The Epic Launch of the F/V Northern Leader


This past weekend, I experienced one of the coolest events ever—the launch of the brand new, $25 million F/V Northern Leader. Of course, the boat is astonishing. At 184-feet long, it will be the largest vessel in the Bering Sea freezer–longliner fleet. It will also be the most technologically advanced and eco-friendly fishing vessel ever built in the United States, and the largest built in the Pacific Northwest in 25 years.

When Nick Delaney, the project manager for the Northern Leader and a founding member and director of Alaskan Leader Fisheries, LLC, called to invite my family and me to the launch, I felt honored and excited.

I’d love to go! But could I? George was (and is) crabbing and I hadn’t even heard from him in over a week. He obviously couldn’t come (which was a shame, because George has known Nick for two decades and has been involved in other boats owned by Alaskan Leader Fisheries. He’d have loved to see this!)  I had the three little ones I’d need to bring, including baby Valerie. I’d have to drive, find the hotel, and get to the shipyard, all on my own. Oh, and the launch would coordinate with the tide, so the party would begin at 4:00 a.m. Yikes!

Nick, being the kind and generous fellow that he is, offered to cover the hotel and provide care for my children at the launch. Nick has always been a great friend to George and me. He’s known George for about twenty years in both professional and personal capacities, and me for about thirteen years, when I met them both during the building of the F/V Shemya. Nick and his lovely wife, Sally, were great friends of ours while we lived in Ballard, and they attended our wedding. Here’s how cool Nick is; when I first started dating George, he flew me up to Dutch Harbor twice to visit George because he thought I seemed sad and lonely.

As far as the launch of this newest fishing vessel, Nick calmly suggested I think about it. After mulling it over, it occurred to both of us that my dad would probably love to attend the launch as well. Dad launched our own family fishing vessel, the F/V Vis, in 1990, and was also present at the Shemya christening in 2001. He also adores his grandchildren. Dad might love to go!

Fortunately, Dad did decide to attend. It was important to me that my dad and my kids come with. Sure, two of my three little ones could have stayed home with my parents, but I wanted them to see this event. You don’t see the launch of a brand–new, innovative commercial fishing vessel every day. My own family’s fishing and fisheries is much different, but nevertheless, this was an important and history-making part of our culture, and I wanted my children to witness the occasion.

Plus, I know that when Nick has his hand in something, you want to be a part of it. So off we went down the road—and boy, was it worth it.

Talk about cheer, joy, energy, excitement, pride, respect, hope, and optimism! That was the vibe going on at the Martinac shipyard at 4:00 a.m. on January 26, 2013. A huge food cart was provided by Martinac inside the yard, with all kinds of food available free of charge to launch attendees. There was also coffee, boxes and boxes of donuts, hot chocolate, and champagne. The Bailey’s, Smirnoff and Crown on hand made my mouth water. Had the launch just been at 4:00 p.m. rather than 4:00 a.m….ha ha!

Joe Martinac, the president of Martinac Shipbuilding, served as Master of Ceremonies and spoke about the number of local jobs the building of the Northern Leader produced (well over 100 new, full-time jobs). An Irish priest prayed over and blessed the vessel. Governor Jay Inslee gave an authentic and energetic speech (and paused from the podium to compliment my three children who were sitting in the front row—consider me a converted and lifelong Inslee fan!). There was a flag ceremony and playing of the Star Spangled Banner.

And then—the tide literally turned—and it all happened so quickly!

Nick’s wife, Sally, shattered the champagne bottle on the bow. A call sounded. Before I even realized what was going on, the Northern Leader was off! She glided out of the building leaving shouts of joy, clapping, and celebratory ribbons spilling behind her!

For some reason, I assumed the massive vessel would inch bit-by-bit out of the building. Man, was I wrong! She flew out of that building into the bay, where a tug waited to catch her. (I’ve provided a link to my launch videos at the end of this post.)

Within 50 seconds, and accompanied by cheers, celebration, hoots, and hollering, the  F/V Northern Leader left the building.

Fun Facts about F/V Northern Leader and Alaskan Leader Fisheries, LLC:

  • The 184-foot Northern Leader is owned by Alaskan Leader Fisheries, LLC.
  • Alaskan Leader Fisheries was established in 1990 in Kodiak, Alaska by seven commercial fishing families. Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation and the original founding families have an equal 50%-50% ownership interest in the company.
  • The company owns four freezer-longliners, including the 150-foot Alaskan Leader, the 167-foot Bristol Leader, and the 124-foot Bering Leader.
  • At 184′ x 42′ x 18.75′, the new Northern Leader is one of the largest commercial fishing vessels in the country and the largest fishing boat built in the Pacific Northwest in over twenty years.
  • Until the Northern Leader was built, the Bristol Leader was the largest vessel in the freezer-longliner fleet.
  • Construction cost was $25 million.
  • The freezer-longliner will fish primarily for Pacific cod in the Alaska longline fisheries of the North Pacific, Bering Sea, and Aleutian Islands. It’s homeport will be Kodiak, Alaska and the primary port of operation will be Dutch Harbor, Alaska.
  • The Northern Leader can fish up to 76,000 hooks and will process and freeze 1.9 million pounds of frozen seafood. The second-largest boat in the fleet, the Bristol Leader, carries 1.1 million pounds.
  • The Northern Leader is one of the most technologically advanced and innovative commercial fishing vessels ever built. It will use the latest in diesel-electric technology to power its refrigeration, lighting, and a highly-flexible propulsion system.
  • The vessel will process much of what is normally considered waste; cod livers will be processed for oil and fish heads will be ground up for meal.
  • Jensen Maritime Consultants, the prominent Seattle naval architecture firm, designed all four of the Leader boats.
  • For its design of the Northern Leader, Jensen was awarded the New Wave Award by National Fisherman and Workboat at Pacific Marine Expo 2012. The award honors the environmentally-friendly and energy-efficient design of the Northern Leader’s diesel-electric propulsion, as well as use of the first ever Z-Drive on a Bering Sea longliner.
  • The building of the vessel created over 100 new, full-time jobs jobs at Martinac Shipbuilding Corporation in Tacoma, Washington. Martinac Shipbuiding was founded in 1924 and is one of the oldest shipyards on the U.S. West Coast.

You can click here to watch a few of the videos I took of the launch! My amateur iPhone movies include the blessing of the boat, the Star Spangled Banner, and two of the actual launch (one of which was taken by my dad).

For further reading on the F/V Northern Leader and to view pictures of the interior, please see the post A Day of Celebration: The Christening and Open House of the F/V Northern Leader.

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