The Evolution of Fish Boat Design
at Bayfield, Wisconsin



Tom Dyrness

Photo: Author's uncle, Tom Dyrness, with his boat at Outer Island, some time before 1924.


In the early years of the last century,  the fish boat fleet at Bayfield consisted mainly of steam tugs and small, open gas-powered craft. The steam tugs were most all fully enclosed. The sail-propelled boats, which had been numerous from before the turn of the century, were by now very few in number.

There was, however, by this time some experimenting with putting cabins on the small boats being built. A picture of the HELGOLAND (not shown), taken in 1912, shows a cabin over the engine and net lifter. The sides of the cabin are open all around, but could be enclosed with canvas curtains, for protection from the elements. These early boats were of narrow beam, and the weight of a full cabin was considered unsafe. It would also act as a windcatcher, making the boat difficult to handle at the nets.



It is doubtful this arrangement met with much success, because a picture of a later boat, the TORDENSJOLD (above), shows a completely open boat, with no net lifter. These boats were used in the summer, fishing between the islands, so there was no doubt some reluctance to have an encumbrance such as a cabin. Eventually, however, enclosed boats became the rule rather than the exception.


Dyrness Boat


Canvas and hoop: Tom Dyrness's boat at Outer Island dock; date uncertain, but before the 1924 storm that destroyed this boat. The identity of the smiling gentleman is not known.


Another type of enclosure that was used around the sametime was a system of steel hoops that were set in sockets at the side rail, and covered by drawing a canvas over the hoops, thus enclosing as much of the boat as was thought necessary (above).This was later improved upon with a permanent enclosure over the net lifter, but retaining hoops and canvas over the engine compartment. A picture of three boats, anchored at Outer Island sandpoint (below) shows the use of this arrangement.


Outer Island Sand Point

Boats off Outer Island sandpoint, circa 1920.


Continue to Part Two


All contents copyright 2002-2016, Harvey Hadland and Bob Mackreth