Post-salmon season: A boat haul out ride along

Aug 4, 2017

At the end of the salmon season hundreds of drift boats are hauled out of water all within a week. KDLG's Caitlin Tan did a ride along with Carl Williams in Naknek. He hauls out over a third of the boats in Bristol Bay. 

Allen Williams stands on the boat trailer to run the hydraulics and to guide Carl, his father, into the water.
Credit Caitlin Tan KDLG

It is 2 p.m. and Carl Williams is behind the tractor wheel, hauling a boat out of water. He has not slept in 48 hours. He said he has to work with the tides to pull boats out, and when the tides are out there are repairs to take care of.

“It’s just something that’s gotta get done,” he said. “Don’t have time for coffee. Just something that has to get done. Tide doesn’t wait for anybody, just have to keep going.”

There are about 1,500 drift gill net boats in Bristol Bay, and 600 of those are hauled in and out of water by Carl.

He owns and operates the business Anchor Inn Boat Storage in Naknek. He is in the last push of the season hauling boats out of water.

Carl Williams owns Anchor Inn Boat Storage. This salmon season he is responsible for the haul-in and haul-out of 600 boats.
Credit Caitlin Tan KDLG

The process starts with a long list of boats needing haul out. Carl said he does about 35 in a 24-hour period, with each haul out taking about 15 minutes.

His son, Allen Williams, rides on the trailer to guide Carl into the water, but also to run the hydraulics. He said he often gets people on boats who are new to hauling out.

“It was dark out and we were picking out of the beach just down the river here Silver Bay’s ramp now,” Allen said. “I was waving to them to come over her, but here he is to the left of the trailer looking at me. He was looking at me going, “What?” I’m like you missed the trailer by a boat width.”

Allen Williams helps guide the 'Illusion' onto the boat trailer. He and his father work with tides to pull boats out of the water and little sleep is involved.
Credit Caitlin Tan KDLG

Once the boat is out of the water Carl drives it to one of several boat yards in the Bristol Bay Borough. He has several trailers, so with long hauls such as to the airport, Carl said he will leave them on the trailer until low tide.

But often he is bringing boats nearby. He has a clipboard that tells him what spot to park the boat, and typically the space is small and packed with skippers’ cars.

“We put a boat down last night over there and it’s in the wrong spot but no keys to a pickup to move it and two cars in one spot,” Carl said. “We got no way to move it unless we lift it up with a squirt boom and destroy their car.”

When the boat is parked, jack stands and wooden blocks are put under it. Today Allen is showing Justin Gilbert the process.

“These ramps you can’t do that,” Allen said. “Lift them up. Watch these poles that they’re not going to slam against the bumpers. They’re loose right now.”

Gilbert said, “Oh boy.”

Once all the stands and blocks are in place, Carl starts up the hydraulics to lift the boat off the trailer.

And just like that the tractor is off. Carl and his crew waste no time, with his crew riding on the trailer. 

Gilbert said they have to keep moving quick to keep their customers happy.

“You gotta keep up maintenance and that tractors going in the water you know. So you gotta make sure fluids are up. There’s really no breaks,” Gilbert said. “So once they’re done pulling out boats they gotta go back and make sure everything is working on the tractor.”

And to keep up with the 600 boats on such little sleep is no easy feat.

Allen has been up since 8 a.m. the day before. He said there is only one way to keep going.

“Caffeine, nicotine, alcohol,” he said.

Like everything about a Bristol Bay summer, the boat haul outs will peak and then quickly taper off. The haul out price can range from $250 to $500 depending on boat size and distance, so with 600 boats that makes for a pretty good season for the Williams’.

Reach the author at fish@kdlg.orgcaitlin@kdlg.org, or calling the station at 907-842-5281.