Perfect Pairing for Bristol Bay

Perfect Pairing for Bristol Bay North River Boats developed its 10-metre Bristol Bay boats to meet the needs of Bristol Bay’s fleet

One of the largest heavy-gauge aluminium boatbuilders in the United States, North River Boats is now offering a prop-powered fishing vessel designed specifically to meet the needs of Bristol Bay’s seasonal fishery.

Based at Roseburg, Oregon, North River Boats has around 10,000 deliveries behind it, having specialised for decades in jet-propulsion vessels. Now the company has produced a conventional prop-driven boat that has been developed to meet the needs of Bristol Bay’s fishermen.

Sales director Mike Blocher explained that they were approached with enquiries at an exhibition, after which he and the company’s general manager travelled to Bristol Bay to get a feel for the fishery there, and to find out for themselves what works and what doesn’t.

“Bristol Bay is unlike any other fishery,” he said. “Most fishermen want boats that pack 7257kg in a fish hold, and they want a recirculating seawater system to get the fish cold quickly. The goal of a lot of fishermen in Bristol Bay is to run fast with as much weight as they can, so that they can get an extra set or two during the tide.”

The choice went to a proven hull design with a good layout for both comfort and fishing.

“The one that stood out is the Dick Smitha hull and it works very well with weight in the fish holds. A typical Smitha hull with a single jet and ample horsepower will pack more than 3000kg of floated fish on plane. This is what we were looking for. When I got back from my first trip to Bristol Bay, I called Dick Smitha, who owned NorCraft Marine & Design. It just so happened that he was planning to retire and wanted a succession plan for his design, and we licensed it,” he said.

The result is North River’s Bristol Bay fishing boat, ten metres long and with a four metre breadth, capable of holding 7000kg of fish. The power comes from a single John Deere PowerTech 575hp (429kW) 6135SFM85 engine driving a robust hydraulic system fitted with hard-lined stainless-steel tubing. Four hydraulic pumps drive a 10-inch (254mm) hydraulic thruster, the deck gear, and a nine tonne hydraulic recirculating seawater system that cools fish to 1°C.

Failure is not an option

“When the boats came out of the water, I went back up to Bristol Bay and started distributing information about our hull design. I ended up meeting Marty Stevens who had been fishing for more than 30 years and was ready for a new boat. He wanted a boat big enough to pack a lot of weight and that would chill fish fast, and he wanted a robust steering system that wasn't going to fail. The Bristol Bay has a wheel drive on the deck gear, which provides more pulling capacity and torque so that you can pull a net and pick fish while towing a net,” he explained.

Mike Blocher commented that the decision to go for John Deere propulsion came primarily from customers.

“We've used John Deere engines in other boats we've built, and our customers are very happy with them. You're basically putting your entire livelihood in a four- to six-week window, and failure is not an option. The John Deere engine is very robust, and that's what you need for that market,” he said.

The John Deere PowerTech 6135SFM85 engine was paired with a ZF Marine 360A transmission and a 26x26-inch Pac Master propeller, delivering 94% propeller efficiency at full power.

“The performance was incredible. Lightly loaded, we averaged 17 knots, which isn't bad for an 11-tonne boat with only 575hp. Loaded with 6 tonnes, it still ran 12 knots,” he said.

“The Bristol Bay area has an ageing fleet, and there's a big need for new boats. A proven Bristol Bay hull design with John Deere marine power is the perfect pairing for Bristol Bay fishermen.”

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