related restrictions.
“We lost two and a half months because the state closed down the ocean to fishing, so it made the season very, very short. It wasn’t the best year we’ve had by far,” he said, adding that he’s hopeful for more regularity in 2021.
“Hopefully, everything can go back to normal,” he said.
F/V Misty, Dustin Blake
Cost, space and accommodations were considerations that make the Ilwaco Boatyard an appealing destination for annual maintenance for many Westport-based commercial fishermen and charter vessel owners.
“Boatyards are expensive and this one allows you to do all your own work,” said Dustin Blake, of Westport, as he climbed a ladder to work on the 35-foot F/V Misty, a vessel he’s owned for two years.
“And they have room for many boats,” Blake continued. “At other yards, if someone has a hiccup with their boat, you may get kicked out or have to come back later. It’s kind of a priority thing. Here you can take your time and do your own thing.”
Blake was happy to have the time and space to install a new, more powerful sonar to help locate squid in the open ocean, a necessity for that peculiar nighttime fishery.
“You go out, turn some lights on and squid come out. Then the big boats come around and circle you up and catch them,” Blake explained. “This will be my first time ever. I just have friends in it. They fish on the big boats but there’s small boats too. I’ll be one of the little boats that has all the lights.”
F/V Ranger, Don Davenport
Don Davenport made the roughly four-hour excursion from Westport to use the boatyard facilities in Ilwaco, where he plans to be for approximately a month, a bit longer than his usual stay.
“Usually, I come in February for 8 or 10 days, but this time I’m going to stay longer and try to get more done,” Davenport said regarding his 1974 56-foot F/V Ranger.
Davenport, who bought the boat in 2004, paints the bottom each year but is considering a more intensive overhaul this time.
“The top we do every year and the bottom every two years. I’m debating if I want to strip the entire bottom or not and start over,” Davenport said, adding that the Ilwaco Boatyard provides the ideal amenities.
“Westport doesn’t have a yard where you can work on stuff yourself. Hoquiam has a few little spots,” Davenport said.
Davenport estimated that more than 30% of the recreational charter season was lost due to covid restrictions first implemented in March, a time when the charter bottom-fishing season is just beginning.
“We lost a couple months, then there were restrictions on the number of people we could carry. It was probably about two-thirds of a normal year, as far as what I did,” Davenport said, adding that the vessel is capable of carrying up 28 fishermen and crew on offshore fishing excursions for tuna, salmon, and bottom fish.
He said he enjoys the tuna trips the most, sometimes staying offshore to fish for up to two days at a time.
“Tuna are the most fun to catch,” Davenport said, adding that this past season was ‘medium’ overall. “There were some tough days and some good days. Salmon wasn’t all that great, hopefully it’s better next year. I hope we get our halibut in May instead of having to do it August. I lost out on halibut because I was tuna fishing during the season.”