PUBLISHED: 4:55 PM on Wednesday, July 30, 2008
Seamstress' new 'craft' a labor of love
Boating enthusiast restores 1941 Bristol Bay double-ender
JUNEAU - "I don't trust people who don't have calluses," Bridget Milligan said, holding out her own hardened hands. She has always made a living with these hands, whether commercial fishing or sewing coats at her Kodiak Coat Company.

"You can't find sewers anymore," Milligan said, "whether it's old fashioned materials or even modern materials."

Katie Spielberger photo
  Shipwright Gregor Welpton, center, takes measurements for rebuilding the stern post on Bridget Milligan's, left, 1941 Bristol Bay double-ender as Walter Baldwin, right, a commercial fisherman from Sitka, looks on.
And though she's not sewing as much since retiring in March, she is continuing to demonstrate the importance of handcraft. Milligan is restoring a 1941 Bristol Bay double-ender, a 29-foot boat originally used for fishing under sail.

"It'll be something for Juneau," Milligan said. "It's going to be beautiful and it will be fun to take people out in it."

She found the double-ender in Gustavus last fall. Its former owner sold it to her for only $550, Milligan said, because he knew she would take good care of it.

Back in Juneau, Milligan enlisted some of the best help around. She is restoring with double-ender with the guidance of her friend Gregor Welpton, owner of Blackfeather Boats.

Welpton was trained in wooden boat building and design and worked as a shipwright for years in Homer and Juneau, fixing old wooden fishing boats. Yet these days he spends most of his time designing and building fiberglass power catamarans. He welcomed the opportunity to help out with Milligan's project.

  The double-ender's name comes from expressions Milligan's son used as a child. "Evermewantto" and "Neveriain't" are how he said "yes" and "no" to requests.
"There's something still really refreshing about hanging around wooden boats," Welpton said. "There's the history, the smell ... there's something really relaxing."

Welpton has been donating his expertise and most of the wood. Like Milligan, he has found fewer and fewer people practicing his craft.

"People don't restore old wooden boats," Welpton said. "They burn them on the beach."

And yet Milligan has found a devoted group of old and new friends who have been intrigued by her project and offered supplies and time. At her campsite next to the double-ender, she makes tea over a fire for guests.

"People just came out of the woodwork," she said. "What's great about (the projects) is all the volunteers working together. There's so much love."

Bristol Bay double-enders were first built in the 1930's for fishing in rough Alaskan waters during a time when fishing from powerboats was illegal. The double-enders didn't have cabins - and neither will Milligan's boat.

  Gregor Welpton drafts reconstruction plans as he discusses them with Walter Baldwin. The two men are assisting Bridget Milligan with restoring the boat.
"This is an old piece of Alaskan history," Milligan said. "I want to keep it original. I'm restoring the original boat."

Milligan's one deviation from the original boat's design is to make the gunwales (the top edges) slightly larger, so they can be walked on. She plans to cover them with walnut shell and resin so they are non-skid.

The gunwales were rotten but most of the hull is intact.

"This wood is 64-years old and it's as strong and beautiful as ever," Milligan said.

Near the bow you can still read one of the lowest registration numbers around these days: AK20A.

Milligan plans to have a little outboard and a sail. Eventually she wants to put in the traditional gaff rigging. There will be four rowing stations, but Milligan said she will be able to operate it by herself.

Boaters may recognize Milligan as the owner of a 20-foot pine rowing dory, which she has sailed all over Southeast. She hopes her double-ender will be just as exciting an addition to Southeast waters.

"I'm planning on traveling all over Southeast and just having a good time with it," Milligan said. "I want to fill it up with people and tow their kayaks.... It's just, evermewantto."

"Evermewantto," the boat's name, is painted in calligraphy near the bow, with "Neveriain't in smaller letters below. These expressions were coined by Milligan's son as a child as responses to her requests. "Ever me want to," was his way of agreeing to do something, and "never I ain't!" was his refusal.

Milligan isn't sure how long the restoration will take but she is eager to get "Evermewantto" back in the water where she belongs.

"It's really a very time-consuming labor of love," Milligan said. "I would give anything to have it in the water this year, mostly because (these boats) hate being out of the water. I feel like it's this beached whale."