Thursday, September 18, 2008

Historic Fishing Boat Gets A New Home

It took two attempts — and some extra muscle in the form of a 120-ton crane — but on Tuesday the 72-year-old FV Islander commercial fishing boat was finally hoisted out of the Sheboygan River to a permanent berth on land. Now that it's high and dry, the iconic 43-foot gill-netter will be restored and put on display in the South Pier District in honor of the community's vanishing commercial fishing industry. However, hauling it ashore proved a bigger catch than anyone was prepared for. Workers attempted to lift it out of the river last month using a 35-ton crane, but the wooden boat was too heavy for the crane, which began to tip, and the attempt was aborted. "It's steel clad over oak, and the oak was pretty soaked," said Eldon Burg, a volunteer assisting with the project. This time a 120-ton crane was commissioned for the job, and in a matter of minutes Tuesday, the weathered red and white vessel was lifted skyward, spun around and placed on land as a crowd of approximately 50 people looked on. "There was a little wind blowing it around when it was in the air, but that was the only adversity," said Brian Marx, a crane operator for Oshkosh-based Ideal Crane Rental. Marx said that the Islander weighs about 20 tons. The boat has been moored in the river since the early 1990s, when it was taken out of service. The boat's run began in 1936 when it was built by Sturgeon Bay Boat Works and sold to a Washington Island fisherman named Albert Goodmander. The boat remained in Door County until 1977, when it was purchased by third-generation commercial fishermen Gary and Glenn Seger, who own the Great Lakes Fish Company, 819 Riverfront Drive.
A crane lifts the FV islander onto shore near South Pier Drive in Sheboygan
Boats like the Islander, which is a gill-netter, are considered extremely versatile fishing vessels and saw extensive use on Lake Michigan in the 20th century, mostly because the boats can handle rough waters and can be outfitted to catch just about any type of fish. The boats aren't as common today as the industry has shrunk. The Segers, who are among the three remaining commercial-fishing families left in Sheboygan, say they field thousands of questions every year from tourists, who are surprised to learn there are still fishing businesses like theirs in operation. The Segers were going to scrap the Islander until local citizens and committee members from the Harbor Centre Business Improvement District suggested preserving it. The brothers have since donated the boat to the city, which cleared the South Pier District site where the boat now rests. The Kiwanis Foundation donated $5,000 to remove the boat from the water, while the Carpenters Local 731 will donate more than 100 hours toward the restoration. AmeriCorps volunteers will also assist in the effort. In addition, the boat will be fitted with Plexiglas viewing ports to allow passersby a view of the boat's interior. A video display terminal will also be added to highlight the history of commercial fishing here. While he's glad to see that the boat will stand as a monument celebrating the area's fishing legacy, Glenn Seger said it was hard watching it leave the water. "It's a shock," he said. "But the time has come to let her rest."

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