September 2, 2016

Classic West Coast troller updated with aluminum

The F/V Aleutian was upgraded by its owner, Scott Fennell, to increase the 50-year-old boat’s holding capacity. Fennell employed the services of Tom-Mac Shipyard to equip the boat with a new freezer system with a capacity of 17,500 pounds. He also commissioned Tom-Mac to improve the boat’s seaworthiness by installing aluminum hull sides and housings.
Boat owner Scott Fennell and Tom-Mac Shipyard worked together closely to install a new deck and refrigeration system on the F/V Aleutian that keeps the reliable older boat competitive on the distant-water trolling grounds.

Many veteran British Columbia troll fishermen remember “the old days” when they left the dock in May in search of spring salmon and, maybe six months later, with an autumn nip in the morning air, tied up their boats until the next salmon season. Now, though, conservative management of salmon stocks and allocations among the troll, seine and gill net fleets have eroded the season length steadily, and trollers like Scott Fennell were looking at about six weeks of fishing as they headed for the grounds in July.

Shorter seasons mean fishermen need to be able to stay out fishing longer. The shrinking seasons forced Fennell and many fellow trollers to make some tough economic decisions in order to continue making a living from fishing. For Fennell, one such decision was a recent, major upgrading of his boat, the Aleutian.


A relative newcomer to the B.C. salmon fishery, Fennell started deckhanding on a troller in 1980, leased a 38′ boat for a season, then bought the 43′ Aleutian before the 1985 season. About 95% of the B.C. troll fleet consists of wooden vessels built in the 1940s and ’50s, and the 43′ x 12′ x 6′ Aleutian is a fine example of the tradition. Her husky hull with timbered counter stern and her name reflect her roots in the Bering Sea halibut fishery for which she was originally built in 1946 by Harbour Shipyards in Vancouver, B.C. Solid, original construction using Douglas fir, red and yellow cedar, oak and gumwood, good maintenance practices and pride of ownership have combined to keep older trollers like the Aleutian sound and capable.

The on-board systems on the majority of these trollers have also been continually upgraded over the years–diesel repowerings, additions of fishfinding and navigational electronics and installation of stronger, lighter aluminum masts, trolling poles and deck fittings. Taking into account new gear, repairs and materials plus his time, Fennell figures it takes about $10,000 annually to keep his troller in top shape for the non-stop fishing activity of the short seasons.

The most significant upgrades, however, have probably been in the on-board fish holding systems. Most B.C. trollers were originally built as “ice boats,” delivering dressed, iced-down salmon to the buying stations set up near the fishing grounds each season by the processing companies. But in the 1980s, trollers installed freezer systems and that began to change the economics of the fishery. Freezers enabled trollers to stay on the grounds longer and maintain larger catches of uniformly high-quality salmon, yet deliver their product less frequently than was necessary with iced fish. Individually quick frozen (IQF) salmon, much of which was shipped offshore to Japanese buyers, fetched a higher price, particularly if delivered straight into main trans-shipment ports such as Vancouver or Prince Rupert, bypassing the remote coastal buying stations.

In 1988, Fennell, too, installed on the Aleutian a freezer system with a 12,500-lb. capacity for salmon. The project capped off a couple of years of major refurbishments. He replaced his Rolls Royce diesel with a Detroit Diesel 6-71 when a piston failed, added new aluminum fuel and water tanks and totally rewired and upgraded his electronics. He also carried out extensive sistering of the oak ribs, hull renailing and some plank replacement.

Most of the B.C. troll fleet is made up of boats about 40′ long with up to 15,000 Ibs. of freezer capacity. While the Aleutian was about the same size as the other trollers, its 12,500-lb. hold capacity was smaller. Fennell fishes around the remote Queen Charlotte Islands, so the ability to stay on the fish and freeze more is key to working those remote grounds.

Fennell tried to sell the smaller-capacity Aleutian for a couple of years, but if boats were selling, they tended to be in the 46′ to 50′ range with 16,000-lb. to 22,000-lb. capacity, and were priced accordingly. A troller like the Aleutian might fetch $120,000 to $130,000 (Canadian); the big boats were up around $200,000.

Going For Broke

The solution for Fennell was another major revamping of the Aleutian’s freezer system, which effectively increased her freezer hold capacity. The work, carried out at Tom-Mac Shipyard Ltd. on the North Arm of the Fraser River in Richmond, B.C., involved replacing the wooden main deck with aluminum and raising it about 1′. Hold capacity was increased from 12,500 Ibs. to 17,500 Ibs.

Compared to the price of a larger boat, the retrofit was a substantially less expensive way to achieve the larger capacity. Including his time–about 600 hours on the hull, installation of the on-deck freezer unit, new hydraulics, aluminum deck fittings, refinishing–plus materials, Fennell figures the total cost of the refurbishment was about $50,000, still a considerable saving over the price of a larger troller.

Just as important to Fennell, he would be keeping the Aleutian, a boat that he had come to know “every square inch of, every bolt and nail.” The vessel had seen him through many dark moments in rough seas around the Dixon Entrance and Hecate Strait.

The fir main deck, the 6″ x 6″ deck beams and the bulwarks were cut from the Aleutian, leaving the hull wide open between the main midships and lazarette bulkheads. Though not rotten, much of the wood was moisture saturated, no doubt adding considerable weight topside. The old, fiberglass-over-foam hold insulation was torn out and Fennell took the opportunity to sister and renail some ribs.

Tom-Mac used reconstruction methods it had applied to several wooden seine and troll vessels already. They involved boxing the existing shelf with aluminum and using it as a foundation for alloy feet and deck beams, raised 1′. The main and lazarette decks were sheeted over with aluminum. Side plate was welded to aluminum stanchions to form the new bulwarks and then extended down the hull sides to about 8″ above the waterline. With a raised hatch coating installed, foam insulation–5″ thick on the hull sides, 6″ thick on the bulkheads and deckhead–was sprayed in and fiberglassed over.

Fennell bolted his gumwood guards to the aluminum hull sides, capped the bulwarks with gumwood and kept the original fir coaming around the trolling cockpit. The intention was to retain the ‘Aleutian’s traditional look as well as wood surfaces wherever he and his crew come in contact with the boat. Fennell enjoys working on his troller’s wood structure and that helps, as does being an accomplished furniture woodworker in the winter months, to defray rebuilding costs.

Most of the older trollers and longliners that were built with small wheelhouses have been outfitted with wider, more spacious versions at some point in their careers. Fennell has considered doing the same, but he likes the classic interior and exterior of his boat. While going with the extensive aluminum modifications, retaining the Aleutian’s lines was a high priority.

“Besides,” Fennell adds with a smile, “the small wheelhouse is often a blessing–the crew wants to spend more time out on deck.” He takes two deckhands on the Aleutian, including his daughter, who is on-board for her third season. If the fish are there for the rapid-paced, high-volume sockeye salmon fishery, Fennell’s wife will join the crew.

When relaunched at Tom-Mac Shipyard, the Aleutian’s unloaded waterline was 1″ higher. The higher deck level didn’t affect stability because of the substantially lighter weight of the aluminum topsides. Fennell and his crew will make a ling cod or a tuna trip after salmon shuts down. Holding licenses for fisheries other than salmon is practically a necessity to keep a boat going these days. With the Aleutian’s increased hold capacity, it becomes more viable to target volume species, which generally fetch lower prices.

Tom-Mac Shipyard, located in Richmond, B.C., has a solid reputation as a good “work boat” yard, building and repairing wood. steel and aluminum vessels. Many of B.C.’s wooden tugs and fishing vessels have gone there for all types of hull and mechanical refits, including structural rebuilds, recaulking and refastening jobs.

Since the mid-1980s, Tom Serka and Kevin Campbell and their shipyard crew have been successfully carrying out some major “crossover” refurbishments on older wood vessels using 5032 and 5086 marine-grade aluminum. Owners of the mainly commercial fishing boats understand and appreciate the seakindliness. proven fishing capability and the classic designs of their essentially sound wooden hulls.

The Tom-Mac aluminum reconstructions not only give an older vessel a new lease on life. they do so without taking away from the traditional lines. To date, a half-dozen seine boats and five trollers, including Scott Fennell’s troller the Aleutian, have been completed.

In 1986, the Marsons, a salmon drum seiner belonging to the Martinolich brothers of Ladner. B.C., was the first vessel to be refurbished with aluminum at Tom-Mac. After many years in the fishery, she was due for some major work and that would be the time to build in some important modifications to her main fishing deck layout.

Pioneers in turntable seining before World War I. the Martinolich family built two of the first drum seiners on the West Coast–the sisterships Marsons and Marlady–in 1952. [n upgrading the Marsons, the Martinolichs wanted the aluminum after deck to sweep upwards so that fish released from the seine net would easily slide forward toward the amidships fish hatch.

Fishing efficiency was the goal. They wanted to he able to drum the bag of fish up the hydraulic, tilting stern ram, dump the fish on the deck and get them moving forward with minimal pushing by the crew so that the next set could be started right away. With lots of large aluminum seine boats dominating the fleet these days, such modifications are important for keeping an older wooden boat competitive.

From the Bottom Up

The aluminum conversion jobs follow the same general sequence at the Tom-Mac yard. The first step is removing the covering boards, deck planks and beams from the wheelhouse aft to the transom and the foam hold insulation. With just the shaft log left intact, all the ribs are sistered with oak; new foam is blown in and fiberglassed over once the deck was back on. The Marsons’ existing shelf was doubled up with Douglas fir then boxed with aluminum. That structure, stainless steel bolted through a new sheerplank, became the foundation for the new deck.

“A long, mother batten gives us the new sheerline,” explains Serka. “We carry the line of the remaining forward bulwarks aft. To achieve the slope in the after deck that the owners want, there may be a rise in sheer height of 3′, from amidships to transom.” That height transition is built up with angle plate feet welded onto the shelf, with the new deck beams tied into the tops of the feet.

The Marsons’ deck beams were constructed in two halves, each bent on a break to a 3″ camber for the deck, and aluminum checker plate was laid on top. Angle-plate stanchions and aluminum side plates were both trimmed to the desire sheer line. The side plate was welded to the stanchions and extended down to within 6″ of the waterline, lagged into the hull sides.

“We welded aluminum channel to the Marsons’ side plate and painted it to look like the original wooden guard,” notes Serka. “We also fastened gumwood guards over the plate. Whatever the owner’s choice, it’s important to them to maintain, not only the lines, but the appearance of the wooden vessel.” The results are convincing. Once the plate aluminum is painted to match the hull colors, it’s not easy to detect the transitions between the two materials. The Marsons also gained length and beam aft. Angling the aluminum side plate from its lower extremity up to the bottom of the guard carries the beam amidships into the stern sections. This stern shaping provides support for the tilting ramp and a smooth transom surface less likely to snag the net.

Inside the hull, an aluminum bulkhead was installed between hold and lazarette. Watertight integrity is achieve by bedding and screwing an aluminum flat bar facing to the inside of the hull and welding the bulkhead edges to it. A 6″ ABS pipe carries wiring and hydraulic lines, plus vents warm air, from engine room to lazarette.

All the interfaces between wood and aluminum are bedded with “the black, gooey, stinky stuff and Irish felt,” adds Serka. “We used Sikaflex along the bottom edges of the side plates and to bed the fastenings. We originally tried a neoprene gasket between the two materials, but found that the aluminum stays in better shape with the felt underneath.”


Click Here to Leave a Comment Below

Leave a Reply: