ILWACO — At any one time, several sailboats, yachts and miscellaneous fishing vessels of all sizes and functions line the Ilwaco Boatyard. Most arrive for annual maintenance and repairs that often involve a deep cleaning and coat of fresh paint, while for others the work is more intensive.
Many are local charters and commercial fishermen. Some are ‘snowbirds’ from Alaska. Nearly all are rehabilitating boats at various stages of repair. Behind each boat is an individual story.
A fading trade: R.S. ‘Kap’ Kapela of
Wooden scaffolding was wrapped around the yacht like a mummy under sheets of linen. Inside the wheelhouse, R.S. Kapela, 84, known simply as ‘Kap,’ was busy working meticulously and methodically.
“Almost all I do here are fishing boats because there are very few yachts,” said Kapela, 84, pausing from his work on a wooden yacht named The African Queen. “When I was in Seattle, it was almost all yachts.”
Kapela operates a business called Mobile Marine Welding and has been working on boats nearly 60 years. For the past 20 years, he’s been working consistently in the boatyard in Ilwaco.
Through his experience as a marine fabricator Kapela learned timeless lessons about perseverance.
“It’s like any other trade. You give it all you got and expect bad things to happen along the way — that’s how it is with boats. As soon as you accomplish something, you see something else you didn’t see before. Eventually the whole boat gets pretty well finished, but not in one season,” he said.
Kapela has always had special reverence for repairing fishing boats:
“They have to earn a living. In order to do that everything has to be up to snuff, so when the guy gets behind the wheel it goes every time. The people I work for are basic, honest people. I just enjoy working for people like that and the boats are the same — they’re honest and they’re basic.”
Kapela said his current project will be finished just before summer and should be in the water sometime in June. Lately, he’s been busy replacing rotten wood in the wheelhouse. In April, the yacht will be moved indoors for the final finish and paint work, he said.
“This is one of the first yachts I’ve worked on in a while. Usually, it’s crab, tuna, or salmon boats,” Kapela said, adding that he will be joined in April by the owner. “We’ll work on it together until it’s ready to splash.”
Kapela once owned his own boat and fished commercially for several years but has since watched the industry and livelihood fade.
“There’s very few boatyards. There’s very few people that want to do this for a living. The ones who want to do repair are very scarce. Unfortunately, that’s the way it is. Young people are reluctant to get into this business. I don’t know why,” he said.
Kapela often sleeps in the work truck that he bought in 2003. He customized the interior to accommodate his business into a mobile work shop. On one side are the comforts of a tiny home and the other side contains the tools and parts necessary for his trade.
“To do this, you’ve got to have so much stuff. You need all these things to do the job,” he said. “It keeps me from running back and forth to the stores all the time. It’s everything I need to pull the job off. Every year I add something to it. It’s a unique thing. There’s not another one like it. I can cook. I sleep in this thing. I’ve lived in it since it was new in this yard because driving home is 100 miles each way. A lot of times I’m here six or seven days a week. I’ve everything I need.”
Gearing up to go fishing: Don Davenport and Bill Geary of
Westport charter fishermen Don Davenport and Bill Geary had their 1974 56-foot vessel Ranger hauled out at the Ilwaco Boatyard for annual maintenance in early February. It won’t be long before the charter duo are in the deep ocean doing overnight trips with a dozen customers for albacore tuna.
First, however, their boat will be cleaned and repainted, the typical annual maintenance. They also installed new roof navigation lights and trim tabs to improve maneuverability and fuel mileage for longer charter trips offshore.
“If I’m going 10 knots I’m burning about 12 gallons an hour,” Davenport said.
The men planned to repaint the bottom of the boat. They will retain the name Ranger, per superstition.
“It’s always been the Ranger,” Davenport said. “Which is good luck because you’re never supposed to change the name of a boat.”
Each year, a boat’s annual maintenance, repairs and inspections cost a considerable sum for charter vessels preparing for the season
“Before I even start fishing, every year I’m spending at least $10,000,” Davenport said. A series of inspections from life rafts to onboard radios are required annually by the Coast Guard for charters vessels to carry passengers.
“It’s $300 for a Coast Guard inspection and almost $1,000 for the life raft inspection,” Davenport said. “Almost $900 in fishing licenses.”
Davenport has been chartering along with Geary since 2003, who has been in the charter business since 1965 and logged more than 50 years as a captain.
“I work as a second for Don on the trips,” Geary said. “The Coast Guard requires after 12 hours you’ve got to have a second crew on board.”
Together the Westport charter can accommodate up to a dozen anglers for overnight tuna trips in the summer months.
Davenport spoke excitedly about the bottom fishing season, which officially started Saturday, March 9.
“We’ll start with bottom fish, then halibut in May, then salmon and then a lot of albacore,” he said.
Both recognized the vital role boatyards play for commercial and recreational fisheries.
“I wish we had one in Westport,” Davenport said. “If we hit something and bend a prop, we’ve got nowhere to fix it in town. We’ve got to go somewhere, either to Aberdeen or Ilwaco.”
Snowbirds from southeast: Tom and Kay Teseniar of Alaskan Sea-Duction
Tom and Kay Teseniar made their annual trip to Ilwaco in early March.
The husband and wife make the voyage to Ilwaco from Alaska annually as part of their yearly retreat from rougher weather up north.
“We’re snowbirds so we travel,” Tom said.
“We’ve been coming here for three years now.”
The Teseniars dock on the Columbia River during the winter then stay the summer in southeast Alaska.
“We island hop around Juneau and do a lot of fishing,” Tom said. “We cruise from the middle of April until the end of October.”
The couple were relieved when their 48-foot vessel, Alaskan Sea-Duction, was able to fit inside the one of the covered building at the Ilwaco boatyard, shielding them from the wet March weather while they worked on annual boat maintenance.
“All these boats in the yard are in one stage of maintenance or another,” Tom said.
“It’s important to have a boatyard like this and it’s nice having a downtown close. The wife and I can go out and have a dinner afterwards. We like supporting Ilwaco — it’s a nice little town and I hope it stays that way. This town has one of the best yards in the state.”
The couple planned to be in the area about eight weeks before “heading up the bar and turning right.”