Columbia gillnetter joins history archive

Jeff Smith, senior curator at the Columbia River Maritime Museum, points out distinctive features of the fishing boat Endeavor, which recently earned a spot in the museum's collection. The boat was built on the Washington side of the Columbia estuary in the historic village of Altoona.

After plying the Columbia River for more than half a century, the fishing boat Endeavor is getting a spot in the Columbia River Maritime Museum’s growing hall of boat history.

The boat came to the museum from David and Tim Fastabend, who inherited the vessel from their father, Don, along with Astoria Marine Construction Co. David Fastabend said his father went fishing in the Endeavor on weekends and at night when he wasn’t working on boats.

“He fished, picked nets all by himself,” David Fastabend said. “He fished until he was 75.”

Don Fastabend and the Endeavor retired in 2006. The vessel was kept at a shipyard and well-maintained. But with Washington and Oregon intent on phasing out gillnetting on the main stem of the Columbia, there was little reason to keep the boat, David Fastabend said. The nets were given to friends in the Quinault Indian Nation, and the maritime museum was approached about the boat.

The museum in 2013 acquired two expansive buildings from former construction store Astoria Builders Supply. In a back warehouse, the museum has amassed a collection of about 55 boats — Coast Guard vessels, duck boats, canoes and other historical vessels. The Endeavor joins a line of gillnetters spanning the 1910s through 1960s.

“We just want to try and capture as many good examples of that type of boat for future generations,” said Jeff Smith, the museum’s curator.

The Endeavor is a square-sterned bowpicker built in 1948 by shipwright Gunnar Hermiston in Altoona — a historic fishing village in Western Wahkiakum County — for the Columbia River Packers Association. The vessel has gone through several owners and several names.

“John Tarabochia had it when it was brand new,” David Fastabend said. The Tarabochias are a well known multi-generational fishing family on the Lower Columbia.

The Fastabends acquired the boat in the mid-1970s from Larry Olson when he upgraded to a larger boat. A gillnetter since he was a teen, Olson said he gravitated toward the boat after returning from serving in the Vietnam War. He wanted isolation, was invited to fish with a father and son and eventually bought their boat.

Back then the boat was called Auwa, Finnish slang for baby, and before that Piru, or devil, Olson said. He estimated four owners over the boat’s history.

The Endeavor was recently added to a growing compendium of vessels in the Library of Congress. The maritime museum’s boat warehouse is more storage than an exhibit, but Smith said the collection attracts special-interest groups and families with a personal connection to the vessels.

The museum still has its eye on some of the latest wooden Columbia gillnetters built in the 1960s, Smith said. The museum would also like to eventually document the fiberglass and aluminum vessels on the water now.

“It’s all an evolution of the fishery, finding ways to efficiently collect fish and get them to canneries and get them to market,” Smith said.

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