Tim Swoboda rhythmically snaps knots on a cork line from his net hanging bench, as he sits on the second floor of Cordova Net Supply, at 123 Harbor Loop Road, above Plumbline and Viking Marine.
The new web glistens under the florescent lights as the pile of un-hung web diminishes. He measures his knots every so often with a worn stainless-steel ruler.
“Every net that we hang, we want the highest quality when it goes out the door,” Swoboda said. “I realize it’s the fisherman’s livelihood and there is no excuse for putting out a faulty product when their livelihood depends on it. We take extreme care in making sure it’s done right. I have never had a net come back.”
Swoboda got his start hanging nets in Cordova in 1982.
“I always wanted to come to Alaska, so I came up here,” he said. At first, he couldn’t find a job. Eventually, he heard they needed net hangers out at 6 Mile at Area E, owned by Phil and Libby Lian at the time.
“I learned from Marcene Moore, she is well known in the community for hanging,” Swoboda said. He worked at Area E for 10 years, until he started having kids and stayed down south to raise them.
Swoboda returned to Alaska in 2016 and worked for Redden for one year.
“I realized there were some things I wanted to do my way, so when Redden went bankrupt I decided to start my own net business,” he said. “Dave Rohmhildt had the idea to start a marine store, so we decided to join forces. In 2017, I ran the net loft upstairs and he had the marine store downstairs.”
Now Swoboda has his own entity, Cordova Net Supply. Roemhildt will focus more on his store and other ventures.
The walls of Cordova Net Supply are packed with boxes of white, yellow and red corks and new bales of web wrapped in beige packaging. Full nets in white and black bags are on the floor. Swoboda stocked up with a full array of gill net supplies, including three brands of gill net web that have not been available in Cordova before: Sato, Ichikawa and Tairyo web, all three made in Japan from Toray nylon. According to Swoboda, Tairyo has been used in other parts of Alaska for 30 years and is very well respected by the fishermen.
“It’s a very soft but strong web design, which makes it real fishy,” he said.
Respect for traditions in net hanging and new ideas define Swoboda’s style. Although he spends most of his time on the bench, Marcene Moore was known for hanging on a board and Swoboda is proud to offer that option to his customers.
“There’s a lot of benefits to hanging on a board, you can’t go wrong with the measurements,” Swoboda said.
Hanging on the board, you are hanging in 20-foot sections, with each section starting at the exact spot the last one left off. Variation within the individual knots of that section isn’t as important as on a bench, where if each knot is off even an eighth of an inch, the sum of that error can add up to 13 feet or more. Swoboda understands the consequences of that potential error and has put in his time to perfect his craft.
“I have honed my bench technique to rival that of the board because I know how perfect the board is, I try to emulate that accuracy on my bench,” he said.
Across the room from Swoboda, Liz Heffron ties corks onto a corkline. Heffron first started working with Swoboda last fall, starting with odd jobs. “I like that it’s a skill that you can get better at, you can constantly be improving,” she said.
“We’re looking to build the business to a year-round full-service net loft, so that fishermen can have their gear ready with no hassle by the spring,” Swoboda said.
Teal Barmore is a net mender at Cordova Net Supply. When she isn’t working there, she can be found taking photos around Cordova and occasionally writing for The Cordova Times.