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Home  >  Digital Archives  >  Land Sea Air  >  Ships and Boats
Bristol Bay Sailboats
By Tricia Brown Page 1 of 2   Next ยป

The year 1952 was pivotal for the commercial fishing industry of Bristol Bay. That was the year that a federal regulation preventing the use of motorized vessels was repealed, a move that sounded the death knell for the double-ender sailboats that had been in use for more than two decades.

Beginning in about 1930, the Alaska Packers Association, then one of the largest controlling operations in the Alaska fishing industry, began building the fleet of sleek, double-ender sprit-rig sailboats for gillnetting salmon. They were constructed of yellow cedar, oak, and fir, and towed en masse from Puget Sound, Washington, to Bristol Bay, Alaska. The gillnetters supplied fish for APA canneries and salteries in Nushagak, Kvichak, Ugashik, Naknek, and Egegik. Towed to and from the fishing grounds by tugs called "monkey boats," the sailboat fleet worked efficiently in the hands of skilled fishermen.

The design can be traced to the Columbia River style boats built in the late 1800s for gillnetting in San Francisco Bay. However, for the rougher conditions of Bristol Bay, a sturdier boat would be required, and extra ribbing was added. The vessels were about 30 feet long and slightly less than 10 feet wide, and also equipped with a pair of 14-foot oars. There were no cabins, so the two-man crew used their masts, sprits, and sails as tents when shelter was needed.

A restored Bristol Bay double-ender in the Dillingham harbor, under private ownership, is among the "structures" that was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. Nearly 20 years later, in 1999, Dillingham's Samuel K. Fox Museum acquired another double-ender, the Mayelle, from a private party in Kodiak and began the restoration process, consulting with former sailboat fishermen as they worked.

A double-ender is on display in the Alaska Gallery of the Anchorage Museum of History and Art. Also, some 24.5-foot masts and 26.5-foot sprits from the old boats, made from Douglas fir, have been stored in various canneries and warehouses, and are available for sale online.

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Bristol Bay fishing fleet leaving tug boat
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A neighbor from Ugashik

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