Ghosts of Lynn Canal

By , August 9, 2019

If you read this blog often, you know how much I like watching the world go by the shore of our homestead. Lynn Canal is, particularly in summer, a fairly constant parade of water craft, north and south, back and forth through our view.

Of all of these vessels, perhaps my favorites are the Ghosts of Lynn Canal, the vintage wooden halibut schooners that ply our waters in the summer and early autumn months.

Halibut Schooner BERYLE E.

The halibut schooner Beryle E, loaded with fish (in blue totes), heading for Haines (Photo: Mark A. Zeiger).

Halibut schooners have a long, respectable history in Alaska. In brief:

Originally built as sail powered, schooner-rigged vessels that carried fishing dories, these boats have been upgraded through the years into motor-powered longliners. Though they only occasionally use sails for stabilization, we still tend to refer to them as schooners. They’re usually 70-80 feet long, with high bows, two masts, and the house generally aft. The first halibut schooners appeared in Alaskan waters around 1888, from the east coast. Soon after, west coast shipyards began to build schooners. Many of them are still in use today.

After working in the Alaska halibut fishery, these beautiful old boats found new life as cargo carriers, private yachts, rum runners, and more. They’ve held a prominent place in Alaskan history. The King and Winge, built in 1914, stood by to try to save the passengers of the ill-fated Princess Sophia (see Perhaps An Angel Flies Over These Waters) and apparently played an important role in rescuing the Stefansson expedition.

These days, many halibut schooners serve as tenders for the salmon fishing industry, which brings them to our region each summer.

Halibut Schooner CRANE

The halibut schooner Crane, one of my personal favorites (Photo: Mark A. Zeiger).

Tenders, operated by the fish buyers, hover on the fishing grounds, waiting for the fishing fleet to off-load their catch, so that they don’t have to spend the time, effort, and fuel to run the fish in to the nearest port. Halibut schooners are ideally suited for this work, with their masts, which operate as cranes, and their generous deck space.

Halibut Schooner ST. LAZARIA

The halibut schooner St. Lazaria, with bumpers lining her gunwale for tying up with fishing boats (Photo: Mark A. Zeiger).

Sadly, the tenders seem to hug the far shore, which is why my photos are a bit fuzzy, being at the limit of my camera’s magnification. This is a bit odd considering how close to our shore so many of the fishing boats work (see Northern Exposure). Still, even though we have to grab binoculars to admire them most of the time, these lovely old schooners, these Ghosts of Lynn Canal, add a lot to our view each summer.

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