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.

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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Definitely put this Saturday’s lobster boat races at Moosabec Reach on your Fourth of July list of places to be. It should be a good one. For one thing, I’ve been told that yesterday, July 1, Galen Alley put the engine back in Foolish Pleasure. That’s the 2,000-hp-plus Ford that drove Foolish Pleasure to 72.8 mph in 2013 and what some estimate to be 80 mph the same year at Pemaquid. No radar gun was available, so it’s speculation, but it’s what people expect from Foolish Pleasure.

2015 0702 FourthRacesGalen Alley's Foolish Pleasure is set to race on the Fourth of July in Jonesport, Maine. Jon Johansen photoLast year the Ford crapped out on Galen, and he couldn’t make it to the starting line at one race. The problem appears to be that antifreeze was getting into the pistons, shutting down the engine.

Besides the presence of Foolish Pleasure, three Canadian boats are making the trip to Moosabec Reach. The Canadian boats have been described as not having a house or deck, just pure racing machines. Jonesport and Beals Island lobstermen love speed, so the Canadians should be a good addition to the day’s events.

Expect a lot of boats to be racing down Moosabec Reach. Last year 66 lobster boats entered in the races, and the weather wasn’t that good. The year before it was 84, and in 2012 there were 98 boats. With plenty of sun and calm winds predicted, the number of boats could approach that 2012 mark.

The next day Bass Harbor will host the lobster boat races at Mount Desert Island. Participation there has been improving, with 58 boats in 2012, 63 a year later and 73 last year. The word is Galen has said, “If the thing is still running on Sunday, I’m coming.” Hopefully that Ford will still be turning.

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Anyone who intended to have a quiet morning along the Boothbay Harbor waterfront last Saturday would have been in the wrong place at the wrong time. If you came for the powerful, piercing whine of high-speed gasoline and diesel engines, then you were right at home. Saturday marked the start of Maine’s 2015 lobster boat racing season. It was the first day of a two-day event, with Rockland hosting races on Sunday.

2015 0625 BG BoothbayRacesLittle Girls runs ahead of Black Diamond at the Rockland lobster boat races, hitting 45.8 mph. Jon Johansen photoIt was a long commute for some of the boats: the Ms. Rose, a Mitchell Cove 35 with a 410-hp Sisu, came up from New Hampshire; the Jenna Marie, a Northern Bay 36 with a 610-hp Cummins traveled from Milbridge, Maine; and the Kim Celeste, a Calvin 44 with a 1,000-hp MAN, was from Steuben.

The races that garner the most attention are the gasoline free-for-all, the diesel free-for-all, and the fastest lobster boat, which is open to any boat, gas or diesel. On Saturday the story was all about the Little Girls, a 28-foot Calvin with a new Ford engine. She took the gasoline free-for-all without much problem at 38.7 mph. The Little Girls had won her gasoline class-D race at 45 mph, so she obviously had power to spare.

In the fastest lobster boat race, the Little Girls was matched up against Lisa Marie, a Libby 34 with a 690-hp FPT. Here the Little Girls was pushed a little harder before she won at 46.6 mph.

The Miss Karlee, a new Mitchell Cove 32 with a 1,000-hp Caterpillar C18, and winner of the diesel free-for-all, was supposed to be in the fastest lobster boat race, but at the last moment she was pulled from the race. No one knows why. She had hit 42.9 mph in an earlier run and on sea trials supposedly notched 50 mph.

Sunday was a dismal day for doing anything — let alone racing — with a heavy downpour all day, but it wasn’t enough to keep away the dedicated racers and 28 boats signed up to run. There would have been more but rumors on Facebook had the race canceled. It was raining hard enough that the radar gun didn’t work much of the time.

There was a lot of interest in the match-up between Turn the Page, a Crowley 36, and Miss Karlee. Turn the Page supposedly has a 450-hp Cummins but wins races against boats with a lot more horsepower. That’s what happened when Turn the Page beat the Miss Karlee in the diesel free-for-all, hitting 40.4 mph.

Things got turned around in the fastest lobster boat race when the Miss Karlee beat Turn the Page, but both lost out to Little Girls, which won the event at 44 mph.

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Bell buoys and whistle buoys have long served as a source of guidance for incoming vessels of all sizes, as well as harbingers of approaching danger. But they’ve never been known as a choice place to hang out for a night. But 31 years ago, Robert “Bo” Curtis proved that notion wrong when he tied himself to a buoy in Maine’s West Penobscot Bay on a cold January morning. He would spend 27 hours on that buoy.

2015 0617 BG BuoyCurtis’ story was retold this month in a June 13 Bangor Daily News article. The then-25-year-old clammer left Rockland on Jan. 15, 1984, in a 15-foot skiff with a 40-hp outboard bound for a clamming trip on North Haven Island. That’s about nine miles away, across the bay.

Sure it was winter, but a clammer has to get in his digging time if he’s going to make any money. Besides, the forecast put the seas at no more than 3 feet and winds 5 to 15 mph. Curtis figured he could handle that.

But once out past Rockland’s breakwater and into the bay, the weather deteriorated and a squall moved across the water, bringing with it 5-foot waves and winds of 40 mph. That pushed Curtis down the bay. He knew he was in trouble as his small skiff started to fill with water.  

Some three miles south of Vinalhaven Island, he came upon an 8-foot-tall whistle buoy. He decided to tie his boat to it, hoping he could wait out the weather. As he stepped on the buoy, a wave knocked his boat out of reach; engine idling and with his supplies aboard, it drifted away. That was 10:45 in the morning.

To keep from being tossed off the buoy as it was rolled with the swells, Curtis removed his belt, looped it through a bar on the buoy and then through two belt loops on his pants.

Curling up in a fetal position on top of his down vest, he pulled his sweater down over his knees trying to stay warm. Three things got him through the night, as a lobster boat passed in the distance and a helicopter flew overhead: hip boots, a Bic lighter — not on every fisherman’s survival list — and a refusal to panic.

Throughout the night and the next day, Curtis used his teeth to pull strips of rubber off his boots and then lit them under his sweater with the Bic lighter to provide heat. At the very beginning of his ordeal, Curtis resolved not to panic and to constantly think through his ordeal. Excluding a minor lapse when he almost went into the water “to get it over with,” that attitude pulled him through until 2 p.m. the following afternoon when the Coast Guard vessel Point Hannon arrived and took him off the buoy.

He suffered frostbite and lost several fingernails and toenails. Today he is lobstering. Curtis later summed it up by telling the reporter: “All fishermen have close calls from time to time.”

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A lot of fishermen have that “it can’t happen to me” attitude, which is why a skipper I once had didn’t fix his radar after it broke the previous year. We spent a season out on the Aleutian chain and going through the passages of Southeast Alaska without a radar. We became very adept at using the sounder as a navigation tool.

2015 0609 BG BoatbuildingWe were lucky we didn’t run aground or hit something, though there were several full-reverse moments where the boat shook, the water boiled and everyone who was awake held on.

If we had hit something, I would have hoped there was a place like Farrin’s Boatshop in Walpole, Maine. That’s where the 38-foot lobster boat Kendra & Maysie was hauled after going onto a ledge near Maine’s Vinalhaven Island on a foggy day in July 2014.

The result of that rocky encounter and how Bruce Farrin and his crew put the boat back together — giving it a new name in the process — is the boatbuilding story in our July issue.

“Down… but not out” on page 26 describes the damage done when the Kendra & Maysie went to the bottom not once but twice after the boat was lifted free of the water and then inadvertently dropped.

Rebuilding the Kendra & Maysie — now Son of a Gun — was a several-month process beginning with the keel, which said Farrin, “had just exploded.”

When the rebuilding process was finished and the boat left Farrin’s shop and headed down the Damariscotta River, folks who saw her said she looked like a new boat.

Of course, people familiar with Farrin’s work weren’t surprised. After all, this is a boatbuilder who was recently inducted into the Maine Boatbuilder’s Hall of Fame, after spending 52 years building wood boats and finishing off fiberglass hulls.

Yup, if I ever have a boat again, should it find its way to a ledge, I hope it ends up at Farrin’s Boatshop.

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It’s June 4th, only 16 more days before Maine’s first lobster boat race of the season at Boothbay, followed a day later with a race in Rockland. As is usually the case, there’s no shortage of speculation, with most of the talk having to do with what boats are getting the big engines — big as in a lot of horsepower.

2015 0604 BG RacesMore than one boat is getting its power jacked up to 1,000 horses or better. Tom Clemons, of 4Girls notoriety, finished off what some say is a very lightweight Northern Bay 36. In it will go Whistlin’ Dixie’s 1,000-hp Cat. Whistlin’ Dixie often beat 4Girls in Diesel Free-for-All races, so Clemons knows he’s got a proven piece of iron.

Talk about a big jump in horsepower, Ed Shirley took a 420-hp Sisu out of his 32 Mitchell Cove and dropped in a 1,000-hp Cat C18. Then there’s a Northern Bay 41 being built at Morgan Bay. She’s due to get a 1,200-hp MAN and should be ready for the Boothbay race. All of these boats will be in class L — 901 horsepower and up.

A boat that has never gone too far past the rumor stage was going to be powered with a 3,000-hp gas engine for Jonesport’s Manny Durkee. But that project seems to have been scrapped.

Some people are saying the fastest boat might be the 28-foot Wild Wild West with a 1,050-hp Isotta. Unless of course if Galen Alley’s Foolish Pleasure gets back into racing form. Nobody knows for sure what she has for horsepower but estimates have put it at 2,000 or above.

Will any of these boats break Foolish Pleasure’s 72.8-mph record set at Stonington in 2011? Probably not, but you’ll have to show up to see if it happens.

Visit our Loud Hailer on the NF home page or the Fans of Maine Lobster Boat Racing Facebook page for a look at the full schedule.

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What’s on your list for summer reading? Well, let me suggest “A Mariner’s Miscellany” by Peter Spectre. It’s a collection of all things relevant and irrelevant concerning the sea, the whimsical and the serious; it’s about boats, ships, anchors, knots and ballast, the lore, poetry and language of the ocean and those who have traveled it.

2015 0526 Miscellany bookThough written in 2005, this collection is a timeless classic.Spectre has written several marine related books and did the yearly “Mariner’s Book of Days,” a nautical desk diary and calendar. He was also editor at International Marine, Wooden Boat and currently Maine Boats, Homes & Harbors. Those years spent writing about boats and correcting author’s notions of boats and the sea have endowed him with an eclectic mix of nautical knowledge.

For instance, does anybody know what “dogs running before their master” means? It’s a heavy swell in advance of a hurricane. That’s in the chapter “The Language of the Sea.”

In the same chapter is a listing of the “Different kinds of dead.”
Included is “dead horse” — a cash advance for wages to be earned, and “dead marine” — an empty beer bottle.

In the chapter “Bread is the staff of life; rum is life itself” is a recipe for Serpent’s Breath (a note says it’s enough for the entire crew):
1 bottle dark rum
1 bottle light rum
1 bottle Cognac
7 cups tea
3 cups lemon juice
1 ½ cups sugar

Stir the sugar and the lemon juice into the tea, then add the hard stuff. Allow the ingredients to meld for two hours — if you can wait that long.

If you are dumb enough to be at the wheel after sharing in that concoction, it won’t be long before you’re aground. But Spectre’s book tells you how to handle that situation in the chapter “Time and tide wait for no man.”

“If you should run aground on a falling tide and can’t get her off, climb over the side and scrub the bottom while you wait for the tide to return. Your friends will think you went aground on purpose.”

In the book’s 289 pages there’s a whole lot more, some of which you might know, most of which you never heard of. Check it out.

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Page 3 of 13

Inside the Industry

The Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association released their board of directors election results last week.

The BBRSDA’s member-elected volunteer board provides financial and policy guidance for the association and oversees its management. Through their service, BBRSDA board members help determine the future of one of the world’s most dynamic commercial fisheries.


Former Massachusetts state fishery scientist Steven Correia received the New England Fishery Management Council’s Janice Plante Award of Excellence for 2016 at its meeting last week.

Correia was employed by the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries for over 30 years.

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