The Seiner Mary Todd aka the "Boat That Wouldn’t Die"

by Drew Clarke 2017

Mary Todd

The Mary Todd (Photo from the Drew Clarke collection.)

When I bought the Mary Todd I was told that she had been involved in several serious incidents. Apparently her crew had called ‘Mayday’ and had actually abandoned ship but that in each case the Mary Todd had miraculously recovered, allowing the crews to return after the pumps restarted on their own and got the situation under control.

In one such incident she was out on herring prior to tanks and her load of herring compounded by a big seine and power skiff on the stern had her in trouble. Herring had plugged her pumps and she was going awash. The skipper put her hard over and she was abandoned, the pumps trying to clear her and with her engine running and in gear. The crew evacuated to the skiff and stood off watching as she fought for her life running around and around in a tight circle. Running through her wake over and over had rocked her back and forth enough to clear the pumps and she started to come back up. The crew got back on board and rejoined the fight. They cancelled the ’Mayday’ and carried on. This and other similar incidents are why BC Packers called her ‘The boat that wouldn’t die’.

Mary Todd

Crew Man "Big Mike" Reaching for the Seine Net on the Mary Todd (Photo from the Drew Clarke collection.)

Built in 1940 for the Pilchard Fleet launched as the California Bear and later renamed as the Ocean Cape at Tacoma WA USA by the Martinolich Shipbuilding Corp. she was 24.19m x 6.61m x 2.8m (79.7’ x 21.7’ x 9.2’) wood hull 119.22gt 81.07rt She was powered by a 220hp engine.

In 1940 she was owned by USA interests. In 1958, as the Norprince she was owned by North Shore Packing Co. Ltd., North Vancouver BC. In 1961–1967, Mary Todd, as the she was owned by J.H. Todd & Sons Ltd., Vancouver BC. In 1970–1981 she was owned by British Columbia Packers Ltd., Richmond BC. In 1982–1984 she was owned by Richard B. Michelson (MO), Sointula BC. In 1984–1991 she was owned by Andrew Clarke, Surrey BC. In 1992 she was owned by Percy Clarke, Vancouver BC.

In 1993 to 2011 she was owned by Terry A. Salo, Victoria BC. It was Terry who renamed her as Canadian Spirit. Terry’s uncle, Al Salo, ran the Mary Todd when Terry was a young boy. He was raised in Kyuquot and fondly remembers his first trip to Vancouver aboard the Mary Todd. In 2011 she was sold to US interests and her registry was closed. Renamed in the US as the Ocean Cape again she began packing fish in and from Alaska. Her name has since been changed again but I don’t recall it, but I did say hello to them on the VHF Marine Radio one night as they were clearing customs heading north and wished them well.

Mary Todd

Herring Caught in 1986 at Kitkatla by the Sewid Pool in the Mary Todd (Photo from the Drew Clarke collection.)

She is now (2017) in Seattle WA USA running fish from Alaska. I rebuilt her when I owned her. I rebuilt the Cat 343 and put a new auxiliary bow thruster and tanked the fishhold as well as a tilt stern, sonar, new running line winch among other equipment.

Mary Todd

Up on the Ways at the Celtic Shipyard the Mary Todd for CSI (Photo from the Drew Clarke collection.)

When I bought the Mary Todd in the spring of 1984 she had been mothballed at Celtic Shipyard after the new blue steel boat Mary Isle had been built. It was the Mary Todd’s fishing licence that was used for the new Mary Isle rendering the Mary Todd as surplus. After nearly a year getting familiar and fixing her up I ran across an advertisement for an 80 foot licence for sale. It was placed by Terry Salo. He had lost the San Jose to an engine room fire and still had her tags and nets. We became friends and we had her tags ok’d on the Mary Todd which was only slightly longer than the old San Jose and that’s how I did it.

We were all going fishing and all I had to do then was get her through the steamship inspection. BC Packers said "take her to Klemtu for inspection". I declined, preferring instead to meet Inspector Dave Murch on the grid at Celtic Shipyard. Dave and I had come to a fiery disagreement about ‘stuff’ previously concerning Mary Todd and BC Packers were quite sure he was going to nail me in the inspection because of it. However,thankfully, he did not. there was an initial tense moment when we met but fortune was with me and I managed to win him over with my charm.


Mickey is using cement to cover the bolts and sharp protrusions around the rudder to protect a net that might get caught there. (Photo from the Drew Clarke collection.)

I agreed to get some caulking done "in the fall" and of course I did it. I had to ask BC Packers for a ten thousand dollar loan for the CSI costs and Celtic Shipyard let me "borrow" their employee old Matt Yukovich. Together we put ‘big Mary’ through. We pulled the rudder and stock, pulled the tailshaft after taking off her big prop, and the pulled the sea cocks. We meg–tested the ship’s wiring from top to bottom, and hydro–stat tested her air receivers and we passed.

Chief Bob Sewid

Chief Bob Sewid (leader of the Herring Pool) in the San Juan No. 1 looking out the galley door while we were transiting Higgins Pass headed to Kitkatla for a herring opening with Mary Todd close behind so that she didn’t come to grief on the rock pile. The herring in her hold were fish caught by us, me and the Sewid family at Kitkatla. (Photo from the Drew Clarke collection.)

From 1985 to 1991 we fished salmon and herring outside on the blue line and in Barkley Sound, inside in Johnstone Strait and up the central coast, north coast and the Queen Charlotte Islands. All the while I had my pet wolf on board and although many laughed at us when we started (we were dead last for production in a fleet of 201 other seiners), by 1990 we were 17th in the fleet in overall salmon and herring production. So, we made it into the top ten percent with Terry Salo as skipper, me as engineer/deckhand and crewmen like George Powshuk and his son Rick, Van, Big Mike and Glen and others. We showed them all ... and got some much appreciated acknowledgement from our peers as, after yet another dazzlingly dangerous set was pulled off, we would be surrounded by other boats honking their horns, whistling and yelling to us. We were very proud of that I send a thank you to everyone.

Mary Todd

Up on the Ways at West Bay Shipyard the Mary Todd (Photo from the Drew Clarke collection.)

Mary Todd

Up on the Ways at West Bay Shipyard the Mary Todd At the time I had purchased the main cabin from the Sun Fisher and was in the process of re-configuring the upper deck adding a new larger wheelhouse.(Photo from the Drew Clarke collection.)

Mary Todd

Up on the Ways at West Bay Shipyard the Mary Todd (Photo from the Drew Clarke collection.)

One of the funnier stories from the Mary Todd concerned the cook (George Powshuk) and the ship’s wolf whose name was Rotten. Rotten had free run of the ship except while we were fishing. Then, he would hang out up at the bow. He especially liked to curl up under the galley table at mealtime and was quick to get grouchy if anyone tried to move him or pushed him with their feet. One evening the cook announced that the wolf would not be allowed in ‘His’, the cook’s, galley during dinner. We were having pork chops and the wolf knew it. To keep the peace I relegated Rotten to the deck. This was not met with particular enthusiasm on the wolf’s part and the cooked laughed loudly about his victory.

After the tasty meal the wolf got some too but it did not end there. After the meal as we sat around, the cook took a stroll around the ship and came back, laughing again he delighted in saying "Ha Ha, that stupid wolf beat up his bed. He had a foamy up at the bow for when we were fishing. At night he usually bunked with me. So, there were chunks of foam all over the place. He was pretty mad for sure ... and it still wasn't over. Rejoined by the cook we watched a movie and yarned until it was time to turn in. The cook liked to be last man in and first man up. He was a good cook and a damn fine drum man. After we’d all hit the rack and the lights were out George fussed about for a few minutes and then we heard him head to his bunk. We heard him pull the curtain back, we heard him click on the light, then he let out a blood curdling scream. "AAAAAGH!!!!! well holy sh** WTF is going on!"

We all jumped up to see what was wrong. There was George holding the remains of his beloved foam pillow which was a lot smaller than when he had last seen it. Rotten, after the cook came in and watched the movie with us, had stuck his head into the cooks porthole and pulled the cooks pillow partway out of the porthole and chewed it up. It was very funny – score one for Rotten. He got his revenge on the cook for kicking him out of the galley at dinner and for laughing at him. He was very smart. I raised him from when he was six weeks old. His full name was Rotten Hood, he had the run of the Celtic Shipyard and was well known in the ’Southlands’. One day he swiped one of the Celtic workers’ lunch box, before lunch. I found it about two months later out in the weeds. He had discovered the lunchroom while the crew ate and they had shared with him so I guess he thought one of those lunch boxes was his. So it was the wolf at Celtic and aboard the big Mary Todd became famous.

Mary Todd

On the Cradle Just coming Up the Ways at West Bay Shipyard the Mary Todd (Photo from the Drew Clarke collection.)

As the "boat that wouldn’t die" and "the crew that couldn’t fish" we did OK I think. I will always be proud of my crew and of the big Mary Todd for me those were good days, hard work, risky business sure – but it was worth it!

To quote from this article please cite:

Clarke, Drew (2017) The Seiner Mary Todd aka "the Boat That Wouldn’t Die". 2017.

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