Bristol Bay - 1924
By - EARL W. KORF - 613-P
Volume 1 - Number 2, Spring - 1974
A publication of the Society of
Reprinted with permission.
KHT - Delco Engine & Battery Shed
by Earl W. Korf
This story is about the Alaska Packers Assn. (APA) in 1924. This
company had the largest sailing ship fleet in existence at the time,
including such windjammers as the Stars of Alaska; Scotland; France;
India; Italy; Lapland; Scotland and New Zealand. This was the last
year that many of these grand old ships saw service.
I was 19, green and only sea experience was a 9day trip from Frisco
to Pedro and back on the Red Stack tugboat Sea Ranger (KDSQ). Mr.
Gaskey of the APA assigned me to the STAR OF ITALY, a three masted
full rigged ship, radio call of ICPFI. As the company had labor
troubles this spring, the fleet was delayed in sailing, which put
us about 3 weeks late. As a result of the late getaway, most of
the fleet was towed to about 600 miles straight west of San Francisco
where we could pick up the westerly winds. We left Frisco May 8th
and it took us 28 days to reach Naknek in Bristol Bay.
These sailing ships were equipped with navy submarine quenched
spark quarter kw transmitters and honeycomb coil receivers. Power
was furnished by a Delco plant with storage batteries. These Delco
engines were not the best in a heavy rolling ship. Roll heavily
to one side and the gas feed would cut off. I spent much of my time,
keeping this darn engine going so as to keep the batteries charged.
Could not receive when the engine was running due to heavy induction
noise. But it did the job.
When 50 miles off the Aleutian Islands, we became becalmed for
a week. Only nice thing about this was that we were becalmed over
some very fine cod and halibut fishing grounds. Everybody fished
and every day caught much more than we needed.
When we finally got out of our calm with a westerly gale we didn't
lose any time. When transiting Unimak Pass from the Pacific into
the Bering Sea, we overtook the SS Cadaretta which was rolling heavily
and making only about 7 or 8 knots with a beam wind and sea, while
we were shooting along about 12 knots with all sails full. We passed
him by at a distance of only about a hundred yards. Don't imagine
the crew of the steamer was too happy with the sight.
Arriving in Bristol Bay, all ships would anchor or moor to buoys,
5 to 8 miles off shore until fall time of sailing south. This year
there must have been 15 or 20 sailing ships and a few steamers in
Bristol Bay. Majority were from SF and others from Portland, Seattle
and Puget Sound.
This was last year of such a large assembly of sailing ships. Thereafter
they kept dwindling down each year as more steamers took their places
and in 1928 when I again returned to Bristol Bay, only three sailing
ships were there and two of them were cod fishing schooners with
I stayed aboard the ship at anchor for 8 days until the ship was
unloaded. The canneries were located inside the rivers, Naknek and
Kvichak rivers and cargo transported back and forth in lighters,
towed by small tugs. When ship was unloaded, everyone went ashore
except the Captain who usually stayed aboard ship as watchman. Some
times, the mate would remain aboard when the skipper went ashore
to run some of the tug boats.
Alaska Packer's Station KHT, Naknek,
Alaska 1924. Chief Op. Earl Korf.
We were about 8 miles from our land station KHT and many times
communicated with KHT from the ship with the receiver only. Those
honey comb coils were great for regeneration. Just get them to squeal
and break the antennae and key it. Worked good when not much qrm
and saved the batteries.
When ship was unloaded, we went ashore and assisted in operating
the main APA station KHT at Naknek. Also prepared the wireless equipment
for the bunk scows. We were not too busy as the station was overmanned.
Some oprs went to other APA stations in Koggiung, Egegik, Ugashik,
and Nushagak. Naknek was the main base and the main wireless station.
We would collect all wireless reports from the other company stations
in and around Bristol Bay then with our 2 kw spark, would route
our traffic to the states through navy stations at Kodiak, Anchorage,
or Army station at Kanakanak (Nushagak). During these 3 weeks before
fishing season started, the canneries were busy repairing and overhauling
the canning machinery. Fishermen busy in repairing and getting their
boats in readiness and work to be done on tow boats, lighters and
what have you. The Canneries were busy places.
Fishing season was for the month of July. Fishing not allowed inside
the rivers so the small fishing boats, using gill nets, caught their
fish out in the bay and discharged them into lighters, which were
tied up to bunk scows, which were moored several miles off shore.
Each company had their own bunk scows. I was assigned to the bunk
scow Ruby. Forgot my call letters but we were equipped with a ten-inch
spark coil transmitter with crystal detector. Only had to transmit
about 7 or 8 miles. We were moored half way between the mouths of
the Naknek and Kvichak rivers. As the tides are very high in Bristol
Bay, all boat work has to be calculated upon the tides, as at low
water no boats could wallow through the mud to the cannery wharfs.
For this reason, the bunk scows were moored outside to save time
for the fishermen. They could discharge their fish to us, get a
good mean and be back on the fishing grounds in a few minutes to
get another catch. Our scow was manned with a Captain, 2 cooks and
a helper and two tallymen to count fish. I was one of the tallymen.
I think they paid us a few extra bucks for this work, although the
wireless didn't take up much of my time. We on the bunk scow were
out in the bay for the entire month which was not always too pleasant,
especially in bad blows. But the work was exciting and interesting.
We also had extra bunks for any fishermen who were in need of rest.
When the fish were running good, they never took time out to rest.
Get a boat load of several hundred to a thousand salmon, sail to
the scow, unload into the lighter, tied behind the scow, grab a
quick meal on the scow and right back for another load of fish,
24 hours a day. These Portuguese and Italian fishermen were rugged
men. Their fishing Prams were not powered either. Only sail. When
our lighters would be close to being filled, we would wireless in
to KHT, tell them how many fish we had and they would pick them
up with a tow boat and get them to the cannery on the next high
tide. At low water, we were sitting on the mud and at high water,
we were floating in 28 feet of water. What tides. Believe they are
the highest, next to the Bay of Fundy 50 foot tides.
We tallymen were being continuously tempted to write in the fishermen's
books, a greater number of fish than they had as they were getting
paid so much a fish. We had offers of whisky (Moonshine) wine and
cash. Suppose some tallymen did make a fortune at it, altho our
captain was pretty strict so we had to settle for an occasional
bottle of wine. Dog salmon did not pay hardly anything at that time
as no one would eat the pink salmon. The fishermen would never tell
us about the dog salmon they were trying to pawn off on us as they
spewed them into the lighter. It was up to us to notice if it was
a dog or sockeye or what. Took some experience to tell the difference.
During these 30 days we saw very little meat but our cooks were
so good 'that we could eat salmon three times a day and it tasted
different each time. Quite often we would get a halibut or salmon
trout for delicacies.
When the fishing season was over, we came back to Naknek station
and worked there for a week before we boarded our ships when the
"Bark" ... Star of Lapland
in Larsen's Bay, Kodiak Island 1924.
(Largest Sailing Ship [in 1924] under U.S. Flag).
During the fishing season, the Captain of the bark STAR OF LAPLAND
shot and killed himself. Capt. Weiderstorm who was assigned to take
over the LAPLAND, stayed aboard only a week. He wouldn't go near
the captain's cabin where the suicide occurred and definitely refused
to take her home. So Captain Sparr volunteered to sail the bark
home. The Bristol Bay catch was very light that year and they couldn't
fill up the LAPLAND's holds and the catch at Larsens Bay on Kodiak
Island was heavy so the LAPLAND was rerouted to Larsens Bay which
would delay its arrival in SF. As the LAPLAND's wireless opr wanted
to get home as soon as possible, I traded with him. I wanted to
see as much of Alaska as possible as I thought I would never get
This STAR OF LAPLAND/KXOA was some wind-jammer. A 4-masted bark
which was the largest sailing ship under the American flag at the
time. It was previously the ATLAS which had made some record runs
between California and China.
The Star of Alaska, formerly Balclutha,
under sail between Alaska and San Francisco in the early
1900s. This restored ship can now be seen in San Francisco
as the Balclutha. Click
We sailed from Naknek early in August for Larsens Bay on northwest
part of Kodiak. After transiting Unimak Pass we headed northeast
for Kodiak, paralleling the Aleutian chain. We picked up a westerly
gale with heavy seas and rain, but being a fair wind, we really
flew. Trouble was that we didn't see the sun for two days and the
skipper couldn't get any position sights. No df stations along there
at that time. We had to pass through Chirikof Straits which was
only about 8 miles wide. Had nothing but dr since passing through
the Unimak Pass, 500 miles back. Here we were doing somewhere around
15 knots with a 60-mile gale, heavy seas and visibility of about
a half a mile, trying to needle through an 8-mile passage.
I would have pulled in most of the sails to slow her down but I
was definitely not the Captain. Anyway, all, of a sudden, the forward
lookout hollered out the famous words "Breakers dead ahead."
Boy, I never saw such activity in such speed. Wheel had to be turned
over, of course, but at same time, the sails had to be trimmed.
Everyone including myself got on those yards and we went past those
rocky cliffs at a mile a minute. Almost could have jumped to the
closest rock. What a relief. Anyway, we made Larsens Bay and spent
a week there loading. On our trip on down to Frisco again we caught
a westerly gale of fair winds and made it to off the coast of Cape
Mendocino in record time. If we hadn't run out of wind near the
coast, it would have been a record run of 12 days. For two days
we were becalmed off the coast and finally had to call for a tow
on into Alameda.
On the beach for two weeks in Frisco, then assignment to the big
palatial liner, ROSE CITY, HI.
So this ends the 1924 Alaska story. I did go back to KHT in spring
of '28 for a 30 months exciting stay but that's another story.
Earl W. Korf - 613-P (K2IC)
This web version © John Dilks,
K2TQN, February 10, 2003.