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Boat Builder Preserves History in 3-D
by Louise Brinck Harrington


January 08, 2005

Ketchikan, Alaska - Take a good close look at these boats. Start with the Evening Star and observe her smooth lines, high white mast and forward-style house. On her stern sits a dory full of bright orange buoys, coils of ground line, a set of oars. And don't miss her green canvas staysail, covered baiting table and deck loaded with ground line anchors, flagpole markers and other fishing gear.

jpg Evening Star model

Evening Star taken on Richardson's deck.
The model was ordered as she looked in the 1940s-1950s.

Now check out the Seymour. She's older than the Evening Star and built in the old-fashioned schooner style, with the house aft and the hold and hatch forward. Look closely at the hatch cover where a fisherman's been working and temporarily left his gear-a box of hooks, a coil of line, a knife, an empty coffee cup. If you could peek into the pilothouse, you'd make out charts and computers, a depth finder and electronic gear. You might even make out a calendar, complete with a picture of a beautiful woman, pinned to the wheelhouse wall.

The Evening Star and the Seymour are both halibut boats equipped with a chute on the stern for letting out the line and a gear puller and rollers for hauling in the fish. Both boats look shipshape as if they're ready to steam to the westward in search of the fishing grounds. You can almost hear the thump of the engines and smell the exhaust.

But, wait, don't be so sure!

It may be hard to believe, but these boats are models.

jpg Seymour model

Seymour model - port side

It's All in the Details

The builder of these boats is Ketchikan resident Terry Richardson, whom many folks know as "the guy who drives around town in the animal control truck." But what many folks don't know is that Richardson leads a double life. By day he works for the Animal Protection Department, true, but by night and on weekends he works at something completely different: He builds boats.

Recently Richardson took time out from his busy schedule to drink a cup of tea and talk about model-building-which he refers to as a "hobby." But it's much more than that, as you learn while he talks about all the things involved in building a boat. Things like marine radios, microphones, antennas, radar equipment. And there are fire extinguishers, life rafts, deck pumps, stove pipes. There are even streaks of rust on the stovepipe of the Seymour.

Richardson pays close attention to detail. "It's the detail that makes it for me," he says. "It's the detail that matters and makes a boat accurate."

jpg Boat Builder Terry Richardson

Terry Richardson and the latest model he's working on... the schooner Seattle

Delivering the Boats

Recently Richardson put the finishing strokes to the Evening Star and the Seymour and delivered both boats to buyers in Seattle. He arranged to deliver them to a boat brokerage in Ballard-a place called Dock Street Brokers, where the buyers agreed to pick them up.
It's best to deliver the boats in person, Richardson says. "That way I'm sure they won't get broken and I can put them in the buyer's hands and make sure he's happy."
He took the models south on the ferry, after first packing them in crates and loading them carefully in his van. When he arrived in Ballard the owner of Dock Street Brokers, former Ketchikan resident Roger Lohr, was thrilled with the models and put them on display. He told Richardson he'd be happy to keep them forever!

But of course the buyers had other ideas. They allowed the boats to stay at the shop for a couple of weeks, but then took them home to enjoy.

Building a Model

As far as building a model, "the first step is taking a boat's exact measurements," Richardson says. This takes about four full days of work, which is usually done when the boat is out of the water and includes "taking the lines off the boat-or what's called lofting the hull-and measuring everything above the deck." And he does mean everything: baiting tables, fish bins, all the gear, masts, booms, the wheelhouse and everything in it.
If he can get his hands on a set of plans, it makes the job easier. If not, he must start with the garboard plank-the first one above the keel-and measure plank by plank up to the deck. Even if he gets lucky with the plans, he still must measure everything above the deck and any later changes made to the boat. Also, he says, "some plans don't include the width and thickness of the planks so you have to measure that too."

jpg main deck Seymour model

Seymour model - Main deck. The bar under the boom was
put there by the owner for doing pull-ups.

He also takes at least 200 photos of each vessel. He needs to take a lot of pictures, he says, "otherwise I'd have to run down to the boat all the time to check things out and make sure I get them right." And of course if the boat is in Seattle or out fishing or somewhere other than Ketchikan, it makes pictures doubly important.

From the time he begins the actual building it takes about a year to complete a boat. And remember-that's a year of working at night ("for six hours or so") and on weekends ("pretty much all day").

He uses yellow cedar (which is donated to the cause by sawmill-operator Snapper Carson) for planking and decking and usually builds on a scale of 1/2 inch to the foot. "That makes a nice-sized boat," he says.

As Richardson talks, the question inevitably arises: What motivates him to devote so much time and pursue such detail?

Preserving History

"I look at it as preserving history," he says. "These boats are going by the wayside. There are only about 20 halibut schooners left in existence." He refers to his models as "history in 3-D, where you can walk around and really look at the boats" and believes they'll be important for future researchers.

As a boy growing up in Ketchikan Richardson remembers the fishermen who would hang around the dockside Tongass Trading store. "Those old guys would sit around the stove down there and tell stories," he says. "And I was just this little kid, standing there wide-eyed and thinking, 'Wow, you did that!'" And those fishermen had such strong hands "that when I shook hands with them I wondered if I was going to get my hand back!"
They also made a strong impression on a young boy. Richardson still recalls tales of dory boats being swamped at sea and men swept overboard never to be seen again. And of huge waves that washed gear off of decks and windows out of boats. And they told of superstitions-superstitions they took seriously.

jpg Seymour wheelhouse

Seymour model - The detailed wheelhouse interior
with the Ballard Oil Company calendar.

Even today fishermen are superstitious, Richardson says. Take for example the Ballard Oil Company calendar that hangs aboard the Seymour: It's a good luck charm as far as the boat's owner is concerned. He puts one up every year because the only year he didn't was the worst in the history of the boat. And like the old-timers down at Tongass, the owner of the Seymour is superstitious and takes his superstitions seriously: He informed Richardson he would not buy a model of the boat without a copy of the calendar hanging in the wheelhouse.

This took some doing but Richardson complied: He took a picture of the calendar, scanned it on the computer, reduced it down and printed out a tiny-but-exact copy of the original. He added a little backing and, using tweezers, pinned the calendar to the wheelhouse wall.

Trademark: A Coffee Cup

Though Richardson has built other types of boats, today he specializes in halibut boats and schooners. He loves the looks of the schooners-their fair and graceful lines and the way they glide through the water with very little wake "like a duck," he says. "They're smooth and pretty, if you can call a boat pretty."

jpg coffee cup

Evening Star - Main deck of the model with Richardson's trademark coffee cup.
The gear puller has over 150 pieces

Already Richardson is hard at work on two new boats: the schooner Seattle and the fish packer Amelie.

When the boats are finished, each will have a coffee cup sitting on the hatch cover just like the one on the Seymour. There's a cup on the hatch of the Evening Star too and there's one on every boat Richardson has built.

He says he wants to give the impression that a fisherman's been working there on the hatch cover, "and just got up to do something else and left his coffee cup behind."

It's a small detail, but it's become his trademark. So if you come across a model with a cup on the hatch cover, you can be sure it's one of Richardson's boats.



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