Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The M?V Chilkat becomes the F/V Chilkat

Restoration Continues on M/V Chilkat

Making Progress Towards New Life Salting Cod in Old Traditional Way

These days, the old M/V Chilkat is both a home and a business to the six crew members who have come together to combine their individual skills, knowledge, and experience to restore the ship and implement their plan of helping cod fishermen keep their way of life.

If such a thing as destiny can guide our lives to help accomplish things that are just meant to be, then the dream these six men have will become a reality. This crew works together like a well oiled machine.

Already having lived two lives, the Chilkat is making a transformation into a third. This small ship goes back to World War II, where it was originally built as a landing craft for the military to off load on the island of Iwo Jima. Made under war time conditions, no expense or quality of materials was spared in her construction. These landing craft were built for an expected one time use only, but the Chilkat's small size enabled her to escape being hit by enemy fire, and she was taken back to the Martinac Ship Yards of Tacoma, Washington to be refitted for service as an Alaskan ferry.

For many years the M/V Chilkat served patrons of the Alaska Marine Highway. After being sold to at least two buyers who didn't quite know what to do with the ship, the Chilkat sat empty in Seldovia Harbor for four years, patiently waiting for her new crew, who is now working diligently to restore her utility. John Enge, Buzz Richards, Jesse Enge, Steve Dawson, Jim Hansen, and Troy Bert call the Chilkat their home and business rolled into one.

"We are on a crusade to prove that fishing can be done sustainably, with proper support services in a sustainable fashion," said John Enge, the scribe and ship's log keeper for the crew. "Most of that reads hard work and low tech," he added. He calls it a "working museum."

John went on to say, "We found the ship to be in much better working condition than we'd thought." Their objective is to restore the Chilkat for salting fish in the old traditional manner. John's family history lends credence to their business plan, as his ancestors were two of the first residents of Petersburg, Alaska in the mid 1800's and were dory fishermen in the old tradition. "Now it will come full circle," John continued, "as the Chilkat serves the cod jigging fishermen off Kodiak this spring and summer. "Hook and line cod jigging by dory as done off the Grand Banks for hundreds of years will sustain the Chilkat for as long as it's an open entry fishery."

The Chilkat will be capable of serving many other support functions, such as for research, sport, commercial diving, salvage, and cargo transport. It has a main boom for lifting skiffs, an unloading and side loading hoist, and a bow door designed to drive in with a semi and trailer. It also has five water tight holds for additional storage. Being used for a boat welding and fabrication shop in the winter is also being considered.

For the time being, work is the order of the day, from paint scraping and new paint to overhauling the many different systems the Chilkat needs to have in good working shape. The crew has been surprised at the amount of metal found, not only brass was used throughout, but silver was used in the electrical connections. Also surprising is how the Chilkat has become part of the eco system in Seldovia Bay, with various wildlife around it. Birds have made it a stopover, ducks have used its deck for takeoff, otters have rested on a small lip above the water line. Even whales have been close by.

When she's ready leave, the huge anchor that now holds the Chilkat will be tied off to a buoy, charted, and left for other boats to use. A new maiden voyage, even just a short run to Seldovia when the ice flows out of the harbor, will be something to celebrate for the little ship with at least three lives.