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Seattle-Built Halibut Schooner

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- by Cap't Dave

M/V Blue MarbleHull restoration being completed on the M/V Olympic at Seaview Boatyard in Seattle--a couple new planks, 3,800 new fasteners and re-corked seems. The historic 1911 vessel is being readied to start her new life as a research and promotional charter vessel for Blue Marble Energy Corporation.

It was a century ago when motorized fishing vessels from the Pacific Northwest began to ply the rich waters off Alaska for halibut, cod, and salmon. In the days before ice was readily available, fish were either salted or canned prior to being transported down the coast. Foreseeing opportunities to sell seafood to the masses, enterprising boat builders and fishermen invested in new techniques and processes. The faster hybrid gas and oil auxiliary boats were able to catch and deliver more fish than the heavily-crewed sailing ships of the day.

There are still a few old timers around Seattle who vaguely remember an aging wooden fishing boat known as the Lituya occasionally seen on the ways in the Ballard boatyards some years ago. While this vessel may not have been particularly memorable, she was after all just another one of the 150 or so motorized halibut schooners built between 1910 and 1932 to work the northern waters off Alaska and Bristol Bay--resting during the off-season in the calm waters of Seattle's Fisherman's Terminal. However, with her stout double-hulled construction and Scandinavian lines she was an excellent example of early fishing vessel production in the Pacific Northwest. Framed up on a Ballard beach in 1911, the 65' schooner was constructed of cedar planking fastened with iron-spikes onto heavy steam bent oak frames. The Lituya, (originally named the Olympic) had built up a a long and colorful resume of fishing activities throughout the years, ending up in a neglected state of disrepair at the Makah indian reservation in Neah Bay.

Wooden boat in boatyard

A group of scientists studying the viability of converting seaweed to biodiesel discovered the near-derelict craft while searching to acquire a vessel that could be utilized as a stable research platform. The start up company, Blue Marble Energy Corporation of Seattle, is focused on solving the excessive algae problems that are plaguing Puget Sound and other populated regions around the world. According to chief scientist James Stephens, the recent proliferation of macro algae (seaweed) is largely due to human activities and is the primary suspected cause of deadly oxygen depletion in South Puget Sound and Hood Canal. The company plans to collect and convert the seaweed overgrowth into bio-fuel. In the spirit of remediating and preservation, Blue Marble Energy chose to restore and utilize a historic fishing vessel for their initial research and test harvesting work on Puget Sound. Not knowing the significance of their find at the time, they committed to take on the shipyard work required to restore the vessel's hull--only later finding out that they had acquired an historical maritime treasure. As it is now known that the little ship is one of the oldest remaining halibut schooner of its kind.

There are only about twenty halibut schooners left in the famed Pacific Northwest Halibut Fleet and only a couple with the traditional Scandinavian lines remaining today. Among them is the M/V Tordenskjold which was also built in 1911, but substantially modernized over the years. Most of the surviving halibut schooners were designed and built during the affluent 1920s and were the result of local design trends (such as characteristically plumb bow stems and larger wheel houses). These newer designs were an evolutionary step away from the old-country influences that settled the Pacific Northwest region. The Lituya, now re-named back to her original name the "Olympic", is a fine example of the typical vessel styles during the transition from sail to power at the turn of the century.

Blue Marble Energy plans to complete the restoration of the Blue Marble and operate her on research missions while also making her available for public educational and adventure charters. The company will also use the Olympic to help rally interest for a new age of environmental stewardship in energy production. "She was built during the last great energy shift (from sail and steam to liquid fossil fuels) and is now ready to be a symbol of a new change to clean and renewable bio-energy from the sea" according to president Kelly Ogilvie. For more about Blue Marble Energy Corporation, please visit their web site at www.BlueMarbleEnergy.net.

Cedarwave.com, a Seattle-based charter boat tour operater and marine services company, has agreed to incorporate the Olympic into it's historic vessel day-charter programs and will soon be offering routes and pricing. For more information about chartering the M/V Olympic, please see www.cedarwave.com

Halibut schooner "Olympic", later renamed "Lituya" as seen in her original configuration sometime around 1911--photo Courtesy of Fishing Vessel Owners Association
Halibut schooner Lituya after updates probably in the 1920's or early 30's. (Note the apparent change in the waterline draft astern as larger machinery and fuel capacity was added)--photo Courtesy of Fishing Vessel Owners Association

Follow this link to see more photos of the historic North Pacific Halibut Fleet: www.fvoa.org (Fishing Vessel Owners Association)

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