The Seward Phoenix Log - News of the Eastern Kenai Peninsula since 1966

By Wolfgang Kurtz
LOG Editor 

Seward captain says nine is enough

 

Photo courtesy of the Richardsons

Monty and Florita Richardson at the small boat harbor aside the Irish Lord. Monty's sixth and final incarnation of the Irish Lord was the ninth vessel that he has owned and fished the waters of Resurrection Bay with.

It’s fair to say that last year Monty Richardson was the longest running charter operator in Resurrection Bay to be plying his craft. However, this summer, after 55 years of running fishing craft out of Seward, he’s decided to make a change and sell the latest incarnation of the famed Irish Lord to local couple Von and Christy Terry.

Back in 1959, after a run in with the man, Monty took his charter operator’s exam and officially became one of a select few charter skippers in the bay. He was already an ad hoc commercial operator, starting in 1958 with just a plywood skiff that sometimes barely stayed afloat, taking on passengers for gas money. It really began as a summertime sideline to his career as a Seward educator, an occupation that brought he and his wife to the area that year.

Florita and Monty Richardson first went to Homer, moving to Alaska in late summer 1956. They navigated the Alaska Highway back in the rough and tumble days when the route was as close to a true wilderness expedition as was available driving a motor vehicle. Just 16 years after the March 1942 to November 1942 construction, there were still Army construction camps every 10 or 20 miles dealing with maintenance, clean up and the leftovers from a cancelled CanOil pipeline project.

With their worldly possessions riding behind in a one-wheel trailer, the couple and their two children headed north into the remote stretch of the Alaska Highway. The one-wheel trailer was a fairly common item and not a few ended up upended along the roadside as remnants of other, similar expeditions. Not surprisingly, the rough road took it’s toll on the trailer’s suspension not far out out of Dawson Creek.

At nearby Johnson’s Crossing a couple welders, who were part of the cleanup crew, welded the trailer back together better than new. They were making a pretty good income on the side charging $20 for fixes of the sort, but there were no regrets on the Richardsons’ part. The repaired trailer lasted well past their arrival at their destination: Homer.

So the Richardsons arrived in Alaska, hired sight unseen to teach in Homer’s community school. It was a long pilgrimage from the dirt poor hills of Monty’s childhood in Oklahoma and a dust bowl experience in Colorado where Monty picked up a degree in education at Western State College in Gunnison.

They managed to finish out the year in Homer as their experience with their employment and the community weren’t as advertised, or as the Richardson’s had imagined. Homer just wasn’t working out.

Twelve grades in a two story wooden structure and home life with one bedroom and two children, motivated a visit to Seward in search of greener pastures. That was back in the days when the Sterling Highway was not maintained and, according to Monty, driving some parts of the road were like driving a Jeep up Mount Marathon.

The Richardson couple moved to Seward in August 1957 as the vanguard of a group of other migrating Homer teachers.

Came September and Monty found himself in his first Seward flood when that year Lowell Point got hit hard. Word came that Penny Hardy and her six children were stranded in the middle of flood waters without electricity. Penny insisted on sitting tight after Monty and the rest of a rowboat crew got her generator running.

Thus initiated, Monty entered the next phase of his development into, as he calls it, a great white hunter. He’d already been out in the woods and his kids got a taste for caribou meat. After their second winter, this one on Resurrection Bay, the Richardson family never paid for another fish. However, Monty did pay for his nine boats over the years starting with the leaky skiff he picked up for $250 in 1958 when Florita was out of town.

The skiff didn’t last long amongst the pantheon of Richardson craft, but Monty does recall that, despite its shortcomings, “We caught fish.” Which was the point. Increasing returns from the summer charter fishing “sideline” justified spending $2,000 on the Tinker Bell, which Monty purchased on terms from Gus Johnson’s Seward Hardware.

The handful of other charter operators in Seward began to take notice of Richardson’s growing presence. According to Monty it was no coincidence that he was soon paid a visit from government operatives who shut him down just before the 1959 Silver Salmon Derby for lack of a charter operator’s license. That only set the enterprise back a few weeks because Monty memorized the regulations and handily passed the licensing test.

The Tinker Bell got heavy use over the next few years while the Richardson family welcomed a new daughter, taught school and fish almost literally jumped into the boat like popcorn. Monty recalls taking the Tinker Bell pretty far out for a craft of that size, going after bass back in the days before there were catch limits. However, back then the ocean was still kind of a stranger to the boy from the hills of Oklahoma.

When the 1964 Good Friday Earthquake hit, many of the boats in the Seward area were destroyed or damaged. The earthquake also left mariners with no formal moorage until the harbor rebuilding project re-established slips for smaller craft. In the meantime the Seward cannery rebuilt their docks, and Monty and others used them as makeshift mooring.

There were no ramps during this period and boat operators used ladders to get in and out of their vessels. Monty says he never climbed so much in his life as he did until ramps were restored in time for the 1965 Silver Salmon Derby.

After purchasing his next boat, the Bloomin’ Onion, which actually turned out to be a lemon, Monty acquired a Fiberform which began the first in a line of six boats to bear the name “Irish Lord.” The Onion, which caught fire and was generally troublesome, sunk in Bear Lake.

Over the years since the 1964 Earthquake, when he was just about the only local charter operator left standing, Monty has seen the trade and the fishing resource change.

The fish aren’t as large or as numerous and don’t jump into the boat like they used to.

The 1970s heyday of the charter business helped bring about a local charter operators’ organization which co-sponsored the present day bed tax. Now there’s more licensed charters business than ever but only a loose organization. Fishing regulations and limits are now a significant burden for charter operators.

Time also brought changes to the Richardson family. The couple retired from their public school careers in Seward in 1976 with Monty saying farewell to his post as assistant principal of Seward’s junior high. Florita finished up the year working as a special education teacher at Seward Elementary.

At that point the Richardsons could finally spend mostly all their time fishing. And they have ever since.

 

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