Remembering Alyn Fife

Alyn Fife. Fife family photo.The renowned Virginia-based marine surveyor, Alyn Fraser Fife died March 11 at age 94. His career spanned 66 years. After serving in the Merchant Marine during World War II, Fife earned his Chief Engineer’s license and sailed the seven seas before becoming a marine surveyor. He worked for the American Bureau of Shipping and the United States Salvage Association surveying vessels around the world.

His hands-on knowledge was matched to a thoroughness of thought that made him the ideal surveyor. His opinions were sought after, and his reports well-crafted. I had the privilege of seeing Fife in action just a few years ago. We met as we were both scheduled to inspect a mothballed barge at a weedy Navy pier on a hot summer day.

Fife, then in his early nineties, was there as a favor to a client who was considering purchasing the barge. He was always happy to do such favors. He donned his coveralls and hard hat, and took me on a tour.

The barge was, in truth, not much to look at — wavy deck, rusty hatches, little holes and puddles here and there, your basic 50-year-old hulk. Fife was able to create a whole narrative history of the barge and its use from these telltales. I was fascinated by how he could guess the weight of the machinery, long torched off, that had made the dents. Then he extrapolated the purpose of the barge, and how long it had been sitting. It was like watching a forensic scientist examine a crime scene.

The thing was, here was a man who surveyed the Queen Elizabeth II, going over a 100′ box of steel with the same thoroughness. All the while, he was also briefing me on his long commitment to maritime history and the founding of the Mariner’s Museum in Newport News, Va. He assisted in developing its large collection of artifacts from the luxury passenger liner United States. I am honored that I was able to spend that afternoon with Alyn Fife, a maritime expert who was also a true Renaissance man.

About the author

Kathy Bergren Smith

Kathy Bergren Smith has been a correspondent with WorkBoat since 2002. She is also a writer and photographer for the Port of Baltimore Magazine covering shipping and port activities. Smith, also a noted commercial and fine art photographer, resides in Annapolis, Md.

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