Long before strippers gyrated for fishermen who boarded the Wild Alaskan for a night of fun, she was known as the F/V Shaman, one of the most profitable boats to ever throw pots in Alaskan waters.
She had a million-dollar price tag when she was built in Tacoma in 1974 — 110 feet long with a high wheelhouse. Made to shrimp and crab. And boy did the Shaman crab.
Tom Hendel and his brother worked on the crew back in the late 70’s, when the Shaman was in its glory days.
“We were the top boat on Kodiak and bringing in deck loads every day. We had one friend who came up from California, got a job at a cannery, was working on the dock unloading- some guy got hurt on a big crab boat and they hired him off the dock and he made $100,000 in six weeks. That was a pretty common story. A good season in six weeks or so would have been $40 to $60,000- $100,000 seasons in the early 70s are very common. You got to remember back in the early to mid-70s we started fishing the middle of August and we fished all the way to December,” Hendel said.
The skipper of the Shaman, Chuck Wells, had a shrewd reputation — a World War II veteran and a taskmaster, who ran his crew hard. Even so, Hendel says he was well-loved and admired for his exploits, like the time he pried the Shaman off a sandbar in False Pass.
“So False Pass was usually marked with buoys after they figure out the passage because it changes every winter. And we laid that Shaman over sideways. When the tide got ahold of us on a sandbar, and starboard rail was underwater, and one crew member put a life ring around his waist and climbed over the rail on the high side, walk-in cooler door came open and frozen ropes were flying around and Chuck’s up there laughing and I realized that, well, we were in 12 feet of water and the boat was 36 feet wide, so I didn’t really need to worry. And he just turns the rudder hard over to port and pours the coals to the engine and rights the boat up. And then we just keep sailing our way out,” Hendel said.
Back then, as Kodiak fishermen are fond of saying, “Crab was king.” And it was. Some made millions in the Bering Sea. But other mariners were not so lucky.
“I gotta tell you, this too- guys were dying every day it seemed like, back in the 70s and 80s. We’d be on the radio listening to maydays and the Coast Guard trying to find people, and boats going down and friends of ours,” Hendel said.
Hendel says he’s still haunted by one tragedy.
“And we were listening to the Coast Guard answer a mayday and it was the exact same boat of the Shaman… But it was a low wheelhouse and they were heading from offshore going from Seattle. And they were icing up. They called a mayday. And we’re listening to this whole thing going on for hours. And Chuck said, “well, they’re dead.” Because… they told the Coast Guard they were heading to shore. And Chuck said, the closer you get to shore, the colder the air gets and the more ice you make. And they were on the radio telling their loved ones they loved em’ and goodbye… and they’re all dead,” Hendel said.
The Shaman had its share of close calls, but it went on to fish lobster in Hawaii for several years in the mid-80s, after the crab fishery got more competitive. Later the boat was part of a federal buyback program in the 90s and fell out of Chuck Wells hands. At some point in the late 2010’s the Shaman fell into the hands of Darren Byler, who turned it into the Wild Alaskan strip club.
After the Wild Alaskan was impounded by the City of Kodiak in 2017, she lay derelict in the Near Island harbor. Kodiak’s notoriously temperamental weather scoured her hull, and stripped away paint that already struggled to conceal the boat’s age.
When the ship was in its prime, Carmen Lunde used to do the books for the Shaman. Although she was devastated to see how much the ship had deteriorated, she says at least the Shaman’s saga is finally over – and now the boat and its old skipper are reunited at last.
“Broke my heart. I don’t know that Chuck would have been against the strip club. He would have probably thought- I mean I had a hunch he would say that “well, all right!” But to see it sunk, the only thing that makes me even feel even a little better is that now that they deep sixed it, it’s the same place his ashes are,” Lunde said.
And so ends the true but tragic tale of the Shaman, remembered in Kodiak as both famous and infamous, but always with fondness.