Client Profile: Gary Olson, St. John II
Project Manager: Martin Mills

By Debra Swanson

February 2012
St.-John1 St. John II is a beautiful wooden longliner fishing vessel owned by Gary Olson and his family.  This 65 foot boat was built in 1942 by Hanson builders in Tacoma.  Gary’s father bought the St. John in 1981 to add to his fleet of Seattle boats and it has been a union boat of the Fishing Vessel Owner’s Association (FVOA) ever since.  At about the same time the Olson family acquired St. John II, Gary started to fish.  Gary’s three brothers are all fishermen and his sister fished for ten years too.  Gary’s recalls those early years; “We grew up doing it while we were in High School, all of us.  The entire crew was family, it was really cool”.

St. John is specifically used for fishing black cod and halibut in Alaska and Washington.  Gary decided this 68-year-old workboat needed a refit.  He met with Co-op members Chris Brignoli and Martin Mills in Seattle to discuss the potential project and in November 2010 it began.  The goal was to have the boat completed in time for Alaska’s fishing season opener on March 12th.

When I spoke with Gary, he explained his decision to restore St. John II;  “These old wooden boats are dinosaurs, but for what we are doing, it is all you can really use them for…I sink way more money into the boat than it’s even worth, but at the end of the day it functions, it’s just an old wooden boat and they’re kind of neat for what we do, it’s set up for us.”

Martin Mills, the Project Manager, referred to the refit as mostly mechanical.  They would update the vessel for better efficiency, reliability, and overall make the boat easier to operate.  There was a great deal to be accomplished in three months.  Martin had a crew of between six and twelve shipwrights at any given time.

They gave the St. John II a new main engine and new marine gear.  The original Caterpillar engine was almost entirely replaced.  Martin related it to removing everything from beneath the hood of one’s car and replacing the entire engine.  They removed the propeller, shafts, and checked them all.  New steel fuel tanks, refrigeration, and hydraulics were installed in the engine room.  They replaced a defunct water tank in the bow with two new stainless steel water tanks, adding about 250 gallons to the capacity of fresh water.  New fresh water plumbing, bilge plumbing, bilge pumps, and overboard plumbing were installed.  Some new keel bolts were added too.

There was woodwork to be done as well.  New engine beds, the large timbers that the engine rests upon, were built.  A section of rot was discovered in the port engine room, so a portion of the wooden ceiling was replaced there.  In addition, stringers, a dozen white oak frames, and the focsle were all rebuilt.  There were new cabinets, new bunks, and a bulkhead between the focsle and the engine room redone.  Floor decks were recorked and some decking replaced.  Tie rods were added to hold the side decks together, all the way to the engine room.  The windlass was removed, corked underneath, and the controls gone through.  A great deal of wiring was necessary to integrate the new with the old as well.  Whew!

Martin recalls; “There were very few things in there that we did not touch.  There were a couple light fixtures we didn’t do, other than that, it’s all new in the engine room.”

Gary reflects on the refit; “The boat was completely gutted, down to just the shell at one point, all the way up into the focsle.  It almost looked like a big canoe.  It was kind of overwhelming really.”  He says with laughter; “I was really looking at this project thinking there was no way this is going to get done.  Not just the engine out of the boat, it was everything, the fuel tanks, water tanks.  If we wanted to make the opener on that timeframe, it was just like no way.  I’ve been to boat yards quite a bit and usually they will say a certain date and you can count on a big project like this being at least a month or more behind.”

St. John II after boat maintenance at the Port Townsend Shipwright’s Co-op this winter.On March 3rd, Martin’s crew had the St. John II ready to go fishing, so Gary’s crew were able to get to the opener on time.  They were in Alaska fishing for the early season.

Martin refers the completion of this large scale project; “We have done bigger jobs, but the St. John is a pretty good size job especially in the amount of time we did it in.  The reason that job went so well was because we had this really great team on it.  Everyone knew what they were doing and they did it…we had the A Team.  I was totally excited about this job because it was fun to have such a talented group of people working on the project.  We were really close to budget, within 10% of the original estimates and we were able to do that because we had really good, reliable, talented people that are all at the top of their game.  Gary was a great owner, just gave us the leeway to do the job we needed to do, very supportive and trusting.  I was able to make decisions on the spot and have the end result be what he wanted.  Everyday was funny.  We were cracking each other up in the engine room, just busting jokes, picking on each other, it’s just a fun place to be, doing lunches, keeping everybody motivated.”

One unique aspect of the Shipwright’s Co-op is their willingness to allow the vessel crewmembers or owners to help with some of the work.  Martin remembers this part of the project; “Gary had a couple crew members there, one specific crew member Marty was really helpful, taking stuff apart and putting things back together.  He was awesome because he would come in and paint, a bunch of the crew came in to paint the engine room."

Martin recollects his experience managing this project; “It was one of the better jobs I’ve done…because of the team and my learning how to keep everything moving, knowing what we would need three weeks from now, making sure I had the parts…so there were not any hold ups, because everyone was doing a good job thinking one step ahead.  The challenging part is that coordination.  I didn’t write anything down, that whole project was in my brain because that is the only way I know how to work.  The other thing to realize (as Project Manager) is that you are not the guy doing the work.  I am there to keep everyone moving, keep them supplied with materials, give them ideas, answer questions, there has to be one mind that has the whole picture, otherwise things get forgotten.  You have to let go of your daily physical productivity and embrace more of a management productivity.  A lot of us at the Co-op do this well, but the reason we are here is because we like to have our hands dirty.”

Following the completion of the refit, I spoke with Gary; “I was really happy with how things turned out and the timeframe...I was really impressed with how everything came together, especially with Martin, he was the head guy on it and a lot of times I was thinking he was forgetting stuff but he didn’t, never did, was on top of everything.”

When I asked how the St. John was running for him; “Definitely different with the added weight.  With the water tanks moved farther forward and with twice the capacity…this put more weight in the bow and seems to help with the ride, especially when we are just starting out without fish onboard and the weather is crappy.  It rides better with the added weight in the bow.  The new engine is quite a bit faster, the other was old, slow, and didn’t make great speed.”

Gary ended with laughter saying; “We'll probably be back again, hopefully never for anything that big again in my lifetime.” And sure enough, the St. John II returned this winter for maintenance and fresh paint.

Client Profiles


St John




​Client Profile: Peter Geerlofs, M/V SEADUCKTRESS
Project Manager: Chris Brignoli

By Shelly Randall

June 2010

Although he’s officially retired, Dr. Peter Geerlofs takes his “summer job” very seriously.

The 62-year-old physician arrives at the Port Townsend Shipwrights Co-op early each morning, eager to put in some hard physical labor on a comely 44’ steel Diesel Duck troller called SEADUCKTRESS.

“I’m at the yard by 9:30 a.m. and I’m here four to five hours every single day,” Geerlofs says proudly. “And I often leave after they do.”

He’s not getting paid; in fact, he’s paying the shipwrights who usually get home for dinner before he does. But for  months this summer and each of the last two summers, he’s allowed the privilege of working alongside the experts at the Shipwrights Co-op and learning his boat from flying bridge to keel as it undergoes a major, multi-year refit.

Yes, Geerlofs owns SEADUCKTRESS, and the Port Townsend resident is taking advantage of PTSC’s option—a rare one in the industry—for owners to be on-site, hands-on participants in their vessel’s repair or refit.

And learn what’s simply not possible any other way.

“The more you work on your own boat, the more you learn it,” Geerlofs says. And, by extension, the better you know it, the more capable you are as its skipper and caretaker, he says—a priceless lesson indeed.


There’s another significant benefit to all those hours Geerlofs puts in at the yard: he’s there when questions come up about SEADUCKTRESS’s refit. Getting them answered quickly can save time and money. And because he’s included in the day-to-day problem-solving, Geerlofs says he feels more comfortable about the costs of his extensive refit because he’s actively involved in the decisions to incur those costs.

“There are 10 things a day we do differently because I’ve been here,” he says, clearly glad this is the case.

As an entrepreneur himself, Geerlofs appreciates PTSC’s innovative approaches to project management and customer satisfaction.

He founded Port Townsend Family Physicians in 1976 and worked as a doctor in the practice for 20 years before founding Medifor, a medical software company. It was acquired by Allscripts, a leading provider of electronic medical record software, and Geerlofs served as their chief medical officer until 2008.

It was a business colleague and fellow boater, Charley Kanieski, who recommended PTSC for a major rewiring job on Geerlofs’ new boat—knowing his friend had chafed at the insurance restrictions at another yard that didn’t allow him to work on his own vessel.

When SEADUCKTRESS arrived at PTSC in 2008 to have her AC and DC electrical systems revamped, systems specialist and PTSC member Chris Brignoli was assigned to the boat. He has continued to serve as the project manager in 2009 and now 2010, bringing consistency to Geerlofs’ multi-year relationship with PTSC.

Geerlofs is a fan of PTSC’s practice of assigning one member to oversee each vessel project. In his experience with other yards, boat owners typically interface with more than one principal, he notes, and the quality of the workers they hire is not always consistent.

“Whereas here, you’re always working hand in hand with one principal and overall the quality’s consistently been vastly better than in my previous experience,” Geerlofs says of PTSC.

“Everybody I’ve worked with here is so good,” he continues. “They’re smart and they really know what they’re doing. And,” best of all, “they’ll explain it to you!”


Geerlofs had very little experience working on boats before coming to PTSC, and he’ll tell you that gaining this valuable experience is the biggest “bonus” of choosing PTSC.

When Geerlofs arrives at the yard each morning, he checks in with Brignoli and gets his “assignments” from the running to-do list. Sometimes it’s touching up the epoxy sealer on the hull seams, sometimes it’s tearing out plumbing that needs to be replaced. When a new autopilot was installed on SEADUCKTRESS last year, Geerlofs got to do the wiring under the patient tutelage of Brignoli—“a really great teacher.”

“I learn from them and they learn about me and they learn what I’m capable of,” Geerlofs says. “It’s a two-way street.”

He’s impressed that the PTSC staff has taken the time to get to know him as well as to learn from his expertise in the medical field.

Er, wait a minute—where’s the overlap between medicine and boatbuilding? Ah, in the billing, of course.

Early on, Geerlofs had issues with the transparency of the charges in PTSC’s bills. As this is a common problem with medical bills, he offered some feedback. PTSC’s members were open to change, and have made what Geerlofs considers significant improvements in their billing practices—changes that benefit all of their clients.

Business and education aside, Geerlofs claims that hanging out with the crew at PTSC is just plain fun. Although most of his “co-workers” are half his age, they are, as Geerlofs puts it, “the age I am in my head.”

If he’s lucky, maybe they’ll “hire” him back next summer.

Client Profiles


St John




Where are they now?
Profile of Gary Nielsen & F/V VICTORY

By Shelly Randall

June 2010

Commercial Alaska fisherman Gary Nielsen brought his 1942 wooden fishing vessel to PTSC in 2008 for an overhaul that added a new pilothouse and the electronics to “bring a 19th century boat into the 20th century.” Martin Mills was the project manager. We reached Nielsen by cell phone mid-June as he skippered F/V VICTORY off Whittier, Alaska.
Where are you now?
At sea on the fishing grounds of Prince William Sound and home ashore in Kodiak, Alaska, with wife Annette and their 11-year-old daughter
What’s new?
VICTORY was featured as the “boat of the month” in the April 2010 issue of Pacific Fishing magazine, a center spread that has garnered a lot of comments. Also, Gary and Annette became grandparents in June when her 25-year-old son Brad’s first child was born.
How’s life?
“The markets look good, fisheries-wise. It was kind of tough 10 years back, but the future looks bright in fishing right now from what I see. I’m enjoying fishing more now than I ever have.” Next year, he’ll have been in the business 40 years.
What fishery are you in?
“Currently I’m salmon tendering for Pip Fillingham of Copper River Seafoods, working out of Cordova in Prince William Sound.” He’ll likely work VICTORY on the cod and Tanner crab seasons after that. His stepson Brad ran his second boat, F/V ALITAK, as she tendered herring early in the season. ALITAK now is also tendering salmon on the south end of Kodiak Island for Woody Knebel of Ocean Beauty Seafoods.
How’s the boat?
“The boat’s making a profit and running smooth. The guys at the shipyard did a great job. I don’t really have any complaints. VICTORY looked good when I bought the boat but they [the PTSC crew] made it look better. Everybody just says ‘wow’ when they see it. It’s a photogenic boat. Lots of people take pictures.” Would that be the tourists or fellow fishermen? “All of the above.”
When will you be back?
Gary hopes to bring VICTORY back to Port Townsend in the spring of 2011. “There’s some projects I’d like to finish. And I’d like to rig boat up for shrimp trawling. It’s a dream of mine. But now I need to push it. Ain’t got no more shrimp in the Gulf and I know it’s going to be a hot market.”

Client Profiles


St John




Client Profile: Kevin Campion & Deep Green Wilderness, S/V ORION
Project Manager: Chris Chase

By Shelly Randall

June 2010

Kevin Campion knows the value of personalized service. After all, his dream is to create a shipboard program for student-driven scientific research in Puget Sound, “where student choice is directing the sailing schedule.”

So in seeking a suitable sailing vessel for his new nonprofit organization, Deep Green Wilderness, the 32-year-old Campion also sought shipwrights who could provide the personalized service he needed to get the ship—and his business—afloat.

He found them at the Port Townsend Shipwrights Co-op. PTSC project manager Chris Chase not only guided Campion through the decision to purchase a 64’ Sparkman & Stephens yawl from San Diego, he also led a PTSC crew in an extensive refit of the 1934 wooden vessel.
This summer ORION, as she is called, will take the first teenaged students of Deep Green Wilderness on two-week voyages to study endangered orca whales, to explore the San Juan and Gulf islands, and to become more informed and passionate stewards of these waters.

Co-op members have been with Campion every step of the way on this odyssey: traveling with him to California to check out the vessel he eventually purchased; offering to help him find accommodations in Port Townsend during the refit; finding a place for his first mate to live; lending out their vehicles; recommending local restaurants; problem-solving all the inevitable problems of a refit. And now they’re his friends. That’s personalized service, as exemplified by the Port Townsend Shipwrights Co-op.


Campion’s entrepreneurial awakening came four years ago, when he was 28 years old and already steeped in the shipboard education world. He’d gotten his captain’s license at 27, with sea time accrued on a SEAmester program aboard S/Y Ocean Star and while crewing on yachts. He’d worked for Salish Sea Expeditions for the 2006, 2007 and 2008 academic seasons on the 61’ yawl Carlyn, and also worked the yawl’s summer sailing programs at Camp Four Winds.

Campion came to believe in the value of the sailboat as an educational tool, and as his own interests in science and conservation deepened, he lamented what he saw as “a lack of practical conservation education” on the marine waters and coasts of his native Northwest.

With this came the realization “that eventually I would love to run my own program,” Campion recalls. “I started scheming about how to come up with a boat then.”

With a business plan brewing, he left Salish to work for the Ocean Education Foundation and SEA Semester to learn how their programs were run. “I got home [in 2009] and gave myself a year to put together things and find a boat,” he says.


While the programmatic niche of Deep Green Wilderness was being developed, the characteristics of the ideal classroom vessel were forming in Campion’s mind. “I wanted something that was easily sailed by students, so the crew could handle as much responsibility to the students as soon as possible. And I wanted something that sailed efficiently, so that we weren’t spending a lot of time motoring.

“Those requirements are met by more modern boats, but I wanted something that of course was cool to look at and I loved the idea of an older wooden boat in that you’re recycling the resources. It’s already been made, it’s wood, and it’s pretty low impact to work on a wooden boat.”

Knowing whatever vessel he found would likely require an extensive refit, Campion contacted a few yards early on about their interest in working with him. He hoped to find professionals who would allow him and his crew to labor alongside during an overhaul, sharing information about the ship’s structure and systems and techniques for maintaining her.

“The Co-op seemed the most willing to work with me,” he says. “They weren’t shocked by the scope of my project and there wasn’t a lot of salesmanship involved.” He was further reassured by consistently enjoyable interactions with Co-op members, whom he describes as “friendly,” “competent,” “low-key,” “mellow,” and “not overeager—like some other yards.”

And Campion felt that Chase, the eventual project manager, understood him and his Deep Green Wilderness dream. “He had a vision of what he wanted and I was able to help him find that vision,” Chase concurs.


The PTSC relationship began during the boat-shopping phase. As Campion found potential vessels scattered up and down the west coast, Chase would often come along for a second look.

“Above and beyond my knowledge, he had a more practical idea of what the boat I was looking for would look like,” says Campion. Even more importantly, “he understood what kind of work would need to go into it” and could provide “the financial reality check,” as Campion puts it.

“He [Chase] could do the number crunching on a boat option and tell me if it would cost half a million or $200,000 to accomplish what I wanted.”

Campion encountered ORION on a trip to San Diego to look at a different vessel. Originally named EDLU, the Sparkman & Stephens design #35 has received much acclaim in her 76 years. Built in 1934 at the shipyard of the legendary Henry B. Nevins, ORION won the Newport Bermuda Race the year she was launched. She served in the “Hooligan Navy” in WWII, searching out German U-boats along the eastern seaboard. After the war the 64’ yawl made her way through the Panama Canal to the Pacific, where after extensive cruising she found a berth in California.

Campion couldn’t get ORION out of his head, so a month later he asked Chase to accompany him on a return trip to San Diego to look at her again.

“Chris [Chase] was willing to fly down on short notice and sleep in a crummy motel room,” Campion says with a laugh. But Chase was similarly impressed by ORION and gave his blessing.

“At the point I bought the boat I was 95 percent sure I’d be going with the Co-op for the refit,” says Campion. That decision was cemented when Campion and his crew attempted to sail ORION up the coast. “We made it to Ventura [Calif.] and realized the deck needed replacing sooner than we thought and the fuel tanks, too,” he says. “While we were dealing with all that, I was on the phone constantly with Chris Chase troubleshooting things. He was telling me ways to jury rig the fuel system and all that.”

When it became clear that voyaging up the coast was foolhardy, the Co-op handled the logistics of trailering ORION the rest of the way to Port Townsend.

“This is when I feel the Co-op was above and beyond helpful,” Campion concludes.

And so it was that ORION came to be blocked up in the workyard of the Shipwrights Co-op in September 2009.

During her seven months in the yard, ORION’S faulty fuel system was fixed, the laid teak deck was replaced, and the below-decks space was reconfigured to add more bunks. Now she is USCG-certified to carry six passengers and three crew on overnight voyages, or 25 passengers on day trips.PTSC wishes Campion and his crew the best of luck with ORION’S first sailing season!


(206) 228-3615 See also “S/V ORION” on Facebook

Client Profiles


St John




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