Thompson steps back and two new women captains step up

 

Photo courtesy of Joe Sebastian

Captain Abby Hosier, left, takes a break to capture a moment aboard the St. Lazaria with deckhands Dana Bronkala, center, and Kate Thompson, right. The all-female tender crew recently completed the Sitka sac roe herring fishery together on the 104-year old wooden vessel.

When Kate Thompson was small, her father Harold made a perch in the wheelhouse of the St. Lazaria, so she could be atop the console, see out the window and keep him company as he steered. But once she was big enough, she put down her toy radio and began working on boats herself.

During the recent Sitka sac roe herring fishery, Thompson, now 15, worked as a deckhand on the St. Lazaria. It was technically her seventeenth season doing herring, if you count the one she spent aboard the St. Lazeria while her mother was pregnant. But this was her first season without her parents running the boat.

This time the captain was Abby Hosier, who Thompson grew up around, along with the whole crew who have worked over the years on her family's tenders: the FVs Afognak, St. Lazaria, and Roedda.

This year was Hosier's first time skippering the St. Lazaria, and Thompson says she did a great job, was impressive and very inspiring to watch.

Over a decade ago, Hosier fell right into fishing after buying a one-way ticket to Sitka from Indiana. She didn't have a job lined up, but the herring fishery happened to be taking place, so she walked the docks.

"I just introduced myself to a random person and he was like, 'Well, if you're not doing anything come and crew for me,'" Hosier says.

She eventually got recommended to work for Harold Thompson, and she's been working for him, on and off, ever since.

Hosier says, she's starting to think about tendering as a full-time career and kicking around the idea of beginning her own operation.

She enjoys the tender lifestyle. "Everybody wants everybody to do well," she says. "There is not a hardcore competition between boats. We are all helping each other out and being cooperative."

Hosier didn't know any women captains a decade ago, so the fact she was one of three female captains operating in this year's herring fishery was extra special to Hosier.

There was also the Alaskan Girl skippered by Brannon Finney and the Roedda with Hosier's friend Alex Minshall at the helm. Hosier is grateful for the strong support OBI Seafoods has shown these female captains and is thankful for Harold giving her and Minshall a shot to advance.

"It wasn't that long ago, that it was pretty damn uncommon for a woman to be on a boat if she wasn't in a relationship with the captain," she says. "There's quite a few women that crew, but really just a handful of women skippers that are pushing forward."

This is something Minshall, captain of the Roedda, and her mentor Trevor Pollard, captain of the Afognak, are acutely aware of, also. And it's a big reason Pollard, Harold's business partner, is so proud of Minshall and Hosier for seeing an opportunity and going after it.

"Ever since I first met them, it was pretty obvious that they were going to do great in this industry," Pollard says.

This winter, Minshall took the Roedda down to the Port Townsend shipyard to oversee a major refrigeration upgrade. That also meant her first time going through Canada as a captain and experiencing whirlpools in the Seymour Narrows, going 22-knots.

Having an old wooden boat, built in 1931, as her home and "office" can be tricky, but Minshall uses hobbies like art and music to pass the time. Between her current deckhand and herself, they have at least five musical instruments onboard.

She tries to create a "cozy" environment where deckhands feel comfortable coming aboard and digging through cabinets in the galley or simply sitting in the corner, reading a book without feeling like they are disturbing anyone.

Minshall says most of her motivation to become a captain comes from growing up the child of Polish immigrants, very poor and sometimes homeless, and, as an adult, tendering has helped her "dig herself out of generational poverty."

"I am the first woman in my family lineage to own their own business," Minshall says. "It's a big deal for me!"

Down the road, Minshall hopes to purchase the Roedda and continue caring for it and tendering. She is especially thankful for her friendship with Hosier, who was Minshall's first actual deck boss, and thinks it's "rad" that they are beginning their careers as captains-together.

This community of friends and the opportunities they are creating together is largely thanks to Harold Thompson, who Pollard describes as the "glue of the business."

Pollard was aware of Harold as a teenager while working for Sitka Sound Seafoods, the company Harold's family founded.

"I just always really admired him and looked up to him, and that's why I asked him for a job originally," Pollard says. "I wanted the job...to work with Harold, and maybe by osmosis, or something, be more like him."

The decision seems to have worked out well. Pollard started under Harold as a deckhand years ago, worked his way up and has recently signed paperwork to purchase the Afognak from the Thompsons. He also owns shares on the Roedda and St. Lazaria. At this point, the three boats are like a tight-knit, little family.

The St. Lazaria is currently for sale, however, as Harold is working on retiring. He says, there were some "lookers" last year, but nothing materialized.

Harold was 27 when he bought the tender and he began running it right away. Hosier is about the same age as he was back then. And she likes to run things just like the man that taught her so much-with tons of consideration for crew, no screaming or yelling.

"Harold is the type of guy that says, 'Please' and 'Thank you,' after every task," Hosier says. "He's never stressed, always relaxed and keeps a calm head about everything-a great guy to work for."

Over the years, these three boats have produced many friendships and special memories. But for Harold, two tales about the St. Lazaria might stand above them all.

One season, Harold and Fred Grant were packing herring in Whale Bay when they heard a call for help from the skipper of the tender Norrona. It was sinking 10 miles away, off of North Cape.

The duo battled 20-foot swells and poor visibility. With Grant at the wheel, Harold made ready to haul survivors aboard.

Photo courtesy of Joe Sebastian

Captained by Alex Minshall, the 90 year old wooden tug turned tender FV Roedda unloads totes at the OBI Petersburg crane dock.

Thankfully, all three men were rescued and survived-a newspaper called it a miracle-and rightly so. Grant told the newspaper afterwards, "It was tough getting them out of the water-and a weaker person than Harold just couldn't have done it."

So, the St. Lazaria has not only saved lives, but according to Lizzie Thompson, it helped create the life of the little girl at the beginning of this story, by bringing Harold and her together.

"I remember, when I first met Harold," she says. "I was pretty excited because I was already in love with his boat-it was the most beautiful boat in the harbor."

Lizzie needed some freight taken from Sitka to Warm Springs Bay, so she put a Muskeg Message on the radio. Harold came into where she was working and introduced himself. He then offered to give her and her freight a ride. To this day, Lizzie jokes about Harold only remembering, "that she talked a lot during the trip."

And to that, Harold casually replies, grinning, "But I never let her off, again."

 

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