Recently there have been several articles in local publications highlighting the value of the commercial marine industry to the Puget Sound region. The most recent one was in the Seattle Times and it brought up an interesting point, there is no united voice speaking for shipbuilders, commercial fishermen, towboats, steamship companies and the service businesses that support them. The Northwest Marine Trades Association in the early 1980’s decided to focus strictly on the recreational marine industry and nobody stepped in to fill the void.
You might be asking, why should I care? If you are looking for safety equipment (and I assume if you are reading this you came from our web site which sells safety gear) the main profit center is with commercial vessels. Without them you would not find life raft service facilities or non-chain stores that offer the best pricing on this type of equipment. For those with larger boats having commercial shows like Pacific Marine Expo allows you to see electronics which is never shown at recreational shows like the Seattle Boat Show. Need to repower? All of the engine dealers are at Pacific Marine Expo. Having a commercial marine industry allows you options that would not exist otherwise.
As the article says, good paying jobs are also an important component that this industry brings to the region to say nothing about the taxes we all pay. The Puget Sound region has a wonderful history of supporting the commercial marine industry and it is not something we should give up easily.
My partner, Joe, was in the airborne during World War II. His father was a professional photographer and Joe was lucky enough to have a camera while in Europe so that we can enjoy his work many years later. A few years ago he gave me all of his negatives to scan and while some were in bad shape, a good number were fantastic. Joe has agreed to share some of his best so keep an eye open for future postings.
The picture above was taken on the beach in Étretat which is on the coast of France in the Normandy region. Wikipedia has a good write up on the town and the beach looks the same today as it did in the 1940’s. The only difference is now the fishermen use outboard motors rather than oars.
Joe was on leave to recover from being shot when he took this picture. He had been in a hospital in Paris so this must have been close to the end of the war.
Since our main business is selling safety equipment I have to point out the lack of any form of safety gear in this picture. Not a life jacket in sight and the fishermen are fully dressed and most likely wearing leather or rubber boots. Going overboard would have been fatal.
Joe and I hope you enjoy this diversion.
An article in our local newspaper got me thinking about the number of boat builders who have been in business in Tacoma. Of those who existed when I started work in the mid ’70’s only one still exists, J.M. Martinac, the others have been bought up or gone by the wayside due to changes in the economic climate.
So back to the article. It talks about the Western Flyer, the boat John Steinbeck used when exploring the Sea of Cortez. It was built by the Western Boat Company which had long ceased business by 1975 although I believe their facility was operating under a different name. Western Boat along with Tacoma Boat, Martinolich and many others built good, stout commercial fishing vessels for use in the North Pacific. Their era was one of wood and strong men to move the planks around, drill holes and screw in screws by hand.
I started my career working for Tacoma Marine Supply which was a supplier to most of these builders. It was amazing the barrels of screws they still had in inventory, most made from silicon bronze, from that earlier era. Most were Reed & Prince head which is similar to a Phillips head but the slots are straight, not curved. This allowed for installation without stripping the head which was really important when you were installing thousands per boat. Also lying around were planks of exotic wood, not little pieces but lengths that must have been over 20′ and probably 12″ in width. When the Tacoma Marine Supply building was torn down in the early 1980’s, the salvage company made out quite nicely with what they found.
By time I started work companies like Fairliner Boats had ceased business. They were one of the pioneers in building plywood cabin cruisers for the recreational market. Cruising around Puget Sound you still see plenty of their product still keeping families happy on the water. Fiberglass, steel and aluminum were the new materials of choice and companies like Martinac were using them to build Tuna Seiners for the Western Pacific of crab boats for the Bering Sea. Changes in the tax codes helped bring an end to this era, it was no longer easy to get ones money out of the commercial fishing industry without paying large tax penalties so all of the rich folks who were investing in the industry (but not operating the boats) took their funds elsewhere.
Tacoma now has a few boat builders but they have had to specialize. Companies like Martinac are building tugs and others like Nordlund Boat, custom yachts. You can still see the tradition of the wooden boat era when you look at the interior workmanship these companies provide. The wood work is gorgeous and the workers (I had trouble not saying workmen) are very proud of the product they are producing. I hope that these companies, some of which are on their third generation of family ownership, are able to prosper and keep Tacoma’s boat building history alive.
A recent article in the Boat US Magazine is titled “The greatest explorer you never heard of”. It’s true, I had never heard of Zheng He which made the article all that more interesting. Set in the 14th and 15th centuries it is an amazing story and well worth the read.