Alaska-based fisheries biologists David and Darcy Saiget feel it was fate that brought the U.S. Forest Service ranger boat Sea Bear to them. Today, they see themselves as caretakers of a legacy rather than as boat owners.
Name: David and Darcy Saiget
Ages: 63, 50
Home port: Cordova, Alaska
Current boat: 1932 H.C. Hanson Sea Bear
Years owned: 4
David has been working on boats since the early 1980s, when he first ventured up to Alaska to seek a job on a fishing boat. He’s also a fisheries biologist, working off boats in Oregon, Washington and Alaska. Darcy, too, is a fisheries biologist and has worked on boats in Southeast Alaska.
Sea Bear was originally named Forester. She was built in 1932 for the U.S. Forest Service ranger boat fleet in Alaska, where she served from 1932 to 1964. As Forester, she plied Southeast Alaska waters for more than 30 years, conducting patrols, rescues and surveys.
After leaving the Forest Service in 1964, she went into private ownership and was renamed Sea Bear, working first as part of a bear-guiding operation, and then as a timber skidder, all in Southeast Alaska.
In 1969, Bill Clapp of Seattle took ownership and brought her back to her current state in his nearly five decades of ownership. Bill added a flybridge and installed a new engine (Sea Bear’s third) after she sank tied up to the dock when Lake Washington froze during a cold spell, bursting her raw seawater strainer. While homeported in Seattle, Sea Bear made many trips up and down the British Columbia and Alaska coasts.
She has berths for six, a day bunk in the wheelhouse, two heads, a shower, a genset, a refrigerator and freezer, a Dickinson oil stove, a freshwater maker, and an ice maker. With tankage for 800 gallons of fuel, she cruises at 8 knots at 1350 rpm, burning 7.5 gallons per hour.
We acquired her in 2018 and relocated her back up to Alaska, motoring her up the Inside Passage and across the Gulf of Alaska to her current homeport of Cordova, Alaska.
During our careers as U.S. Forest Service fisheries biologists, we both had worked on ranger boats in Alaska. When Sea Bear became available, we both felt that it was fate that brought us to her. We are caretakers more than boat owners.
Designed by the famed boatbuilder H.C. Hanson, she has purple heart stem and keel, 5.5-inch-thick oak ribs on 13-inch centers, and Douglas fir decks and planks. In 11 years, Sea Bear will be 100 years old. We hope to be around for that, and hope to continue preserving her in the spirit of H.C. Hanson, the shipwrights past and present, and dedicated caretakers like Bill Clapp.
Along with owning an 80-year-old wooden boat comes plenty of maintenance, and inspection of the undersides, deck and hull. Finding a skilled shipwright to keep her watertight, and a gentle Travelift operator to haul her 84,000 pounds out, is something we always wish for.
Sea Bear possesses a unique historical pedigree and is a living example of the highly skilled and refined, hand-built, artisan craft of Pacific Northwest wooden boatbuilding during the 1930s. We feel honored to be part of her history. When we are on her, we think of the journeys she has made, the vistas she has seen, and the people she has brought together in her 89 years on the North Pacific Coast.
One dream is to take Sea Bear through the Northwest Passage: up and over the top of Alaska, and east through Canada, and then Greenland and beyond. With the effects of climate change, the passage can now be found ice-free at times in late summer and early fall. A trip through the Northwest Passage would be a memorable and exciting voyage.
And then, after that, we will keep on the lookout for the next caretaker who will assist Sea Bear in completing her second century on the water.
There probably won’t be a next boat for us. With good care and continued good fortune, Sea Bear will outlast all of us.
But we do also own a 38-foot fiberglass commercial fishing boat that we fish for Copper River salmon. When the two boats are tied up together, it is a study in generational contrasts: modern versus classic; five years new versus 89 years old; a lightweight fiberglass skin versus immense, thick wood timbers; bulwarks and decks of grit and blood versus a sheerline of serene grace and beauty. And while against the ocean’s water and waves, it is a brute force, bone-jarring pounding versus a quiet, gentle ride, sliding gracefully, effortlessly and quietly through the water.
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