Her name was the Situk

Posted: Friday, May 25, 2007

A month or so ago I saw an orange-colored power scow tied up at the Alaska Steamship dock. Her name was the Sea Lion.

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The next morning she was gone. She had snuck into Juneau to get out of stormy weather or to buy supplies.

She was probably from Seattle, a cannery tender on her way to Prince William Sound, or Cook Inlet, Kodiak or King Coveor on to Bristol Bay. The bright colors help the gillnet fishermen find the company ship when they deliver their catch.

What an adventure the salmon industry is.

The power scows were constructed as flat bottomed barges with heavy timbers, powered by two engines, with the propellers recessed in the hull or protected by skegs.

They were especially suited for Bristol Bay, with its stormy weather and shallow anchorages. You could just run up on the beach and spend a quiet night. Many were built by the government in the World War II; standard sizes were 86 and 105 feet long.

I once owned a slightly smaller version at 60 feet, built in the early 1940s in Bristol Bay. She was called the "Wrangell."

We also created a smaller scow of 50 feet from a World War II landing craft barge. These steel vessels were constructed in the tens of thousands. Some have said that the war could not have been won without them.

Harry Furford, of Seattle, who was the owner of an anchor supply company and wasa fine marine carpenter, built the wheel house and a covered deck. She had two 671 Jimmie engines. Her name was the Situk.

She sailed off Yakutat in the early 1970s. The skipper was John Ellis.

When we started to buy fish at Dillingham in 1977, John Ellis brought her all the way from Seattle to Bristol Bay, although he had never made the trip before, with stops at Yakutat and False Pass for fuel.

In early June, as we lolled on the dock in the bright sunshine, we saw a tiny speck about 10 miles down the Nushagak River, maybe the size of a nail on your little finger. It got bigger and bigger. Capt. John Ellis had arrived.

We had a successful first season. Since all the fish were bought around Clark's Point about 10 miles downriver, without the Situk we would have been lost.

When I left Dillingham in 1982, I sold her, and over the years I've heard she is still working, in the stormy and shallow waters of Bristol Bay.

• Lifelong Alaskan Elton Engstrom is a retired fish buyer, lawyer and legislator (1964-70) who lives in Juneau.

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