National Fisherman

Boats & Gear 

Michael CrowleyThe Boats & Gear blog is overseen by our Boats & Gear editor, Michael Crowley. It explores new construction projects, electronics, gear and equipment for the commercial fishing industry.

Owning a fishing boat can be a long journey, one marked with storms survived, full fish holds and with any luck, a few deck loads. Those are the ones you like to spin tales around — “Remember when we plugged the (fill in the blank)? She was so low in the water the guys on the dock thought she would sink.”

There’s also apt to be some broker trips where you don’t clear expenses and the crew ends up in the hole. After you’ve been in the game for any length of time, you’ll be developing a close relationship with a boatyard.

2015 1007 BG missbirdieThe Miss Birdie gets a complete overhaul at Fred Wahl Marine Construction. Fred Wahl Marine Construction photo.Equipment breaks down and needs replacing, and if you are in a very competitive fishery you are likely to want the boat lengthened, sponsoned or both. Throw in a repower or two and you’ve written out a few large checks.

Eventually, you have to make a decision: do a major rebuild or buy a new boat. Even with an extensive rebuild, some of the boat is still going to be old. Money is obviously a key factor. Do you want to — can you afford to — pay for a new boat?

That was the decision Stan Schones, the owner of the 77-foot Miss Berdie, was faced with in 2014. It was probably the toughest decision Schones has made on his journey with the Miss Berdie, which started when she was built in 1987 at Rodriquez Boat Builders in Bayou LaBatre, Ala.

It’s a story that’s told in “Wahl Overhaul” in the November issue of National Fisherman on page 30. “Wahl,” of course, refers to Fred Wahl Marine Construction where the Miss Berdie has made more than one appearance, starting back in 1992. The most recent began in November 2014.

The original idea was no more extensive than a sponsoning and repowering. What took place was entirely different, because as Wahl said, “Everywhere we went. We had to tear something else apart.”

Not much of the boat that showed up in Reedsport went back in the water. But what did go in the water seems perfectly capable of embarking upon the next stage of the Miss Berdie and Stan Schones long journey.

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OK, so you don’t like some of the edicts from the Coast Guard telling you what you need on your boat to meet safety standards, and — as all your buddies know and are tired of hearing — you’ve done plenty of complaining about them lately; or maybe you think there are some areas requiring tougher laws. For one, you’d like to see more stringent standards regarding training.

Either way, here’s a chance to stop complaining and help make some changes. The Commercial Fishing Vessel Safety Advisory Committee, which provides advice and makes recommendations to the Coast Guard and Department of Homeland Security regarding the operation of commercial fishing boats, is looking for applicants to fill six positions that will become available in May 2016.

2015 0928 SAFETYPetty officer Fernando Brown out of Portland, Ore., heads out for another day of safety inspections. Michael Rudolph photo.You will have to go to at least one meeting a year. This year’s meeting just concluded in Seattle. The issue discussed included the Alternate Compliance Program, survival craft issues, mandatory exams and training. You’ll also be on a committee requiring you to communicate with other members of the committee.

You will be signing up for a three-year term with no more than two terms served consecutively. There’s no pay for being on the committee but you will get reimbursed for travel and per diem expenses.

Four of the six positions are open to people from the commercial fishing industry; one is open to someone from the general public familiar with the fishing industry, and the sixth is for a naval architect and marine engineer with knowledge of fishing boats and fishing communities.

You will need to send a cover letter to Jack Kemerer, chief of the Coast Guard’s Fishing Vessel Safety Division. Included should be “a resume and a discussion about why they think they should be appointed and their experience,” says Kemerer. The application needs to be completed before Nov. 17, 2015 according to the announcement in the Federal Register.

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OK, you’ve got a boat built in the 1980s or early ’90s. It’s old, the steel has some bad spots and you can’t pack enough product to be competitive. And there are some safety issues.

There are two immediate options, build a new boat or sponson and lengthen what you’ve got. But even after sponsoning and lengthening, much of the boat is still old — tired steel and welds. The same goes for the machinery, piping and electrical systems. Even the sea valves are old. How long has it been since you’ve serviced those? A sea valve lets go and you can be in big trouble.

2014 0322 SeinersThe 58-foot Isle Dominator and Magnus Martens tied up at Seattle's Fishermen's Terminal shortly after being launched in 2013 from Fred Wahl Marine Construction in Reedsport, Ore. Jessica Hathaway photo.But building new? Hell, who can afford it, now that boats 50 feet and over have to be classed? That could jack the price up by 30 to 40 percent. Another option is to build a boat just under 50 feet, but you don’t want to do that because you fish a lot in heavy weather and you’d feel safer in a bigger boat.

What to do?

Well there may be another option. Currently, both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate have passed bills for the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2015 that amend the previous Coast Guard Authorization Act that contains the classification ruling.

The Senate bill covers boats from 50 to 190 feet overall length built after Jan. 1, 2016. A registered professional engineer must design the boat to standards equivalent to those prescribed by a classification society.

Since many naval architects already design to ABS standards, it would appear that’s all that’s needed. There’s no mention of classification society approval or active involvement. So classification societies and their accompanying costs are removed from the project.

The same goes for overseeing the building of the boat. A marine surveyor, not someone from a classification society, can be the person in charge.

The bill out of the House of Representatives focuses on boats 50 to 79 feet built after July 1, 2017, and says only that, “the vessel complies with an alternative safety compliance program.” No mention of a classification society.

Now the House and Senate have to work out the differences between the two bills. There’s always the chance that they won’t be able to come to a common agreement. and then classifying boats 50 feet and over will still be in effect. Hopefully that won’t happen. By the end of the year we should know the outcome.

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I admit it. I don’t like heights and I don’t enjoy having to swim in cold water. That eliminates a lot of useful or exciting life choices: anything having to do with climbing rocks taller than I am, surfing in New England (Southern California or Tahiti would be great), flying in small airplanes and helicopters — especially helicopters. I couldn’t imagine being a Coast Guard rescue swimmer free-falling out a helicopter’s open door, into cold, cold Alaskan water to save the lives of hapless fishermen. 

2015 0902 BG rescueswimmerThe crew of the tender Kupreanof abandon ship as it sinks off the coast of Alaska. Screen grab from Coast Guard video.Fortunately, some people thrive in that environment; otherwise a lot of fishermen wouldn’t be around today. Thus on Sept. 2, the Coast Guard Foundation, a non-profit organization committed to the education and welfare of all Coast Guard members and their families, recognized four members of a Coast Guard rescue team for their role in saving the crew of the tender Kupreanof. The rescue team was composed of Lt. Cmdr. Christopher Stoeckler, Lt. Benjamin Neal, AET2 Jamie Flood and AST2 Jason Yelvington.

On June 8, 2015, the Kupreanof was going from Petersburg, Alaska, to Bristol Bay, where the 73-footer would work as a tender, when the captain sent out a message at 3:45 a.m. saying the Kurpreanof was taking on water off Lituya Bay.

That’s when a Coast guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter was dispatched from Sitka on a 130-mile flight to find the Kupreanof in what was described as poor visibility, heavy wind, driving rain and 6-foot seas.

When the helicopter arrived, the Kupreanof was partially submerged with a life raft attached to the boat’s stern. The crew had gotten into survival suits. Assessing the situation from about 80 feet above the water, Stoeckler, the helicopter’s pilot, told them to abandon ship.

Then Yelvington, the rescue swimmer, dropped out of the helicopter and into the water and helped the crew climb into the life raft. However, it was deemed too risky to hoist the crew directly from the life raft up to the helicopter because the rotor wash might blow the raft back into the sinking boat.

Thus one-by-one, Yelvington took the crew from the raft to where they could get in the rescue basket and then be lifted to the helicopter. All the while, Yelvington’s job was made difficult by fumes from diesel fuel than covered the water.

As the last basket was being hoisted into the helicopter, the Kupreanof sank, taking the raft with it. Emergency medical personnel checked out the four crewmen and Yelvington; other than exposure to diesel fumes there weren’t any medical issues.

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Go to any of the Maine lobster boat races and you’ll find a collection of characters. There’s the fisherman racing a strictly working lobster boat. There’s nothing special about the engine; it’s got power enough to go to the grounds and back, and in between haul as many traps as necessary. Even though he knows he probably won’t win, he’s like most Down East lobstermen and just loves boats, engines, the noise of a race and a general good time.

Then there’s the guy pushing the envelope a little bit by dumping a lot of money into a big engine; I mean, who needs a 1,000 horsepower engine to haul traps? Well, you need that horsepower if you crave racing and everything that goes with it — the nervousness, the noise, the speed and the excitement. He knows he has to use that engine every working day, but it’s sized mostly with racing in mind.

2015 0819 WILD WOMAN-MISS KARLEEStevie Johnson's Wild Woman takes Miss Karlee at the Long Island lobster boat races. Jon Johansen photo.Then there are those who fudge things a lot more in their desire to win. They claim one horsepower rating, yet it doesn’t seem possible they are staying up with or beating boats with engines acknowledged to be much more powerful. Those are the guys people are always wondering about.

 What’s common to the three sets of lobstermen is that for an afternoon in the spotlight they risk destroying an engine that they earn their daily living with. And that’s all right — well maybe not after they send a piston out the side of a block, but in the moment, it’s fine.

Then there are the so-called “toy boats.” These look like lobster boats but aren’t used for lobstering. There’s no attempt to disguise the fact that what looks like a stock engine on the outside is anything but on the inside. The engine might run propane, nitrous oxide or have been sent to a speed shop and returned with components most lobstermen couldn’t afford and many have never heard of.

Then there’s Stevie Johnson, a Long Island, Maine, boatbuilder whose whimsical take on racing always gets attention. Back in 2009, Johnson had the “cah-boat” — eliminating the “r” in Maine-speak — which was a 26-foot cabin cruiser with its top cut off and replaced with a deck. A 1994 Pontiac Sunbird convertible was chained down to the deck. A couple of 200-hp outboards hung from the transom and Johnson steered from the Pontiac’s front seat.

 He also has shown up at races in the Tiki boat, which is, as the name suggests, nothing more than a Caribbean bar powered by outboards.

Then at last Saturday’s Maine lobster boat race held at Long Island, Johnson came up to the starting line in his latest creation, the Wild Woman, a “sailing” race boat. Sailing is in quotations because it’s not really a sailboat. It’s a 28-foot O’Day sailboat, cut off at the waterline and then fiberglassed down to what was the platform for the cah-boat. A pair of 200-hp Yamahas hangs off the stern.

Another way you know Wild Woman is not you typical O’Day sailboat is that in her race with Miss. Karlee, a Mitchell Cove with a 1,000-hp Caterpillar C18, they were bow-to-bow — in the mid-40 mph range — throughout most of the race, with Wild Woman finally taking it at the end. No wonder that race was called the “wildest race of the day.”

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Let’s say you’ve got a fiberglass fishing boat a little over 50 feet. It’s 20 to 30 years old and well worn. Plus it’s got the beam that boats of that age were built with, about 15 feet — give or take.


2015 0805 BGA 53-foot seiner being sponsoned at Platypus Marine. The starboard sponson is in place and will be matched up with the port sponson. Platypus Marine photo.
To be competitive you need a bigger boat, certainly one with more hold capacity. But to build a new boat over 50 feet requires you to work with a classification society, which means the cost might be jacked up by $200,000, $250,000.

 On the other hand, you don’t really want a boat under 50 feet because you don’t think it will be as safe as a larger boat, but, again, you don’t know if you can handle the classification society cost for a boat over 50 feet.

 What to do?

 If it was a steel boat the answer is simple — sponson her. If you’re on the West Coast there are plenty of yards that do that. It’s the primary business at Fashion Blacksmith in Crescent City, Calif. It’s what that boatyard does day in and day out.

Sponsoning a fiberglass boat, however, is different. No one is doing it on a day-in and day-out basis. Basically you are building a one-off boat and the costs are extreme. Then again, the costs might be more affordable, at least if you can get the boat to Platypus Marine in Port Angeles, Wash.

Platypus Marine recently sponsoned a 53-foot seiner built at Delta Marine. This was not a one-off project. Platypus Marine built a permanent mold from which they can take port and starboard hulls and build a new wider hull around the existing boat.

Laminating new hull sections up in the molds and then matching them up with the existing hull can probably be done for about half the cost of a conventional fiberglass sponsoning job. And it also takes a lot less time.

 To see if the sponsoned hull sections at Platypus Marine can be matched up with your boat, give them a call — (360) 417-0709.

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Sometimes it’s the simple ideas that make working on deck less arduous, painful or just plain safer. I’m told that back in the 1960s fishermen, especially halibut longliners in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, wore only a heavy cotton glove for coiling gear, dressing and icing fish and working the roller, where they constantly were clearing gangions from around the incoming groundline. That meant their hands were always wet.

2015 0730 LevelWindThe extension welded to the top of the winch's pivot bar keeps the fisherman several feet away from the drum. NIOSH photoThe early 1900s dory fisherman Charlie York said he would rather wear nippers on his hands — when asked to choose between heavy cotton gloves, woolen mittens and nippers —because “as long as salt water is comin’ onto your hands, they won’t freeze,” (see “Charlie York; Maine Coast Fisherman” by Harold B. Clifford) But it is no fun longlining for halibut where your hands are constantly wet and cold.

Sometimes when a fisherman woke up after a turn in his bunk with hands so stiff and racked with pain that — an old time fisherman told me — the only relief came after he peed on his hands.

Then someone came up with the idea of wearing the rubber gloves that housewives used when washing dishes. A few probably resisted because the gloves were such a womanly thing, but fishermen started wearing the rubber gloves — they were mostly yellow — under the cotton gloves. That pretty much solved the problem of painful, sore, stiff hands. Not completely, but it was a whole lot better.

That leads us to level winds and winches, especially deck-mounted winches the crew is working around. The danger, of course, is being pulled into the winch by incoming wire. Level winds keep the wire under control to some extent, while aligning it evenly across the net drum.

There are two basic kinds of level winds, a mechanical level wind that doesn’t require any work on the part of the fisherman and the pivot bar. The fisherman has to push on the pivot bar, forcing the wire to lie flat on the drum.

The pivot bar is the potential problem because you are leaning over the drum and can get wrapped up in the wire. Then a fisherman came up with the idea of welding a dog-leg extension on the pivot bar. Now, instead of leaning into the winch drum when pushing on the bar, you are 2 or 3 feet farther away from the drum and wire.

The photo shows the dog-leg extension on a double-drum winch, but an extension can just as easily be welded to the pivot bar of a single-drum winch.

There you have it, two simple ideas that don’t have to come out of a research lab at MIT. Just look around, ask if there isn’t a better way, and you just might find it.

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Over the past two weekends Maine’s lobster boat racing circuit has seen some good old-fashioned engine screaming, bow-to-bow races, first at Stonington and then at Friendship.

2015 0721 BG boatracesJeff Eaton's La Bella Vita (Northern Bay 38, 750-hp FPT) overtakes Gerry Genthner’s the Lisa Marie (Libby 34, 690-hp FPT). Jon Johansen photo.At the July 12 Stonington races, 113 boats showed up on race day. This is a harbor where there are always some very intense heats. Take the class-K race (701 to 900 horsepower, 28 feet to 39 feet 11 inches) as an example.

Gerry Genthner’s the Lisa Marie (Libby 34, 690-hp FPT) has been the dominant boat in this class, but Jeff Eaton brought his La Bella Vita (Northern Bay 38, 750-hp FPT) to Stonington and everyone knew there this would be a good match up, and so it was. But instead of Lisa Marie prevailing, it was La Bella Vita across the line first, followed by Lisa Marie and then Nick Page’s All Out (Calvin Beal 38, 750-hp John Deere). All Out is a new boat recently launched at SW Boatworks. La Bella Vita’s winning time was 40.2 mph.

But in the Fastest Lobster Boat race, La Bella Vita was up against Little Girls (28-foot Calvin with a new Ford engine) and Wild, Wild West (West 28 with a 1,050-hp Isotta Fraschini). Little Girls took that one, followed by Wild, Wild West and La Bella Vita.

At most of the races there are events for skiffs. That’s where you found the youngest racer of the day at Stonington, seven-year-old Madison Wiberg in Shit Happens, (Holland 14, 25-hp outboard). She guided her skiff down the course and was seen waving to spectators.

At Friendship there were only 33 boats. That was less then normal but it was a foggy day. Lisa Marie and La Bella Vita continued their battles. In the class-K race, both were bow-to-bow coming down the course, with the radar gun getting a reading of 40 mph on the two boats. At the end it was La Bella Vita by half a boat length.

That order was reversed in the diesel free-for-all with Lisa Marie ahead by half a boat length at the finish. In the Fastest Lobster Boat Race, it was close but the order was reversed with La Bella Vita taking it, again by half a boat length.

Galen Alley’s Foolish Pleasure, which has run over 70 mph in the past, continues to have problems. In her class-E race (V-8, over 525 cid, 28 feet and over, superchargers/turbos) at Stonington, Foolish Pleasure was the only boat and ran easily at 50.4 mph. That’s a slow speed for Foolish Pleasure but even that led to engine problems and after the race Alley loaded the boat on a trailer and left.

At Friendship, Alley’s woes continued. Again he took his class at 57 mph, but in the gasoline free-for-all broke a bell housing. Reportedly, he thinks his engine isn’t lined up correctly.

If that gets fixed, there’s a chance he will show up at least at Winter Harbor and maybe Portland, for “Galen does love to put on a show,” says Jon Johansen, president of the Maine Lobster Boat Racing Association.

The next race is July 26 at Harpswell. That’s followed by Winter Harbor on August 8, Long Island on August 15 and finishes on August 16 in Portland.

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He had the least experience fishing of the four-man crew. It was four years of part-time fishing but no prawn fishing experience. And it was prawns the 40-foot Canadian boat Diane Louise was after on the morning of June 2, 2014. He was attaching traps to the free-running groundline when he was tangled up in the line and went overboard.

2015 0716 DianeLouiseSomeone tried to deploy a lifebuoy, but it got tangled in the railing. It might have saved him. He was at the surface for a while and then went under. When they hauled the line back, they hauled him up. Try though they did, there wasn’t anything to be done for him. He became one of the 44 percent of Canadian fishermen who have died since 2004 and weren’t wearing a PFD.

Would a PFD have saved him? Perhaps, because he was treading water for a period of time, and as the Canadian accident report states, “a PFD would have assisted him to stay afloat while he attempted to free himself.”

It’s not as if he didn’t have an idea of what might happen if he wasn’t extremely careful — and perhaps a bit lucky. When he was just learning how to snap traps onto the groundline, the groundline snarled up and almost wrapped around his hand, nearly entangling him.

Of course, he wasn’t surrounded by good examples. None of the crew wore a PFD when fishing, and at the time of the accident there were no PFDs aboard the boat. That’s despite the fact that Canada’s Pacific Prawn Fishermen’s Association put out a best practices document that included “remember to wear a PFD on the working deck.”

What I don’t understand is why fishermen don’t wear PFDs. After all, in this country none of the 191 fishermen who have died between 2000 and 2013 was wearing a PFD.

I would like a fisherman to give me a good, rational, logical argument for not wearing a PFD. (Don’t forget, NIOSH has shown that PFDs work in several fisheries.) But go ahead, try to convince me that not wearing a PFD is, in fact, an intelligent way to go about working on deck.

In the meantime, you can read the Diane Louise incident yourself.

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Ask a lot of people — even fishermen — who are not overly familiar with the Mid-Atlantic states what Chesapeake Bay fisheries come to mind and the answer often has to do with oystering and the bay’s iconic sailing skipjacks.

2015 0707 AugustBut there are, of course, other fisheries, including menhaden. While the boats of that fishery might not have that “take me back to the past” look of the sailing skipjacks, they have their own fascinating story.

This is especially true for the purse boats that NF field editor Larry Chowning writes about on page 26 in the August issue’s cover story.

The purse boats and the steamers that pack them to and from the fishing grounds have continued to evolve, moving from 8-foot-long wooden “drive” or “striker” boats — so named because the guy driving the boat would strike the water with an oar to direct fish into the purse net — to being built of steel and now aluminum.

At the center of Chowning’s story is the building of two 41-foot purse boats for the Omega Protein plant in Reedville, Va. The boats were built at Omega’s boatyard in Mississippi, and modified once they got to Virginia.

Purse boats work in pairs to encircle a school of menhaden. After each boat dumps half the net, they come together to close it up. So while the hulls are identical, the Marco power blocks, hauling station and steering controls are on opposite sides of each boat.

Not so long ago, purse boats were built without a keel, having only the prop and a cage around it below the bottom of the hull. Those boats were carried in davits on the side of a menhaden steamer. Now steamers are having stern ramps added for launching purse boat into the water. Thus purse boats are now being built with a keel and skeg.

The changes over time to the purse boats are a good example of how one company in Chesapeake Bay’s menhaden fishery has searched for better and more efficient ways to fish. But check it out on page 26.

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Inside the Industry

NMFS has awarded 16 grants totaling more than $2.5 million as part of its Bycatch Reduction Engineering Program.

The program supports the development of technological solutions and changes in fishing practices designed to minimize bycatch and aims to to find creative approaches and strategies for reducing bycatch, seabird interactions, and post-release mortality in federally managed fisheries.


Abe Williams, who was elected to the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association board last spring, has been selected as the new president as of September.

Williams fishes the F/V Crimson Fury, and is president of Nuna Resources, a nonprofit that supports sustainable resource development in rural Alaska, including fighting for an international solution to issues raised by the proposed Pebble Mine project.

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