The fleet of nine Stabicraft 659 Wheelhouse vessels delivered to Alaska at the beginning of the year have just completed their first 6 months of service.
The vessel orders came at a special request from Saltwater Inc, a private organization that gathers data on wild life and fish stocks for the Alaskan Department of Fish and Game and by the National Marine Fisheries Service.
The boats were sent to the US in semi assembled form from Stabicraft Marine’s Invercargill factory in New Zealand, where once in the US, went through final assembly and fit out before being launched in May.
Saltwater Inc have been using the vessels this past northern hemisphere summer as observation boats to monitor the gill net fishery and the fishery’s interaction with sea mammals and sea birds.
Saltwater Inc Vessel Manager, Chris Denker says that since launch the boats and their two man crews have been running consistently at least 4 days a week and have covered around 2000 nautical miles each.
“In the Alaskan fishery, fishing begins at 12:00pm on Sundays. On a perfect weather day, crews can depart around 09:30 for the roughly 2-hour transit to the fishing grounds. At around 20 knots, the vessels are covering a lot of ground on a daily basis,” says Denker.
Daily operational duties include transiting 40 to 45 nautical miles to active fishing grounds, working in close proximity to fishing vessels, and transiting safely back to their home base in the towns of Petersburg or Wrangell, Alaska. While on the fishing grounds the boats overnight in the smaller communities of Coffman Cove or Point Baker.
The vessels provide a safe platform for observers to collect data between the interactions of the gill net fishery and marine mammals and once on the grounds the assigned fishing vessel is located, and that particular boat is shadowed throughout their days fishing effort.
Denker says that safety was the primary concern of Saltwater Inc when choosing vessels for this project, with Stabicraft’s worldwide reputation for safety and buoyancy being the deciding factors.
“Add stability and manoeuvrability to the safety component, and these boats seem to be incredibly well matched for the task.”
“I feel really good about having the Stabicrafts out there in challenging conditions. We have our own safety protocols, and I normally leave it up to the vessel operator to pull the plug when conditions deteriorate to uncomfortable levels, but so far we’ve done well.”
Denker says the performance of the nine Stabicraft 659 Wheelhouse vessels has exceeded expectations.
“Due to the remote locations and nature of these waterways a normal “skiff” wouldn’t cut it. The water here is either flat glass or dismal with strong winds and long fetches.
Any ‘normal’ boat wouldn’t work well out there, and the limitations would soon present themselves.”
“Stabicraft comes with a superb reputation. Anyone building small boats in the ‘Roaring 40’s’ is either crazy or extremely competent – Stabicraft are obviously far on the “extremely competent” side of the scale! There aren’t very many Stabicraft’s up here as of now, but heads are turning, and many people are asking questions. I imagine the stateside reputation is only building in a very positive direction.
Denker says dealing with Stabicraft in the build and commissioning of the vessels was very easy.
“The guys at Stabicraft US were really easy to work with and very attentive to our needs. They bent over backwards to get this project completed on time and we’re seeing that flow through with the boats performing flawlessly out on the water.”
“The out on the water the feedback from the skippers of the vessels has been nothing but positive. These are bare-boned workboats, so there are very few creature comforts on board, which we specified. The hull is completely sound, and all the skippers feel confident with these boats.”
Speaking from the Stabicraft factory in New Zealand, marketing co-ordinator Tim van Duyl says that for the type of use the vessels are seeing, the Stabicraft’s have the perfect design characteristics.
“Our unique design may upset traditional boat designers, but here in the South Pacific, Stabicraft boats have been respected as being capable off-shore work vessels for over 25 years. Designed to handle tough seas with confidence, it’s great to see and hear the same confidence and trust from our northern hemisphere neighbours,” says van Duyl.