From Classic Yachts to Fish Packers: Their Stories

The Power Scow Chichagof.

Chichagof is a power scow, a salmon scow, a fish tender. The U.S. Army, who authorized a fleet of Seattle-built scows during World War II, designated them as “Barge Self-Propelled” or BSP. Today they are all about 75 years old, many still operating in the Alaska fisheries, and every year a number of them come to Port Townsend to haul out like beached sea lions.

Compared to the fine lines and flared bows of the fishing boats they tend, scows are decidedly plain. “After you spend time, you have a fondness for them: good solid boats.” said Dale Hoppen, 32, owner and skipper of the power scow Chichagof, as he stood beside her on the hard at Boat Haven Marina. Chichagof was in for a new refrigeration system, new zincs and a fresh coat of paint in preparation for the summer season with Icicle Seafoods in Southeast Alaska. Chichagof’s job is to transport fish from the fishing grounds to the processing plants in Petersburg. The plan is to head north on June 18th.

I asked Dale if I could interview him and over a number of phone calls, talks on the hard, exploring Chichagof’s innards, meeting his family and watching Chichagof get back in the water, this story unfolded. Interspersed with it is a season of excerpts from the annual logs of the Chichagof in the 1990’s that Dale inherited when he bought the boat.

  • 3/20/93 08:00 Seattle to Sitka. On board: Mike Stamnes Captain, Tom Stamnes mate,
    • Norm Lennon Engineer, Kelli Waugana Cook/Deck Hand.
    • 07:05 Depart Icicle yard
    • 07:45 Depart Government Locks, wind SE 15 kts, overcast.
    • 12:00 Point Wilson (Port Townsend)
    • 24:00 Traveling

Chichagof’s origins begin prior to 1928 when basic motorized barges were used in Bristol Bay, Alaska to tow out the sail fishery and take their salmon catch to the canneries. Finn Lepsoe, a Norwegian-born shipwright working in the Seattle shipyards, would take that concept of a fish tender and design a twin screw, shovel-nosed, v-bottom, ocean-going power scow. During that time, Lepsoe would buy out his shipyard partners and relocate the Maritime Shipyard to the South shore of Seattle’s Salmon Bay and began turning out power scows for the Alaska fishery. But his practical, seaworthy, high capacity design caught the eye of the U.S. Army intent on defending and resupplying Alaska’s Aleutian Islands as World War II began. The Maritime Shipyard got their first Army contract for 14 power scows in 1941 and, before the war ended in 1945, more than 80 scows were built. The Chichagof  was launched and fitted out in late 1942 and christened BSP 2723. Fittingly it was winter when she went to the war.

Barge Self-Propelled 783 under construction in the Maritime Shipyard, Seattle. Renamed Pankof, Lost in 1994

Dale became a fisherman when he was three days old. Born in Wrangell, Alaska to a gillnetting family and, it being fishing season, they all went fishing. As he grew up he fished with his dad, Guy, and crewed on other fish boats until he got his own gillnetter, the Miss Tori, at the age of 17. Then came a 28-foot Roberts gillnetter named The Armada. “Then I got a bigger one, sold out and in 2016 went seining waiting for a tender to show up. I got wind of Chichagof in Port Townsend. I liked big boats. I scrambled to make the deal – May 2018, and now we are on our third season.”

They were called by some “Ugly Ducklings,” “A Homely Girl,” or simply “…not a ship of beauty.” The Army made the assumption that these ships were expendable, hoping that they’d last the war making trips up to Alaska and back. But they were built by men who knew the rigors of the Alaska waters and weather. They did come back to the Northwest ports ready for another load of war materials. They did not break down, could hold their 7-8 knot cruising speeds against tough head seas and they didn’t sink.

  • 4/4/97 03:25 Ocean Cape sea buoy, (Gulf of Alaska) Forecast for SE 40kts/20′ seas Area 2B
    • 0515 Moni Bay, Yakutat. On anchor – secured. Wait for weather, change oil filter starboard main.
  • 4/15/97 16:00 Head for Point Chalmers. (Prince William Sound) 90 minutes to opening at 17:30
    • 24:00 Secured at Point Chalmers. Pumped 59 boxes from Robyn Ann, 18 boxes from the Rosie M. 75-80 tons.

Alaska’s Aleutian Islands were invaded by the Japanese in June of 1942. The U.S. Army and the Army Corps of Engineers had already begun strengthening what little military presence there was in Alaska, notably Elmendorf Field/Fort Richardson outside of Anchorage breaking ground in June1940 and in November 1941 work began in Prince William Sound on a secret, ice-free supply port and a rail tunnel bored through the Chugach Mountains to Anchorage. It became known as Camp Sullivan, today’s town of Whittier. Logistics: supplying the new bases pre-war and during the Japanese threat, was the impetus behind the power scows as the U.S. military began to take back the islands. One example of how effective this fleet of utilitarian craft became was the building of an Air Force base and runway for B-29 bombers on Shemya Island way out on the Aleutian chain. Fifteen Army power scows were used shuttling materiel to build that base which was never completed as the Enola Gay, a B-29, delivered the first atom bomb to Hiroshima and effectively ended the war.

03- Chichagof 1962 salmon loaded image

MV Chichagof, 1962, Aliak Bay, Kodiak Island, Alaska. Pacific American Seafoods cannery, load of salmon.
Photo: Kodiak Maritime Museum

But just what  BSP 2723 did during the war is, so far, a mystery. She might have been attached to the Shemya Island supply line or not. What is known, this from Martin Mills, the previous owner/skipper who sold Chichagof to Dale, is that she was sold for $10 in 1947. One can assume the name Chichagof arrived then – perhaps named after the Russian arctic explorer Admiral Vasili Chichagov, but more likely it was Chichagof Island, a 2,048 sq mile island 60 miles west of Juneau. Martin and Dale both spoke of Chichagof going after King Crab – fishing, not tending in the 60’s. Chuck Bundrant, who founded Trident Seafoods, had her for a number of years. She worked for Icicle for even more years, She worked hard for her money. A season could span a number of fisheries and districts. Dale spoke of: Tanner Crab in February, Herring in March out of Sitka and then out of Togiak in the Bering Sea, tending for the salmon gillnetters in Bristol Bay and the Sockeye run in Southeast. Now, at 78, she winters in Bellingham and summers out of Petersburg.

  • 6/2/99 Take skiff to Mekoryuk (Nunivak Island, Bering Sea), have musk ox dinner with Larson King and family.
  • 06/12/99 07:10 Togiak to Norton Sound (Bering Sea) 63°13’N, 164°54′ W Start picking through ice again.
    • 18:00 Drifting to a stop. Ice still thick and immovable. Wind NW-10
  • 06/14/99 Idling NW w/lead. NW 15-20, Port rudder bent.
    • 20:50 Under way, easy passage.
  • 06/29/2000 Halibut Point (Icy Strait, SE Alaska). It’s not raining.

Chichagof and most of her many sisters measures 86 feet long, 26 feet wide with a draft of 8 feet. That shallow draft was intentional to allow close inshore work off Alaska’s deltas; they even could beach themselves without damage. Most all of the Army scows were made of old growth Douglas Fir using a “stacked” construction. Instead of the traditional wooden boat design of curved ribs and steamed hull planking, the Chichagof has sides or bulkheads of fir planks 7½” thick and 9″ deep stacked one atop the other and through-bolted. Her bottom planking is  4″ thick and 7½” deep while her deck is 6″ thick and 4″ deep. No wonder they are still around.

A walk through the Chichagof is a study in utility. Starting at the bow, what’s called the ‘whale back’ houses the refrigeration unit, hydraulics, generators and backups for the main deck gear. This is a raised set of aluminum platforms with a Transvac system for vacuuming the catch from the seiner’s hold to the sorting and weighing boxes, a computerized tally is made and the catch is distributed to four holds midships capable of a packing 180,000 lbs of salmon. Back towards the house is a mast and booms to shift the “Vac” and relocate ship’s gear. The aft house shelters the main deck spaces including a machine shop, the head and shower, storage and companionway access below to the twin 871 Detroit diesels, propeller shafts, generators and fuel and water tanks. Another companionway leads up to the second deck housing the wheelhouse with its classic spoked wheel and a much more frequently used toggle steering system called a “jog stick” on the starboard side. Aft of that on the port side is the captain’s cabin and an open galley and dining area. Starboard, three small crew cabins.

Dale Hoppen with son Bodhi, on the bow of Chichagof

One of those cabins has toys in it. Dale and his wife, Krista who is co-owner, have two boys, Bodhi who’s three and Beckett just turning one. And in keeping with Dale’s upbringing, the boys go fishing too. Machinery like the Transvac do the much of the work, so Dale only needs three crew members. This season he’ll have his cousin, another deckhand and Krista. When she can take off from her flight attendant duties with Alaska Airlines, Krista brings the boys and the Hoppens go fishing.

  • 7/12/97 08:00 Slowly leave Wood River (Bristol Bay.) Head for Bering Star (Clark’s Point)
    • 08:20 Stuck!
    • 08:40 Free! Continue.
    • 11:15 Arrive Clark’s Point, Unload 18,791 lbs. (salmon) to Bering Star.
    • 1600 Anchored in Wood River.
  • 8/2/97 04:15 Arrive Ester Island Hatchery, (Prince William Sound.) Tie on buoy.
    • 08:05 Standby for Gove Point set.
    • 14:55 Leave bay w/164,306 lbs. pinks (salmon). Head for Seward.

It can be a marathon. Alaska State Fish and Game gauges the vitality of the salmon returning to the Southeast waters with aerial surveys, river fish weirs and catch records. That information dictates the seine openings that last usually from one to three days in designated “Harvest Areas.” Dale will run from 10 to 30 hours to the announced area, get an idea from the seine folk on where best to wait for them, often in Noyes Sound, Sea Otter Sound or Tebnakof Bay, either in protected water or right out on the grounds and then begin to load their catch. The operation takes about a half hour per boat before the Chichagof has a full load, or barring that, night falls and she heads for Petersburg. It’s a 24-hours-a-day race to get the salmon loaded, offloaded, refuel, stock up on the vegetables, (Bodhi likes broccoli and berries), and head out again for the next opening. And this goes on from mid-June to mid-September before Chichagof heads south to Bellingham and home.

05-Chichagof Travelift caption:

210 tons of Chichagof neatly returns to the water under the care of the Boat Haven Marina lift crew.

In the early afternoon of May 2nd, the Marine Travelift lifted the 210 ton Chichagof off her blocks and, with Dale walking beside her, wheeled her past other hauled out boats to the slipway and into the water. The following morning, timely sunshine, a negligible SW wind, Chichagof, Dale, son Bodhi and dad Guy left Boat Haven for Bellingham and more work to do before the Hoppens head north.

Have a great season Chichagof!

  • 8/19/99 Abeam Sisters (Strait of Georgia, BC, Canada) Sky is dancing with Northern Lights.
  • 9/5/97 18:15 Arrive Ballard Locks
  • 9/6/97 8:30 Tie up at Time Oil
    • 12:00 Crew Off the Boat
    • 17:00 Boat secured.
Chichagof departs for Bellingham.

Sources and related links: Dale Hoppen provided most all the information for this story. Martin Mills helped too. The Norwegian American provided an article on Finn Lepsoe and the Maritime Shipyard where Chichagof was built: https://www.norwegianamerican.com/norwegian-boat-building-in-the-us/. The wartime Barge Self Propelled information came from “Harry Bailey’s WW II Service on a Power Barge” from the National Park Service: https://www.nps.gov/articles/aleu-memoir-bailey.htm. Wikipedia provided background information on the Alaska war theater.

2 COMMENTS

  1. I’ve often admired the Chichagof while trying to imagine the life of the family for whom she is their summer home and livelihood. Thank you, Joel, for telling the story

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