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AFSC Historical Corner:  Eider,  Pribilof Tender and Patrol Vessel

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The Eider, 1920.
National Archives and Records Administration - Pacific Alaska Region photo,
record group 22, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  NOAA web page.
 

Vessel Details
Year built: 1913
Location built: Seattle, WA
Builder: Nilson & Kelez
Designer: Lee & Brinton, Wayward Inc.
Other names/id: Idaho  (1913-18)
YP-198  (USCG, WWII)
#210842  (USCG ID)
Length: 88'
Breadth: 19'
Draft: 9.2'
Tonnage (tons): 76 gross, 52 net
Original engine: 110 hp, 3-cylinder
Frisco Standard gas
Average speed: 8 knots
Cruising range: 5,500 miles
Known skippers: Arthur L. Mellick  (1919-22)
Gilbert G. Gunderson  (1923)
Johannes A. Beck  (1925)
Amund Andersen  (1926-29)
Spencer L. West  (1931-32)
George Skarbo  (1939-41)
Fisheries service: 1919-48
Disposition: sold in 1949

On 1 July 1918, a Congressional appropriation of $20,000 became available to the Bureau of Fisheries (BOF) for the construction or purchase of a wooden power-vessel capable of serving the Pribilof Island facilities in the rough open waters of the Bering Sea.

Building plans were drawn up by naval architects, Lee and Brinton of Seattle, Washington, detailing a suitable vessel, 70 feet long, with a heavy-duty 80-hp engine, 30-ton cargo capacity, sleeping accommodations for 16 men, and fuel tanks sufficient for a cruising radius of over 2,000 miles. The original plan was to christen her the Tern, as it was customary for the BOF to name its Alaska boats after marine birds common to the region.

On three separate occasions, the bidding for construction of the vessel was advertised and opened at Seattle. Each time the low bid was well over the appropriated amount:  $27,500 on 3 December 1918, $26,900 on 8 January 1919, and $28,800 on 12 May 1919. Since more money was needed, Congress subsequently approved an additional $7,500 in a deficiency act on 11 July 1919.

With $27,500 of available funds, the BOF eventually decided to purchase the well-known power schooner Idaho from her designers, Lee and Brinton, for $26,000, which occured in the summer of 1919. The 88-foot Idaho, launched six years earlier in Seattle on 16 November 1913, had since been operating as a deep-sea Pacific halibut fishing vessel. The seaworthy craft was powered by a 110-hp, 3-cylinder Frisco Standard engine, with a fuel capacity for a cruising radius of 5,500 miles.


After her acquisition she was renamed the Eider by the Bureau and immediately underwent several modifications. Alterations included additional staterooms and a communications room with a modern 1/2-kilowatt wireless system installed by the U.S. Navy. The Navy also mounted a light one-pound gun on deck to be used for guarding the fur seal rookeries. Much of the movable equipment on the former decommissioned tender Roosevelt was transferred to the Eider.

  Eider
Launching of the Idaho.  Freshwater and Marine Image Bank photo.
 

On 26 October 1919, the auxiliary schooner Eider departed from Seattle on her first trip northward to the Pribilof Islands. Aboard the vessel were several government employees, general supplies, mail and coal – 10 tons of which was kept onboard as necessary ballast. Her complement consisted of a master, first officer, second officer, engineer, assistant engineer, radio operator, a mess attendant and six seamen.

This began the tender's 10 years of federal service transporting goods and personnel between Seattle, Unalaska, the Pribilofs, and other island communities local to the Aleutian chain and Bering Sea. Since the Pribilof Islands offered no harbor, wharf or suitable anchorage, the Eider was stationed 250 miles away at Unalaska, the nearest port.

The Eider's first full year of service in 1920 was quite eventful. Starting in January she made the first of many impressive journeys to St. Paul and St. George Islands (Pribilofs), a trip seldom attempted before during the hazardous winter months. In April, the ship brought 1,312 seal skins and 938 fox skins from the Pribilofs to Unalaska where they were transferred to the Victoria, a commercial steamer bound for Seattle. That fall, outbreaks of smallpox put the Eider under quarantine at Unalaska on 18 October and again on 10 November.

By this time the vessel had traveled nearly 8,000 miles including 11 roundtrips between Unalaska and the Pribilof Islands, and two trips to King Cove on the tip of the Alaska Peninsula. On 28 November, it was necessary for the Eider to depart for Kodiak, Alaska, for important repairs. On her return trip to Unalaska at the end of the year, the Eider responded to a report that the mailboat Pulitzer disappeared near Chignik, Alaska. After locating the disabled vessel the Eider transported the crew, passengers and mail through winter seas southwest to Unga and Unalaska. Over the years, the Eider and her crew would be used to assist other ships in distress. These vessels included the Lister, beached at Cape Makushin (40 miles from Unalaska) in December 1922, and the Viking, missing in winter of 1923-24.

Round-the-World Flight *
In 1924, under the command of J. A. Beck, the Eider played a key role in a historic event. U.S. Army Air Service pilots in four airplanes took off from the Sand Point Naval Station in Seattle on
6 April, attempting to become the first ever to circumnavigate the globe by air. On 28 September, 175 days after departing, two of the original planes completed the attempt, arriving successfully back to Seattle.

For part of the journey, the Eider was able to transport the advance officers, supplies, gasoline and oil for this endeavor to several key locations throughout Alaska and the Bering Sea. At these stations the vessel provided the pilots with accommodations, meals, meteorological information, and at times plane moorings, as the planes were not permitted to land on Russian soil.
 

For six weeks in the fall of 1921, the Eider was again at Kodiak, this time undergoing major restorations and repairs. As part of this work, her hull was sheathed with ironbark, deckrailing was modified, the forecastle floor was raised, the rudder was reriveted, the main engine overhauled, and a new bilge pump installed. Other renovations involved adding and redesigning interior areas (staterooms, companionway, bulkheads, toilets, new lockers, etc.). A year and a half later on 24 March 1923, the Eider arrived in Seattle to have her old gas engine replaced with a more efficient 140-hp, 6-cylinder Atlas-Imperial diesel, of solid injection and reverse gear type. That summer, the vessel averaged 8.75 knots with the new engine that would provide years of satisfying performance for the Agency. Two years later, a 12-hp Cummins diesel auxiliary was added.

The Eider performed her tender duties and other assignments during the decade, logging as many as 17,000 nautical miles in a year. Following a 1923 Executive Order, she began guarding the sea otters and migratory fur seal herds in Alaska, and later aided with the annual seal census in July 1929. Beginning in 1923, Bureau employees traveled on the Eider for a few weeks each summer inspecting the Alaska salmon fisheries at various canneries and spawning streams. These BOF agents included Dr. Charles H. Gilbert, Willis H. Rich, and Dennis Winn. By the mid-1920s, the Eider's Alaska patrol duties extended to salmon patrol in southwestern region and, in 1929, protecting the northern Pacific halibut.


Near the end of the 1920s, the Eider continued receiving major overhauls and repairs. Her hull had suffered damage in 1925 when it struck a rock in Wrangell Narrows in Southeast Alaska. Another mishap occurred during a foggy storm in September 1929, when the Eider lost her rudder and skeg (the sternward keel extension) after hitting a rocky reef off St. George Island, Alaska, and had to be towed to Juneau.

The years of exposure to ice and harsh weather in the open sea had also taken its toll on the vessel's condition. Consequently, in 1928, the BOF suggested that a new and larger ship with more power was needed to replace the aging Eider for the open-water trips in the Bering Sea. When the new Pribilof tender Penguin was commissioned and began service in 1930, the Eider was reassigned to annual fisheries patrol duty in the more protected waters around Kodiak.

  Eider
The Eider after a cold journey.
Archival photo by Mr. Steve Nicklas, NGS/RSD.  NOAA Photo Library.
 

Throughout the 1930s, the Eider continued providing valuable transportation of passengers and supplies to various Alaska stations whenever required. In the spring of 1934, she was protecting the fur seal herds migrating northward along the Washington Coast near Neah Bay. Between February and April 1936, she was part of the stream improvement project being conducted by the Works Progress Administration in the Juneau and Wrangell districts of the Alaska territory. Then in 1938, biologists were using the vessel to conduct a tagging experiment to measure the travel times of fish.

In 1940, the BOF reorganized into the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the Eider continued to sail Alaska waters. That year, her hull sustained 14 feet of damage from hitting a reef on 24 October off Prince Rupert, B.C.

During World War II, the ship was requisitioned by the U.S. Navy, which then transferred her to the U.S. Coast Guard on 29 May 1942. She was designated the YP-198 and converted into a harbor fireboat. It is believed she was reacquired by the Navy on 26 October 1945 before being returned to the FWS.

The last known account of the Eider while with the FWS took place in October 1946, when she carried a search party to Shuyak Island, Alaska, in an unsuccessful attempt to locate a missing enlisted Navy man.

Declared surplus property by the FWS, the Eider was acquired in January 1949 by G. D. Robinson, a U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) geologist, to study volcanos and geology around the Aleutian Islands. Since 1946, the USGS geologists doing this research had been without dedicated transportation to and from the islands.

The Eider upgraded to a 500-hp GM diesel engine in 1951 and continued supporting the USGS's research until October 1954, at which time she was surplussed. The following year, the vessel was obtained by the U.S. Trust Territories of the Pacific Islands (Marshall Islands) to provide support for medical and dental personnel. Sometime after her acquisition it appears she became crippled and sank while under tow for repairs.

Eider photos in the AFSC Multimedia Gallery.
 

* Additional reading on the "round-the-world" flight:

Glines, C. V., and S. B. Cohen. 2000. The First Flight Around the World, April 6-September 28, 1924. Pictorial Histories Publishing Company. Missoula, MT. 170 p.
Crotty, R. 2010. Magellans of the Sky. Prologue Magazine 42(2). National Archives website  (last accessed 11-19-14).
 

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