Martinolich Shipyards in America
Just saw on your Web that a young lady just discovered her Martinolich Roots. Here are a few of her cousins from
Mississippi, Washington and British Columbia, Canada. The first Martinolich's came in the 1860's; they were
successful shipbuilders and sea captains..
Adam S. Eterovich
MARTINOLICH, JOHN A. Shipbuilder: The history of the Puget Sound would be incomplete without the story of the
Croatians who purchased land and made Dockton, Washington a town on Maury Island, their home. Among them was John
A. Martinolich, who was born in Mali Losinj, Dalmatia, Croatia and came to this country in 1893. Martinolich came
from a line of shipbuilders who had practiced their trade along the Dalmatian Coast of the Adriatic. He had
emigrated first to Canada, where he was employed at the Vancouver Shipyards Ltd. under Watts. He was not only a
skilled craftsman but also had considerable knowledge and ability as a ship designer." In June, 1909, the drydock
of the Puget Sound Drydock Company, for which the town of Dockton was named, was gone. But Dockton was by no means
ready to become a ghost town. Her greatest days were yet to come. Many of the former drydock workers stayed on and
embarked on enterprises of their own. Among them were Martinolich and John Bussanich, who was a blacksmith. This
hardy citizenry of fishermen and drydock workers liked their community too much to leave. They soon established a
thriving economy, even surpassing the drydock era. Martinolich operated his shipbuilding business at several
locations in Dockton in the early years. In 1904, he signed a contract to build the Vashon, which was the first of
many well-known "mosquito fleet" steamers to be built in Dockton. Next he built the 142-ton, 113-foot steamer, the
Verona. After building these, Martinolich had kept busy building purse seiners and other fishing boats for
Dockton’s growing fleet of fishermen. John Martinolich had often been credited with the development of the West
Coast purse seiner. His long, deep draft hulls became the classic pattern for the engine-driven fishing fleet that
was to dominate the fishing grounds of the Northwest and Southeastern Alaska for the next fifty years. Many of
those early purse seiners are still in use.
As the larger shipyards in Seattle and elsewhere became mobilized for the war effort in 1916, opportunities arose
for small, independent operators, and Martinolich obtained a contract from the Norwegian government for three
large wooden sailing schooners. All three were 235-foot, fore and aft rigged, topmast schooners. To accommodate
these large vessels, the yard was completely rebuilt to provide fully planked ways capable of handling all three
ships simultaneously. When America entered World War I in 1917, work was in progress on all three hulls. However,
by the time one of the ships was completed in 1918, the shipping crisis had abated and, with worsening financial
conditions, the Norwegian government failed to make payments on the contract. Because of Martinolich's fine
reputation, a major lumber supplier decided to take over the contract. During the reorganization of the shipyard
operations following the panic, Martinolich took in his relative, John Catalinich, to be a partner, Several
relatives, including Tonce Cosulich, also worked in the same shipyard. The combination of relatives and fiery
Dalmatian tempers resulted in some memorable verbal battles and smouldering rivalries. Cosulich and Catalinich
formed a partnership and bid for the construction of a new passenger steamer by undercutting Martinolich. They
obtained the contract to build the Vashona. Martinolich was enraged, and he, in turn, fiercely undercut them on
every job that came along, so that the partners were driven out of business. The rivalry finished, Martinolich
hired them back. Martinolich continued to build purse seiners and packers for the salmon trade. Many of his boats
were operated by local Dockton fishermen. They were divided into two groups: the big seine boats which were
operated by Slavonians (Croatians) such as Plancich, Beretich, Lubich, Catalinich, and Berry; and the
Scandinavians, who operated one and two-man trollers. In 1929, when business became slack at the shipyard,
Martinolich sent most of his crew to Gig Harbor to help the Skansie yard during the construction of the ferry
Skansonia. In 1930, he retired and the shipyard closed except for occasional repair work. In 1937, he left Dockton
to go to Italy, where he had acquired a villa. The Second World War forced his return to this country. He died in
Tacoma in 1960. (Petrich, M. 1984)
MARTINOLICH, FRANK and MATTEO Shipyard: When Croatian born Matteo Martinolich came to the Mississippi Coast in the
mid-1880s, he was already skilled in shipbuilding and design. First working for Handsboro shipbuilder Henry
Lienhard, Martinolich then established his own shipyard on the banks of Bayou Bemard at Handsboro, now part of
Gulfport, Mississippi. An ad in the 1893 publication Mexican Gulf Illustrated advertises "Martinolich Shipyard.
Vessels Built Hauled out and Repaired on Short Notice, and Satisfaction Guaranteed. Also, Steamboats, Iron or
Wood, Yachts and Pleasure Boats." Matteo was the first to use Mississippi pine in the building of seagoing vessels
and built the first sliding-way on the Coast to handle vessels larger than 60 feet. Pictures of visitors to the
shipyard stand in the ribs of the schooner John Francis Stuard, then under construction. The rigged halfmodel of
this 205.8-foot 1,200-ton, four-masted schooner, built in 1919 to carry freight and lumber, is on exhibit in the
Hancock Bank in Gulfport The ship itself burned at the dock in Gulfport in 1928. Another photograph is of
Martinolich and the large family he reared in the banks of Bayou Bernard. Seated in the center of the photograph
is Frank Martinolich Sr., who came in 1883, along with his wife and sons Matteo and Frank Jr., from the island of
Losinj near the western coast of Croatia. Other family members are front row, from left; children Joseph, 12,
Andrew, 10; Leo, 3; Joanna Pavalini Martinolich holding 1-year-old. Jessie, standing next to Frank Sr. are Katie,
8 and Anna, 5. Through hard work and diligence, Martinolich launched a shipyard and raised a large family a true
American immigrant success story. But as with many success stories, his was also touched by tragedy. From 1911 to
1914, three Martinolich's sons, his brother and his father died. On June 19, 1914 his two youngest boys drowned
while swimming together in Bayou Bernard. Through World War I and until his semiretirement and closing of the
business in about 1922, Matteo Martinolich built and designed hundreds of ships and boats; some still ply the seas
today. (Pejovic, I 1935)
MARTINOLICH, VENANZIO Fisherman-Shipyard-Mariner: In June of 1905, Venanzio Martinolich of Ladner, Canada signed a
contract with Yammamoto of Steveston to fish with Martinolich's 50 ft. steam tug "Eva". The tug was accompanied by
two scows, two seine boats, all necessary purse seine nets and approximately nine sailors and fishermen to fish
for dog salmon between Deep Bay and the town of Comox.
Purse Seiners were introduced in the U.S.A. during the mid-1880's to the Puget Sound area. The problem was
mobility; the early purse seiners were operated using both a scow and a skiff. As Duncan Stacey states in 'A
History of Gear Technology in the West Coast Fishing Industry', "Seine fishing at this point of time was a slow,
ponderous procedure: The early purse seiners were fished from a boat and scow. The boat was 25 ft. long and 7 ft.
wide". The scow upon which most of the work was done, and which was considered indispensable in setting the seine,
was 20 ft. long by 8 ft. wide.
At each end there was an iron winch. These winches were used for the “pursing up", the seine being pursed from the
scow. There was a wooden purse davit, which stepped into the side of the scow and to which were attached two (3
inch) wooden blocks, the purse line leading from them to the winches at either end. Eleven to fourteen men were
required to set the seine, six at the oars, two at the seine and two on the scow. During the slow process of
pursing, a man stood at the davit with a long pole, which had a block of wood called a "plunger" fastened to it.
This was kept working up and down between the purse lines to frighten the fish away from the centre of the net. No
doubt it was very effective in saving the school, as the bottom of the seine was left open from twenty-five to
forty minutes which was ample time for the salmon to find its way out. From an hour and a half to two hours were
required for setting, pursing up and stowing the seine ready for another trial.
The use of steam tugs partially solved the mobility problem, as Venanzio Martinolich proved, but the real
innovation at this point in the purse seine industry was the introduction of the internal combustion engine. As
Duncan Stacey explains: "It provided mobility and changed the method of setting the net".
The scows were discarded and the net moved from the skiff on the powered seiner. The end of the seine was now made
fast to the skiff which acted like a sea anchor and the seiner made a circle back to the skiff. Both ends of the
net were then brought aboard, the net pursed and finally hauled up, allowing the fish to be removed.
Soon after these powered seiners were introduced, their purse winches were driven by the main engine, which
eliminated much of the labour of pursing up. The powered purse seiners could set and haul up their nets in
approximately half the time required by their predecessors.
Venanzio Martinolich was bom on January 10, 1848, on the island of Mali Losinj on the north Adriatic coast of
Croatia. He was married in Mali Losinj; however his first wife passed away, leaving Venanzio with two children; a
son Mariano and a daughter Maria. A master mariner and boat builder, Venanzio decided that North America would
present better opportunities for him and his family, so they left his island, never to return. They landed in New
Orleans and Venanzio Martinolich soon met and married Antoinetta Nikolich. Venanzio then took his family to
Colorado where their daughter Carolina was bom on July 27, 1889. Apparently he attempted coal mining in the
north-west. The family moved on to Tacoma, Washmgton where a son, Venanzio was born on May 14, 1891. Venanzio and
Mariano started fishing in Tacoma, where it was decided that the Fraser River had no more to offer to catch. How
he finished in Tacoma and with what type of gear is not known. Venanzio then moved to Port Guichon 1892. Port
Guichon, about a mile south of moderm day Ladner near Vancouver, accommodated steamer and also sailing vessels.
Venanzio saw that there was a demand for scows and tugs. So he started his own shipyard. The first Martinolich
boats were steam-powered tugs. One was called the "B.C. Boy"; the other was the "Eva".
The entrepreneurial Venanzio began to work the gear that he built. In a recent
interview, grandson Richard Martinolich related to me that "Venanzio built a tug and used it himself to tow scows
and what not because they needed them on the river to collect the fish and bring the fish to canneries and what
By the early 1900's a market was developing for the lesser grades of salmon such as dogs (for salting) and pinks
(for canning) where previously only sockeye, or in a bad sockeye year, red springs and cohoe were in demand.
Venanzio saw the opportunity to go fishing for the lucrative salmon market that was establishing and in 1905, he
acquired one the first Purse seine licences in B.C. He proceeded to fish areas on the coast, working an area until
the run had finished and then travelled to another area. Two scows were used: one for living quarters, the other
for the working platform and the base for the two boats that were used to set the nets from the scow. Venanzio
continued this type of operation for approximately three years.
However, as Duncan Stacey describes, the purse seining would be revolutionized by the internal combustion engine.
"The forerunner of the modern seiner was introduced around 1902 when the 'Pioneer', a gas-powered seine boat, was
launched in Puget Sound. This vessel was only 38 ft. long, powered by a 5 H.P. combustion engine, and had a
hand-operated purse winch. The typical early seine was a small open boat decked forward with a small cabin over
the engine. The width was twenty-five percent of the vessel's length to take the heavy cargoes and the strain of
pulling in the nets. The seine net was stored on a platform or table on the stem, hence the term table seiner".
In about 1909 Venanzio brought over the table seiner "Yankee Boy", probably imported from the Puget Sound area. It
was one of the earliest powered seine boats used in B.C. These early seiners were built to fish a localized
fisheries; however the fishing industry was changing and a need for most robust, deeper hull types would
necessitate changes in vessel design. As Duncan Stacey asserts, "British Columbia's seine fleet began to develop
rapidly after 1911 to exploit the Swift Sure Bank fishery of the Straits of Juan de Fuca. Between 1911 and 1912
the number of seiners in this fishery rose from 22 to 100. Also seiners that fished theses waters were known as
deep sea seiner boats and differed from the earlier types, had more power, had crew quarters, and were fully
Venanzio used the "Yankee Boy" very successfully locally and he decided in 1912 to build a more robust hulled
seiner based on boat design. The boat he built "The B.C. Kid", was approximately eighteen feet long and a deeper
displacement hull, which was more geared for rough weather. The first home-built table seiner in the Ladner Area
was the "B.C. Kid", and would be Venanzio's last vessel.
In 1913 at age sixty-five, Venanzio Martinolich died of a heart attack, but he left behind him a legacy: The
pioneering Martinolich family would continue to be innovative in it's approach to fishing.
Matt Martinolich carried on in the fishing industry and built the "Green Sea" in 1918, a sixty-'five footer, the
"Daisy B" in 1927 and the. "Splendor", another sixty-five footer in 1940. Matt Martinolich married Emilla
Giuricich on February 17, 1917 in Port Guichon. They had three sons, Richard, Aldwin and Glenn. Little major
technological change occurred in the seine fisheries until the late 40's when a few seine fishermen were using
rudimentary drums, but with little success. Drum type seiners in contrast to table seiners could set and purse
A drum is a mechanically or hydraulically powered horizontal drum made of wood or aluminum which sets and hauls
the seine. It was commonly accepted however, that drum seiners could not catch the high-paying sockeye salmon, a
favourite target species by table seiners. This train of thought was commonplace mainly because this new
technology had not evolved to where the drum seine could became the dominant seine system. Table seining was still
the accepted means to catch salmon. In the early 50's the table seine net was brought up by fleeting the net. This
was by strapping the net and hauling it using the winch. The power block replaced the strapping process. (Herman