Skugaid skipper determined to stay
The historic Chief Skugaid fishing boat set sail on Saturday for calmer waters.
All of 100 feet west.
But first the vessel's skipper, David Cobb, had to dodge an attempt by bailiffs to seize the boat on Friday and then wait out a hefty breeze so a team of volunteers could tie the boat up to its new position.
The Skugaid's new home will be a temporary port in the legal storm to get the boat to move along from the berth it's occupied aside the New Westminster Quay, just east of the Fraser River Discovery Centre, since June 2011.
Cobb, who acquired the 100-foot boat more than two years ago, first tied up along New Westminster's waterfront to wait out repairs to the railway swing bridge after it was knocked off kilter by a passing barge. The closure of the north channel blocked his access to a boat yard in Queensborough where he intended to work on the Skugaid.
But he never left—much to the dismay of the owners of the expansive parking lot that occupies most of the wharf, No. 143 Cathedral Ventures Ltd.
Cobb says he started receiving letters from the company's lawyers almost immediately, accusing him of trespassing. They culminated in legal proceedings that began last November and on Jan. 16 gave him 30 days to find a new home for the boat.
Cobb says that hasn't been easy.
"I can't find anything, there's nothing available," says Cobb, who was granted extensions from the initial deadline. Commercial marinas don't want to take a chance on tying up such a large, old boat for liability reasons.
He's also adamant the Chief Skugaid belongs in New Westminster.
Built in Vancouver in 1913 by renowned boat builder and champion rower William Watt, the Chief Skugaid was first registered in the Port of New Westminster. Over the years it fished for halibut from Prince Rupert to the Anadyrskiy Gulf, off Russia, sailed as a rumrunner during Prohibition, then plied the frigid waters of the Bering Sea. Cobb, who'd spent some time aboard the boat in his younger days and often encountered it during his own career as a fisher, salvaged it as a retirement project, fixing it up with an eye to eventually running eco-tours and the occasional freight run.
As Cobb researched the Chief Skugaid's history while figuring out his next move, he was convinced the boat could become a prized historical artifact for New Westminster's waterfront.
"It's got a colourful history, it's had a checkered career," says Cobb. "It's like a native son returning to its port for its 100th anniversary."
He posted the boat's story on a website, he created signage that he mounted on the fencing alongside the wharf. He chatted up passersby, many of them mariners drawn to the waterfront to see the ship for themselves. He has a file full of letters and emails from supporters thanking him for his efforts to keep the Chief Skugaid afloat as an ambassador of New Westminster's maritime history.
But none of that swayed the BC Supreme Court, which ruled in Cathedral's favour that the boat's presence violated its foreshore.
So on Saturday, at high tide, a troupe of supporters tugged ropes to pull the Chief Skugaid into its new temporary position in front of the Fraser River Discovery Centre, property that's not controlled by Cathedral, and is leased to the city of New Westminster.
His refuge isn't likely to last long though, as council has authorized the city "to do what we have to do to get him to vacate," says Terry Atherton, the manager of civic buildings and properties. "He never asked to go onto our area, nobody's given him permission."
Cobb is undeterred.
"I'm treating this as a sanctuary," says Cobb of his new, temporary location. "I live in hope. I believe in the boat."