Fishing Trips

Wood maestro keeps Calif. boats fishing; strong season brings boats to Alaska yard

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David Peterson specializes in repairing and rebuilding older wooden commercial fishing boats in boatyards around Eureka, Calif. He’s one of the reasons a lot of older wooden boats are still working the waters off the northern California coast.

Take the last two boats he recently finished. The 35-foot Terron came out of the Anderson & Cristofani boatyard at Hunter’s Point in San Francisco. The Albatross is a 40-foot double-ender built in Seattle. Both were launched in 1927.

Peterson, 61, says he’s been working on the Terron “throughout my life, doing a little on it every year.” Prior to the work that was just completed, the Terron had been hauled, and Peterson and his crew “sistered a bunch of ribs, put in new cockpit floor boards and refurbished the stern area.” That included replacing stanchions and covering boards for most of the boat.

For the work just completed, six ribs were replaced on the port side, about even with the pilothouse. “It was just age,” says Peterson. “Ninety-year-old oak, it held up real well considering.” The area was then refastened and caulked.

The Albatross got a new deck. He pulled out bad planking, replaced it with new cedar planks. And then he planed the planking down “nice and flat,” says Peterson. He then refastened it with galvanized nails and covered it with a 3/8-inch layer of Hydrotek marine plywood, which was fastened down with self-tapping stainless-steel taper-head screws. Both layers of the Hydrotek were covered with Henry’s 208 roof patch. A layer of fiberglass saturated in epoxy went over the Hydrotek to make the deck watertight. He made the surface non-skid by adding 20-grit sandblasting sand to the epoxy and then a coat of 235 marine primer.

“That’s my standard-issue deck fix,” says Peterson.

What Peterson won’t do on a commercial fishing boat is pull up all the old deck planking and replace it with new planks. “I tell them, ‘No, I’m not going to do that for you.’ I don’t let people make mistakes with their own boats anymore.”

The issue is that the Douglas fir available today for planking is not of the same quality as the Douglas fir that went into the older wooden boats. “The truth is, laid planking on boats leak, even in the best boats,” he says.

John Schumacher at Distinctive Finishes in Haines, Alaska, recently upgraded a troller that had been in the shop all summer. When she left there was a new flush deck set up for a sliding drum–in case the owner wants to switch to gillnetting–and nine new fish holds.

After the boat’s stem area had been gutted and the rotten wood and foam removed, “it came up about 8 inches in the water,” says Schumacher.

With the fish holds completed and the boat back together, it still had 5 inches more freeboard than when it arrived at the shop. Better yet, Schumacher estimates the boat will pack 12,000 to 14,000 pounds, whereas before it was about 3,000 pounds.

When fishermen have a good year, it’s almost guaranteed there won’t be a lack of work for boatbuilders in the area.

That’s certainly true this year when fishermen chasing dog salmon and pinks in Southeast Alaska “had about the best year in 15 or 20 years,” says Schumacher. Now Distinctive Finishes I has boats lining up that need to be repaired or upgraded.

One of those is the Scana, a native word for killer whale. The boat’s owner bought the 43′ x 14′ 6″ Modutech in Homer and then took it across the Gulf of Alaska to Haines, where Schumacher was to convert it to a tender for a local cannery. The cabin already had problems with rot, and the trip across the gulf didn’t make things any better. “He about lost the whole cabin,” said Schumacher. “There were 30-foot seas for a couple of days.”

Schumacher will remove the cabin, build a one-off mold on the boat and then construct a new cabin. The fish hold, which Schumacher describes as “one big hold and a lot of foam for insulation, which takes up unnecessary space” might be rebuilt with RSW, either this year or next year.

Next to the Scana on the floor at Distinctive Finishes will be a 36-foot gillnetter due to have a new fish hold and deck, and possibly get new fuel tanks.

Also in the lineup is a 36-foot gill-netter whose owner wants it lengthened to 39 feet 11 inches and have all new fish holds. “That’s just the beginning,” said Schumacher. I’m going to hire a few guys and try to do a bunch of them.”

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