Libby No. 76 Sets Sail After Refit

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The Amazing Sailing Workboats of Bristol Bay - Libby No. 76

Courtesey Brian Venua, KDLG News
For more than 60 years, sailboats dominated Bristol Bay’s commercial fishery. Motorized vessels were illegal. Then, in 1951, the federal government finally allowed motorized fishing vessels in Bristol Bay.
LaRece Egli, the director of the Bristol Bay Historical Society Museum in Naknek said almost immediately thereafter, sailing was made obsolete for the fishery.
“I think it’s literally down to 50 or 46 boats or something like that in 1954 and then they just disappear,” she said.
By 1952, powerboats outnumbered sailboats 4 to 1. In less than five years, every commercial vessel had a motor.
This year, local historians are bringing the sailing tradition back to the bay with a vessel named the Libby, McNeil, Libby, No. 76.
Tim Troll, the executive director of the Bristol Bay Heritage Land Trust, is one of the sailing crew. They launched from Homer on July 5.
“We launched this morning at about 9 (a.m.)," said Troll. "It’s a beautiful, nice, sunny day with very calm weather.”
The sailboat has crossed the Cook Inlet, sailing toward Naknek.
“The boat is on its way," he said. "It’s sailing nicely right now, we’ve got four guys aboard, and it just looks beautiful out there.”
Troll said in an email that they made it to their first stop in Williamsport on Wednesday night. They carried the boat across the portage, and plan to reach Pedro Bay this evening.
The crew expects to visit Iliamna and Newhalen over the weekend, and then head on to Kokhanok and Igiugig next week. It will visit Levlock on July 17 and the vessel is scheduled to arrive in Naknek on July 19.
Egli said the journey commemorates an iconic period in the fishery’s history.
“Those sails, sailing out on the horizon of our bay are really visual icons and they’re one of those grounding visual markers for both our canning industry, for the labor issues, independence of our fishermen, and also for our indigenous story in our community,” she said.
Troll plans to update KDLG on their voyage over the next few weeks.
The Bristol Bay Heritage Land Trust and the Bristol Bay Historical Society Museum have also partnered to purchase the Libby, McNeil, Libby No. 76.
 
Bristol Bay had the largest concentration of working sailboats in the world.

In the day, up to 1500 of these 30' sailing double end workboats would be operating at the mouth of the five rivers that spill into Bristol Bay.

Story behind Libby No. 76's trip:

 
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Why we sail back to Bristol Bay​

By Tim Troll courtesy of the Anchorage Daily News
Updated: July 22, 2022 Published: July 22, 2022
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A restored 1936 double-ended gillnetter sails near Homer before embarking on its voyage to Bristol Bay in summer 2022. (Jim Lavrakas photo)

“I look back on the sailboats as foolish, hateful and dangerous, romantic and beautiful. Nothing will ever compare with the lovely sight of those great-winged graceful boats scudding with the wind across Bristol Bay.” — Al Andree, Bristol Bay sailboat fisherman

As I write this, the commercial fishing fleet in Bristol Bay is harvesting a predicted run of more than 71 million sockeye — the largest in the 137-year history of the fishery. Also, as I write this, a 29-foot sailboat has reached Naknek to join the fleet in a celebration of the magic that brings these fish back year after year after year. But it is not just any sailboat, it is a restored 1936 Bristol Bay double-ended gillnetter of the type that pioneered Bristol Bay’s lucrative sockeye fishery in 1884. As it makes its way to Naknek, the double-ender will sail across Cook Inlet, travel over the 17-mile portage to Lake Iliamna, visit the villages along Alaska’s largest lake, and maneuver through the Kaskanak flats and the sandbars of the Kvichak River before reaching its final destination.

Why do this? Three reasons: history, beauty and fish.

We sail back to Bristol Bay to remember our history. Commercial fishing is Alaska’s premier industry. Alaska’s first cannery was established in 1878, 20 years before the iconic Klondike gold rush. Arguably, Alaska’s first locally produced export product was the one-pound tall can of salmon. Certainly the history of commercial fishing is checkered with the good and the bad, but it is our history. It can also be a part of our future, and if we’ve learned, there will be more good than bad.

We sail back to Bristol Bay because the double-ender is a thing of beauty. The boat is a simple, sensuous construction of wood and canvas, a graceful but practical application of 19th century knowledge of wind and water to the ancient human endeavor of gathering fish. Nothing in the modern fleet of big metal, big power, gadget- and gizmo-driven boats can evoke the same sense of splendor and awe.

But splendor and awe is the view looking out at a double-ender. For those “iron men” who fished from them, the daily grind of living in an open boat was exhausting. Nets were pulled by hand, the weather was wet more than not, and shifting sandbars were always waiting to take their toll on unwary fishermen.

The very day this sailboat left Homer was the 74th anniversary of a legendary disaster in the history of Bristol Bay. On July 5, 1948, during the peak of the sockeye run, when hundreds of sailboats were loaded with fish, a big storm with raging winds came in from the southwest, pushing many of the helpless boats into the shallows. Many boats were stranded and at least one fisherman, and possibly more, drowned. In the lore of Bristol Bay, that day became known as the “Bloody Fifth of July.” Fishermen used the incident to press for motorized fishing boats. Finally, the federal managers of the fishery relented and boats with engines were allowed in 1951. By 1954, the sailboats were gone. But many double-enders were outfitted with engines and lived on to fish for another 20 or more years as “conversions.”


Finally, we sail back to Bristol Bay because we love our salmon. The Alaska Territorial Board of Fisheries, formed in 1949, noted in its first report that while development in the territory was needed, it should not come at the expense of salmon, for salmon were Alaska’s “most important resource which, if properly cared for, will produce year after year.” For Bristol Bay sockeye that observation has proven true. The diversity of habitat available to Bristol Bay sockeye has not changed significantly for millennia. That diversity has allowed sockeye to endure despite threats like droughts, floods, low snow years, high snow years, volcanoes and even the bad decisions of fisheries managers that came with the ever-changing shifts in fisheries politics. Damage that diversity, however, and sockeye will become vulnerable — and no amount of good management or favorable shifts in fisheries politics will save them.

While Bristol Bay’s salmon habitat remains whole, it is now legally fragmented. The survival of sockeye and the commercial fishery is largely dependent on the willingness of its federal, state and Alaska Native corporation landowners to restrain themselves from activities on their lands that could significantly damage their habitat.

So, we sail back to Bristol Bay to emphasize this point, and in doing so, celebrate the recent decision of Pedro Bay Corp. and its shareholders to sell a conservation easement over their Native lands that will protect 44,000 acres of critical sockeye habitat on Lake Iliamna. We also sail back this vintage drift gillnetter to celebrate the decision of Bristol Bay’s current gillnet fleet to contribute $1 million to help purchase that easement.

Tim Troll is the executive director of the Bristol Bay Heritage Land Trust and author of “Sailing for Salmon: The Early Years of Commercial Fishing in Alaska’s Bristol Bay – 1884 to 1951.”
 

Talchotali

Capt. Marvel's Wise Friend
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Vancouverium BC
Update on Libby No. 76

And she made it. In time to celebrate a record year of fishing in Bristol Bay.


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The Libby 76 sailing along Knutson Bay. The proposed road to develop the Pebble Mine would be located directly above the beach in this photo. Bristol Bay advocates seek conservation easements there. Kate Troll photo/National Fisherman

The 40th annual Bristol Bay Fishtival celebrates fishing community and way of life​

Courtesy KDLG 670AM | By Corinne Smith
Published August 3, 2022 at 1:24 PM AKDT

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Bill and Eric Hill fished off the Libby McNeil Libby 76. July 22, 2022.

The 40th annual Bristol Bay Fishtival celebration in Naknek brought together fisherfolk, residents and visitors for a weekend of food, music, arts and many other traditions.

A crowd of about fifty people have gathered on a clear, cool morning to see the historic Libby McNeil Libby 76 sailboat launch for a morning of fishing in Naknek. The five-man crew who sailed the restored vessel from Homer, sang the crowd a sea shanty before setting out on the water.
The crowd applauds, and one of the crew yells “Let’s go fishing!"
The sailboat is a piece of Bristol Bay history. Before 1952, mariners fished the bay by sailboat. The double-ender is like one of thousands crewed by teams of two, at the mercy of the wind and tides.
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A crowd (-ish) gathered in Naknek to watch the historic sailboat launch for a morning of fishing
A few hours later, the sailboat returns with a smiling crew and three fish caught with a handmade net by Marcia Dale, of the Watsituya Net shop. Onboard were local commercial fishermen, father and son Bill and Eric Hill.
“Launched, it was beautiful, nice and warm. Then it started to rain again," Eric Hill says laughing. "But despite the weather it was just a great time. It was a lot quieter. There's not so many moving parts. It's pretty simple. I mean, I guess simple is all I would say."
His father, Bill Hill says their family has been fishing since time immemorial, and going out in the sailboat was a connection to that past.
“The Elders talk about fishing in sailboats, and many of my family members, all of our family members come from your fishing background," Bill Hill said. "And so this is a part of the history that has been in our family, but that we've never had the chance to experience. So being able to jump on a sailboat, throw a little piece of net in the water and catch a couple of fish that was reliving a history we'd heard about, but it just is really nice to experience it.”
The arrival of the sailboat coincides with a weekend of events for the 40th annual Bristol Bay Fishtival, a celebration of the fishing community and a way of life, organized by the Bristol Bay Borough Chamber of Commerce in Naknek.
LaRece Egli is the director of the Bristol Bay Historical Society, and one of the organizers.
“It's just a wonderful end of the year celebration. And rather than festival, it's ‘Fishtival’, because it's our salmon harvests in our fish that make our whole year go round," Egli said.
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A parading Grinch dressed in bright orange fishing gear with dozens of stickers stating ‘No Pebble Mine,’ a demonstration against the proposed mining project at the headwaters of Bristol Bay.
The weekend also celebrated the dedication of the Diamond NN Cannery in South Naknek to the National Registry of Historic Places.
Katie Ringsmuth is the Alaska state historian and the NN Cannery History Project director, and says this is the first Bristol Bay cannery to receive national recognition.
"Simply put, the Diamond NN Cannery is historically significant for its association with the Bristol Bay, salmon commercial fishery," Ringsmuth said. "Also the 54 buildings which are still standing, and how they continue to hold the stories of the underrepresented cannery workers who contributed to the industry.”
With each season, there are more stories. And with a record harvest across Bristol Bay this season, people at Fishtival have a lot to celebrate.

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Tacoma Mud Flats

Have star, will steer by

Historic sailboat returns to Bristol Bay, amid record-setting salmon season​

From National Fisherman, author Kate Troll
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With permission from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the crew of the restored Libby 76 briefly put a net in the water made with the waxed wooden corks that were used in the sailboat days. Scott Bartlett photo.

In 1936, the Libby 76 was one of thousands of double-ended sailboats gillnetting for sockeye salmon in the lucrative waters of Bristol Bay, Alaska. Today the 30-foot Libby 76 is one of only a few double-ended sailboats left, and it just completed a 300-mile journey back to Bristol Bay.

This was no ordinary journey. It included sailing 100 miles across Cook Inlet, portaging 17 miles over the Alaska Peninsula to Lake Iliamna, and sailing around to four villages before coming down the Kvichak River to Naknek.

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The Libby 76 crew retraced the route that salmon fishermen sailed to Bristol Bay.

At the same time of this historic adventure, over 75 million sockeye salmon were on their epic 1,000-mile journey to the spawning and rearing waters of Bristol Bay. Both journeys are remarkable in their own way.

To understand the salmon’s journey, I recommend watching the film, Mosaic, the Salmon Wilderness of Bristol Bay, which captures the salmon’s journey while explaining why Bristol Bay has become the icon of what we think about when imagining a sustainable fishery.

University of Washington fisheries scientist, Daniel Schindler, said in 2021, “During the last decade sockeye salmon returning to these [nine] rivers have smashed records that were thought to be unbreakable.”
At the time professor Schindler said this, the record stood at 71 million fish. Right now, the 2022 run of sockeye is at 76.5 million salmon with a harvest of 58.3 million sockeye. This level of extraordinary bounty comes courtesy of a vast mosaic of streams, rivers, lakes, and wetlands.

As Schindler, explains, “The reason Bristol Bay watersheds are so productive for salmon is largely because of the alignment of geologic, climatic, and ecological features that characterize the mosaic of habitats across this region,” Schindler explains. He says it’s this diversity that makes Bristol Bay sockeye more resilient to the year-to-year and decade-to-decade changes in the environment.

This sustainable fishery has been going on for 137 years. For the world, the Bristol Bay watershed is a shining example of what can be accomplished with a complement of diverse habitat, abundance-based management, and applied science. The boat is sailing back to Bristol Bay to honor this miracle of abundance, as well as its place in Alaska’s history.
Commercial fishing is Alaska’s premier industry. Alaska’s first cannery was established in 1878, twenty years before the iconic Klondike gold rush. Today the seafood industry is the number one private sector employer in Alaska. Bristol Bay alone provides over 15,000 jobs.

As an icon for the importance of commercial fishing in Alaska, the sailboat is a thing of beauty as seen in the historic photo below. The double-ender is a simple, sensuous construction of wood and canvas, a graceful but practical application of 19th century knowledge of wind and water to the ancient human endeavor of gathering fish.

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Sailboat fishermen heading out to Bristol Bay circa 1947. Ward Wells photo/ Anchorage Museum Collection.

Splendid and awe-inspiring is the view looking out at the double-ender. For those “iron men” who fished from them, the daily grind of living in an open boat was exhausting. Heavy linen nets with wooden corks were pulled by hand, the weather was wet more than not, and shifting sandbars were always waiting to take their toll on unwary fishermen.
As the Libby 76 sailed across the 77-mile-long Lake Iliamna, it stopped at four villages to give rides to kids so they could see how their grandfathers or great-grandfather fished. The kids got to put their hands on the tiller, and listen to the crew’s stories about the “sailboat days.”

The very day this sailboat left Homer was the 74th anniversary of a legendary disaster in the history of Bristol Bay. The tragedy occurred on July 5, 1948, during the peak of the sockeye run. Hundreds of sailboats were loaded with fish when a big storm with raging winds came in from the southwest, pushing many of the helpless boats into the shallows. Many boats were stranded and at least one fisherman, possibly more, drowned.

In the lore of Bristol Bay, that day became known as the “Bloody Fifth of July.” Fishermen used the incident to press for motorized fishing boats. Eventually, the federal managers of the fishery relented, and boats with engines were allowed in 1951.


For Bristol Bay sockeye, that observation has proven true. The diversity of habitat available to Bristol Bay sockeye has not changed significantly for millennia. That variety has allowed sockeye to endure and evolve. Damage that diversity, however, and sockeye will become vulnerable - and no amount of good management will save them.

While Bristol Bay’s salmon habitat remains whole, it is now legally fragmented. The survival of sockeye and the commercial fishery is largely dependent on the willingness of its federal, state and Alaska Native corporation landowners to restrain themselves from activities on their lands that could significantly damage their habitat.

Before leaving the west end of Lake Iliamna, the Libby 76 sailed into Knutson Bay, one of the region’s most productive sites for lake spawning sockeye. It is also the site where any road to develop the massive Pebble Mine would be located. Even though the EPA has not yet finalized their decision on the Pebble Mine, there is a coordinated effort to block the road through the purchase of conservation easements on 44,170 acres.

The Pedro Bay Rivers project is a partnership between the Pedro Bay Corporation, the Bristol Bay Native Corporation, the Bristol Bay Heritage Land Trust and The Conservation Fund.

The project aims to place conservation easements on lands owned by the Pedro Bay Corporation, restrict development, and ensure the watersheds of the Pile and Iliamna Rivers and Knutson Creek continue to support the extraordinary returns of sockeye salmon year after year. The project needs to raise $20 million by the end of 2022.

As the Libby 76 approached the end of journey, the local gillnet fleet came out to greet the return of the double-ender. The crew soon learned that in honor of the last sailboat standing, the gillnet fleet chose to donate $1 million to help purchase these essential conservation easements.

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The Bristol Bay Gillnet Fleet comes out to salute the Libby 76 as it nears the end of this historic journey, Naknek, Alaska. Photo courtesy Norm Van Vactor.

If we give Bristol Bay a chance, it has the potential to adjust to climate change and to keep on being this immense provider of healthy protein.

 




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