[env-trinity] Santa Rosa Press Democrat 4 19 10

Byron Leydecker bwl3 at comcast.net
Mon Apr 19 10:51:21 PDT 2010


A boat 'graveyard'

Santa Rosa Press Democrat-4/19/10

By Bob Norberg

 

The Jolly Roger, believed once to have been a California governor's yacht,
careens on its side on dry land. Its copper paint is flaked, the hull no
longer watertight, the mahogany paneling that bespoke elegance long gone
below a deck rigged for salmon fishing.

 

"It was nice inside, but they didn't keep it up," said Bruce Abernathy.
"When you're fishing, if you had a place to sleep at night and a small
kitchen to cook in, you were lucky. Your office was the stern, where you
fished."

 

Until recently, the Jolly Roger floated in the Noyo River, just 100 feet
away. Now it will be crushed where it sits, the fate facing more than two
dozen boats Abernathy has acquired over the past two decades.

 

"The idea was to fix up one or two boats a year and put them on the market,"
said Abernathy, 77, a fisherman and yacht broker who bought the riverside
property in 1991. "That was to be my retirement."

 

The plan collapsed, however, along with the salmon fishing industry in Fort
Bragg and any demand that had existed for Abernathy's fleet of fishing
boats, which are slowly but inevitably deteriorating.

 

"It's a graveyard of old boats," he said wistfully. "There were a lot of
artists that would come and want to paint them all the time."

 

What is striking is the enormity of Abernathy's collection and the job he
faces in cleaning it up, under prodding from the U.S. Coast Guard and the
Mendocino County Planning Department.

 

"He has made great progress. He is slowly chipping away at it," said Angie
Hamilton, the county's code enforcement officer. "He is a great guy. He
means well. I think he got in over his head."

 

The county filed an order on Jan. 14 for Abernathy to clean up his property
to comply with county codes, eight months after the county began working
with him, Hamilton said.

 

The infractions include operation of a junk yard, storage of solid waste,
storage of non-operating vehicles, construction of a home without permits in
a coastal zone, occupancy of travel trailers and storage of unoccupied
travel trailers, storage of heavy equipment and tractors, and operating a
marine vessel scrap yard.

 

The Coast Guard had its own concerns about pollution from the boats moored
at Abernathy's makeshift dock.

 

"We identified that he had a lot of old boats that had a bad habit of
sinking, six of the 17 boats that were in the water," said Mike Nosbaum, a
U.S. Coast Guard marine science technician.

 

Hamilton and Nosbaum both praise Abernathy for his cooperation and for
taking the necessary measures to comply.

 

But again, it is the enormity.

 

Just months ago Abernathy had 27 boats, 17 of which were moored next to his
makeshift docks. The others sat on land, next to a crane and tractor that
are heavily coated with rust.

 

About a dozen of the boats have since been crushed and hauled away, leaving
behind tires and engines and metal that will also be hauled away.

 

Still on dry land is the Jolly Roger, all 54 feet of her, constructed of
rot-resistant Port Orford cedar, a double-ender built in 1917 that went from
yacht to fishing boat. She was a jewel in her day.

 

There are remnants of the 58-foot Tango, a steel-hulled vessel Abernathy
said he used to lay telecommunications cable from Point Arena to Hawaii to
Japan.

 

There are the hulls of the Hookup, the Anita G and the Aquaholic. Scattered
around them are 60 marine engines, a pile of tires and collected debris that
often makes just walking the property difficult.

 

Ten boats are still moored next to his dock.

 

Abernathy said it was worse, that he has already spent $30,000 to dismantle
and haul away boats and trash, and expects it will cost him much more.

 

There may be some parts to salvage, but not enough to even pay the labor,
and he admits to wearing out.

 

"It's too much. I'm getting too old, and I don't have the ambition anymore,"
Abernathy said.

 

It saddens him to stand in his own killing field, amid the splintered wood,
boat keels, pieces of brass fittings, wheels of fishing line and an iron
cleat, the debris from where his son and workers have been using a tractor
to crush the old boats.

 

"I don't have the heart to do it," Abernathy said. "These boats bring back
memories. A lot of these boats, I knew the owners and their families ...
They made them good livings."

 

And he reminisces about the lumber and fishing industries that drew him to
Fort Bragg in 1954, a freshly minted teacher from Cal State San Luis Obispo
who forsook a teaching career for logging and then for commercial fishing.

 

He said he had a brokerage and bought, sold and leased 80 boats over the
years. That was rewarding in the 1970s and 1980s when boats were
appreciating 25 percent a year.

 

"It's been a good life. But if I had it to do over, I'd take more time off
with my family," Abernathy said. "It's cost me three wives."

 

The only parts of the fishing industry that are still viable, he said, are
sea urchins and Dungeness crab. The salmon season this year is only eight
days in July and until a quota of 9,375 salmon are caught in August.

 

Abernathy is retired from fishing but still goes to sea in his boat, the
Recycler, to haul sea urchin shells from the harbor processing plants into
the ocean to be dumped.

 

"I put them back in the ocean where they come from. There's no problem
there," Abernathy said. "It's not lucrative, but it keeps me off of
welfare." 

 

Byron Leydecker, JcT

Chair, Friends of Trinity River

PO Box 2327

Mill Valley, CA 94942-2327

415 383 4810 land/fax (call first to fax)

415 519 4810 mobile

 <mailto:bwl3 at comcast.net> bwl3 at comcast.net

 <mailto:bleydecker at stanfordalumni.org> bleydecker at stanfordalumni.org
(secondary)

 <http://fotr.org/> http://www.fotr.org 

 

 

 

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