Fishing vessel Biorka, built 1960

Spotted at Westport Boat Basin on Grays Harbor

It seems that in at least 9 out of 10 cases, a small, wooden troller moored in a Northwest fishing port has only that story to tell, being a small wooden troller. Sure a few may have emigrated from Canada, and a few others are rebuilt from seiners or gillnetters, but overall the histories are fairly similar.

When I photographed this little vessel, I assumed much of the same. Even the first glance at her Coast Guard documentation didn’t do much to change my mind. The only question was raised by her documentation number being much more recent than her 1960 build date. However, I easily persuaded myself that despite being built at Tacoma, perhaps she could have gone straight to a Canadian owner, and only gained her US registration number after a sale in recent years.

Little did I know that there was more to her story to be told, the discovery of which I owe to the West Coast Fishermen group on Facebook. One of the members there quickly pointed out her former name of FEDAIR I, and stated that she was used to supply Biorka Island in Alaska.

With that tidbit of information, I had a jumping-off point to dig up what exists online. As suggested by the name, she was delivered by Tacoma Boatbuilding to the Federal Aviation Administration, which sent her up to Sitka, Alaska to supply the FAA communications station on Biorka Island, along with a nearby Coast Guard LORAN-A site. She is perhaps best known for her role in the crash of Northwest Orient Airlines Flight 293 on October 22, 1962. Flight 293, a Douglas DC-7 chartered to the Military Air Transport Service, was bound from McChord Air Force Base in Tacoma, Washington to Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage, Alaska carrying 95 passengers, all of whom were servicemen or family members, along with 7 crew. Just before noon, Captain Vinton Hansen radioed that the aircraft had lost power to the No.2 engine and that the prop began uncontrollably rotating at excessive speed, effecting his ability to keep the aircraft under control. Initially it was thought that the plane would make Sitka Harbor, where the Coast Guard 180-ft buoy tender SORREL was standing by to affect a rescue. However, it soon became apparent that the plane intended to ditch approximately 15 miles south of Sitka, near Biorka Island. With this new situation, the nearest available boat was dispatched for the rescue, which happened to be FEDAIR I. Fortunately for the 102 persons aboard Flight 293, Captain Hansen was able to perform virtually a textbook water landing. With the aircraft floating intact, the entire complement disembarked in a matter of only a couple of minutes onto the rafts, which then made their way to the FEDAIR I, which ferried all to Sitka.

While FEDAIR I’s rescue of Flight 293 was a hands-down success, the incident should not be confused with the crash of Flight 293 little more than six months later, on June 3rd, 1963. That flight, also a DC-7 under MATS charter and flying the same route, crashed into the sea at high speed for unknown reasons, with the loss of all 101 on board.

As for FEDAIR I, her career with the FAA came to a close in 1978, when Biorka Island began to be supplied by aircraft. No longer needed in Sitka, the stout little boat was transferred to Wrangell, Alaska where she was used to ferry Young Adults Conservation Corps workers to and from work sites in Southeast Alaska. From this point on, the boat’s history dries up until she was sold into civilian ownership circa 2000 under her present name. Her initial owner apparently spent several years adding a trolling rig to user her for commercial fishing, and she first appears with an Alaska Fish & Game registration number in 2008. Now owned by a gentleman in Ketchikan, Alaska, the BIORKA appears to spend her time travelling Northwest waters to pursue her owner’s desires.

USCG Doc #: 1031148
Owner: Alex Peura, Ketchikan, AK
Flag: USA
Hailing Port: Ketchikan, AK
AFDG #: 75491
Call Sign: WDD7162
Length: 15.85 meters
Beam: 4.55 meters
Tonnage: 35 GT / 28 NT
Year of Build: 1960
Builder: Tacoma Boatbuilding Company, Tacoma, WA
Former Name: FEDAIR I


Lois Anderson

Fishing tende/packer Lois Anderson, built 1943
Lois Anderson

Spotted between seasons at Fishermen’s Terminal on Salmon Bay.

Among its uncountable historical merits, World War II may be remembered as the greatest shipbuilding effort in American history.  Between contracts and homegrown projects by the Navy, Army and merchant marine, thousands of vessels of all shapes, sizes and purposes were built for the war effort.

Well known to local fisherman, but perhaps not as evident to the remainder of Northwesterners, one of those projects arose right here in Seattle. Starting near the end of World War I, a series of small, powered barges were produced throughout the Northwest and Alaska to serve shallow water fishing and canning operations. By 1939, the concept had evolved to that of the large, shovel-nosed, house-aft CAPTAIN O’BRIEN built by Seattle’s Maritime Shipyards that year.

Come the start of the war in the Pacific, among its various needs, the US Army decided it required a a cheap, practical way to transport cargo from the west coast to Alaska. Maritime Shipyards’ design was selected as an inspiration, and essentially became the Army’s 88-foot Barge, Self-propelled, or BSP. Also known by their pre-war identity as “power scows,” these were at their essence rudimentary boats. Built of local Douglas Fir as to not interfere with higher-priority wartime supplies, they consisted of a shovel-nosed rectangular hull with an open deck forward, and a small deckhouse aft, which afforded a galley, two four-man berths, a captain’s stateroom, and a head. Power was provided by whatever source was best available at the time of construction.

Intended basically to deliver cargo north once, and then be done with their service life if they succeeded, little thought of creature comforts or longevity was involved in their design. Instead, quantity was the preferred means of success, with dozens being delivered in both 88′ and extended 105′ designs by a host of west coast shipyards.

BSP 3143 at Juneau, AK Image credit Alaska State Library, Captain Lloyd H. (Kinky) Bayers Photograph Collection, ca. 1930s-1950s. ASL-PCA-127
BSP 3143 at Juneau, AK Image credit Alaska State Library, Captain Lloyd H. (Kinky) Bayers Photograph Collection, ca. 1930s-1950s. ASL-PCA-127

Yet, the vessels were much more successful than the Army likely intended, or even ever imagined. Most survived the trip north intact, just as solid as they started. As a result, the Army was left with multitudes to sell surplus at the end of the war. Northwest fishermen, who were already familiar with the design, were able to purchase the boats, most only a couple of years old, for $10-15,000.

While many have been lost or retired since the years they entered civilian service, the power scows are still numerous, and searching Puget Sound or southeast Alaska fishing ports can easily uncover the old boats still gainfully employed. After varied lifetimes, in which some even managed to survive adventures on the open seas as King Crab boats, most of the survivors are today utilized as fishing tenders and packers.

When one is sighted, recognizing it original construction can be difficult. Most of the retired BSP’s have been heavily modified in the years of commercial service. Many now bear any variety of built-up processing or storage decks, modified deckhouses, and even steel hull plating over the original wood. to make matters even more confusing, a number of shipyards continued to produce the designs after the war to meet unfilled commercial demand, in some cases even mimicking the original design with an all-steel hull. In the decades since, similar, modernized designs have even been built to replace some of the powers scows lost.

The LOIS ANDERSON, however, is one of the survivors. Built in 1943 by Maritime Shipyards at their facility on Salmon Bay just west of Fishermen’s Terminal, she was of the 105′ variety and entered Army service as BSP 513.

Lois Anderson in 1948, image credit to Steve McCutcheon, McCutcheon Collection, Anchorage Museum, B1990.14.5.TV.73.93
Lois Anderson in 1948, image credit to Steve McCutcheon, McCutcheon Collection, Anchorage Museum, B1990.14.5.TV.73.93

While she initially began serving the Alaska fishing endeavors in essentially as-built condition, over the years since she has been altered through the additions of a processing/packing area on the main deck, a relocated mast, built-up forecastle, and a raised pilothouse, all to improve her capabilities in today’s support of the herring and salmon fisheries.

USCG Doc #: 252090
Owner: Ted Morehouse, Holly Springs, NC
Flag: USA
Hailing Port: Seattle, WA
USCG #: 252090
AFDG #: 12299
Call Sign: WDD9476
Length: 33.00 meters
Beam: 9.25 meters
Tonnage: 190 GT, 147 NT
Year of Build: 1943
Builder: Maritime Shipyards, Seattle, WA
Former Name: BSP 513

Thorco Alliance

General Cargo Ship Thorco Alliance, built 2012
Thorco Alliance

Spotted unloading scrap metal at the Port of Seattle’s Terminal 105 on the Duwamish River

In modern dry bulk cargo shipping, the majority of the world’s fleet consists of three general types of vessel: container ships, bulk carriers, and the generically-dubbed general cargo vessels.While container ships and bulkers are regular visitors to Elliott Bay and the Port of Seattle,, with lat years transfer of operations to Tacoma by Westwood Shipping LInes, a visit by a general cargo vessel is a quite uncommon occurrence.

In many cases it can be difficult to differentiate the latter from the other two classes, as the often can be found carrying containers or bulk cargo. In general, however, while the other classes are specialized for their designed cargo type, general cargo ships are specialized towards none. Also known as break bulk cargo, the goods aboard these vessels are usually items that must be loaded and unloaded individually instead of in containers or in bulk in the manner of grain or ore. The logistics of loading and unloading these types of cargoes are generally the most time consuming of dry goods. Additionally, due to the hazy line between bulk, break bulk and containerized cargo, judging the class of ship by appearance alone can be difficult. In that case, consulting online databases is the best bet.

Fortunately, this visitor to Terminal 105 on the Duwamish River is of the easier-to-identify variety. Among the details that mark the Thorco Alliance as a general cargo vessel are the cranes offset to the port side, and the hatch covers stacked fore and aft while open. The presence of the cranes is especially significant, as they allow most general cargo ships to call at ports with little or no shore infrastructure, perhaps the most notable advantage they maintain over their bulk and container cousins.

As mentioned previously, the Puyallup-based Westwood Shipping Lines operate a fleet of general cargo vessels that used to call at Seattle’s Terminal 5. With closure of that facility for upgrading, these vessels, used to transport packaged lumber products, have shifted operations to Husky Terminal in Tacoma.

Other than an exceedingly rare visit for another purpose, and small cargo vessel traffic to-and-from Alaska, that leaves the only general cargo visits to Seattle as one’s like Thorco Alliance’s, briefly stopping to unload scrap metal on the Duwamish.

The operator of this particular vessel, Thorco Shipping A/S, is involved in much more than scrap hauling. Based in Copenhagen, Denmark with a fleet of more than 80 owned and chartered vessels, the line has a worldwide presence shipping cargoes as diverse as bulk freight, energy infrastructure, and even tugs and yachts (as deck cargo).

IMO #: 9559884
Owner: Marship, Haren (Ems), Germany
Flag: Antigua & Barbuda
Hailing Port: St. John’s
Call Sign: V2FW3
Length: 132.20 m
Beam: 15.87 m
Tonnage: 6,351 GT/3,617 NT/9,677 DWT
Year of Build: 2012
Builder: Jiangsu Changbo Shipyard, Jingjiang, China
Yard Number: 700
Former Name:

Alaska Ocean

Alaska Ocean

Spotted completing a refit at Vigor Industrial on Harbor Island.

The Seattle-based fishing fleet consists of a vast multitude of vessels of different sizes and types. Ranging from small boats to ships over 600 feet in length, they search the oceans for crab, cod, pollock, halibut and many other catches.

Among the largest in the fleet are the factory trawlers such as the Alaska Ocean. Using a pelagic, or midwater, trawl net, these vessels are able to haul in large numbers of the whitefish they target, including Alaska Pollock, Pacific Cod and Pacific Whiting. Once onboard, the catch is fed into onboard processing equipment. After completion of the process, the various products, including filets, roe, fish oil, fish meal and surimi (imitation crabmeat) are inspected by the crew and then packaged and flash frozen, ready for delivery upon return to port. The entire operation only takes a few hours.

Like most of the factory trawler fleet, however, the Alaska Ocean hasn’t always been trawling the North Pacific. She started life as the offshore supply vessel State Express, operated from the Gulf Coast by State Marine Corp. of Houston, Texas. In the late eighties, she and her sister, State Trust were brought to the Pacific Northwest by Sunmar Shipping, and initially used to transport refrigerated containers.

Eventually both vessels were sent to Ulstein Verft in Norway, virtually torn down to nothing, and rebuilt as factory trawlers, with State Express being renamed as Alaska Ocean for Alaska Ocean Seafood Ltd of Anacortes, and State Trust becoming Northern Hawk for Oceantrawl Inc of Seattle. In 2008, Alaska Ocean joined the fleet of Glacier Fish Company, and when pictured was being repainted into their company scheme.

Alaska Ocean
USCG Doc #: 637856
Owner: Glacier Fish Company LLC, Seattle, WA
Flag: USA
Hailing Port: Seattle, WA
Call Sign: KRCT
Length: 344.0 ft
Beam: 60.0 ft
Tonnage: 4,555 GT/1,831 NT
Crew: 130
Year of Build: 1981
Builder: Blount Marine Corp, Warren, RI
Yard Number: SB-237
Former Name:


Tugboat Vulcan, built 1938

Spotted underway on Commencement Bay at Tacoma, WA

The Dunlap Towing Company of La Conner, Washington is one of Puget Sound’s homegrown institutions.  Founded in 1925 with the purchase of three small tugs, the company initially transported cargoes between the Skagit delta and Seattle. In the years since, the company has grown significantly, including as a player in the foundation of Northland Services.

Today, Dunlap’s seagoing tugs can be seen hauling barges to and from Alaska, while their smaller tugs are often involved in hauling barges and log rafts in local waters.

Among those local tugs is the Vulcan. Which can often be found towing log rafts between Puget Sound sawmills and shipping points. While she has bore her current appearance since a rebuild in 1977, her original appearance was actually quite different.

Designed by Northwest legend H.C. Hanson as a cannery tender, she was the first all-welded steel vessel of her kind when built at Seattle in 1938. She was initially operated on Bristol Bay, Alaska by the Pacific American Fisheries Co. of Bellingham.

Vulcan as built. From the collection of the Whatcom Museum, Bellingham, WA

After service with the US Army in Alaska during World War II, she eventually was brought into Dunlap’s fleet circa 1965, a company which she still faithfully serves past her 75th birthday.

USCG Doc #: 237283
Owner: Dunlap Towing Co, Everett, WA
Flag: USA
Hailing Port: Seattle, WA
Call Sign: WB4266
Length: 75.0 ft
Beam: 18.0 ft
Draft: 5.3 ft
Tonnage: 75 GT/51 NT
Year of Build: 1938
Builder: Commercial Boiler Works, Seattle, WA

A Chronicle of Vessels in the Pacific Nortwest and Beyond