Boats and Shipwrights
Jack graduated Edison Tech after World War 2 and became a shipwright. Working with long lengths of tight grained Alaska Yellow Cedar, Red Cedar and Douglas Fir, he and a generation of men built a fleet of commercial boats and yachts here in the Northwest.
He went to his foreman one day and asked, “Why is it all the house carpenters are getting $1.61 per hour and us shipwrights only get $1.30? We need specialized tools, knowledge and equipment.” His foreman thought for a moment and then replied, “It’s because building boats is more fun. That’s the bonus.”
And tis true.
Jack and his generation of shipwrights have gone on to Fiddler’s Green by now. A new generation stepped up and serviced the repair of the fleet, well built in the 30’s and 40’s. This generation helped build the maritime industry Port Townsend is now known for, world-wide.
The Alta E was built in 1937, before Jack’s time. 50 some years later, she needed more than just a shave and a haircut. Her skipper brought her to Port Townsend and hired Steve as her restorative shipwright. A fortuitous relationship.
The Alta E still works, catches fish, is a looker, provides for her owner, inspires us to maintain our fleet, give back to it what it has given to us.
30 years after her mid-life refit, her skipper sent a thank you note to Steve. Not really overdue, but genuinely rare in this industry:
You should know that boat work you did 30 years ago, before you became all washed up, still stands today, looking varnished & proud. Given the dirt-cheap wages you were forced by a corrupt & soulless society to accept, and a pitiless owner, bent on your relentless exploitation, your artistry in wood has carried a timeless & beautiful watercraft into the future. So be proud, ignore the scorn & disrespect of the self-absorbed millennials as they breeze past a worn out and broken old man, just remember ” I used to be somebody, Goddamn it , I used to be somebody ! ” Then take another swig of the bottle that helps deaden the pain, but not the memory. I was somebody.”
Boatbuilding is fun and a rewarding life; being kept alive in Port Townsend by a new generation of shipwrights; men and women now, who will keep the wooden fleet going another 50 years or so, until the next generation steps up.
Loved this! Thanks for sharing it.
Wonderful!, Seen the Alta E around for years, now I know a little more, Thanks!
Well, over a 20 year period, Steve & I did 3 BIG Major refits to the Alta E , clocking a solid years worth of work over a 12 year period. My personal note to him, tongue in cheek , was a bit of a spoof & a goof . Of course we became good friends & still keep in touch. My wife Joan & I have owned Alta E for 34years, We raised our 2 children ,Forest & Elsa aboard during the troll season, & lived in our home built log cabin & home schooled the kids til 6th & 4 grade. After that, they went to school in Port Protection 2 room school for a couple of years. At 10th & 8th grade we moved to Kupreanof Island across from Petersburg AK, & Both kids were presidents of their Senior Class . Forest got a full scholarship to Princeton, & Elsa a full ride to Wellesley, Classes of 10 & 14. You can see Elsas Sebastians web page at Last Stands, and a 40 minute film ‘Understory’. Both kids became Alaskan Fishermen in their own right. Always much more to say, perhaps a little later, were heading to Craig Ak to ready for the king season.
I know the owner of the Alta E quite well….not surprised he wrote this letter.
Thank you Diana. I’m so enjoying these glimpses into your Port Townsend world and the characters within it. Please keep them coming. Jamie.