The Port of Port Townsend Boat Haven's reputation as an an all-around shipyard well-suited to Alaska's fishing boat industry is growing, a fact reinforced by a record-breaking year for the port's heavy haulout Travelift.

"The shipyard is booming, mostly because of the commercial fishing fleet," said Larry Crockett, Port of Port Townsend executive director. "They've had a couple of good seasons in a row now. We're seeing a lot of boats coming down from Alaska. That boat is their business and they are reinvesting."

Last year was "the best year ever" for the port's heavy haulout (85 to 330 tons), and the commercial fishing fleet represented 85 percent of that business, Crockett said. In 2013, 161 boats were hauled out, up from 135 boats in 2012 and 116 in 2011.

NORSEL

One such vessel is Norsel, a wooden seiner built in Poulsbo in 1950.

Last year, Norsel was hauled out in Port Townsend and underwent a "major overhaul," including an expanded engine room, a new forecastle, a new water tank, 80 percent new hydraulics, all new electrical wiring and a new power takeoff, as well as new keel bolts and bug shoe and some caulking, according to Amy Schaub, who has worked on Norsel as skiffman for four seasons.

Schaub, who grew up in Wisconsin, started her maritime career on tall ships and graduated in 2005 from the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding in Port Hadlock. Soon after, she began fishing because she wanted to get back on the water. Patrick O'Neil, owner of the seiner St. Janet, hired her as a deck boss and engineer.

"A seiner sounded like the best fit for me," Schaub said, "and it was. I love getting up superearly in the morning, around 2:30, driving off the anchor and seeing what the day's going to bring. I just love fishing."

Schaub has worked on the wooden seiner Norsel for four seasons. She met the vessel's owner, Steve Huestis, through "another gal in the fleet," and saw an opportunity to gain experience driving the skiff, a seiner's powerful ancillary boat that sets the seine net.

"Instead of piling gear, I could learn how to drive skiff," Schaub said. "The skipper's on one end and the skiffman's on the other."

She wanted to drive skiff, she said, to "get a better understanding of how the net fishes."

Schaub's goal is to get her own permit and boat to go seine commercially for salmon in Southeast Alaskan waters. It's not an easy task, but Schaub is undeterred. She knows exactly what she wants and is not afraid to go for it.

FISHING BOATS

Many kinds of fishing boats haul out for annual maintenance here and are vital to the local economy, noted the port's Crockett.

"From a community economic development perspective, those boats tend to drop a lot of money on projects and will hire multiple marine trades."

Fishing boats start arriving in October and are gone by June to go fishing. Often the projects being undertaken take two to four months of work.

The heavy haulout brought in a few Navy tugboat projects in 2013, Crockett said, but fishing boats (wooden and steel) are the big spenders.

Port Townsend continues to be a competitive and popular destination for commercial and recreational boat projects, Crockett noted.

"We've got the workforce, the location, the yard and the heavy haulout," he said. "We have the least expensive yard in Puget Sound. Period. Whenever anybody says so and so is cheaper, I say show me the numbers. Some of the private yards will run special deals that we can't, but at the end of the day, you can't work on your own boat in those private yards."

Schaub said that several fishing boats have come to Port Townsend on her recommendation, including Norsel.

"Fishermen like that you can haul out here and have access to your boats," she said. "You can hire independent contractors. There are options and accessibility, with quality work."

NERKA

Joel Brady-Power of Bellingham is another fisherman who brings his boat to PT for maintenance. He owns and operates the 1979 C-M Marine troller Nerka.

Brady-Power first went to sea on Nerka when he was 2 weeks old. He bought Nerka from his father nine years ago, and he fishes with his wife, Tele Aadsen.

"She grew up fishing, and we work really well together," he said.

Brady-Power brings the boat south to Port Townsend "about every other year."

"I usually do all my boat work here [in Port Townsend]," Brady-Power said. "There are so many great boat people here, as far as service people."

He mentions one guy who does his refrigeration systems, but won't share the man's name. "He's the best. He gets more work than he wants, and he's laying low."

On a recent January morning, Brady-Power stood in Nerka's teak-paneled cabin surrounded by the clutter of many projects in progress; tools and other objects filled the space. Gesturing to a large tank on the sole, Brady-Power added that he's "got the evaporator going back in." Due to a torn ACL, he missed last summer's season.

"Been fishing my whole life, and I missed the best summer!" he said.

Now, he's in the process of preparing for next year. He said he "just got the main engine rebuilt and has just finished putting together the fuel system."

CORONATION

Another family-run fishing operation is headed by Blaise Holly, who also works as a shipwright at Haven Boatworks in the Boat Haven.

Holly bought the 42-foot troller Coronation and fished it in 2012, having never worked in commercial fishing.

"I gambled that I'd be able to figure it out, even if I got shelled my first season, which I absolutely did," he said. "It was really difficult, very scary, very humbling."

He and his wife, Holly Holly, wanted to work together in "a different environment than Port Townsend has afforded us," Blaise said, together with their son Noah, 7. Holly Holly's father and uncle ran crab boats and when she was young she went crabbing in the Aleutian Islands and knew "the nostalgia of stepping aboard the fish boat and smelling the diesel stove."

TROLLING, NOT TRAWLING

Holly is careful to explain the difference between trolling and trawling. Trolling involves dragging lines with hooks. Trawling involves dragging a net through the sea or along the bottom, and can be destructive to habitat and harmful to multiple species, gathering up everything in the weighted net's path.

"Trawling is high-impact," Holly said.

Conversely, trolling is very species-specific. "When I'm fishing for king, I catch king, not chum," he said. Trolling is species-specific because trollers fish at a certain speed, at a certain depth.

Trolling also results in "the highest-quality salmon on the market, hands down," Holly said. Troll-caught salmon are often pressure-bled, using water from a hose at about the same pressure as a fish's blood pressure to clean the blood out of the fish.

"They're handled very gently, like a piece of fruit," Holly said, noting that you wouldn't drop a pear on the floor, or throw it roughly in a box, and expect it to still be good.

GOOD INVESTMENT

In their first season fishing, the Hollys brought along as crew Andy Cowan, who "had trolled for a couple of seasons," Blaise said. Although the first year was tough, the Hollys did much better in 2013.

"The learning curve is unbelievably steep," he noted.

In 2013, his crew were Dylan Mackey for the first half of the season, and Esther Whitmore for the second half, both from Port Townsend; he expects to keep them on this year, with Whitmore working the first half and Mackey the second half.

Holly said fuel is a fisherman's biggest expense, followed by the yard bill, so as a shipwright he has "the skills and the infrastructure to support" him as a fisherman.

"I'm in the industry, but I also hire people in the industry," Holly said of projects in Port Townsend. He said he appreciates places like Admiral Ship Supply.

"They're a vital part" of the marine trades here, he said. "It's enormously valuable to be able to go in and talk to Dave Carruthers ... I've learned a lot from Dave."

A DESTINATION

Port Townsend continues to be a competitive and popular destination for commercial and recreational boat projects, Crockett noted.

Aside from the large selection of astonishingly skilled tradespeople, Port Townsend's boatyard also enjoys the economic benefit of being one of a dwindling number. There are fewer choices for boatyards of all types. Ten years ago, there were 169 boatyards in Puget Sound, Crockett said. Now there are 58 yards. The Port here is committed to maintaining its operating permits.

"All of our other activities are important, but when it comes to supporting our marine trades industry, that boatyard permit is the golden egg that needs to be protected," Crockett said.

Holly said it costs tens of thousands of dollars each year "for the privilege of trolling.

"If I'm lucky and good," he said, it's profitable. But those tens of thousands will be spent anyway, for licenses, expenses and reinvesting in his business – the boat itself.

"There's a lot of talent here to draw on," he said, adding that a "toenail anchorage" in Alaska is not the best place to troubleshoot a problem "that could have been taken care of in February in fine style in Port Townsend."

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