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AFSC Historical Corner:  Kittiwake II,  Sad Ending to a Long History

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ST 415
The ST 415 in Alaska in 1946 prior to her becoming the Kittiwake II.
O. H. "Doc" Freeman, photographer.  Photo courtesy of Mark Freeman, Fremont Tugboat Co.

 

Vessel Details
Year built: 1944
Location built: Stockton, CA
Builder: Stephens Brothers, Inc.
Designer: unknown
Other names/id: Jessie R. Nelson, ST-415 (Army)
Kittiwake?  (ADFG)
#930867  (USCG ID)
Length: 73'
Breadth: 17.5'
Draft: 10'
Tonnage: 90-115 tons gross
Original engine: 240 hp Fairbanks-Morris
Average speed: 10 knots
Cruising range: 1,800 nmi
Known skipper: Hank Museth  (1950s)
Oivind T. Ivarson  (1957)
Federal service: 1950-59
Disposition: transferred to ADFG

The Kittiwake II was a wooden fishing vessel constructed in 1944 by Stephens Brothers Company (1902-87) in Stockton, California. Her seaworthy design greatly allowed for the heavy work of conveying cargo, passengers and barges around the waters of Alaska. The 73-foot harbor tug style hull was built of 2.5" fir planking on 4" by 5" oak frames and featured a high bow, shapely horseshoe stern and provided a deep displacement.

Originally named the Jessie R. Nelson (ST-415), the vessel was built for the U.S. Army who used her during World War II at the Aleutian Islands for military patrol. According to one of her last owners, she originally had a 50-caliber machine gun mounted on the roof. Over 40 years later, ammunition rounds were found in the bilge that were thought to have been left there as added ballast. An extensive battery bank provided an adequate 110v DC electrical system for running everything while the boat was anchored.

After the war, the Federal Aviation Administration acquired the vessel and employed her to maintain the numerous Pacific coast radar stations. Sometime around 1950, the boat was obtained by the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and renamed Kittiwake II, no doubt after the earlier Bureau of Fisheries/FWS Alaska patrol vessel Kittiwake, built in 1908.


During the 1950s the Kittiwake II was used by the Agency in connection with its salmon management and biological work in Alaska. By 1957, the vessel was headquartered at Juneau, Alaska, and owned by the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries (BCF), a new division formed under the reorganized U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) in 1956.

  Kittiwake II
With the Alaska Dept. of Fish & Game in the early 1960s.  ADFG photo.

With Alaska's statehood, came the Kittiwake II's transfer in March 1960 to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADFG), who made good use of her for several years. An ADFG vessel survey report stated that she could fish gillnets and crab pots, could be equipped to drag or seine, able to perform general fishery surveillance and freight work, and with regards to her seaworthiness; "Motion in heavy seas - rolls in trough, vessel is equipped with stabilizers which are effective. Good in following sea."

Based on the photo to the right and several references to "Kittiwake", it appears the the ADFG may have dropped the "II" from her name after the acquisition. A "Vessels Section" was soon created in 1962 under the ADFG's Division of Engineering and Services to maintain and operate the fleet's larger boats. In addition to the Kittiwake II, these vessels included the Crane, Auklet IIDennis WinnTeal, and others which had been transferred from the USFWS.

As part of her long service with the ADFG, the Kittiwake II was used in 1962 and 1963 to transport elk and moose calves during game transplants to Gravina Island in Alaska. The boat received a new 325 bhp Caterpillar engine in 1967.

The vessel was then purchased in 1986 from the ADFG through auction by Michael Yourkowski along with three other partners. Mr Yourkowski used the boat in Alaska for fishing, tours and various chartering contracts. Following the spring 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, the Kittiwake II provided transportation to the affected areas for many spill-related research groups.

In October 2003, she was sold to Daniel W. Strickland, who used her to work his oyster farm at Bear Cove, Alaska. During the early morning of 21 February 2005, fire broke out aboard the vessel in the Homer Harbor, Alaska. It took firefighters 10 hours to extinguish the "difficult fire to fight". Afterwards, Mr. Strickland stated that boat was considered a total loss by the insurance company. What remained of the Kittiwake II was towed to Seward, Alaska, and put on land, where she still rested as of 2011.


Kittiwake II
The Kittiwake II in 2003.  Photo provided by Michael Yourkowski.
 

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