Martinac has been active in Tacoma since 1924

Staff writerJune 19, 2014 

First came a yacht, the Corsair II, and 255 ships later came the Northern Leader, a longline fishing vessel, delivered last July.

The J.M. Martinac Shipbuilding Corp. began building with wood, and wood remained the principal material from the company’s founding in 1924 through 1964.

Then came steel, as the company’s fortunes followed the tastes and vicissitudes of the wider world.

Fishing vessels dominated the company’s early catalog. Then, in 1940, the company delivered its first minesweeper to the U.S. Navy. Tugs and more minesweepers followed even as World War II ended.

Martinac Shipbuilding became a leader in the design and construction of tuna boats, and in 1981 the company could boast 350 employees at its facility adjacent to what is now known as the Thea Foss Waterway.

Delivery of tugboats to the U.S. Navy began in 1944, and tugs, like fishing vessels, later became a business mainstay.

Martinac ships have flown many flags beyond the Stars & Stripes. Owners have hailed from Great Britain, Netherland Antilles, the USSR, the Philippines, Panama, Jamaica, Mexico, Venezuela, Spain, Taiwan and South Korea, among others.

Ship names have covered a cavalcade of history, place, romance and strength: Seabear, Conquest, Energy, Force, Point Barrow, Pacific Queen, Marie Antoinette, John F. Kennedy, Sioux, Marco Polo, Royal Pacific, Ocean Leader, South Seas, Cochise, Puyallup, Seminole, Justice.

Martinac ships have fought in World War II, in Korea, in Vietnam. They have fished in the South Pacific and plied the storms of the North Atlantic.

From those 350 employees in 1981, the beginning of a new century saw but five. Records show no deliveries from July 2001 through January 2007. Orders for a series of tugboats revitalized the company, and now the orders have died once again.

Said company leader Joseph M. Martinac Jr. in 2011: “Anybody in the boat building business has to be half crazy.”

C.R. Roberts: 253-597-8535

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