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Originally published Saturday, June 13, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Obituary

Boat builder Dave LeClercq helped launch Alaska's fishing fleet

Dave LeClercq, who died last Saturday, transformed a childhood fascination with boats into a decades-long run as the most productive boat builder for the Alaska fishing fleet.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Dave LeClercq transformed a childhood fascination with boats into a decades-long run as the most productive boat builder for the Alaska fishing fleet. He died June 6 on Mercer Island. He was 93.

As a boy growing up in Alki, Mr. LeClercq joined with childhood friends Chuck Hickling and Ted Jones — both later legends of the hydroplane circuit — to build racing boats.

Mr. LeClercq's father died when he was 12, and the Great Depression descended shortly after, forcing Mr. LeClercq into carpentry the same year. That's when Mr. LeClercq developed a lifelong trait as a man who would simply outwork anyone else, said his son, Nick LeClercq, a general contractor in Seattle.

"He didn't know where his next meal was coming from," he said. "He didn't have the luxury of feeling sorry for himself."

At age 22, Mr. LeClercq joined with a young naval architect, William Garden, to open a small shipyard on Northlake Way. The partnership turned into a lifelong friendship, even as Garden became a world-class naval architect.

Mr. LeClercq was "high-energy, a natural, an excellent production man," said Garden, now 90 and living in Sidney, B.C. "I used to design them, and he'd build them."

After a stint building minesweepers and landing craft during World War II, Mr. LeClercq settled on fishing boats, and into a Lake Union property on Westlake Avenue. At the time, vessels in the Bristol Bay, Alaska, fleet were limited to just sail and oar, but the advent of Alaska statehood in 1959 changed fisheries laws to allow power boats.

Mr. LeClercq, who specialized in wood gill-netters and purse seiners, had great timing. "The price of fish was high. Everybody needed boats," Garden said. Soon Commercial Marine Construction was building 70 boats a year or more — more than any other.

Mr. LeClercq's younger son, Sam LeClercq, who continued with the family boatbuilding business, said his father developed loyalty among fishermen by flying to Alaska and fixing his boats at Bristol Bay ports.

The loyalty was strong enough, decades later, for Mr. LeClercq to be honored with a lifetime achievement award by Ballard's Norwegian Commercial Club.

Mr. LeClercq settled on Mercer Island, keeping his lakefront dock stocked with a dozen or more boats. Sam LeClercq said his father was an early pioneer in water skiing, occasionally commuting on skis to Lake Union.

Seattle Times publisher Frank Blethen, Mr. LeClercq's nephew, said his uncle was a role model. "His work ethic was amazing, but he had a great sense of humor," Blethen said. "And he did many little things to take care of the guys who worked for him."

Garden remembers Mr. LeClercq sending longtime crew $10,000 checks later in life, as a thank you.

As fiberglass began replacing wooden boats, Mr. LeClercq gradually left the business. He began developing property he'd bought on Lake Union and in Ballard, and liked to navigate the South Puget Sound on a converted 36-foot gill-netter.

He lived into his late 80s in a house on a pier off Westlake Avenue, spending time with 13 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren. He outlived two wives.

He is survived by his four children, Nick and Sam, both of Seattle; Susan Dills, of Spokane; and Toni Marie LeClercq, of Ketcham, Idaho.

Services will be private.

Jonathan Martin: 206-464-2605 or jmartin@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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