Maritime Fabrications: Trusted for Deck Gear for 40 Years

 

January 1, 2019

The F/V Takanite is seen hauling a nice catch using Maritime Fab deck gear. Photo by George Dauber.

It's been 40 years since the name Maritime Fabrications appeared on the Northwest Coast, attached to the earliest deck gear built by "Maritime Ed" Oczkewicz, who established the business in 1978, in his parents' backyard in Marysville, Washington. His office was in a renovated chicken coop, but today, he has a workforce of approximately forty people, and has more than 100 boats permanently berthed in the moorage or parked onshore.

His goal from those early days has been to produce top-quality deck gear for small fishing vessels; and the name Maritime Fab has become almost synonymous with its well-known and ubiquitous gillnet reel and levelwind. But there is far more to the business than gillnet reels.

For starters, the operation is actually called "La Conner Maritime Service" and includes a Volvo Penta engine service center, large onshore storage – mainly for recreational boats – and 110- and 50-ton Travelifts. A recent visitor to the property was a 65-foot aluminum oyster dredge from Taylor Shellfish that was hauled out for bottom work and maintenance.


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Inside the large building that houses the office, warehouse, boat and machine shops is a spacious boat shop where there is space for 4-5 hulls up to 60 feet long, plus an enclosed fiberglass and 60- by 80-foot paint shop. This is where the Maritime Fab FRP hulls are laminated and fitted out, and also where other fishing boats are repaired and upgraded.

At the back of the building is the machine shop – another spacious shop with a 5-ton overhead crane and half a dozen gillnet reels in various stages of assembly. Isaac Oczkewicz (pronounced Ozkaweez), one of Ed's four sons, says the manufacturing business began with a basic power roller.

"After college, my father Ed took a job on the alaska railroad, but soon grew bored and was looking for more of a challenge. He managed to talk his way into helping a local fishermen finish a boat and take it to alaska in the early 1970's."

Ed soon realized that much of the deck gear on this and other boats he saw in his travels was crudely designed and constructed, and often unreliable. He reckoned there was an opportunity to design and build innovative gear to make fishing safer, easier and more productive." When he came home from that first summer, he began sketching his ideas, then building prototypes of the power roller, reel and automatic levelwind, and the direct- drive anchor winch.


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Improvements in these designs came directly from Ed on his boat Daddy O and his employees' experience as crewmen and skippers of their own boats. A production line was established and the standard features like the direct-drive hydraulic motor and adjustable-flow control valve, that have been installed on hundreds of gillnetters, were refined through the 1980's and 1990's. Many options are available for reels like the space-saving articulating or sliding drum, the internal drive systems.

As the business grew, Ed moved to Conway, Washington and opened a seasonal location in Naknek, alaska, to service the Bristol Bay salmon gillnet fleet, with shipping containers serving as work and living space. Isaac's brothers Alex and Miles have their own boats in Naknek and still fish the bay every summer. Alex runs the Lucky Strike; Miles the Nancy O II – named after their mother.

Isaac pointed out that the Naknek location exists primarily to service, repair and install new deck gear, but they can also do other work with proper planning. "We store a dozen boats there – about half are fiberglass hulls that we built – and we offer hydraulic and fiberglass repair, aluminum welding." This spring, they have already packed and shipped more than 15 new gillnet drums to be installed before the upcoming salmon season.


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Twenty five years ago, in 1993, Maritime Fabrications acquired the assets of La Conner Machine and Drydock, moved out of the Conway location, and began operations off the Swinomish Channel under the La Conner Maritime Service brand, broadening its boat service and repair capabilities. The well-equipped metal shop includes MIG and TIG welding equipment, lathes, mills and presses to make all types of custom equipment, including railings, ladders, engine beds and masts, plus custom-built hydraulic machinery for many uses. Over the years, they have contracted with several foundries to produce aluminum castings; Fraser Marine Products of Marysville, Washington has been supplying them with high-quality parts for several years.

The standard reel has a drum with a 4- to 5-foot diameter, and there is some interest now in custom narrow reels up to 6 feet tall and about 16 inches wide. The levelwind has gone through many upgrades, and can be set up to handle any size or shape reel, but this isn't something you should try at home, Isaac cautions. He also sells the levelwind separately, to builders who want to fabricate their own reel, and services units that have seen many years of hard service.

Fiberglass Fishing Hulls

While installing deck gear on a 32-foot fiberglass Westbrook boat in Naknek in the 1980's, Ed became intrigued with the lines of the hull and design. He went on to acquire the tooling for this boat, and with his experience, successfully modified the lines to create a design known for its maneuverability, fish packing capacity, and speed. A dozen or so of these first generation Maritime boats were built between 1989 and 1993, for gillnetting in alaska and Dungeness crabbing on the Northwest coast.

Some of these hulls built 25-30 years ago have proved very durable with some still operated by the original buyers, and have kept their value on the used market. The Jessie Lucille, Inger B, Sunwing, Tommie O and Bellicose are a few of their boats that continue to be actively fished, says Isaac. The second-generation Maritime fishing vessels date from 2012 when the new modified and expanded tooling was developed based on the original design by renowned naval architect Lynn Senour. They follow in the tradition of the first generation, with additional features that add safety and comfort including improved visibility, access to engine room, and greater stability.

This adjustable mold produces a very versatile boat 32 to 39 feet long that has a range of uses including a 39-foot small Seiner, 39-foot coastal crabber, and a 32-foot Bristol Bay gillnetter with 18,000 lbs. capacity under hatches and an integral prop tunnel for shallow draft. Hull number one of this high-volume fiberglass gillnetter is structurally complete and is now for sale.

A second mold covers lengths 40 to 49 feet, by 18 feet of beam, for seining or crabbing or as a combo boat. This design features a raised pilothouse for improved visibility and comfort, as well as exceptional hold capacity and sensible layout for operations and crew quarters. Nearing completion is a 32-foot by 14-foot Bristol Bay vessel that's available for sale and will be ready winter 2018. Recently completed projects include a 39- by 14-foot kit version for an Oregon fisherman who will use it for Dungeness crabbing. The engine is a keel-cooled John Deere 6090 providing 425 HP. Also a 39- by 14-foot kit with D13 Volvo, rated at 600 HP, was recently shipped to Haines, alaska for customer completion. The materials are 100 percent composite (no wood) and the laminate is all glass. These commercial grade craft can be customized to any specification and desired stage of completion – most are sold in kit form for owner completion.


To cover the sport charter or recreational fishing market, Maritime Fab also began building the 32- to 34-foot Buffalo Boat from a separate mold last year. This attractive hull looks tiny next to the high-volume Bristol Bay design, but is intended to meet the need for a reliable work boat capable of handling a load of any kind in all seasons on the Salish Sea. It comes with a standard Volvo Penta 330-HP outdrive for performance giving a 20-knot cruise speed at 2,500 RPM burning 8 gallons per hour.

The 34-footer is proving successful as an inshore crabber for Matt Johnson – his Mistress carries up to 70 pots on deck, with 1,500 pounds of product held in totes on deck. Another owner uses one as a geoduck dive boat. "Our preference for fiberglass has to do with its comfort," Isaac explained. "It's much quieter, easier to insulate, and aesthetically it just looks better."

Maritime Fabrications provides a range of options for gillnet reels, from narrow reels to wide reels with levelwind, which can be set up to handle any size or shape reel. Photo courtesy of Maritime Fabrications.

 
 

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