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Historic sailboat begins voyage to Naknek

Libby McNeil Libby 76.PNG
Bristol Bay Heritage Land Trust
The Libby McNeil Libby

For more than 60 years, sailboats dominated Bristol Bay’s commercial fishery. Motorized vessels were illegal. Then, in 1951, the federal government finally allowed motorized fishing vessels in Bristol Bay.

LaRece Egli, the director of the Bristol Bay Historical Society Museum in Naknek said almost immediately thereafter, sailing was made obsolete for the fishery.

“I think it’s literally down to 50 or 46 boats or something like that in 1954 and then they just disappear,” she said.

By 1952, powerboats outnumbered sailboats 4 to 1. In less than five years, every commercial vessel had a motor.

This year, local historians are bringing the sailing tradition back to the bay with a vessel named the Libby, McNeil, Libby, No. 76.

Tim Troll, the executive director of the Bristol Bay Heritage Land Trust, is one of the sailing crew. They launched from Homer on July 5.

“We launched this morning at about 9 (a.m.)," said Troll. "It’s a beautiful, nice, sunny day with very calm weather.”

The sailboat has crossed the Cook Inlet, sailing toward Naknek.

“The boat is on its way," he said. "It’s sailing nicely right now, we’ve got four guys aboard, and it just looks beautiful out there.”

Troll said in an email that they made it to their first stop in Williamsport on Wednesday night. They carried the boat across the portage, and plan to reach Pedro Bay this evening.

The crew expects to visit Iliamna and Newhalen over the weekend, and then head on to Kokhanok and Igiugig next week. It will visit Levlock on July 17 and the vessel is scheduled to arrive in Naknek on July 19.

Egli said the journey commemorates an iconic period in the fishery’s history.

“Those sails, sailing out on the horizon of our bay are really visual icons and they’re one of those grounding visual markers for both our canning industry, for the labor issues, independence of our fishermen, and also for our indigenous story in our community,” she said.

Troll plans to update KDLG on their voyage over the next few weeks. More information about their journey is available on the Bristol Bay Heritage Land Trust website.

The Bristol Bay Heritage Land Trust and the Bristol Bay Historical Society Museum have also partnered to purchase the Libby, McNeil, Libby No. 76 and have a fundraiser available on Facebook.

Contact the author at Brian@kdlg.org or call (907) 842-2200

Brian Venua grew up in Dillingham and attended Gonzaga University in Spokane, WA. He got his start in journalism at KDLG in 2020, interviewing and writing for the Bristol Bay Fisheries Report and signed on as a full-time host and reporter later that year.