Buying Laverne II
Ernie Shaw, one of the welders in my crew, came to work one Monday morning and
told me he’d been in town Sunday and found a 43-foot troller, only 12 years old, for sale
at Alaska Native Brotherhood (ANB) float for $12,000.
That sounded too good to be true. He said that if I didn’t buy it, he would. He knew
I wanted a troller. Ernie was building a new 48-foot wooden troller, the Iona Mae in his
back yard at Edmonds, Washingon and was interested in commercial fishing.
After work the boys and I drove to Sitka and looked at the boat. It was painted gray.
The name was Laverne II. Hans Petersen and his daughter Sandra were living on board and
had just came in from a trolling trip and unloaded. Hans was an experienced fisherman,
former Alaskan and was only leasing the boat from its owner, Richard Peters, a well-known
resident of Sitka.
Hans assured me the vessel was an excellent sea boat. I later learned from some of the
other Sitka trollers that he had caught his share of kings and cohos, and them some, that
season. The boat had been designed as a seiner, but Richard Peters had also trolled with it.
I was impressed with the hull, but some of the machinery left a lot to be desired.
The Laverne II had been built in 1947 at Andrew Hope’s Boat Shop only a couple of
blocks away from where she was moored when I first examined her. Andrew Hope was one
of Sitka’s most respected Native boat builders, and he did excellent work. I had many occasions
to admire the perfection of his work over the years.
It was powered by an eight-cylinder Chrysler Royal gas engine that had been new when
the boat was built. Fuel capacity was two 250 gallon tanks, one on either side of the engine
room. Power to the decks machinery, the seine winch and gurdies, was through a complicated
mechanical system, beginning on the front of the engine with a power takeoff on the
front of the engine. From there a series of shafts, automobile transmissions to slow down
the equipment, and chain and sprockets, supplied power to the seine winch and four
The fo’c’sle contained four bunks and a head. The pilothouse had one door on the starboard
side. A bunk was built behind the wheel. To reach the galley you had to go out the
pilothouse door, walk around the house and enter a back door. The bulkhead between the
pilothouse and galley was solid.
This may have been an ideal arrangement for seining, because the wheelhouse could
be kept blacked out for night running while the crew ate or lounged in the galley. It was
totally unsatisfactory for trolling and if the boat was mine, I would remove that solid bulkhead
and rebuild the inside of the galley so you could be at the stove or table and look ahead
while fishing or running
The anchor chain and rope were hauled by passing the anchor line around the side of
the house, through a side block on the rail, then by taking several turns around a drum on
the seine winch. While this arrangement certainly worked, it nearly killed me later after my
leg got caught in the anchor line, but that’s another story.
The only electronics was an old Apelco depth sounder and a war-surplus Collins radio
receiver and transmitter.
I went to see Richard Peters. He was anxious to sell, and we soon made a deal. I would
pay $8,000 down and $1,000 a year for four years, at four percent interest on the unpaid
amount. Mr. Peters was an honorable man, and a handshake to seal the deal would have
been okay with him. I remembered the trouble I’d had when buying the Chinook, so insisted
proper papers be prepared. Being a documented vessel, that was mandatory anyway.
Today, the purchase price and terms sounds like a ridiculous amount, but in 1959 it
was a lot of money to me. Within a few days I owned a boat. I don’t remember if anyone
else in my family was excited about buying the boat, but I sure was. I had strived for a
decade for this.
I sold the Reinell to a friend of mine, found a buyer for the trailer for quite a bit more
than I’d paid for it, sent my family back to Ketchikan so the boys could start school, and
moved into a bunkhouse at the mill.
All the trolling gear was left on the stern exactly as it had been coiled when Hans ended
his trip. When I looked over the gear, there was only one type of spoon in the spoon buckets
or anywhere on the boat, and that was number seven Superiors, brass and gold bronze.
Good king salmon spoons in the Sitka area, for sure. However, small painted spoons and
brass egg wobblers were almost standard equipment for catching coho in those days, and
painted spoons still are today.
When I asked Emil, a friend of Hans’ who’d fished alongside the Laverne II, about
those number sevens, he shrugged.”Hans had a theory. Give ‘em only one thing, and don’t
confuse ‘em with a selection. I figured when cohos showed up we were going to beat the
hell out of him, but he fooled us and out fished us most of the time.”
One Sunday, shortly after buying the boat, we took it out to Silver Bay on a trial fishing
trip and caught three kings.
Sitka’s fishing fleet was small then, compared to today. There were only a handful of
pleasure craft, and only one mooring basin, Alaska Native Brotherhood ( ANB) float, and
one private float by the Sitka Cold Storage, that would hold maybe eight boats. There was
always plenty of room to tie up. Today there are several thousand fishing and pleasure boats
in four mooring basins, and more waiting to get in.
On the first of November I was laid off. What a relief, after 15 months of working hard
six days a week. Russell Blake, a plumber friend who had been working at the mill site,
wanted a ride to Ketchikan. We headed out at daylight, about eight o’clock, intending to
run to Peril Straits and stop for some deer and goose hunting. We were both excited about
We left Sitka before any weather forecast came on. We intended to anchor at Rodman
Bay After we made the turn from Deadman Reach into Peril Strait, we found a fresh southeast
gale blowing up the straits. If I’d have had any sense, I’d have turned around and retreated.
It took us two hours of heavy bucking to go seven miles. By the time we were off the
entrance to Rodman Bay it was pitch black and pouring rain. We wanted to anchor in
Appleton Cove, but couldn’t find it in the dark and storm, so went to the head of Rodman
Bay and anchored. Unknown to us, this is a blowhole, and we couldn’t stop the anchor
from dragging. We spent a miserable night resetting and hauling anchor, and the wind was
so strong it almost blew the boat ashore while we were hauling anchor. I think if I’d have
been alone I’d have lost the boat right then and there.
We learned later that gusts of 92 miles an hour had been recorded at the Coast Guard
Base in Sitka. Considerable damage had been done to several buildings.
We moved into Appleton Cove at daylight and went to bed. It took a week for us to
get out of Peril Strait. The wind dropped long enough for us to get around Point Gardner
and into Petersburg, then another blow struck, trapping us at the mink farm in Snow Pass
for a couple of days. We headed south and reached Coffman Cove before another gale drove
us to anchor. This one also reached nearly 100 miles per hour. We didn’t arrive at Ketchikan
until after Thanksgiving. For our hunting efforts we had one deer and two Canada geese.
I did a lot of conversion work on the Laverne II. The early sixties were lean salmon
seasons, and I had a hard time making those $1,000 payments. Eventually I re- powered
with a 371 General Motors Company diesel and installed some descent electronics. We
fished albacore and salmon all the way from Monterey Bay, California, to the Fairweather
Grounds in the Gulf of Alaska. We were caught in some bad blows but she never let us
down. It was, as Hans Petersen said, a “good sea boat.”
Fourteen years after I bought her, we sold the Laverne II for $32,400 to Simon
Anderson. I hated to part with that boat. It had kept me and my family safe for a long time.
Simon, or his son owned the vessel until 2003, when a couple in Sitka bought it.
The last time I saw the Laverne II, in 2001, it was still moored at Thompson Harbor
at Sitka, only a short distance from where she was built. She is 56 years old, and has never
drown anyone. Andrew Hope would be proud. For more experiences on the Laverne II
see Pacific Troller, now in its fourth printing, and At. Sea, (2002)
Donna and I built a new 54-foot steel boat, the Donna C, in 1974 and fished it until
1988, when we sold out to Jay Gillman.
While long line fishing with the Donna C , we were in Yakutat waiting for an opening.
I found a fiberglass 32-foot Monterey Clipper, the Semper Fi, for sale and fell in love with
it. Here was a boat I could fish without a crew and the overhead would be very low.
After a couple of years ashore, I bought the Semper Fi and renamed it the Elf. I spent
the next three enjoyable seasons trolling alone with this wonderful little boat. The 1994 season
had one of the best runs of coho salmon I’ve ever experienced. Fishing around Sitka was
good, and I filled the hold several times. I sold the Elf to my friend Evan Norbisrath in the
fall of 1995, and he still trolls out of Sitka.
I was always curious to know what happened to Mary and Linda. The first time I visited
Hoonah I tried to find Mary. Several natives claimed to have known her, but said she’d
moved to Sitka, or Juneau. I remembered her strong fingers and her set of needles. With a
few pieces of hide, fur and beads, she could make beautiful things that people were willing
to buy. She’d do OK.
During the mid-1960s I was having dinner at a restaurant in Sitka when a native lady
came from the kitchen wearing a dishtowel around her waist, and spoke my name. At first
I didn’t recognize her. Ten years, especially if they are hard years, can sure change a person’s
appearance. It was Linda. Gone was the rosy, creamy complection. She no longer wore that
wildflower fragrance. She had cut her long, beautiful black hair, and her eyes no longer had
that sparkle I remembered so well. She’d put on weight, appeared tired and looked much
older. She was divorced, using her maiden name, Bukovnik, had been living in Anchorage
and was trying to get her life back on track. She’d came to Sitka to visit, and was working
as a dishwasher to earn enough money to fly home. I asked her if she kept in touch with
cousin Mary. She that after the Tyee Cannery closed, Mary had moved to Juneau, where she
expected a better market for her sewing. Linda hadn’t heard from her for years and her post
cards were returned. Talking with Linda brought back a flood of memories. Later I tried to
find Mary in Juneau without success.
I’m pleased to report that during the last two years king salmon have been more plentiful
than at any time during the last 50 years. Abundant schools and record catches have
been reported in southeast Alaska, as well as along the Canadian, Washington, Oregon and
northern California Coasts.
Summer and fall chinook in the Columbia River have also been abundant. This radical
change is partly the result of stringent conservation measures, implemented by a combination
of state and federal management agencies, with the cooperation of commercial and
recreational fisheries that target chinook salmon, and the decline of El Nino ocean conditions
that played havoc with many fisheries. In other words, the ocean has healed itself, as
no doubt it has time and again.
Will such abundance last? Probably not. Salmon runs have historically peaked and
declined, long before white men came to the Northwest Coast and Alaska.
The abundance has not caused any boom in the salmon fishery. In fact, because of
imported pen-raised Atlantic salmon flooding the market from several countries, including
British Columbia and Washington State, the price of wild salmon (at least to the fishermen)
has plummeted to their lowest in decades.
My old stomping grounds mentioned in this book have also experienced many changes
during the past half century. In the spring of 2002 I made a tour of southeast Alaska, in
my 23-foot Bayliner Trophy, accompanied by Dale Petersen in his 21-foot Bayliner Trophy.
We stopped at Ketchikan, Wrangell, Petersburg, Murder Cove, Baranof Hot Springs,
Tenakee Hot Springs, Elfin Cove, then cruised to Lituya Bay, a place I’d written the book,
Land of the Ocean Mists, about. To my surprise, both glaciers at the head of the bay have
receded tremendously. A thick stand of young spruce 20 feet high now cover the great scars
where the giant waves of 1958 destroyed the forest.
I had an assignment to do a story for Go Boating Magazine19 about my return to
Lituya Bay after an absence of 14 years. After leaving Lituya Bay we cruised back to Pelican,
White Sulphur Hot Springs, Sitka, then down the outside of Baranof Island and around
Cape Ommaney. Off Sandy Bay my engine suddenly quit. Thankfully it started again, but
I was glad to have a companion boat standing by.
We stopped briefly at Port Alexander, hoping to obtain fuel, but none was available.
We continued to Point Baker, Port Protection, Craig, then down the West Coast of Prince
of Wales Island and across Dixon Entrance to Prince Rupert.
Tourism and recreational salmon fishing has became very popular throughout southeast
Alaska. During the period mentioned in this book, 1950-1960, few salmon charter
boats operated and tourists were scarce. Now there are hundreds of the former and thousands
of the latter. Large cruise ships visit most major towns daily through the summer season.
Even Hoonah, a Tlingit village across Icy Straits from Glacier Bay National Park, is
getting into the tourism business, and converting the old cannery in Port Federick into a
destination for the many cruise ships that ply southeastern waters every year.
Port Alexander, Murder Cove, Point Baker and Port Protection have all experienced
changes. Port Alexander has several year-round residents and two outfitter lodges during
Jack Mason bought the original Buckshot’s Trading Post in 1983. The log building had stood for 40 years, but burned to the ground July 2, 1987, at a loss of $300,000, little of which was covered by insurance.
Most men Jack’s age, nearly 60, would have simply retired, but not this Alaskan. Scarcely before the ashes cooled he began a single-handed rebuilding effort. Wooden Wheel Trading Post contains a store, 3-bed, 2bath fishing accommodations lodge, fuel dock, laundry, showers, ice machine and they buy fish for E.C. Phillips & Son. Telephone (907) 489-2212, e-mail, [email protected]. Access by float plane or boat.
To learn more about the Jacksons, read Handloggers, W.H Jackson with Ethel Dassow, Alaska
Northwest Publishing, Anchorage (1974)
Douglas H. Chatwick, “Pacific Suite,” National Geographic , February, 2003, pp. 125-126
The term Kelper originated around Neah Bay, Washington, and describes someone who sport fishes
around the kelp beds close to shore, where no power troller would dare fish. Salmon, especially large spawners,
frequent the kelp beds, searching for herring.
Lloyd’s fearlessness of the sea probably caused his death. Years later he bought a small troller, had all his
gear ready to fish, and was en route from Seattle to Neah Bay. Off Point Wilson, notorious for it’s tidal currents
and whirlpools during big tides and storms, the boat overturned and was later found upside down on Whidbey
Island, but no body was found.
Slim later bought the larger troller Midnight Sun and operated it for many years. I fished around him occasionally
and, although I owned a power troller, we still argued about salmon. The last time I saw him was as he
lay dying of lung cancer in the hospital in Eureka, California about 1964. Always a heavy smoker, he paid the ultimate
Skip died of leukemia at the Public Health Service Hospital in Seattle in October, 1965. They had three
daughters and one son, Eric. Eric still fishes out of his home at Sitka. Marilyn Jordan George eventually remarried,
and her and her husband built a new boat and trolled again. In 1999 she published, “Following the Alaskan
Dream,” about her life of salmon trolling.
Ballard Hadman, “As The Sailor Loves the Sea.”
In June, 2002, I pulled into Point Baker in my 23-foot Bayliner Trophy and couldn’t believe my eyes. The
Alta E was lying at the float at exactly the same spot it had been in 1953. The boat now belongs to Joe and Sylvia
Sebastian of Point Baker. They have completely rebuilt her, and she looks like new.
The author obtained the rights to this book and reprinted it in soft cover in 1999. It’s available from Anchor Publishing, 1335 West 11th. St., Port Angeles, WA 98363
United States Coast and Geodetic Survey of 1883, p.131
Breyfogle, Newell D., The Common Sense Medical Guide and Outdoor Reference , (1981, McGraw-Hill)
Petersburg Weekly Report, July 27, 1917 p.4
For more about Lapp Sam Anderson and Port Alexander see my book, Pacific Troller, listed in the
See Land of the Ocean Mists, Francis E. Caldwell, second printing, ProStar Publications, (2003) See
”Extreme Trailerboating,” Dec. 2002
Thank you for reading!