Monday, September 3, 2012

Before the Deadliest Catch: Part Three - The Saga Continues


After scouring the sea for two days and nights contact was made by following a Russian trawler loaded with flounder on her way back to the main fleet.


Pulling alongside, the Alaskans hailed the Russian with the aid of a bullhorn. Alexander Shadura of Anchorage, the parties interpreter spoke in Russian. He said something like "Take me to your leader."

The Russian captain had no objections and bade us to follow him to the main fleet located 61 miles due north. The Deep Sea fell in behind the Nahodka and for 11 hours followed her through the drift ice and at dawn came upon the Russian fleet.


This consisted of a Mother Ship, rescue tug, cargo ships reefer ships and trawlers, 58 in all a floating city of some 2,500 people. The Mother Ship, Food Industries, a former Lamport & Holt Trans Atlantic liner Vasari, built by Raylton Dixon in 1909 at Middlesbro, England. Read "There's Nobody Here..."

I know very little of the history of this vessel other than that she made six voyages on the Liverpool - New York run and subsequently under the name Artic Queen. When she was sold to Russia, the ship was converted to a refrigerator ship. The Russians have been fishing in the Bering Sea since 1959 and theirs is unique method of fishing. They stay in the ice because it keeps the sea calm, the ships can lie side by side without damage by scraping. The supply ships from Siberia can lay along side and transfer cargo and load on frozen fish.

Our party going aboard the Mother Ship consisted of Howard Wakefield of Wakefield Fisheries, Seattle, Dr, William A. Smoker, Chief of the Alaska Fish and Game Commission, Tak Miyahara, research Biologist of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife, R. Atwood, Editor of the Anchorage Times, Steve McCutcheon, Photographer from Anchorage, Herb Hilcher, writer and observer and Alexander Shadura, interpreter.



The Commander of the Russian fishing fleet was Paul Alexander Dimedov, welcomed the party aboard. A native of Petropavosok, 54 years of age, and a veteran of 35 years of fishing, he assured us they were only interested in flounder and were not taking salmon, halibut or King crab. The flounder is a fish that the American have never taken from this area. It was the first time any foreigners had been allowed aboard Russian ships operating off the shores of Alaska and they were welcomed as friends and neighbors.


When the ice disappears (in a month or so) the Fleet will move North and west to fish near the Siberian Coast, returning to the Bering Sea the next winter. It was Saturday but they maintain Vladivostok time so it was Sunday; their day of rest and practically the whole fleet was assembled.


Many women are employed as cooks and domestic help on the reefer ships and the Mother ship. I believe some were seen also on the trawlers. As Engineer of the Deep Sea I was entertained by the Chief Engineer of the salvage tug Orel aboard his ship for dinner and also to see a movie.


The Orel ("Golden Eagle") a modern tug only two years old [1958] built in Finland, as a salvage/rescue tug, 1,151 Gross Tons. [Ed Note: Four 1950s-vintage "Orel" class tugs were transferred from the Soviet Ministry Of Fisheries in 1985 to the Cuban navy, numbered R-21, R-23, R-27, and R-29. All are now decommissioned, replaced by three "Promotey" class tugs in 1972.]


After a day's visit with the Russians, on our return to our base at Akutan, we stopped to visit with the Japanese floating crab cannery Tokei Maru. The ship has been on the fishing grounds off Unimak Island and the Alaska Peninsula since April 16th, and will remain there until mid-July. The Tokei Maru is a typical Hog Islander, built as the Schroon in 1919 by the International Shipbuilding Corporation, Hog Island, Pennsylvania.


She had several name changes including Brush, Alcoa Master, Aurora Borealis and finally Tokei Maru for Towa K.K. and in 1955 to the Nippon Suisan K.K (where she was refitted to) a crab cannery. On March 11, 1965, she sank of Luzon Island when a fire broke out on a voyage from Japan to Bangkok and she was later abandoned.

There has existed an old agreement between Wakefield and Tokei Maru whereby the Japanese would stay clear of Wakefield's radar buoys and Wakefield in turn would avoid the Tokai Maru tangle net fields.

Several 46-foot "Kawasaki" boats assigned to Mother Ship
[ed note:  "Picker Boats" [Kawasaki] were used to deploy and retrieve tangle nets, used by Japanese to harvest crab. The boat is open with a small shelter forward. A charcoal stove is used to prepare tea and rice, as the crew spend the entire day is these inhospitable waters]


The Japanese use tangle nets, which are made in 200-foot lengths and joined for fishing. The nets are spaced 300 yards apart and may extend for 15 to 20 miles. A grid system is fo1lowed and a tang1e net field may cover hundreds of square miles of ocean.


When we returned to our base in Akutan Harbor our traw1ers reported a clash between the American fishing vessels and those of the Russians, who sent there boats into the area where the American had located a huge run of crab. They covered this area with tangle nets, forcing the Americans to abandon their efforts and move away from the area. Ralph Jones, vice president in charge of operations [Wakefield] was sent to talk to the Soviets in an attempt to work out some ground rules which would eliminate friction in the fishery so all parties could operate without interference.



We set out again from Akutan and the Russian crab Mother Ship was located 24 miles off Cape Leontovitch on the Alaska Peninsula after two days of cruising.

The crux of the problem in the crab fishery is the incompatibility of the methods of fishing used by the Japanese and the Russians using tangle nets on the one hand and the Americans using trawls and crab pots on the other.

The interpreter aboard the Deep Sea requested permission of the Soviet Captain of the Mother Ship Soevolod Siberzev to come aboard but was curtly refused. He also refused the invitation to come aboard the Deep Sea and talk with Mr. Jones.

The refusal of the Russian Captain to permit American aboard his vessel was a disappointment for the crew of the Deep Sea recalling the warm reception they got when they visited the flounder fleet and the presence of the tug Orel alongside the crab factory ship and that c1inched the matter an far as they were concerned.

A coal tender lay alongside the Russian ship and was passing coal to her. The presence and the Orel convinced them that the Russian flounder fleet knew the crab vessel was operating in the Southeastern Bering Sea. The Wakefield official said the company would have to rely on the State Department to smooth the troubled Bering Sea waters. So ended our trip to the Bering Sea. Leaving our base at Akutan May 5th after calling at Seldovia to pick up more cargo, we arrived in Seattle May 13th. [1960]



Itinerary Timeline
January 5 1960 to May 13 1960

•  Jan 5 - Leave Seattle
•  Jan 10 - Arrive Port Wakefield
•  Jan 15 - Arrive Trap Point. Start processing crab.
•  Mar 15 - Leave Trap point for Wide Bay
•  Mar 17 - Wide Bay


•  Mar 21 - Agrapina Bay
•  Mar 22 - Port Wakefield


•  Mar 22 - Wide Bay
•  Mar 28 - Leave Wide Bay
•  Mar 29 - Arrive Port Wakefield
•  Mar 31 - Leave Port Wakefield
•  Apr 1 - Arrive Kodiak
•  Apr 2 - Leave Kodiak
•  Apr 3 - Arrive Sand Point
•  Apr 5 - Leave Sand Point
•  Apr 6 - Arrive Cold Bay
•  Apr 7 - Arrive Akutan
•  Apr 7 - Leave Akutan for Russian Flounder Fleet Bristol Bay
•  Apr 9 - Leave Fleet for Dutch Harbor
•  Apr 12 - Dutch Harbor
•  Apr 12 - Akutan Russian Crab Fleet Bering Sea
•  Apr 24 - Arr Japanese Fishing Fleet
•  Apr 26 - Depart Japanese Fleet
•  Apr 27 - Dutch Harbor
 •  Apr 27 - Akutan
•  May 5 - Leave Akutan for Sand Point, Port Wakefield, Seldovia.
•  May 7 - Leave Seldovia.
•  May 12 - Bellingham
•  May 13 - Seattle.






My Dad got off the Deep Sea and returned to his more familiar working environment. From his sea time notes, it appears he shipped out as Chief Engineer on the Adeline Foss.


Not included in my Dad's narrative is the fact that the Deep Sea located a sixth fishing fleet operating off the Aleutians. The  Japanese factory ship, Soyo Maru, operated by Taiyo Gyogyo of Tokyo, Japan.


She was located 30 nm NW of Cape Mordvinof, serving as a factory ship for a fleet of 31 trawlers. They were harvesting sole to be converted into livestock feed. 

Correctly referred to as Danish Seiners, Danish Seiners are 90 to 150 feet long, 100 to 150 gross tons, and have crews of 18 to 20. Danish Seiners set the net over the stern and usually retrieve it on the port side. The catch is brailed using a large dip net.

Finally, this linen measuring 33" by 13" was found in the back of the scrapbook containing numerous newspaper clippings relating to the "Saga of the Deep Sea."  Can you solve the inscription? Please email the solution by using the email link on the right margin of the Blog.

We connect the dots in our fourth and final chapter, "Before the Deadliest Catch: Connecting the Dots"

3 Comments - Click here:

Mark McCormick said...

Just stumbled on your blog, great voyage your father had. So cool to see the world as it was 50+ yrs ago.

Kurt Clark said...

The post's final picture of the Orel is beautiful. I love the backlit light through the clouds. In fact, your father's pictures are a pleasure to view overall.

In 1968, a Russian sailor came ashore in Sand Point and visited our clinic complaining of stomach problems. Interpretation with the sailor was done by my father, through a mutual knowledge of German - since Russian was not well spoken on the island. A Coast Guard medivac flight came out and got him the next day, and we never saw him again.

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. McDonald-
We at Kodiak Maritime Museum are very interested in the information you've posted about the Deep Sea and Lowell Wakefield. With your permission, we'd like to use some of that information and a few of your photos related to the Deep Sea and Mr. Wakefield on our website and in our newsletter, and possibly an exhibit in the future. The Wakefield family first started processing king crab at their plant at Port Wakefield, about 20 miles from the town of Kodiak, in the 1940s, before they built the Deep Sea. Their pioneering work made Kodiak the King Crab capital of the world for awhile in the 1960s, and that history is of much interest to our museum and to people in Kodiak. Any help you can provide in making this history more available to the public would be much appreciated. I might mention that I crab fished in the Bering Sea from the mid 1970s to the early '90s, and remember delivering crab to the Deep Sea anchored in Akutan Bay in 1977. I was dismayed to learn that it had burned and was scrapped a year or so ago- Toby Sullivan, Executive Director, Kodiak Maritime Museum, toby@kodiakmaritimemuseum.org, 907-360-8837

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