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AFSC Historical Corner:  Pelican,  Impressive Service Coast to Coast

Early Pioneers
Research and Mgmt.
The Albatross, 1882
Early BOF Patrol Boats
FWS Vessels
Newer Research Ships
Pribilof Tenders
Launches/Small Craft
Charters/Other Boats
Vessel Links
The Pelican in 1938.  Photo courtesy of the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium.

1930 marked the last year in which vessels were acquired by the Bureau of Fisheries (BOF) for fisheries enforcement work in Alaska. The Bureau's largest boat to date, the 130-foot Penguin, was being launched to serve as the latest transport tender to the Pribilof Islands. She replaced the aging Eider who, along with the newly built Pelican, joined the regular fisheries fleet. With the exception of the small research launch Heron (1931-35), it would be another ten years before the Agency – as the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) in 1940 – would gain additional boats for Alaska.

Vessel Details
Year built: 1930
Location built: Newport News, VA
Builder: Boat Harbor Marine Railway
Designer: H. C. Hanson
Other names/id: #537911  (USCG ID)
Length: 78'
Breadth: 10.25'
Draft: 5'
Tonnage (tons): 94 gross, 39 net
Original engine: 150 hp, 6-cylinder direct-
reversible Winton diesel
Known skippers: Edgar L. Raymond  (1937-40)
"Whispering" Jim ?  (1957)
? Collins  (1952)
Art Phillips  (WDF)
Fisheries service: 1930-40 (East Coast, Gulf)
1941-57 (Alaska)
Disposition: transferred to WDF
Pelican photos in the
AFSC Multimedia Gallery

The 78-foot Pelican was built specifically for the Bureau, launching in the summer of 1930 from the Boat Harbor Marine Railway yard at Newport News, Virginia. She immediately replaced the BOF boat Gannet which had been used for the year-long fish cultural work based at the Bureau's Boothbay Harbor station on the coast of Maine.

Leading naval architect, Harold Cornelius Hanson (Seattle, Washington), designed about a dozen of the various vessels used during much of the century by the Agency for fisheries service in Alaska. The plans he drew for the Pelican satisfied the BOF's requirement for a boat capable of doing the off-shore work of the U.S. eastern seaboard continental shelf at depths up to 100 fathoms.

The Pelican's design was nearly identical those the one he created for her BOF "sister" boat Teal, built three years earlier. A major exception was the 6-foot addition to the Pelican's aft deckhouse for a fisheries research laboratory. Some of her deckhouse cabins, such as the crew's mess, radio room and captain's room (with chart table) were separated and accessed by a series of self-sealing exterior doors located along the vessel's side decks.

The Pelican was heavily planked, built with East Coast longleaf yellow pine on white oak with Douglas fir decking. Atop four huge 12- by 20-inch wood timbers sat her 150-horsepower direct-reversing Winton diesel engine, which was started from an air compressor.

H. C. Hanson Survivors
Surprisingly, three BOF boats, built from 1927-30 of similar H. C. Hanson design, were still in use as of 2010.  The sister boats Teal and Pelican were nearly identical, built for deep-water oceanographic work; while the Crane, about 10 feet longer, was designed as a fish packer vessel.
  Teal,  served 1927-59
  Crane,  served 1928-59
  Pelican,  served 1930-57

Through most of 1932 (until 17 October), the Pelican was used by the International Passamaquoddy Fisheries Commission for a special study to investigate the potential harm to local food fishes as a result of the proposed building of power dams in Cobscook and Passamaquoddy Bays, Maine. The following year, the vessel assisted in ocean fishery studies off the coast of Maine.

Operations here continued until 1933, at which time she was placed out of service for 4 years. While idle, she received a major overhauling of her engine at Portland, Maine. The Pelican was then sent to Fairhaven, Massachusetts in 1936, where repairs and alterations began. The work included installation of deck fittings, a 25-kilowatt generator and a hydrographic winch having 5,000 feet of steel cable for oceanographic work.

With renovations complete, the vessel left Fairhaven on 10 January 1937 and traveled south along the Atlantic coast towards her eventual destination in the Gulf of Mexico. The skipper at this time was Edgar L. Raymond, with Edward W. Turner as chief engineer.

The Pelican with the FWS, 1949-50.  Auke Bay Laboratories photo.

Upon reaching the U.S. Coast Guard station at Curtis Bay, Maryland, the Pelican obtained a radio and its generator. These were provided and installed by Coast Guard personnel. The vessel continued south, arriving on 22 January at Brunswick, Georgia, where she acquired fishing gear and hydrographic equipment, and received additional minor work.

On 30 January, the Pelican departed for New Orleans, Louisiana. She was now well equipped for doing offshore deep-water hydrographic and biological surveys in the Gulf of Mexico. Because she lacked the size, however, she had to remain within 100 miles from shore and avoid prolonged stays at sea.

The Gulf work took place from Florida to Texas for the BOF's shrimp investigations program – led by Milton J. Linder, with the oceanic biological and hydrographic work under the direction of Dr. Lionel A. Walford. The goal of the effort was to gain knowledge on shrimp biology and to establish a commercial fishery in the area. Attempts were made to record the fish taken during the hundreds of trawls conducted.

Through 1938-40, the shrimp investigations done by the Pelican continued. This work included exploratory offshore trawling, plankton hauls, and water salinity and geological bottom core analyses. In 1938 large populations of brown shrimp were discovered in the deeper areas off the Louisiana coast. This confirmed the theory that shrimp move to deeper waters in the winter after disappearing in the fall from fishing grounds closer to shore. The discovery also resulted in the commercial harvesting of shrimp in the Gulf of Mexico, which served as an important reserve supply to the depleting South Atlantic stock.

When the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) emerged from the BOF in 1940, the Pelican was conducting shrimp surveys during the first part of the year off the southern Atlantic coast, from Florida to North Carolina. In 1941, she was hauled to the Pacific Northwest from Newport News on board the U.S. Navy transport Vega. She arrived in Puget Sound at the end of April where she was overhauled before being placed into service. Later that year, she towed the FWS vessel Eider – damaged after running aground on 24 October – from Prince Rupert, B.C. to Seattle for repairs. Much of the Pelican's work for the FWS throughout the 1940s is unclear, however, it is known that she often serviced the trap and stream watchmen in Alaska with supplies.

Pelican in the Strait of Juan de Fuca between U.S. and Canada, 1991.
Photo courtesy of Mr. Walt Masland.

During World War II, the U.S. Army took control of the Pelican. While stationed at Seward, Alaska, she was used by the Army in 1943-44 to service the outer coast lookout stations on Montague Island (Gulf of Alaska) with personnel and supplies. The vessel's poor condition at this time required frequent repairs and maintenance.

After the war, the Pelican was back with the FWS. Sometime around 1947-48, she received a 200-horsepower, 6-cylinder, direct-reversing Joshua Hendy Iron Works (Sunnydale, California) diesel engine, which was installed at Seattle. The new engine required a discharge of compressed air to start and burned about one gallon of fuel per mile. It provided a cruising speed of 8.5 knots (700 rpm) and a maximum speed of 10 knots (900 rpm). By 1957, the vessel was based at Juneau, Alaska, and used for management operations.

For 12 years (1958-70), she was on loan to the Washington Department of Fisheries (WDF) and was used for fisheries patrol off the Washington coast. The Pelican became the WDF's largest patrol vessel and the first to be equipped with radar, which proved useful for navigation, surface searches and tracking locations of commercial fishing boats. With the WDF she also recieved a new replacement Hendy engine of the same model, her third main engine since being built.

In 1970-71 the Pelican was returned to the Agency – now called the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) as part of NOAA. By 1972 she was removed from federal service and, with only 800 operating hours on her engine, was purchased for about $16,000 through a sealed-bid auction in Seattle by Mr. & Mrs. Walt Masland. The Maslands then spent thousands of hours over almost 40 years working to restore and maintain nearly all of the vessel's originality. As of 2010, the Pelican was at Port Angeles, Washington, still operated by her only private owners, the Maslands – powered by the 60 year old Hendy engine.

Additional reading:

Lane, R. M. 2010. Sister Act - Still Classy After 80 Years. PassageMaker, October 2010. p. 88-96.
( website, last accessed 4-10-13)

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