20 years and good as new

Aleutian Spray Fisherie’s fishing vessel the Starbound celebrates 20 years on the open sea

Photo: Heidi Eriksen The fishing fleet includes the at-sea processor Starbound. Carefully processed and quickly frozen or stored in refrigerated seawater, Aleutian Spray Fisheries products are enjoyed by consumers around the world.

Photo: Heidi Eriksen The fishing fleet includes the at-sea processor Starbound. Carefully processed and quickly frozen or stored in refrigerated seawater, Aleutian Spray Fisheries products are enjoyed by consumers around the world.

By Tiffanie Davis

Seattle, Wash.

Norwegian American Weekly

On a dry, gray January morning, the Starbound leaves town for the season, carrying 117 crewmembers up to Dutch Harbor, Alaska for three months of fishing.

This year marks the 20th anniversary for the Starbound, a pristine 240-foot at-sea catcher/processor, managed by Aleutian Spray Fisheries of Seattle, Wash. The vessel was designed by Guido Perla and built at Dakota Creek Shipyard in Anacortes, Washington.

Henry Swasand, who immigrated from Norway in 1957, loved the design aspect of the project, the building of the Starbound was the culmination of a long journey that began in Norway.

Swasand founded Aleutian Spray Fisheries in 1969 with the acquisition of the crab vessel Aleutian Spray. In the 1970s his children Cary, Svanee, and JoAnne, also got involved. Today Cary is the president and Svanee is vice-president, Cary’s son Chris, after many years of running the vessels is helping his dad mange the company in Seattle. Cary’s daughter Lisa, who has worked in the office for over 20 years, assists Svanee and Cary in all aspects of the family business. Heidi, (JoAnne’s daughter) who is giving me the tour today, is in charge of government compliance, permits and helps with vessel operations. The Swasand family celebrates 40 years of success this year, and along with their partners, Barry Ohai, APICDA, and Karl Bratvold, celebrate 20 years with the Starbound.

Back on the Starbound the crew is preparing to leave. Family members wave from the docks to their loved ones (mostly men), who won’t be returning until near Easter.

“It’s actually really nice because we’ve had people here 10,15, and 20 years, and we are now seeing children of these loyal workers applying for jobs. We hire new people of course, from time to time, but the crew, when they get on this boat, they like to stay on it,” Heidi says.

Captain Karl Bratvold is a case in point. Karl has been with Aleutian Spray Fisheries since 1981. His father’s parents emigrated from Norway and his mother’s parents emigrated from Sweden. Perhaps Captain Karl is part of why many of the crewmembers stay on so long. He’s a friendly guy, clearly knowledgeable and serious about the business of the boat, hard working for sure, but he’s warm and a real character.

The Starbound is a pollock catcher/processor, it is very efficient with 95 percent of its catch being pollock and cod.

“On a good day the boat does 140 tons of finished product, which is pretty incredible, really,” said Torstein Nordal, Factory Manager. Torstein is originally from just outside of Ålesund. He came to the United States in 1988.

“An average haul is 100 tons. It all depends on the size of course, but if the size of the fish is 6 or 7 grams, there’ll be about 150,000 fish in a haul. In the factory the fish get headed, gutted and filleted,” Torstein explains.

The fish are processed on board and eventually packaged into 15-pound boxes, cased, and shipped out.

“Buyers include Gorton’s with the fish ending up in your McDonalds fish sandwich. The Starbound product also ends up in; Germany, China, Japan, France, England and Korea” says Torstein.

“The Swasand family and the rest of the North Pacific fleet are good stewards of the resource, and hope many generations will be able to benefit from where Henry Swasand started” Heidi says in regards to the regulations in place to prevent over-fishing.

Heidi walks around the boat and seems to know everyone and even though the crew is leaving their families, and embarking on a few months of very hard work, their spirits are high. Cary and his wife Dian also come down to see the crew off, it is obvious that this vessel is a family boat, and pride shows everywhere.

In the galley there is almost an air of excitement as everyone plates up lunch. All sorts of conversations swirl around the room as the crewmembers eat and enjoy the calm waters. The Starbound is just heading up the Puget Sound and the day couldn’t be more peaceful. The water is soft and still, not like the choppy sea they’ll likely meet in Alaska. The sky is a light shade of blue gray. It’s not really warm but it’s not raining and that’s all anyone could ask for.

When you look around it’s hard to believe this boat could really be 20 years old. It’s incredibly clean and the crew clearly takes pride in maintaining it.

“My grandfather built it, my father helped as well. I’ve known all these people forever. I was five when the boat was christened. I remember coming down and being in the master stateroom. Everything was so amazing and so big because I was just teeny-tiny and going through kindergarten. So I have a different perspective I guess, this is my family. I love this boat,” Heidi says. But maybe her perspective isn’t too far off.

Aleutian Spray Fisheries has spent 20 years maintaining a beautiful trawler and developing relationships with their crewmembers that undoubtedly make them feel like family. For these 117 hard-working people, the Starbound is like a home-sweet-home out on the open sea.

For more information about Aleutian Spray Fisheries visit www.starboats.com.

This article was originally published in the Jan. 22, 2010 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. For more information about the Norwegian American Weekly or to subscribe, call us toll free (800) 305-0217 or email subscribe@norway.com.

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