Hal Cook has been fishing in Bristol Bay since 1979. He started in the marine industry in 1976 building fishing equipment at Marco Shipyard in Seattle, and later started Go2marine, an online marine chandlery. When the time came that he needed a new Bristol Bay gillnetter, Cook’s years of experience in boatbuilding and fishing led him to North River Boats, in Roseburg, Oregon.
A well-established builder of recreational boats and high-speed commercial and government vessels such as patrol craft and fireboats, in 2016 North River Boats partnered with respected Bristol Bay fisherman and boat builder, Dick Smitha, to build Bristol Bay gillnetters. The first in the series, F/V Nobody, was delivered in April of 2018. That 32-foot boat is 14.5 feet wide, and is motivated by a 575-hp John Deere turning a conventional 26-inch prop. Hal Cook’s new boat, christened F/V Haldrada, is a full foot wider, at 15.5 feet, has a whaleback design, and makes use of a 750-hp Scania DI13-088M engine powering a Thrustmaster Hi500 waterjet.
“The craftsmanship at North River is really something to see,” Cook says. “Building a boat should not be this much fun, everyone from designers to welders, machinists and outfitters are amazing.”
Over the years Cook has owned and fished with his two sons Mats and Casey a Marco built gillnetter and another built by Kvichak. “They started fishing with me when they were just kids,” Cook says “and now it’s three generations, Casey’s 15-year-old son David has been fishing with me since he was 9 years old!”
“It was Casey’s turn to name a boat,” Cook says. Casey came up with the name Haldrada as a play on his dad’s first name, Hal, and the name of an 11th-century Norwegian king, Harald of Norway, nicknamed Hardrada, roughly translated as “stern counsel.” Hardrada lost his first battle at the age of 15 but went on to win many more and is considered the last great Viking king.
The jet drive was developed by Leonard and Jason Hill, and it has been licensed to Thrustmaster of Texas. The father and son team have a combined 65 years of experience in the marine waterjet industry, and the Hi500 jet is a combination of the previous low-rpm, high thrust, TRAKTOR JETS designed by Leonard Hill in the mid 1990’s. The new jet incorporates many of the characteristics of high-rpm jets, while still providing the thrust necessary to move a fully-laden working boat.
“It just leaps out of the water,” Cook says. “Something I could only dream about.”
The jet drive can propel the boat past 26 knots and, coupled with a hydraulic bow thruster, gives the boat incredible maneuverability.
Cook says a benefit to this jet drive includes the design of the drive’s reverse bucket. In a conventional boat, in reverse the operator has to turn the wheel the opposite direction to continue the turn. In his new boat the wheel can stay in the same position for reverse – Cook says it allows the operator to maneuver very quickly.
“Fishing in the Bay for more than 40 years has taught us a few things and this boat addresses them all,” Cook says.
The Haldrada is fitted with an IMS 10-ton chiller for the R-507 RSW system, and the boat is unique in being fitted with keel coolers rather than a stern cooler. It’s the first system IMS has built for the Bay with keel coolers, and Cook had North River add a feature allowing for a bypass valve and strainer to use seawater from the bay as an alternative. The keel-cooled system re-circulates water through the keel-cooler to remove heat from the refrigerant vapor in the condenser. With the bypass, the operator can take seawater directly from the bay to the condenser, bypassing the keel coolers and offering the ability to provide better cooling in warm water situations, such as those experienced in Bristol Bay in the 2019 season.
The new boat has a 16,000-lb capacity in eight holds – four per side, or 2,000 lbs. per hold. “We went with three brailer bags per fish hold,” Cook says, rather than the conventional two. He says the idea was to keep the individual brailers light enough that they could be unloaded efficiently while protecting his catch.
“Every decision we made was based on providing the best quality we could produce with the technology available today,” Cook says. “That made a lot of decisions really easy for us.”
Cook had the brailers custom made by Diane Hill at Bristol Bay Brailer. “First she made us a sample so we could check measurements,” Cook says, adding that the company does great work, is easy to work with and is conveniently located. “If we rip one during the season, she has the measurements and she can make us a new one right there in the Bay.”
Cook says working with North River Boats has been very satisfying. “I would explain a need, and their team would come back with a solution even better than I had imagined. We had some things we wanted to do, and they not only listened carefully but would come back with a couple options many times better than we envisioned.”
Mike Blocher at North River Boats says Cook had a hand in designing the hydraulic system as well. He says the boat has several hydraulic pumps, all running off the main engine.
Blocher says the system is very robust, with backups for all of the main systems. “Hal spent a lot of time, and I mean a lot of time, going through every single system in the boat,” Blocher says. “After 40 years fishing the Bay he knew everything that could go wrong and addressed it from the perspective of a brand new boat design.”
The boat is fitted with Kinematics deck gear, including the net drum and level wind, stern roller and anchor winch. “The anchor has remote valve control at the helm, so that if Hal wants to pick up and move in the middle of the night he can let his crew sleep,” Blocher says.
Much of the hydraulic system is actuated by electronic valves. “Instead of running three banks of valve bodies he has electronic controls at the back and front,” Blocher says. “The helm has electronic controls for the drum and stern roller, as does the aft station which also includes the washdown pump,” Blocher says. “They’re all connected to a massive panel in the engine room.”
“Steve Brooks at Seattle Marine did a great job on the hydraulic system, Cook says. “They go the extra mile.”
Other custom touches include a main mast that folds down, making the boat easier to move over the road. Because the Smitha design incorporates a raised wheelhouse the boat can be fitted with a narrow-drum anchor winch. “The higher house means you can see over a taller winch, and the narrow drum makes for less level-winding,” Cook says.
For the comfort of the crew, the boat includes a full head with a shower and a galley with a propane stove, as well as a Webasto diesel heater for the crew space. The heater has a separate tank and lift pump to move fuel from the main tanks.
Cook added another custom touch in the form of heat sensors in the engine room and near the heater. These sensors, tied to the alarm panel, eliminate the need for a CO2 fire system and the attendant risk such a system poses to the crew.
“Building a boat with North River has been a lot of fun, and I must say a very rewarding experience,” he says. “They have a great staff and build super boats in their modern facility, but more importantly they also have an innate ability to listen to the owner and translate ideas into practical solutions.”
As this issue went to press, the new boat was on a barge headed to Bristol Bay for the 2020 salmon season. Cook says the process couldn’t have been smoother and he wouldn’t hesitate to have North River build him another boat.
“As the process went along I fully expected to see things that needed extra attention,” Cook says. “I never did- these guys were amazing.”