The Pintail, A 1929 Northwest Cabin-Launch

The Pintail, a Milgard Cabin Launch

If you are someone who works from home or rents a small office space, meets with the occasional client face-to-face, can work from anywhere and would like to have an office with a 360-degree water view, this boat may be just the ticket for you.

When we bought our Cal 34, Moonrise, I began to fantasize about what it would be like to have an office on a boat. Talk about therapeutic for everyone, especially me! The idea was so powerful that when I look at boats, that’s usually somewhere in my mind. Unfortunately, we’re looking for a sailboat, not a motor yacht.

But if I were going to be staying around here, I would be completely smitten with the idea of this little Milgard cabin-launch as an office space that I could take to any destination in the Pacific Northwest. Talk about expanding my client base and increasing work satisfaction. Don’t even get me started!

The original horn, bell, and light.

The original horn, bell, and light. How they sparkle!

With a vessel like this, the history is part of the attraction, so I called previous owner Doug Johnson of Steilacoom to talk about The Pintail. His family owned this boat from the time they bought her in the early 1930s until 1987, when they sold her to a woman from Olympia.

The hull was built in 1929 as a fishing vessel meant to be in service on Bristol Bay. Designed after the traditional Columbia River sailing fish boats, The Pintail has more refined lines than the usual fish boat. It became part of the Libby, McNeil & Libby cannery fleet. These boats were double-ended sailing craft serviced with one mast and a single, diagonal, gaff-rigged sail. The alternate power source was two pair of long oars so, basically, man muscle.

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Luxurious interior includes beautiful mahogany counter top with plenty of space for cooking, stainless steel sink, and pressurized water. There is a new Norcold fridge under the counter.

With a vessel like this, the history is part of the attraction, so I called previous owner Doug Johnson of Steilacoom to talk about The Pintail. His family owned this boat from the time they bought her in the early 1930s until 1987, when they sold her to a woman from Olympia.

The hull was built in 1929 as a fishing vessel meant to be in service on Bristol Bay. Designed after the traditional Columbia River sailing fish boats, The Pintail has more refined lines than the usual fish boat. It became part of the Libby, McNeil & Libby cannery fleet. These boats were double-ended sailing craft serviced with one mast and a single, diagonal, gaff-rigged sail. The alternate power source was two pair of long oars so, basically, man muscle.

Beautiful by even traditional standards, these were real workhorses, so this boat has paid its dues. Fishing was (and is) a dangerous and arduous profession and sailors fished from these little boats for six days at a time, with no shelter except what could be made with their sails. They had only what is referred to as a “swede” stove to heat their meals and coffee, only each other and the fish for company, and no marine head! Can you even imagine? I can, but I don’t like to.

The waters of Bristol Bay were rough and the weather changeable, so these fishermen had to be more than capable, and they had to be able to rely on their sturdy little boats. Each boat could carry about 1400 salmon. These boats are sometimes referred to as “salmon boats.”

Like any other resource where tons of money is involved, the fishing and canning industries in Bristol Bay became very political as more businesses were attracted to building canneries there. Similar to the oil boom towns in parts of the United States, company towns grew up around canneries and the cannery bosses chose who got to fish on the boats and even towed the little boats to their fishing location (as the photo above shows).

As a result of competition from motorized seiners, the well-connected fishing industry motivated the special interests in Washington, D.C. to push for enactment of a law that would prohibit motorized fishing vessels in the bay. I’d like to think that this was because people were concerned about the environment and about overfishing with gill nets.

Clearly, were people forced to use small sailboats to fish for salmon today, we would have more salmon in the sea and the Bristol Bay environment would be radically different. But because that would mean fewer salmon at Safeway, that’s never going to happen. No, this law protected the financial interests of the canning factories. It also put the lives of the fishermen at risk.

 

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Inside the exhaust pipe is a large muffler. Bet this boat is quiet while under way. Top of hatch slides back and opens, giving complete access and opening boat to outdoors when the weather is fine.

In 1948 many fishermen were killed when they got caught in a gale and their boats were blown onto a sandbar. This loss of life resulted in a new federal law in 1951 that allowed motorized vessels under 32 feet long to fish in Bristol Bay. Of course, this was a complete game-changer for the canning industry, as they feared it would be.

It also meant the end of the use of sailing vessels like The Pintail as gillnetters on Bristol Bay. The fishermen’s safety was balanced against the safety of the bay and against the protectionist desires of the industry, and the fishermen won their independence.

By the time this law was enacted, The Pintail had been retired from service. These boats were generally used for a few years, then brought down to Lake Union to be sold to private parties. And this is where the Johnson family of Steilacoom came to this boat’s rescue.

In 1933-34, the boat became available for sale and the Johnson family took ownership. Doug Johnson says that at that time Maurice Milgard, who ran the mail boat service for Anderson Island, was good friends with brothers Gunnar and Henning Johnson (Doug’s father and uncle), who owned and operated the general store in Dupont.

The Milgards’ mail boat started out as one of these fishing vessels and they had built her into a little cabin launch, outfitting her for passengers. The Johnson brothers admired the little boat and wanted to get one to use as a family boat. When the hull of The Pintailcame available for sale up in Lake Union, Gunnar, Henning and Maurice took the Milgards’ boat up to Seattle, the Johnsons bought the hull, and they all brought it back to Steilacoom.

The Milgards helped the brothers add a cabintop and power to the boat, and this became the Johnsons’ family vessel. They spent summers taking it up to the San Juan Islands and the Gulf Islands for family vacations.

This boat is truly a Cinderella story for the marine history buff: A plain little boat with excellent lines and a sturdy build spends her days slaving on a rough and tumble sea. Just when she thinks her life will be all drudgery, she is plucked from her existence of toil by a family with a vision of her future and the resources to make her dreams come true. She is fitted and primped, painted and polished, and spends the rest of her days in well-deserved luxury, the pampered pet of people who love her. I think I’ll write a children’s book starring this boat. Remember, you read it here first.

The Johnson family owned this boat until 1987. Both owners since then have cared for the boat lovingly, with no expense spared. The current owners bought the boat and took her to their property on Orcas Island, where they have a boathouse, and they had their people keeping her in pristine condition. The Pintail was given the kind of care everyone would like to be able to give their fine old vessels, and it shows. She looks, inside and out, like a new boat, only better, because you just cannot get wood like this anymore.

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Great diesel stove that will keep you warm, even in the winter. There is a drying rack above the stove. Handy.

Attention to detail is noticeable everywhere from the electrical panel to the complete access to the new engine. Engine fluids are easily seen from the rear deck. There is even a bell pull so you can ring the bell while standing at the wheel. I gave it a few tugs to see if it worked. It does! I could use this to signal my next client. You could use it to signal your kids that it’s time to return to the boat.

 

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Mike gives the nod of approval on this wiring. He hardly ever nods in approval like that. This is so neat and tidy.

Although this boat is set up for day excursions, I think it could easily be made into a weekender with a minor tweak. The port side settee is long enough, but not quite wide enough, for sleeping. I think this could be rebuilt by creating a settee that would pull out into a full-size berth, similar to what I’ve seen on many sailboats. Use a design that would allow the back cushion to lie alongside the seat cushion and voila! You have a perfect platform for sleeping.

 

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It’s easy to see how this could be converted to a sleeping berth.

The accommodations on this boat include an enclosed electric head. The next owner will need to install a holding tank, but there is plenty of room in the engine compartment, located in the perfect position for such a project.

Lest you think that the interior of this boat is its only shining feature, the rear deck extends the living space during fine weather. The graceful canoe stern, which is self-draining, offers a platform for sitting that doubles as the exterior engine access and gives space to relax and watch the world go by in comfort.

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Pretty cool!

Access to the forward deck is via the clear side decks, with a sturdy metal handrail along the entire cabintop. Painted the same color as the top, this handrail may be difficult to see in the photos. But it, like everything else on this boat, is pretty much perfect.

The forward deck has space for sitting and for watching the nifty anchor deploy from its custom stemhead fitting. This boat may be small, but she has a new Lewmar electric vertical shaft windlass that is controlled from the cockpit. Nothing but the best for this girl. She might be cute and saucy as heck with her upturned prow and her eyebrows over the windows, but she’s a real boat and she knows it.

The life of this boat has come full circle since she left her days on Bristol Bay behind. She began as a hull for sale on Lake Union, then was sold to a family who loved her and kept her well. Now she returns to her little slip on the lake, patiently awaiting her next adventure. Take your checkbook if she’s still available and you go see her  (listing here). She’s easy to love. Say hello and give her a little pat for me.

I see the resemblance! Do you?

Historical information for this article was found here. It’s a good read with lots of wonderful photos. Also here – another good read, with more photos.

 

 

 

 

 

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