Ryan Phillips in his shop in Port Edward on Dec. 9. Phillips has lived in Prince Rupert for 15 years and worked in all aspects of commercial fishing before he started his own business building and repairing boats. (Photo: Norman Galimski/The Northern View)

Ryan Phillips in his shop in Port Edward on Dec. 9. Phillips has lived in Prince Rupert for 15 years and worked in all aspects of commercial fishing before he started his own business building and repairing boats. (Photo: Norman Galimski/The Northern View)

Heart of our City: Ryan Phillips, sparking welds for mariners

Preferring to work alone and with his hands, Ryan Phillips always knew he wanted to be his own boss when he grew up.

Originally from the Sunshine Coast, Phillips was raised and immersed in the family business — now he runs his own welding workshop in Port Edward.

His father, a commercial fisherman, would regularly take his sons out to sea. However, as the youngest, Phillips was left behind on dry land during the summers. There he spent time with his mother.

“I learned a lot of things from my mother at home. I would stay home in the summers when everybody left to go fishing, I was too young to go. I would bake bread [and] I would cook. That’s why, when I did get on the boat, I was the chef.”

When he did finally begin to set sail in a cramped boat with his two older brothers and father, he soaked in everything there was to learn about the sea and on a boat.

“I believe I got the best of both worlds, as far as my mother and father was concerned,” he said. “Because my dad had experience with the two other little brats, he learned from them and gave me his best when the time came. I got that much time with my mother that it actually helped … it was awesome.”

However, it was not just on the ocean where Phillips learned the skills he would need to reach his goal. In high school, he learned the fundamental crafting skills that carried him to where he is today.

Phillips attended a small high school. However, what it lacked in size it made up with a high-quality, modern woodworking and metalwork shop. Not only were the means at his disposal to hone his skills but also a passionate shop teacher who nurtured his natural talent toward craftsmanship by holding the workshop open late on many school nights.

After graduation, Phillips enrolled at the British Columbia Institute of Technology to peruse cabinetry and joinery. He stayed for only six months because everything they were teaching him there, he had already mastered either at sea or in the shop.

Phillips then returned to work seasonally in the fishing industry with his family while building houses during off-seasons.

Ultimately, he decided to part ways with the family businesses and chased crab fishing up to the North Coast on the advice of a cousin.

Finding the climate agreeable, liking the seclusion and enjoying the ocean view from his home, Phillips decided to stay put and settle in Port Edward. He now has two sons and a daughter.

Phillips bounced around different fisheries for several years, even captaining his own vessel, a 50-foot halibut boat where he had an experience he will never forget.

On his maiden voyage, Phillips and his crew set sail until they caught their quota of fish. They returned a month later.

“For about 15 days we didn’t catch nothing. It was very scarce,” he said.

While they were off the west coast of Haida Gwaii, category 2 hurricane wind hits with a storm blowing 180km/h winds.

Terrifying waves rose and crashed around them reaching a towering 18 meters high because of the swells, Phillips said. They managed to navigate to the west side of Hippa island for shelter and rode out the storm.

“It was scary. It was really scary,” he said. “After that, I was ready to head home with my tail between my legs.”

But even after all that, he decided they couldn’t go back to shore empty-handed.

“After that awful storm, we went out and we said ‘what the hell,’ let’s just keep trying.”

After nearly a month at sea, on Halloween night with the moon shining bright, they hit what they came out to find. They caught 7,000 lbs of halibut in one evening and caught another 10,000 the next day. At the end of his first voyage as a captain, they hauled back 20,000 lbs of fish meeting their quota.

“It was beautiful,” he said. “We had to work so hard to do it and because it was my first time being the boss of the boat — that’s why it was it was an achievement that I’ll always remember.”

Though he grew to not be particularly fond of the commercial fishing lifestyle later in his life, his wide array of experiences out on various fishing vessels taught him everything he needed to know to achieve his goal.

There was just one more step, though he didn’t know it at the time, that’s needed to reach his goal.

The money from commercial fishing just wasn’t cutting it, so he began working at Wainwright Marine Services. He worked there for three years, doing welding and repairs for the company.

His boss provided him the flexibility to work on side projects every so often as long as he stuck with them as his main employer. This flexibility was the first step into the world that would ultimately become his own business.

“So, I started rebuilding all their equipment, all their barges, all their boats. Everything that was broken I would fix and weld,” Phillips said.

The welding department, which started when he was brought on, took off. They needed to hire apprentices for Phillips to keep up with the work.

“It started to be quite a good gig, but on the sidelines, so did my personal welding business. It started blossoming as well,” he said.

Word began to spread about Phillips’ services and skills. He started to take on more, and better-paying, jobs. The two parallel lines of work began to clash and he was given a choice: work steadily with the company or go.

“So I grabbed my welding helmet and said see you later,” Phillips said.

Phillips’s new customer base knew he was a commercial fisherman and had confidence in what he was doing.

“I’ve prawn fished. I’ve halibut fished. I’ve tuna fished. I’ve salmon fished, long-line [and] crab fished,” he said, also adding shrimp fishing to his list of work. “If you’ve done all the fisheries, you get to learn how a boat should be set up for every fishery.”

“When you do that, you know how a boat has to be [and] that’s why I immediately did well here.”

While taking the leap out to being self-employed was intimidating and nerve-racking at times, he wouldn’t do anything else now.

“The best part about it is being my own boss,” he said.

His only regret, though, is that he didn’t start his business when he was younger.

“All of this could have happened a lot earlier in my life, but because you make stupid mistakes in your life. You really do — and I did. I was making a lot of money when I was a commercial fisherman, but I pissed it all away. I didn’t put nothing away for my future,” Phillips said.

“But, finally, I made it here and I grew up … it took me 40 years old,” he laughed.


Norman Galimski | Journalist
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Ryan Phillips in his shop in Port Edward on Dec. 9. Phillips has lived in Prince Rupert for 15 years and worked in all aspects of commercial fishing before he started his own business building and repairing boats. (Photo: Norman Galimski/The Northern View)

Ryan Phillips in his shop in Port Edward on Dec. 9. Phillips has lived in Prince Rupert for 15 years and worked in all aspects of commercial fishing before he started his own business building and repairing boats. (Photo: Norman Galimski/The Northern View)