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AFSC Historical Corner:  Brant,  Flagship of the Alaska Patrol Fleet

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Brant
The Brant.  Bureau of Fisheries photo, 1927.
 

Vessel Details
Year built: 1926
Location built: North Bend, OR
Builder: Kruse & Banks
Designer: unknown
Other names/id: FWS 523
#266702  (USCG ID)
Length: 100'
Breadth: 21'
Draft: 10'
Tonnage (tons): 166 gross, 67 net
Original engine: 225 hp, 6-cylinder
direct-reversible
Union full diesel
Speed: 9-10.5 knots
Cruising range: 1,500 miles (3,600 gal. cap.)
Known skippers: Earle L. Hunter  (1926-31)
William M. Olson  (1937)
James R. Crawford  (1940)
L. G. Collins  (1944)
Fisheries service: 1926-53
Disposition: sold in 1953

In 1926, the Brant became the Bureau of Fisheries' (BOF) largest Alaska vessel when it was launched on 3 June in North Bend, Oregon. A month later she was sailing north to Alaska from Seattle, Washington. Several years later, the vessel was referred to as the "flagship of the patrol fleet" by BOF Chief, Ward T. Bower, in his 1939 Alaska fishery report.

The Brant was heavily constructed of fir and old-growth Port Orford (Oregon) cedar. She proved quite seaworthy and well adapted for use in Alaska's exposed coastal waters. A 14-horsepower Union gas engine ran the air compressor, generator and bilge pump. She was modernly equipped with complete electrical, including a 110-volt, type A4H, 150 ampere-hour Edison nickel-iron-alkaline storage battery, wireless radio, and a new Allan Cunningham anchor windlass. The Brant could accommodate six passengers and nine crewmen. By 1928, her pilot house had been significantly modified.

On board the 1926 maiden voyage were BOF Commissioner Henry O'Malley and Congressman Milton W. Shreve, who spent several weeks inspecting the local Alaska fisheries. Following her summer work that year, the Brant left for a journey to San Pedro, California, to patrol during the winter off the coasts of California and Mexico. Upon returning to Alaska in March, her captain, Earl Hunter, recounted the broken propeller blade and severe storms encountered during their recent trip south.


Initially the Brant was assigned to patrol regularly in Alaska's southeast and central districts. At times she was used to investigate conditions of the fisheries as far west as Kodiak Island. During spring months in the late 1920s and early 1930s, she could be found off the Washington coast near Neah Bay and Cape Flattery engaged in enforcing the laws protecting sea otters and fur seal herds migrating northward. During part of the 1926-27 winter, she was performing duties off the California coast. In 1926, the vessel found herself disabled 5 miles off the Coulmbia River bar and was towed to safety by a U.S. Coast Guard cutter after sending out a distress call.

  Brant
A new look after extensive renovations.
Auke Bay Laboratories photo.

On 30 June 1929, Commissioner O'Malley again left Seattle aboard the Brant for a two-month inspection of the fisheries around Alaska and fur sealing operations at the Pribilof Islands in the Bering Sea. The vessel often transported other BOF agents and employees from Seattle to, and throughout, Alaska and was assigned the regular duty of general fisheries supervisory work. Throughout the mid to late 1930s, she assisted during fall months with the patrol of fishing grounds and the survey of salmon spawning streams in southeastern Alaska.

Following the closure of fall fishery activities, the vessel was usually in Seattle, at which time she recieved any necessary repairs and renovations. Extensive work was made to the Brant and other BOF boats during the 1933-34 winter under a $20,000 Public Works Administration allotment for this purpose.

In the latter half of 1938, the Brant found herself out of commission after running aground on 15 July in Alaska, eight miles from Kodiak on Williams Reef. This accident required her to be refloated by the U.S. plane tender Wright and U.S. Navy minesweeper Teal. She then had to be towed south, first by the Teal, then to Ketchikan, Alaska, by the Coast Guard patrol boat Alert, and eventually on to Seattle by the BOF vessel Crane for repairs to the extensive damage.

After repairs were made, the Brant departed from Seattle on 4 January 1939 for Juneau, Alaska, where she offered three months of service to the Territorial Legislature's biennial session. During this time the vessel was used for two weeks in February assisting in the search for survivors from a lost Marine Airways passenger plane flying between Ketchikan and Juneau with six persons aboard. In March, the Brant offered transportion to several Civilian Conservation Corps workers traveling in Alaska from Juneau to Little Port Walter.

Throughout the 1940s, the Brant continued her Alaska service for the Agency, now known as the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). In 1944, her skipper, Captain James R. Crawford, a long-time Arctic sea captain and explorer, retired on 31 January. As late as May 1947, the Brant served as a base of FWS operations in Alaska for stream surveying. The work involved small outboard-powered skiffs used in shallow waters for ship-to-shore travel and for identifying obstructions to migrating adult salmon.

Brant
The FWS vessel Brant.  Auke Bay Laboratories photo.
 

During the 1950s, she received a 240-horsepower Union diesel engine – built in 1951 at Oakland, California – which provided a full speed of about 9 mph. At this time, the controls for the main engine and single-shaft propeller were located in the engine room. The vessel also had two auxiliary diesel engines, fire and bilge pumps, and a battery bank contained within the machinery space. She consumed 800 gallons of oil a day from 4,000-gallon capacity tanks.

In 1953, the Foss Launch and Tug Company purchased the (USS) Brant from the FWS and stationed her out of Los Angeles, California. She was registered for "towing and miscellaneous" tug work, though the extent of her actual use is uncertain. One source mentions that in August 1955 the boat was in a "lay-up" status at the Craig shipyards in Long Beach, California.

The Brant was then sold by Foss to Joseph and Bernedee Rose of Los Angeles in 1959. On the morning of 8 May 1960, the vessel was en route to an oil exploration survey location off Point Conception, California (near Santa Barbara), when a fire broke out in the engine room which could not be extinguished. She eventually sank around 2:00 pm that afternoon in about 25 fathoms (150 feet) of water. A remotely operated underwater vehicle later identified the Brant's debris field.

Brant photos in the AFSC Multimedia Gallery.
 

Fate of the Brant
The "engineer on watch, who had been in the machinery space at about 0630 and noted everything to be normal, received permission from the master to shave. Soon thereafter, while shaving in his stateroom, he heard the alarm, 'Fire in the engine room'. He entered the engine room and observed flames between the floorboards inboard of the port auxiliary engine which was in operation. Flames were next observed outboard of the port auxiliary...fire hose was led to the machinery space from the main deck and directed on the fire for several minutes. The fire appeared under control, then sea water from the fire hose caused the electric motor driving the fire pump to stop.

The cowl ventilators serving the machinery space remained open and trimmed forward. The flames increased and it was then decided to abandon ship. All hands donned life preservers and the outboard skiff was launched and towed astern. Since the crew could not enter the machinery space because of the flames, the vessel continued underway. Course was altered to beach the vessel. The vessel was later stopped by plugging the main engine air intake." (Schwemmer, 2000)

"Fearing the boat would explode, the crew of eight abandoned the ship hurriedly, jumping into the water. As if angry at its maltreatment, the Brant continued to run under power, in circles, with no one at the helm, for several miles until it sank. The eight men were rescued, fortunate not to have been run over by the burning boat." (Wheeler & Kallman, 1984)

"When CGC-95334 [Coast Guard cutter], which had been dispatched to assist, arrived at the scene at 0833, the Brant had been abandoned and was burning furiously. All persons from the Brant had been rescued by small vessels in the area. The CGC-95334 used four steams of sea water on the fire and used all available mechanical foam. They were able to contain the fire, but were unable to extinguish it. Several explosions occurred in the after hold where the oxygen was stowed.

The loss of the vessel was estimated at $40,000 and the oil exploration equipment at $45,000...No lives were lost and no persons were injured. (Schwemmer, 2000)
- Schwemmer, R. 2000. Brant. In Shipwreck Database Summary. U.S. Dep. Commer., NOAA Office of
    National Marine Sanctuaries: West Coast Region. (not paginated).
- Wheeler, E. D., and R. E. Kallman. 1984. Shipwrecks, Smugglers, and Maritime Mysteries of the
    Santa Barbara Channel. Pathfinder Publishing, Ventura, CA. 122 p.
 

 


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