KENAI — After almost 90 years in the current, an old fishing boat has come to rest in front of the Kenai Visitor Center.
The wooden boat, built in 1929, was donated to the Kenai Historical Society by its owners, Dave and Linda Hutchings, and was brought to the visitor’s center from their home on Sport Lake Saturday.
Retired fisherman and sailor Brian Johanson spent time in many boats during his career, but the boat now mounted on wooden struts near the Visitors Center parking lot was his first. It had been owned by his father, fisherman Alex “Ike” Johanson, who bought it in 1955 and used it to fish Cook Inlet salmon from the Kenai docks. Brian Johanson started working aboard it when he was nine.
Johanson said the boat began its career as a sail-propelled fishing boat in Bristol Bay. A gasoline engine was later installed when it came to Kenai to fish Cook Inlet, where it came into his family’s possession.
“He (Alex Johanson) rebuilt the boat up a bit from its original state,” Brian Johanson said. “It’s technically called a Bristol Bay double-ender, because the stern is pointed. You don’t see these around much anymore. Most boats these days are square-stern. … In the old days it was my job to paint it, and also to cork it. We had big bags of cotton, long strings of cotton. I had to cork each plank with a corking iron and mallet to tap that cotton in there. … When the wood swelled all those seams would tighten up, and the boat would become water-tight.”
Johanson said he remembered some “kind of hairy” moments sailing the boat through fog with no instruments except a map and compass. The nets he fished with were made of linen and wooden cork, “so heavy to work with,” he said. The boat’s cabin was heated with an oil stove, but had no electric lights.
“And no head, either,” Johanson said. “You had to use a bucket.”
When he did research on the boat’s history, Hutchings — who had also spent summers working on fishing boats in his youth — discovered his own connection to it.
“I just stumbled across the Alaska number, and I pulled it up, and it said ‘Ike Johanson.’ I thought, ‘Oh my god. I know Ike.’ I sold cars to him through the years. He’s gone, but Brian and I went to school together. I called Brian and said ‘I’ve got your dad’s old boat.’”
Hutchings said he and Johanson had planned to donate the boat to the Historical Society for about a year.
“It looks pretty cute in my pond by my lake cabin, but I think it would get a lot more of its purpose being over there with the Historic Society and Old Town Kenai,” Hutchings said.
Last Saturday, the boat was lifted from Hutchings’ pond with a crane volunteered by Peak Outfield Services and carried to the Kenai Visitors Center on a Snug Harbor Seafoods truck, where it was mounted for display on wooden legs. Hutchings and Johanson said they intend to do some restoration work on the boat, and Johanson plans to write about his fishing memories for a plaque to be placed nearby.
In its new location, Johanson said the boat shares the visitor’s center yard with another artifact from the old Kenai docks: a coal-powered steam winch called a “donkey,” also installed as a historical exhibit across the parking lot. Johanson said it was the same steam donkey that used to pull his father’s boat out of the river in the fall.
Kenai Historical Society member June Harris said the boat had found a suitable final berth.
“The first thing people do when they come to Kenai is come to the Kenai Visitor Center,” Harris said. “They tour around the parking lot and see the donkey winch, then they take a walk around Old Town Kenai because they’re really interested in the Russian church, and they end up at the historic cabin park where they get a very good tour and more history of our area. (Johanson’s boat) is in a great location.”
• Ben Boettger is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion. He can be reached at email@example.com.