A Jim Bissett Rowboat

by Garth Johnson 2017

Row Boat

The little rowboat will easily hold an adult and a child. (Photo from the Garth Johnson collection.)

I recall going to the boat building shop Jim Bissett had in Lower North Vancouver many years ago with my father who was one of one of Jim’s best friends. I recall, on many occasions in my youth, visiting Jim at his small farm out in the Mission BC area after he had more or less hung up his boatbuilding tools. My sister and I always knew him as Uncle Jim and he always visited at Christmas time to my family’s home in West Vancouver.

Row Boat

No better way to learn about boats and rowing than to have your own small vessel. (Photo from the Garth Johnson collection.)

My first daughter was born in July of 1998 and I believe that she, and her younger sister (born in 2001), may own the very last Jim Bissett built boat. Jim built the boat for them probably between 2001 and 2003. It is a small hand laid fiberglass tender about 7 feet long. It rows beautifully or powers nicely with a very small outboard. My daughters still use it for fishing at the lake. They named it the Jay–Bee; a play on his initials. The boat has fir seats and, of greatest interest, a pair of hand shaped fir oars with leather wear sleeves for the oarlocks.

SRow Boat

My daughters love fishing which they do with a certain intensity.(Photo from the Garth Johnson collection.)

Sea Coaster

The Sea Coaster is an example of the vessels built by Bissett and Gilstein.(Photo from the Garth Johnson collection.)

The Sea Coaster was built in North Vancouver BC by James (Jim) Bissett & A. Gilstein. She is 11.03m x 3.63m x 1.43m (36.2’ x 11.9’ x 4.7’) wooden hull 11.91gt 8.1rt she was powered by a 170bhp diesel engine.

Sea Coaster

The Sea Coaster (Photo from the Garth Johnson collection.)

In 1954–1975 she was owned by Bendickson Towing Co. Ltd., Vancouver BC. (In 1966 she burned out at Yuculta Rapids, remains beached at Stuart Island BC. In 1976 she was rebuilt at Brentwood Bay BC.) In 1976–1983 she was owned by B & D Towing Ltd., Victoria BC. In 1984–1986 she was owned by Sea Coaster Towing Ltd., Nanaimo BC. In 1987–1989 she was owned by Thomas J. Craig, Campbell River BC. In 1990–2017 she was owned by Lagace Lumber Ltd., Queen Charlotte BC.

The nominal list of vessels built by James Bissett and A. Gilstein can be found here.

I worked in the Queen Charlotte Islands as the Operations Manager for Western Forest Products (and predecessor companies MB, Weyerhaeuser, and Cascadia) at their Queen Charlotte Timberlands based out of Juskatla.

Western Forest Products had actually exited the business in the Queen Charlottes with the shutdown of their Sewell Inlet Camp then resumed work again in the QCIs once again, several years later, through the acquisition of Cascadia Forest Products which operated on former Macmillan–Bloedel (later Weyerhaeuser) tenure there.

My career in the Queen Charlottes started with Macmillan-Bloedel in early 1993 and through successor companies I ultimately ended up with Western in the Charlottes where I worked until December 2011 when I moved to Black Creek and managed their Mainland Coast Operation. The tenure sale from WFP to the Haida (Taan Forest Products) was completed in 2012.

In around 2006 or 2007 I found that there were a significant number of boomsticks that had been dewatered and stored on the Sewell Inlet sort by WFP when they pulled out of the area and that the sticks still belonged to WFP. As we were operating relatively close by at Louise Island (Beattie Anchorage) and boomsticks were somewhat tough to acquire in the Queen Charlottes I set out to have a look at these WFP assets at Sewell.

I chartered a helicopter out of Sandspit to fly to Sewell Inlet. For the trip I opted to pull my elder daughter from school that day (she would have been around 8 years old at the time) and come along with me, the pilot (Andrew Scott), and Ray Legace who was then doing the booming for Olympic Forest Products at Louise Island (Beattie Anchorage) for Western Forest Products. Ray was along to assess the quality and serviceability of the sticks at Sewell that had been stored there for at least a year or two.

During the trip from Queen Charlotte City to Sewell we got to talking about boats, wooden boats in particular, and the tug that Ray Legace owned (the Sea Coaster). He mentioned that it had been built in North Vancouver originally by Bissett and Gilstein. I mentioned that my Dad was best buddies growing up with Jim Bissett in North Van and that they remained very good friends their entire lives. One of my very early memories was visiting Uncle Jim at his boat yard in North Van with my Dad. The boat yard was located across Main Street, passing under the train tracks, from the Park and the Tilford Distillery.

Stefanie (my eldest daughter and the one on the helicopter trip to Sewell that day) mentioned to Ray that she and her younger sister (Kristin) also had a Bissett boat thinking that it was pretty neat that they owned a boat built by the same fellows that had built Ray’s tug. Ray found this pretty interesting too and chuckled about the type of boat my kids had, as Stefi described it, expected something a little more significant than a tiny tender style row boat. He had no idea that Jim had ever built such a boat and certainly not that late in his boat building life.

When we returned home that day to our home in Port Clements I sent a note off to Uncle Jim (Jim Bissett) and I filled him in on the story and the connection between the current location of the Sea Coaster and of the chuckles between Ray, Stefanie, the pilot and I about the length of time between when he built the Sea Coaster and the “Jay-Bee”. Uncle Jim sent along copies of several pictures of the Sea Coaster for me to pass on to its current owner which he was happy to receive.

To quote from this article please cite:

Johnson, Garth (2017) A Jim Bissett Rowboat. Nauticapedia.ca 2017. http://nauticapedia.ca/Gallery/Bissett.php

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