Thursday, January 30, 2014

Robert Crawford Shipyard

When you walk along the working waterfront in Gig Harbor do you ever think about all those who helped make it a working waterfront?  Most of the families involved were living on the westside or at the head of the harbor, and their names are more familiar.  But some of those people actually lived on the east side of the harbor and one of those men was Robert Crawford.  He came to Gig Harbor in 1918 when he moved from Tacoma to Sunrise Beach in Gig Harbor.  Robert Crawford, a Quebecois, started his Gig Harbor operations in Sunrise Beach, but later moved further in , but continued to stay on the eastside.

The Robert Crawford Shipyard was alive and well in Gig Harbor between 1918 and 1931 and for a small operations such as his shipyard, building three seiner a year was all he could manage which he did in 1929. But this lesser known shipbuilder built the following fishing boats between 1918 and 1931:  

  • Abe, 44 foot Seiner, 1918
  • Advocator, 65 foot Seiner, 1930, owner - Lee Makovich and Ronald Finkbonner
  • Caroline, 50 foot Seiner, 1931, owner - J. M. Eliot
  • Emblem, 50 foot Seiner, 1929, owner - Pete and Nick Marinkovich purchased by Nancy Jerkovich in the early 1990s and renamed it “Legend”
  • Emperor, 68 foot Seiner, 1927, owner -Skaponi and Naterlin
  • Flying Fish,  50 foot Seiner, 1929, owner - Frank Beritich and J. Gamulin, lated purchased by Nick Jurlin and renamed Nicole Marie
  • Memento, 56 (50) foot Seiner, 1929, owner - Marco Markovich and Mary Vukuvich
  • Reliance, 65 foot Seiner, 1930, owner - Frank Semitovich
  • Rolling Wave, 44 foot Seiner, 1931, Robert Crawford (spec)

Robert first became known as a master builder of clinker built skiffs.  Note: Clinker built (also known as lapstrake)[1] is a method of boat building where the edges of hull planks overlap, called a "land" or "landing." In craft of any size planks are also joined end to end into a strake. The technique developed in northern Europe and was successfully used by the Vikings and typical for the Hanseatic cog.  (

And it was due to word getting around about his skills evidenced in these skiffs that fishermen asked him to build their seiners and other fishing boats.  There are many in the maritime world that felt his boats were more advanced and were of superior designs to many of the other seiners being built at that time.

In 1914, before moving to Gig Harbor, Robert built a 43-foot tug, known as Foss #12, and entered into service in 1914.  Foss #12 was the first vessel that Foss had built solely for towing.  It was so efficient and handled so well that Foss also used #12 as a steamer assist vessel and it became the area’s first motorized fireboat.  Foss #12 was in active service from 1914 until 1966.

But now let’s talk about those boats listed above that played a role in Gig Harbor’s shipbuilding history.  His first commercial venture in Gig Harbor was Abe, built for James Jones. It was launched right off the beach at Sunrise Beach where he lived.  It was powered by a 12 hp. gasoline engine, and the boat was operated for 22 years until it hit a rock and sank on November 24, 1940 in Oysterville, Washington.

The Emperor was powered by a 3-cylinder 100 hp Atlas Imperial engine (we have one in the Marine Gallery at the Harbor History Museum).  This boat had dual operations:  one as a herring seiner in Alaska and second, as a sardine seiner along the California coast.  Unfortunately it caught fire and was totaled off the coast of Santa Barbara, California.

The Emblem had a smaller 50 hp Frisco Standard gasoline engine.  Eventually Pete and Nick Marinkovich sold the boat to the Borovinas family in Everett.  However in 1993/1994, the Emblem was returned to Gig Harbor when Nancy Jerkovich bought it.  Nancy renamed the boat Legend.  Nancy tells me that after she sold it, it was involved in a fire and was a total loss.  Putting on my detective hat I was able to discovered that the fire was not that long ago.  On July 11, 2011 KOMO reported that the Legend still based in Gig Harbor had run aground and caught fire.  The US Coast Guard reported that the boat was beached on Gravina Island, that the five people aboard had been rescued and taken to a nearby fishing boat.  Unfortunately they lost 2000 pounds of salmon; but the good news was that although there was 700 gallons of diesel on board only a minor oil sheen was found at the scene.

Robert Crawford built for a fisherman was in 1929 was the Flying Fish and he put a 65 hp Atlas Imperial engine in it.  Nick A. Jurlin bought the boat from Frank Beritich and J. Gamulin and renamed it Nicole Marie.
"Nicole Marie"

The most innovative seiners being built by any of the shipbuilders in 1930 were two sister ships that Robert Crawford built for Frank Semetovich (Reliance) and Lee Makovich, Sr. (Advocator).  These two boats were built for strength and craftsmanship, and the design allowed enough room that there could be a workable galley allowing the crew room to cook and sit to enjoy their meals.  Previously in the galleys there was only room for a stove and cooking area.  Instead of being sharp at the bow and rounded narrow sterns, Crawford’s were beamy from the bow all the way to the stern, where the beam tapered just a bit to make a squared stern with rounded corners.  This allowed fore room for the turntable and net.  It also prevented the boat from sinking as far into the water once the net and skiff were on board.  Both boats were equipped with 90 hp 4-cylinder Atlas Imperial; although much later it was suggested that because of the extra beam a 135 hp Atlas Imperial might have been a better choice of engine.  When you realize that these boats only cost $14,860 ($6,000 for the engine alone) going to the bigger engine would have increased the cost dramatically during the Depression.  Both boats were still operating in 1994.

The last boat Robert Crawford built was the Rolling Wave which he built for himself and as a speculation.  It was much smaller, only 44 feet and powered by a 30 hp Palmer gasoline engine.  Unfortunately she came to a sad end on April 2, 1953 when she burned at the Thomas Basin in Ketchikan.  After this Robert Crawford continued to do some repair work, but gradually faded into the sunset.

And so my trail ends, with Robert Crawford living in Gig Harbor and two of his sons, Lincoln and Robert, Jr. following in his footsteps as ship builders; his youngest son William was only 15 and still in school.

NOTE:  Thanks to Lee Makovich for his article on Robert Crawford Shipyard in The Fishermen’s News, September 1994

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