ILWACO — There’s the frugal albacore fisherman gearing up for another go on a Canadian boat named after an American animated film.
There’s the historic fishing vessel from a famed fishing family that last graced local waters more than 50 years ago being fully restored and ready to return.
There’s an all-aluminum commercial vessel being rebuilt and repurposed into a bigger, faster and more-capable craft.
Stories of hope, history and redemption abound at the Port of Ilwaco Boatyard, where the sole public boatyard on the Pacific Coast of Washington draws a unique clientele each season.
Ted Martin, Bambi
The November afternoon sky was already darkening before Ted Martin decided to continue painting the bottom of his Canadian-built boat named Bambi.
“I’m trying to beat this rain,” Martin said as made broad strokes with blue paint on the keel of the 47-foot vessel.
A small scaffolding held all of Martin’s necessary tools. Martin estimated that it would take five gallons of the premium paint, which costs more than $100 a gallon, to finish the job. As a result, the semi-retired fishermen was frugal in his approach, relying on a small assortment re-used and re-purposed tools when he could, from mixing sticks to well-worn rags.
“I re-use things over and over,” Martin said.
The boat, built in his home country of Canada, was named by a boy inspired by a Disney movie decades ago.
“The guy that had it built had his grandkid on his shoulders and they went into where it was being built and the kid yelled “Bambi!” and that was its name,” Martin recalled.
The boat was later renamed Luka after it came under ownership of a Croatian family. Martin became the third owner, about 25 year ago. Ten years later, he emigrated to the U.S.
“I don’t believe in changing the name of boats so I put it back to Bambi,” Martin said.
Martin formerly operated a water taxi and freight business in Fort St. James, B.C., but now has a permanent slip in Ilwaco, from which he fishes commercially for tuna.
“I first started delivering to Pierre [Marchand] when he owned Jesse’s, around 1990. And I’ve been coming here ever since,” he said.
Rod Miller, Carmillo
Shipwright Dana Linwood swung the caulking mallet with finesse and precision, a touch he’s honed over years of repairing wood boats.
The boat he was working on was built Tacoma in 1949, but holds a special local provenance.
“This boat was here in the 60s and was owned by Jim Suomela,” said owner Rod Miller, standing before the fishing vessel Carmillo. “He used to own part of a cannery down here and fished for generations with this boat. It went away for 45 years and I bought it and brought it back a year ago.”
The vessel was one of a few Suomela operated out of Ilwaco including the Marlys, Vagabond, Prince, and the Northern Prince.
Soumela and three partners built and operated KASKO Seafoods in Ilwaco before he retired in the early 1980s. A lifelong Ilwaco resident, James G. “Big Jim” Suomela died in 2001.
The opportunity to revive and return a piece of local history motivated Miller to “restore it like you would a muscle car.”
“I love wood boats, even though I own big steel boats. I’m getting to the age where I’m starting to retire and I started out on wood boats like this. It’s a piece of local history that was gone for 45 years and come back,” Miller said.
Cary Johnson, Great Northern
The boat looked like new as its bare aluminum hull glistened under the green glare of a welding torch.
The F/V Great Northern was in the midst of a great transformation, one that began in the summer and was now nearing the final weeks this fall at the Ilwaco boatyard.
“I build boats and service the crab fleet from Crescent City to Seattle,” said Damon Paquette, owner of West Coast Aluminum Outfitters, a mobile fabrication and welder based in Cathlamet, as he stood next to the 56-foot vessel.
Paquette has frequented the Ilwaco Boatyard, a central location for his customers coastwide, for more than 25 years.
He spoke about the important role the yards play in providing space and utilities for his mobile business to prosper and fishing fleets to flourish.
“It’s so important to not just me but the entire fleet,” he said.
Operations manager Mark Elliot, with more than 25 years of experience, oversees the boatyard.
“They bend over backwards to help you in this yard. Mark and his crew are just fantastic,” Paquette said.
The current project involving the Great Northern was particularly special for Paquette.
“I built this boat 28 years ago with Ed Wing. It was the first aluminum boat I ever welded on,” he said.
The boat overhaul began in the summer.
“She had a lot of electrolysis in the bottom and had twin engines that were both really tired when the new owner bought it. Because of the amount of holes they found in the bottom of the boat, we just cut it off from the front engine room bulkhead and replaced the whole bottom, raised the deck 24 inches and added 11 ½ feet. It was 44 foot now it’s 56. We reconfigured the fish hold and put a big X15 Cummins engine in it and a 65k watt generator,” Paquette said.
The changes are in part for a new role it will play up north.
“It was a False Pass [Alaska] gillnetter, but now it will be used a crabber and potentially a tender up in southeast Alaska during the summer months,” Paquette said. “We started in June pulling motors out, and here we are in the middle of November and we’re two or three weeks from completion.”
The vessel, owned by Cary Johnson, will be moored in Warrenton after completion. The roughly $225,000 overhaul can begin to pay off once the crabbing season commences.
“We’ll be able to haul twice the amount of crab,” said block man Donnie Vittetoe. “The front tank will hold 25,000 pounds of crab now and the rear tank about 15,000 pounds.”