The Fleet Book of the Alaska Packers Association, 1893-1945: An Historical Overview and List
Donald H. Dyal
The last large American fleet of ocean-going sailing ships was that operated by the Alaska Packers Association, seasonally carrying workers from San Francisco Bay to the mouths of Alaskan rivers and creeks to can salmon. This salmon canning business was very lucrative, second only to lumbering on the West Coast in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
The ships that made up this fleet were very miscellaneous. None of them was purpose-built for the Association; all were purchased, usually rather cheaply, after hard service lives of fifteen to twenty-five years in the worldwide oceanic trades. (It is worth remembering that fifteen to twenty-five years was regarded at the time as the usually working life for a merchant vessel.) Remarkably, most went on to provide twenty-five years or more of service with the Association’s fleet, despite the rigors of the Alaska canning trade.
Donald H. Dyal set out to research the extant fleet books in the archives and consolidate the information they contained into a single comprehensive fleet listing that would tell the remarkable half-century story of these vessels (and their steam or diesel-powered fellows). The heart of the book comprises thirty-six individual “biographies” of the sailing vessels of the fleet. Each vessel’s origins are presented in tabular form, followed by a short history covering its operations prior to, during, and after service with the Association. Dyal also includes remarks on surviving artifacts from the vessels, two of which (Star of India and Balclutha) are preserved to this day as museum ships. The powered ships are treated much more briefly, as are those vessel chartered by the Association and the Liberty and Victory ships it operated during World War II.
One of the most interesting features of this new Fleet Book is the author’s excellent summary of the history of the Alaska Packers Association that opens the work. This presents not only a chronological summary of the Association’s story but also material on the routine of its operations; both important to provide context for a fuller understanding of the industry and the vessels in its service.
Overall, The Fleet Book of the Alaska Packers Association is an invaluable reference for both researchers and aficionados of the later days of oceanic sailing ships. It is packed with useful material and, equally importantly, replete with pointers toward sources for those interested in greater detail.
- North Charleston: CreateSpace, 2014
- 8-1/2” x 11”, softcover, xvii + 208 pages
- Photographs, notes, index. $44.99
- ISBN: 9781499329209
Reviewed by Henry Farrar, Baltimore, Maryland