Alaska Commercial Fishing and other Maritime Losses of 1975

February 20, 1975

The 90 foot wood hulled fishing vessel Marten struck a pinnacle off of Spruce Cape four miles north of the town of Kodiak and sank. Two of the four crewmen swam away from the wreck and clung to a cliff all night through a snowstorm.  Only one survived, Jeff Alexander, who had the lowest body temperature ever recorded in a living human when he was taken to the hospital.  Mike Rowe, Jim Rich, and Deere Alioski were lost.

April 22, 1975     Cliff Matthews and Ron Walsh were lost when their small unnamed skiff foundered at Seven Mile Island in Valdez Narrows.  Both were 17 year old Seniors at Valdez High School. A three inch hole was found in the hull of their home made craft.

June 16, 1975     The gillnet fishing vessel Cynthia Rea grounded and sank on Zarembo Island, 30 miles south of Petersburg.  Three people were lost.

June 21, 1975     Frank Phillips of North Bend, Oregon was lost when his 32 foot diesel fishing vessel Forrester collided with the Alaska State Ferry Malaspina and sank in Olga Strait.

August 21, 1975     A captain’s two daughters lost their lives when an unnamed fishing vessel capsized near Cordova.

September 16, 1975     One person was lost when an unnamed fishing vessel capsized while fishing for reds in Vallenar Bay, north of Ketchikan.

November 4, 1975     Robert (Bob) Dennison was lost off of the fishing vessel Airedale while fishing crab in the Bering Sea.  He was washed off of the side of the boat while chaining down a load of crab pots to the side rail.

December 7, 1975     The 89 foot shrimp fishing vessel Western went missing in the northern Gulf of Alaska in a storm after issuing a Mayday.  She was on her way up from Seattle with her last Port of Call at Pelican bound for Kodiak.  No sign of the Western or the three crewmembers was ever found.  Lost were Clifford Huddleston, Carl Pedersen and Vernon Pound.

December 20, 1975     One person was lost when an unnamed fishing vessel capsized at Peratrovich Island near Klawock.

28 Replies to “Alaska Commercial Fishing and other Maritime Losses of 1975”

  1. I knew every one on the Marten. Mike Rowe was a good friend. I had a house on Spruce Cape at the time of the sinking. Those guys died about a mile from where I was hunkered down in my cozy living room. Does anyone know what became of Jeff Alexander? I believe he was the skipper.

    1. Jeff Alexander is my father. Unfortunately he has been deceased since 2006. His death was not fishing related. I myself feel connected to the story of the Marten and have pictures of it and share the story my father shared with me. Thank you for keeping the memories alive of those who were lost

      1. Would like to talk to you one day. Jon Alexander, Jeff and Jason’s cousin. Jack and Pat Alexander were my mom and dad.

      2. Hi there, I fished with Jeff for a year or so on the Marten and the Shirley Ann. Also fished shrimp on the Heidi J with Jerry Johnson.
        I didn’t know he had any children as we rarely saw each other after I got off the Marten a month or so before she sank. If you want to hear some stories give me a call. Good guy. Miss him. Phil

    2. I have just recently come across this thread while researching the ship I believe my uncle (Don McIlrath) worked on. I am curious if anyone was familiar with the name. Supposedly he once logged out of Whale Pass and then moved on to fish on the Marten, due to a head injury he left the crew and never returned to Alaska. I recall him telling me about a British guy filling in for him and he said he never came back because his father had a bad feeling about the situation…

      1. The person who was lost that replaced your Uncle was probably Mike Rowe. He was from Great Britain from what I have heard. The only survivor when the Marten sank was skipper Jeff Alexander and he passed a few years ago. The owner is gone now as well, so finding someone who remembers your uncle Don McIlrath may be a challenge. I was there in Kodiak when the tragedy unfolded and knew Jeff Alexander. I didn’t know any of the other crewmembers or people in the crew rotation. That is what we called crewmembers who were off the boat but may be coming back on. They were always preferable to potential new crewmembers who weren’t familiar with the boat and its gear. Many boats had a list of crewmembers in the crew rotation that they kept in contact with and called upon when one of the other deckhands needed time off to recover from the rigors of the work. Injuries were common and those recovering from them were usually kept in the crew rotation. That is likely what your Uncle Don’s status was when the Marten sank.

    3. I fished on the Marten that year with Mike and Jeff. I got off the boat a month before. I saw Jeff 3 times after that with the last time being around 85 while walking to the king dome to a seahawk game. He was panhandling. We talked for a while. He was obviously on hard times. I gave him $20 and heard he passed away a few yrs later. He was never the same after the accident. We had some goodtimes working together all of Jim Fisks boats. Especially the Shirley Ann.

  2. Hello Allison :

    I am sorry for your loss. Your father went long before he should have.

    Small world : In late August my wife met your cousin Sean at the Alaska State Fair.
    She called me and put Sean on. We shared contact info and my intention is to
    contact him further. I have been urged by many to write about the Marten.

    Should you have more to share and wish to contact me – you may do so in any
    of the following methods.

    1)Find me on Facebook. (Clue: Palmer Alaska)

    2)Find me and my wife Barbara in the Palmer Alaska Phone book
    (we have a 907-745 prefix)

    3)Contact me by going to my website at and click on
    the “Contact” link at the left side of the screen under the picture.

    4)Contact me with this temporary email address: [email protected]
    Please note that the email address is temporary and the minute I start getting
    spam at it, I will cancel it.

    5)Or contact me through Sean.

    Tim Johnson

  3. I was out on the search for the Western in 1975 off the south end of Kodiak. Go over to my Facebook page called Alaska Fishermen RIP, click on photo and then click on album. There is a sequence of pictures I took the night your Dad was lost in a album called The Loss of the Western. There is another album called Lost Fishing Vessels and Crew that has the year 1975 posted in it. One of the posts on the thread in 1975 is from your cousin Rebecca Wright. Your father was her Uncle on her mother’s side. Rebecca also lost her Uncle on her father’s side; Carl Pedersen on the Western. I have heard Rebecca Wright’s sister, Annamarie Woolfolk mention your Dad. Your cousins Anna (Annamarie Woolfolk) and Becky (Rebecca Wright) are both on Facebook and probably remember your Dad well. They would have some stories for sure. Anna years later married my best friend who was with me when I took the pictures going out to try to help the Western. A twist of fate.

  4. For Captain Good: I have quite a bit of information and photographs of the MARTEN disaster from February 20, 1975 at Spruce Cape, Kodiak Island. Can share if interested.
    Regards . . .

    1. I remember Jim. He was quite a character. I worked on a boat he was part owner of in the mid-1970’s. He ended up owning Diamond Jim’s Harvester Inn (Bar and Restaurant} and his wife had a laundromat downtown Kodiak.

  5. In 1970 I was 19 yrs old and hitched a ride from Seattle on the F/V Airedale to Dutch Harbor with a load of gear on deck… Helped the guys set the gear off before going into town, and apparently impressed the skipper because they kept me on through the season…
    Once the season came to an end we began putting all the gear on the beach in Dutch. While laying at the Pan Alaska Dock one night, this huge man came aboard and introduced himself all around… Jim Fisk still had gear on the Pacific side of the Island and needed it picked up… Unfortunately, he was short a crewman and needed some help. My skipper looked at me and didn’t say a word… I just got up and started grabbing my gear and tossing it into a duffle bag!
    Mind you it was my first season in the Bering Sea and the only boat I had worked was the Airedale.
    The Marten was an entirely new experience, and reminded me I didn’t know squat about crab fishing! Jim was understanding enough, but he set the pace! All the equipment was operated from the pilot house… An eye opening experience for me! I was on the boat for three trips picking up gear… The third trip we took off to somewhere on The Semidi Islands and some sheep ranch… We loaded the freezers with meat and sheep heads… Jim was ecstatic as we headed back to pick up the last of the gear… Saw him many times as the years went by and he loved to remind me what a Greenhorn I was!
    Became friends with Mike Rowe in 74 I think it was… An Elbow Room Bromance! My heritage is Irish and I sported long red hair and a red beard… Being from the UK Mike knew every Irish ethnic joke there was, and felt the need to share them with me whenever I saw him! He would start laughing before he could finish a joke! Was so glad to have known him! Good man and a Huge loss!

    1. Correction:
      I didn’t board the Airedale until 75… The boat I first came to Alaska on was the F/V Ironhead… I’m old now, I’m allowed to forget shit!
      In the list above regarding loss of life in November of 75 my friend Bobby was lost off the Airedale… I had big boots to fill when I came aboard as his replacement!

      1. Any chance you knew a character named John Brown on the Ironhead? He was supposedly one of Daubenspecks better engineers.

    2. Thanks for checking in. Those days back in the 1970’s were hard work. Hand chopping bait, hand coiling line that was more like wire and trying to snag crab buoys from 70 or 80 feet away in heavy weather because the boat was designed for something other than crab fishing and couldn’t maneuver for crap. I worked for Jim in the late 1970’s when he was half owner in the Sea Witch. He had someone run that boat and stayed in Kodiak. I think that was about the time he bought the Harvester Inn there. He and his wife Shirley had a laundromat in Kodiak too. Jim leased 33,000 acres of land on Sanak Island and did some ranching. He had about 500 head of cattle that he had built up since 1968 along with horses, pigs, goats and chickens. Jim Fisk was old school Alaskan.

    3. Dan, interesting reading all these accounts. I started working for the Fisk operation in Seattle when he was refurbing the Lynn Kendal, soon to be the Shirley Anne and went north with the boat when Bruce Riser was the skipper. We tag teamed with the Marten fishing dungy’s around Pavlov Bay and eventually Unimak Bite. In those days you could fish 1 of 5 KC seasons and the Bering. I fished my first season with Jeff Alexander and Omar on the Shirley Anne then we all went over to the marten to fish KC and Bruce would act as a tender running crab into Dutch. The Marten was the most efficient boat I worked on in that ALL the hydro’s were run by Jim in the wheel house. The block was on a vang winched boom and all the coils and bags were stacked in the fore peak. Slept many hours huddled on the bag set ups in between strings. I got off the Marten about 2 weeks before it went down and really loved Mike and Jim. I saw Jeff many times afterwards but he was never the same. I quit fishing in 83 when I got a job with Wien in Kodiak and lived Seattle. I’ve been in the fish business since then and will be retiring next year. Was just down to the fishermen’s memorial last week and looked up the long list of lives lost in 75. Sobering thing to look at all those names over the years. You can always reach me @ [email protected].

      1. Thanks for checking in. I worked for Jim in late 1975 and early 1976. After the Marten went down he got the Sea Witch with a local doctor (Eufemeo) as a business partner. The Sea Witch was a steel house forward 90 footer that didn’t last long in the crab business. A friend and I hired on for tanner crab around Kodiak with Bruce Riser as skipper. We got off after tanners in 1976 and she went on the rocks out west in the Pribilofs that October. I also knew Jeff Alexander through a mutual friend. I only spoke with Jeff just after the loss of the Marten. I have been researching wrecks for about 40 years now and am regularly finding friends that were lost on boats that I never knew about. I have an extensive file on the Marten mostly because a Coast Guard Investigator who worked on the Marten Investigation sent me some of his notes and photographs after he retired. I worked in the fishing industry out of Kodiak and Dutch Harbor from 1972 to 1992 so our paths likely crossed. My friend Ray who got on the Seawitch with me also worked at Wein about that time.

  6. To add to my story
    I was on the Akutan
    We docked in Dutch Harbor for fuel and of course I went to the only bar (Elbow Room?)
    A big guy was arm wrestling for 50$
    Not having any money to lose I challenged him for a drink
    I beat him to his surprise
    That’s how I met Jim Fisk
    He offered me a job on the Marten

    1. The Elbow Room was over on the Unalaska side. The Unisea Inn went in about that time, but I think in the early 1970’s it wasn’t built yet. I remember in the mid 1970’s people playing basketball in the shell of the Unisea Inn building as it went up.

      1. I have contacted the Alaska State Troopers and they are searching their records. I also put out a reward for the first person that can find the burial site. I posted it on my Alaska Shipwrecks Facebook page. I am hopeful we will find where your Uncle was laid to rest very soon.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *