ILWACO - After five months of extensive repairs the Eva R was launched April 1 and the 80-year-old wooden oyster dredge will again be put to work. Kevin Soule bought the vessel in 2009 after it was gradually deteriorating while sitting idle at the Port of Peninsula in Nahcotta.
"I brought the Eva R around Leadbetter Point and when we hit the ocean I thought she was going to break apart. We hit 14-foot waves and took on green water over the bow," Soule explains of his trip from Nahcotta to Ilwaco for repairs. "I knew the hull was good, but the fasteners were shot and the structural timbers were pretty bad."
Fortunately for Soule and the Eva R, the boat was able to withstand the trip. From Nov. 1 until April 1 the vessel was refitted with some of the finest timber available, the engine received an overhaul, the cabin was spiffed up, and she was completely repainted in her original colors.
Dorwin Fosse and Marian Louderback were the builders of the Eva R in 1931 and Fosse was on hand for the launch. Wally Woodham made many a trip between South Bend and Nahcotta on the Eva R and he and Chuck Robinson were also there for the re-launch. Heather Soule, Kevin's wife, duly christened the boat with champagne before it was lowered into the water at the Port of Ilwaco.
The Eva R was originally built as an oyster dredge and that is a job it will again perform after a summer of fishing for anchovy in the Columbia River.
In 1946 Blackie Reischman added 10 feet behind the cabin to the Eva R's length, which is now 54 feet and 48-feet-2 at the keel. The boat was originally called Skanoetnl according to Soule, which in Chinook Jargon means gray wolf.
During World War II the Eva R was commissioned as a gun boat and had a 50-caliber machine gun mounted to the king post on the front deck. The Eva R's purpose was to protect Willapa Bay, especially against mini-subs that were anticipated, but apparently never came into the bay. In less trying times the Eva R routinely moved 1,500 bushels of oysters from the seed beds to the fattening grounds among her many other duties.
Soule is only the fourth owner of the Eva R-Skanoetnl since it was first put in the water 80 years ago. L.L. Clark commissioned the boat, he sold it to Reischman in 1943, Coast Oyster Company purchased the vessel in 1971, and then Soule took on the task of restoring the dredge last November.
Earl Soule was the mastermind behind the repair work. Kevin Soule said, "If I had truly known the condition of the boat I probably wouldn't have bought her. My uncle Earl did a great job on her, but it for sure cost more than I first thought it would." Kevin's dad, Ernie Soule said, "The boat sold four times now and unbelievably each time it sold for $3,000."
Joe Brisbane of South Bend was there April 1 for the launch. "I was 11 years old the first time I worked on the Eva R. That was back in 1949 and I worked on her until I went into the Navy in 1956. After the service I was on the Eva R through the 1960s while I was going to school," he explains. "I was on the USS Midway and I visited her when it came to Bremerton and that was a memorable time, but seeing the Eva R restored is even more emotional for me. I remember my grandfather talking about still getting loads of the small native oysters on her."
That the Eva R is still a working vessel is tribute to Louderback and Fosse as they learned their craft from the best. Marian's grandfather Dan Louderback and Fosse's father John, who learned his boat-building skills from Josie George, were legends in the wooden boat trade at the turn of the 20th Century. They created several dredges and many skiffs and bateaus that still are in existence.
The dredge Bay Point, the infamous boot-legging Vamoose, and a 14-foot dinghy that is at Willapa Bay Oyster Historical Interpretive Center in Nahcotta are just a few examples of their long-lasting craftsmanship. So now after a complete repair job and a champagne christening it will be back to work for the Eva R and the living history of Willapa Bay and the oyster industry will be the richer for it.