F/V Big Wave: Now Even Bigger
Anyone who has fished the West Coast long enough will have heard of The Fashion Blacksmith, the artistically-named boatyard in northern California that was an early advocate of sponsoning and lengthening in the late 1980's for larger steel vessels that drag, seine, shrimp or pack. The company grew out of a blacksmith shop in Del Norte County opened by Ted Long in 1920. He died before the 1964 Tsunami and never knew about the contributions his sons and grandsons have made to the West Coast marine industry.
That 9.3 magnitude shockwave generated a tsunami that devastated the port of Crescent City, 20 miles south of the Oregon border, and killed 20 people. Every boat there suffered damage in the surge that maxed out at more than 20 feet, ripped up the docks, and tossed even the biggest boats around like toys. Ted's sons Dale and Roger Long were recruited to help in re-building the fleet and assisting the port in its multi-year project of salvaging, repairing or replacing lost docks and piers.
The brothers built a new shop on the outskirts of town, where they began building steel vessels in 1967. (Their second all-new boat was the F/V Viking, launched in 1968, which just returned last year for a complete conversion and many upgrades.) The family established their own boatyard inside the harbor around 1977, and continued new builds for more than a decade, until the idea of hull extensions – sponsons, stern extensions, mid-bodies, and bulbous bows – began to catch on.
This seemed a good way of staying busy when new construction slowed down, and became a full-fledged business in its own right. Crescent City soon became the place to go with proven expertise in the new technique of reviving old-but-good boats that became known as "sponson and lengthen." Fifty years later, Dale's son Ted continues the tradition of quality and attention that has attracted boats from as far away as San Diego and Dutch Harbor. He estimates they have used this system to enlarge around 60 boats, which works out to 2-3 boats per year on average.
They often have several boats in the yard, since they installed a Synchrolift system, with a maximum capacity of 110 feet long and 34 feet wide, he pointed out. They can fit as many as ten boats in the yard by using the transfer track system to move them off the Synchrolift platform, though most are only up for standard bottom work and quick repairs.
"Fashion Blacksmith is one of the most sought-after yards doing this work," Matt Hakki, skipper of the F/V Big Wave, told me as he was preparing to take his enlarged boat to sea for the first time. "I'm based 150 miles up the coast in Charleston (Oregon) on Coos Bay, and had to wait two years for a spot," he added. The Big Wave is officially owned by a company called Idea Fishworks, in which Hakki is a partner.
Big Wave arrived 54 feet long and 15 feet wide. Seven months later, the boat was departing with 11 feet of additional beam and four feet of length from a pronounced bulbous bow to a complete new lowered stern. The basic line drawings and engineering were done by naval architect Bruce Culver, of Tacoma, who does much of the design work for the yard.
However, Ted was keen to point out that it's the seasoned crew at Fashion that has to turn these lines into reality. Creating a smooth, fair hull with good lines from an older boat that may not have been properly lofted to begin with is a challenging task. "It's much more difficult than simply building a complete new pre-cut boat and it takes years of experience and a good eye to get right," he explained to me.
"We don't have a big labor pool in a town of 4,000 people, but we are proud of our long-term staff and the effort they put into maintaining top quality at all times," he continued. "This is what we are known for." For the Big Wave, the team succeeded in fairing in the five-foot sponsons very neatly into the bow, adding space in the forepeak, and extra width in the house.
Two new features are a drying locker and an enclosed compartment for the 40-ton chiller. Kruse Marine Services In Newport, Oregon originally assembled it a couple of years ago from IMS parts and installed it in a stainless steel deck box.
"It works well to have it on the main deck, out of the weather, and away from the hold," Matt said. "Now it's a really clean system: the plumbing goes straight down into the sponson and runs aft to the two holds."
Matt fishes for shrimp, trolls for tuna, and hauls pots for Dungeness crab in the winter; and was looking forward to having a lot more capacity after the four small holds were consolidated to two large ones. But he was still surprised when the combined volume worked out to about 2,900 cubic feet (75,000 lbs. of product). That's a remarkable increase of about 75 percent, part of which came from removing a full two feet of foam insulation inside the tank and replacing it with 4 to 6 inches of foam and fiberglass, Matt explained. He hired Dustin's Custom Fiberglass of Newport, Oregon to do the work and was pleased to see all the old, fragmented foam off the boat.
The construction of the house was subcontracted to the Fred Wahl yard north of Coos Bay in Reedsport. They cut all the steel, then trucked it 100 miles south to Crescent City where it was assembled on the ground and lifted onto the boat. Wahl also produced all the parts for a freestanding mast that was assembled by Industrial Steel in North Bend, Oregon then delivered to the builders. Industrial Steel also produced new deck gear including a stainless steel and A-frame boom.
The new layout features a day bunk in the wheelhouse and seats for two crew to join the skipper. Regular crew is three and there is plenty of room and amenities for them in the new galley. "The dash is 48 inches wide and holds all the instruments – there's nothing dangling from the ceiling," Matt stressed. The most popular upgrade may be the internal stairway, because the crew have lived with an exterior staircase as the only access to the upper deck since the Big Wave was launched in Toledo, Oregon (up the Yaquina River) in 1969.
Matt began fishing full-time 15 years ago with his step-father Jay Friese, who still runs the 52-foot F/V Kelori, a fiberglass salmon and tuna troller. He fished his way up from a deckhand to owning an old wooden dragger named the Washington. Idea Fishworks was formed and bought Big Wave, and Matt soon began considering ways to increase its capacity for fish and fuel.
With only 1,400 gallons of fuel, he was limited to the time and distance he could stay out. Now he has six new tanks in the sponsons, carrying a total of 7,500 to 8,000 gallons. He recently installed a new mechanically-operated 500-HP Cummins QSK 19 supplied by Cummins Northwest, rated to 2,100 rpm. It has been fitted with a new four-blade bronze propeller to generate more thrust and a Twin Disc 514 reduction gear. Two John Deere 40 kW gen-sets supply all the boat's electric needs.
Experience has shown that extending the hull often has no effect on fuel consumption, Matt noted, and typically improves motion in a seaway and heavy-weather ability. I checked back with him after he brought the boat north to Charleston in late July. "We had filled both tanks and the trim didn't change," he reported. "When we departed, it felt like a whole new boat – we were running at our typical 1,350 rpm and making 8.5 knots – half a knot faster than before – with the same fuel burn. It was a phenomenal ride."
Considering that his final cost was well under $1 million, and a new build, fully surveyed and classed, would cost $3 million or more, he is certainly well ahead financially and time-wise. In fact, Matt was so happy with the outcome, he presented the builders with shirts printed with the Fashion Blacksmith logo and motto: "where our handshake is our reputation." That's the kind of satisfied customer that brings new boats in to Crescent City year after year. Ted Long says The Fashion Blacksmith already has five conversions scheduled into 2016.