If you have lived in Gig Harbor for any time, you probably are aware of how active the various residents are when it comes to historic preservation. Just to name a few, there’s the Shenandoah, Eddon Boatworks property now known as Eddon Boat Park and Gig Harbor Boatyard, Ancich Bros. Park, Skansie Bros. Netshed, home and Park, Wilkirson Farm Park, Austin Estuary, Donkey Creek Park, and the list goes on and on. There are people currently working on saving the 1913 St. Nicholas Catholic Church* and a group who have recently started “Save the Avalon”* campaign and most likely there are several other campaigns as well.
Today though, I thought I would concentrate only on the Avalon. The Avalon is a 65-foot purse seiner that was built in 1929 for Andrew Skansie and as a sister ship to Spiro Babich’s 69-foot Invincible. Mitchell Skansie had mentioned to his brother that he had some long planking, aged and excellent timber left over from the ferry boats he had built. Mitchell also mentioned that since it was winter he didn’t have any new orders so he thought maybe his brother would want a new boat. This was not an unusual thought since Andrew, Spiro and other successful fishermen frequently updated their fleet every few years. That way they always had a modern efficient boat to work with. They basically turned their boats over the way people turn leased cars over based upon the term of the lease.
As the men sat around the kitchen table drinking coffee and talking, both Spiro and Andrew pursued the idea and began negotiating size, engines, cost; all the expenses versus asset value. They were fishermen but they were also excellent businessmen. Spiro decided he wanted a 69-footer and he wanted his built second. That way any problems with Andrew’s would be fixed in his, especially since Mitchell had a new foreman in the yard. Everyone laughed and Andrew said he had no problem going first but he only wanted a 65-footer, powered with a 50-hp Frisco standard engine. A larger boat would need more power, therefore result in higher cost not only in engine cost but also materials.
One of Andrew’s friend, Chuck Martinolich of Martinolich Shipbuilding Company, was talking to him prior to the purchase of the actual engine to be installed. Chuck convince Andrew to install a diesel 75-hp engine, and as part of the deal Chuck would crew with him for the first year making sure the Skansie boys were knowledgeable in operating it. in 1938 Andrew updated the engine with 110-hp 4-cylinder Atlas Imperial. (Spiro put a 120-hp 4-cylinder Washington diesel in his boat before launching.)
Once the decisions for the construction had been made and the boat started, there was the necessity of naming the new boat before it was launched. As usual, it was up to all of Andrew’s children to name it before it was launched. Five children and each with nearly a full page of names and none the same. Finally they were able to whittle the list down to two: Avalon and Saratoga. Andrew looked at what the children had come up with, thought for a few minutes and decided. He went with the shorter name because it was shorter and easier to paint and probably less expensive.
Andrew ran Avalon from 1929 until he retired in 1934. Then he got other local skippers to run it for him: Paul Serka in 1935, Nick “Mikelich” Mosich 1936, Pete Jugovich 1937, Mike Katich 1938 and Nick Mosich again in 1939.
Nick Mosich was suppose to run it again in 1940 but a charter on his own boat Success fell through and so he couldn’t. Andrew understood, but didn’t know who he could find to run the 1940 season. Nick points to Andrew’s son Antone and said “Give it to him.”
Antone said he didn’t sleep for 3 nights, scared that he wasn’t ready, something might go wrong. But as the days past he started feeling more confident in his ability to handle it. No power in the seine skiff , no reels, no power blocks, no fathometer, no radar. Antone’s brothers Vince and Peter crewed for him and they were joined by Nick Makovich. Vince was netman (one of the best around) and Peter worked for Foss Maritime’s machine shop and knew engines and machinery.
Antone ran the Avalon for 47 years until he and his brothers retired in 1987. The boat was sold in 1990 and was operated out of Bellingham. At the end Antone said “You know, I fished for 54 years as crewman and skipper and it was all on one boat, the Avalon. That’s amazing, isn’t it?” The answer to that question is an emphatic and resounding “YES”.
|Avalon participating in the first Harbor Holidays "Blessing of the Fleet"|
*Note: Thanks to Lee Makovich, The Avalon: a family history, published in the February 1995 issue of The Fishermen’s News. A copy is located in the HHM Resource Room
*Note: Information on the “Save the Avalon” can be found on social Media, principally Facebook.
*Note: Information on how you can help save St. Nicholas Catholic Church is found on the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation site under “Most Endangered List -Current List”