On March 28, 1919, Fishing Vessel Owners Marine Ways is incorporated. A group of halibut-schooner owners, who are also members of the Fishing Vessel Owners Association, form the new company because they are frustrated by a lack of shipyard capacity in Seattle. Their shipyard will build halibut schooners and dories, and repair, retrofit, and maintain all types of vessels. The yard is located at the Port of Seattle's Fishermen's Terminal, which opened in 1914 and serves as the homeport for the Seattle-based North Pacific and West Coast fishing fleets. The company will be a vital part of Fishermen's Terminal and the maritime industry in Seattle over the next century until closing in February 2022.
An Expansive Vision
When the Port of Seattle opened Fishermen's Terminal on Salmon Bay in 1914, it offered moorage space for small fishing vessels that had been crowded out of other moorages around Elliott Bay and elsewhere on Puget Sound. While the terminal resolved the moorage shortage, The Seattle Times explained in 1919 that, "Because of the crowded conditions of ship repair yards on Puget Sound, each repair season, much delay in the overhauling of fishing vessels has been experienced" ("Repair Plant for Fishing Vessels").
To address that problem, a group of vessel owners who were members of the Fishing Vessel Owners Association decided to form their own company, naming it after the association, but without any legal or financial relationship between the two entities. Fishing Vessel Owners Marine Ways was incorporated on March 28, 1919, when its incorporation paperwork was filed with the Washington Secretary of State. It has been commonly known as FVO.
In FVO's incorporation papers, the company founders laid out an expansive vision for the work they would do. They planned to operate the shipyard to build, repair, and equip "steam, rotor, sailing or other vessels or watercraft whatsoever" (Articles of Incorporation). They also anticipated that they would own or lease and operate work boats, such as tugs and scows, and operate "manufacturing plants, iron works, foundries, electrical and experimental plants, laboratories, and other facilities" (Articles of Incorporation). In short, they would be a full-service shipyard.
The original incorporation papers were signed on March 27, 1919, by Olaf O. Hvatum (1883-1943), Lorentz A. Sandstrom (1873-1946), W.C. Hurley, Albert Lindvog (d. 1952), Elias Linvog, C. B. Steen, and A. G. Ness. They sold shares in the company and The Seattle Times described the shareholders as "owners of more than sixty fishing craft plying from Seattle" ("Repair Plant for Fishing Vessels").
The Marine Ways
In May 1919, FVO negotiated a five-year lease with the Port Commission for the marine ways at Fishermen's Terminal. A marine way is a pair of tracks, like train tracks, that run from below the waterline up onto the shore. A boat can be floated into a cradle that runs along the tracks. A winch, located onshore, is used to pull the cradle out of the water to make the vessel's hull accessible for repairs and maintenance. FVO leased both of the Port's ways, one for larger vessels and one for smaller boats. The winch used at the ways had been built around 1890 and was previously used in a downtown Seattle sawmill. It was installed in 1917 at Fishermen's Terminal in a building constructed for that purpose. A century later the original winch building still stood on the site housing the old winch.
FVO leased land near the ways at the end of West Thurman Street, just alongside the south approach to the Ballard Bridge. The yard was tucked between the Aircraft Plywood Corporation mill and the Port's net shed and other facilities. In June 1919, FVO bought the Estep & Kimball machine shop that had opened at that site in 1917.
At first, the FVO shipyard did repairs, just as the Estep & Kimball outfit had done. Workers rebored and overhauled engines, caulked hulls, rebuilt decks, repaired damage from encounters with rocks and other hazards, and repainted vessels. At the first annual meeting, held in January 1920, the company's officers reported $70,000 in revenue during the first six months of operation.
Superintendent Ingvald Heggem (1881-1956) oversaw the yard. He had a long history in shipbuilding in Seattle and had owned a shipyard on the north shore of Salmon Bay, opposite Fishermen's Terminal, for several years. News items credited him with having built 45 of the independently owned halibut boats operating out of Seattle, so he was well-known among fishing vessel owners and had a deep knowledge of their fleet.
Heggem led the FVO yard until 1946. During his tenure, the shipyard built a number of vessels. By 1920, the yard was producing the small dories used by longline fishermen associated with the halibut schooners. By 1922, larger vessels, such as schooners and tenders, were being launched from FVO's ways. It appears that the yard built only halibut-fishing vessels, but, throughout its history, it has repaired all types of vessels -- from workboats like tugs to fireboats to yachts.
Still Serving the Fishing Fleet
In 1978 a new, larger building replaced smaller structures on the site. It housed the FVO offices and carpenter, metalworking, and welding shops. FVO owned the two wooden docks extending out alongside the marine ways and leased the concrete portion of the Port's adjacent dock and the onshore space it occupied.
Like other maritime businesses in Seattle, the FVO shipyard contended over time with pressures created by increasing urban development. In particular, growing demand for shoreline real estate has led to higher rents. Non-maritime development also affects the shipyard. In 2003, FVO found itself in the path of the planned monorail that was going to be built between the Ballard and West Seattle neighborhoods. The Seattle Monorail Project, the Port of Seattle, and FVO tried to find a compromise that would allow the shipyard to continue operating, but each of the alternatives identified carried enormous price tags or involved significant changes to how the yard functioned. In the end, only the cancelation of the monorail project in 2005 resolved the issue.
As it neared its centennial, FVO continued to repair a wide variety of vessels. Machinists, welders, and carpenters kept historic and modern vessels operational. For the oldest boats, they relied on century-old machinery to fabricate replacement parts or make repairs. Nearly 100 years after its incorporation, the shareholders who owned the company included some who inherited stock passed down from the original owners.
The marine ways that the Port built in 1914 were meant to facilitate the servicing of boats and, since 1917, private companies have used them in conjunction with their onshore facilities. While many of the core functions envisioned by the commissioners in 1914 remain intact at Fishermen’s Terminal in the twenty-first century, FVO is no longer in operation. The company filed for bankruptcy in the fall of 2019 and closed permanently in February 2022. Nearby boat repair and maintenance facilities remain, however. Because of the terminal facilities and those surrounding businesses, it has been easier for fishing-vessel owners to find moorage, service their boats, and store their equipment over the past century. It is one of the key reasons Seattle remains the homeport for the North Pacific fishing fleet.