This is the story of the St. Elmo, a gillnet salmon boat out of Naknek, Alaska. My family has been fishing in Bristol Bay for over 60 years, spanning three generations. The St. Elmo has been a part of 45 of those years. In 1971 the boat was built in Bellingham, Washington and run to Naknek by my grandfather Elmer William "EW" Chevalier. EW had previously fished with his uncle on the St. Nicholas before building his own boat, named after St. Erasmus, the patron saint of sailers.
In the early 70's, these gas powered boats were basic and without hydraulics, which meant having to use their human strength to pull the net in. They were a far cry from the sail and oar boats of the early 50's but no where near the diesel jet drives of today. The vast majority of boats being built today are Aluminum, with fiberglass being a distant second. Wood boats aren't practical for most in todays Bristol Bay, but we take pride in holding onto the old memories of the "wood boat days".
My Grandfather took great pride in his boat and even more pride in having a place for his three boys Matt, Marty and Mitch to come and work during their summer months. Under their Father's tutelage, the boys grew as fisherman and as men. My Uncles continued to fish together throughout the years. Matt took over the helm in 1985 with my Dad and Uncle as his captains on the back deck. My brother Marty and I became the third generation to fish on the St. Elmo when we came aboard. In 2012, I was proud to take over the boat with my brotherin law as my crewman, so as to continue those values that were passed down from one generation to the next: family, hardwork, dedication and loyalty.
I leave my wife every year in search of a connection with my past. My grandfather passed away in 2005 but every year, as the boat heads out the river in search of salmon. I know a piece of him lives on inside of me and it brings me pride.