Van Baker was born in Gig Harbor, WA, on March 7, 1938. He and his family lived eight miles away in Olalla. The town had become mostly residential, as most of it was burned during the depression in the 20s. If a man needed to get out of a failing business, he set a fire to destroy the buildings. Van lived in Olalla through high school, then went into the Coast Guard. He went to boot camp in California and then back to Groton, CT, for diesel engine school.
The diesel engine training supplied the reason to join the Coast Guard. Everyone on Van’s mother’s side of the family was a fisherman, and the occupation interested him from his youth. He fished with his uncle in 1954 for the first time, purse seining in Alaska, right here in Icy Strait, between Gustavus and Ketchikan. He fished here with his uncle each summer until he got out of high school.
When Van first started fishing with his uncle in 1954, there were huge icebergs in Icy Strait, hence the name. By the time Van started fishing on his own boat, in ’64 and ’65, there was still ice but not a large amount, and not as huge in size. You could pull up to a small berg (about the size of a 16-foot skiff) and knock off chunks to put in the cooler. Once he got his own boat, Van found an old refrigerator and laid it on its side to be used for a cooler. A few chunks of iceberg in there kept things cold.
Van went into the Coast Guard in January, 1957. After 3 months of boot camp, he completed the diesel engine course in another 4 months. Then he was sent to Grand Isle, Louisiana, at that time the only place in Louisiana where the road went to the beach. There was no other town or habitation close by. The shore line was all marshy, with no beach access. Grand Isle had been a main port for the oil industry, but this function was over by the time he arrived. At that time, the island was the site of a Coast Guard lifeboat station.
In 1959, Van left Grand Isle and went to Kodiak on the vessel Storis. This duty occurred before the Kodiak tidal wave. From Kodiak he was sent to Seattle for a year, where he served on the Seattle buoy tender, the Fir. When he got out of the service in 1961, he went back to fishing with his uncle.
Two years later, he bought his first fishing boat from a cannery. He had married Karla Keene in 1 963 and got the boat in Ketchikan right after the earthquake. At the time he was still purse seining. He brought the boat to Blaine, fixed it up, got his own crew and fished the boat until 1966, when he Continue reading