Story last updated at 4:20 p.m. Thursday, August 15, 2002

Hillstrand, an original 'Mariner,' will be missed
Sepp Jannotta

THE HOMER FISHING COMMUNITY lost a friend when John Hillstrand died Aug. 7 in an Anchorage hospital from complications stemming from pneumonia. He turned 62 on July 31. Hillstrand, whose father, Earl Hillstrand, founded Land's End Resort, commercial fished in various Alaska fisheries for 30 years before starting Coal Point Trading Company, a fish-packing house serving the Homer Spit's halibut charter industry. Coal Point will continue operating under the management of John's wife, Nancy Hillstrand. In addition to the business' small retail seafoods storefront, David Hillstrand, one of John's five sons, estimated that Coal Point might be responsible for packaging up to 15,000 pounds of sport-caught halibut fillets on a good summer day. Those fillets are typically vacuum-sealed, frozen and often shipped Outside for the charter clientele. "His thing was to do one thing and do it good," David Hillstrand said. "And that's what he's done with Coal Point. ... He's specifically designed it to cater to the charter operators."

JOHN HILLSTRAND TOOK TO THE SEA commercially in 1963, buying the 38-foot wooden-hulled F/V Gertrude Ann, according to David Hillstrand. In the double-ender style gillnetter he fished king crab, halibut and salmon, bringing his catch into the docks of Homer, Kodiak and Dutch Harbor. By the end of the decade he had purchased the 85-foot F/V Invader, another wooden boat geared for tackling the treacherous Bering Sea crab fisheries. In that boat, David Hillstrand guessed his father might have brought in more than a million pounds of king crab. The Invader gave way to the F/V Sea Wife, a 90-foot crab boat that Hillstrand used to fish the Cook Inlet crab seasons. In 1977, he bought a 38-foot gillnetter and later built the 42-foot fiberglass F/V Bold Ruler, a boat capable of nearly 30 knots that performed so well that other Homer fishermen built their boats using the same model. The Bold Ruler eventually gave way to two successive editions of the F/V Time Bandit, the boat that Hillstrand's five sons have learned to fish on and a vessel name that is well known in fishing ports from the Gulf of Alaska to Bristol Bay. "He asked us boys if we wanted to go fishing for king crab in the Bering Sea," David Hillstrand said. "And we said, 'Heck yeah.'" Aboard the first Time Bandit, the Hillstrands fished everything from crab to herring to salmon. In 1991, John Hillstrand handed the wheel of the newly finished and bigger second Time Bandit over to his sons, who have since purchased the boat. "He was pretty much done with it," David Hillstrand said. "He just decided all out of the blue."

,b>COAL POINT TRADING CO., which opened its doors in 1992, is the result of that decision. A major hub of activity on the Homer Spit, the packing house employs around 50 people during the summer charter season. "He set the bar really high and he worked us really hard, but the rewards were high, too," said Coal Point employee Brad Kruger. "He took care of us. He was our captain, and he wanted the best out of us and out of the seafood." Building a reputation for service and quality, John Hillstrand also began marketing holiday gift packs of smoked Southeast troll-caught king salmon to his customers during the offseason.

HILLSTRAND WAS A METICULOUS Mariner, according to his son Andy, who, like all the Hillstrand boys, grew up on commercial fishing boats. "One of the main things he'd tell us was 'you're not in Kachemak Bay any more,'" Andy Hillstrand said, meaning in order to ensure a safe voyage and good fishing, the boat and its crew needed to be ship shape. "Everything had to be tied down, not even a loose cup was acceptable. If anything rattled, you were in trouble." The other hard and fast rule was that the boat would never wait. "I never got left, because I respected him so much," Andy Hillstrand added. Four of the five boys are still involved with commercial fishing, while Michael Hillstrand recently completed medical school. In addition to his five children -- David, Johnathan, Andy, Michael and Neal -- and his wife, Nancy, Hillstrand also leaves a floating legacy in the boats he built. The Hillstrand boys still fish aboard the Time Bandit, while the original Time Bandit (now the American Way) and the Bold Ruler (now the Enterprise) also continue to work Alaska's fisheries. Hillstrand also leaves the community of Homer as a whole with an appropriate way to remember him. While serving as senior class president at Homer High School, where he was known as "Speedy" on the basketball court, Hillstrand was instrumental in picking the school's mascot, spawning the now familiar shout -- "Go Mariners!"

ONLY FOUR BOATS TARGETED,/b> upper Cook Inlet pink salmon on Monday during the first day of a three-day "experimental opening" for pinks. The fishing period was tacked onto the upper Cook Inlet commercial fishing season by the state Department of Fish and Game after the close of the sockeye season last week. Fish and Game Area Biologist Pat Shields said he was not surprised that so few boats turned out to fish, given the low prices pink salmon are fetching dockside. Pinks are selling for roughly 10 cents a pound for iced fish. What did surprise Shields was the poor catches the four boats reported -- the four averaged just 30 fish per boat on Monday. "Thirty pinks won't even buy a hot dog" much less the fuel to get to and from the fishing grounds east of Kalgin Island, Shields said. The opening continued Wednesday and will wrap up on Friday. Shields said just 14 or 15 boats had registered to fish.

BP AMOCO POSTPONED cleanup work on an unused Cook Inlet sea floor oil pipeline in order to avoid conflicting with the salmon fleet participating in this week's opening for pinks, according to BP spokesman Paul Laird. Laird said the cleanup effort has been rescheduled for Tuesday, when crews from the oil company will attempt to remove any remaining oil and contaminants from a 17-mile defunct line that crosses from the Anna Platform along the west side of the inlet south to the area off Nikiski Point. The cleanup was ordered when it was discovered that the capped line, purchased by BP when it merged Amoco., was leaking. BP was hoping to complete the operation in June, but preliminary efforts showed that air pumped into the pipe near the platform did not reach the area of the leak, but instead produced oily sheens closer to the platform in the area of Middle Ground Shoal. More recently the pipe was tapped at a high point in the area of Middle Shoal and a vacuum pump pulled up 26 barrels of crude oil and around 300 barrels of oily water. "That was considerably more than anybody was expecting to get out of the line," Laird said. He added that after hearing the pipeline had been cleaned with a pig when it went off-line in 1974, officials assumed they might see two barrels at most. When and if the work happens on Tuesday, Laird said, he thought Cook Inlet Spill Response Inc. would have four of its vessels standing by. "We'll have to see what kind of leaks there are, if any," Laird said. "It's not inconceivable that we would find more leaks and not be able to" proceed with the removal of the remaining oil.

THE NORTH PACIFIC FISHERIES ASSOCIATION is holding a meeting today from 1-5 p.m. in the Homer City Council chambers. The group will discuss candidate endorsements, nominations for the Mariner of the Year award and the details of the upcoming Sea Fair. Call Don Lane at 399-1295 for details.