The 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.
Written by Michael Crowley
Thursday, 18 June 2015
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.
Curtis’ 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.”
Written by Michael Crowley
Tuesday, 09 June 2015
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.
We 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.
Written by Michael Crowley
Thursday, 04 June 2015
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.
More 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.
Written by Michael Crowley
Tuesday, 26 May 2015
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.
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.
Written by Michael Crowley
Thursday, 21 May 2015
I’m designating May as the Take Notice of Pending Regulations Month. I’m thinking of four regulations coming due in the next 10 months. Failure to meet any of their deadlines may result in missing a fishing trip or two, and having to come up with some cash you hadn’t budgeted for.
The deadline for the first of the four regulations is Oct. 15, 2015. That’s when you must have completed a mandatory dockside safety examination. That includes both state and federally documented boats operating beyond three miles, a boat that carries 16 or more people and operates inside of or outside of three miles, and fish tenders working in the Aleutians.
If you don’t have a safety decal by that date, your ability to fish could be curtailed. The Coast Guard will tell you, “don’t wait,” because they expect a lot of business as Oct. 15 approaches.
The regulation on the up-and-coming list that won’t affect many boat owners states that fishing vessels “must be equipped with a VHF radiotelephone installation, which must have DSC capability.” It only applies to boats of 300 gross tons or more.
The upgrade has to be done by Jan. 20, 2016. The regulation applies to boats operating within 20 miles of the East, West and Gulf coasts, as well as Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Virgin Islands. However, Alaska isn’t included, as it does not yet have the infrastructure to support digital selective calling.
The benefit of having a radio with DSC capability is that as soon as you hit that red button on the VHF radio, a distress signal goes out. If the radio is connected to a GPS — and it definitely should be — you are also sending your boat’s position.
The third regulation falls due on Feb. 16, 2016. By then your boat must be carrying a survival craft “that ensures that no part of an individual is immersed in water.” It’s for boats operating outside of three miles. No more of those World War II–type rafts with a buoyant ring around the outside and webbing inside that you sit on and watch the water slosh around you.
The last ruling requires boats 65 feet or longer to have an automatic identification system installed by March 2, 2016. The benefit of AIS is that it enhances your awareness of boats operating nearby — as long as they also have an AIS — and those same boats know where you are. The Coast Guard estimates that this ruling affects 2,906 fishing boats.
Only class-B AIS is required though you can opt for the more effective class A.
So there you have it, four regulations, and four deadlines that you have to meet. The first one is five months away, but after that they will be coming pretty fast.
Written by Michael Crowley
Tuesday, 12 May 2015
All right, it’s good you are being proactive. You’ve heard more than one story about fishermen who have drowned because they weren’t wearing a PFD or immersion suit when their boat went down. So you took a safety course or two and now you’ve got PFDs, immersion suits and life jackets for both you and the crew. And you developed a safety procedures manual for you boat. That’s being prepared. Or is it?
Not for the skipper and crew of the 28-foot Five Star, an aluminum crabber that operated out of Kelsey Bay, British Columbia. On June 12, 2014, the Five Star was returning to Kelsey Bay with nearly 2,800 pounds of crab in containers on the deck. It was the Five Star’s largest catch of the year.
Entering Johnstone Strait, the crabber encountered a strong ebb tide going up against a 28-knot wind out of the northwest. It is also an area known for strong eddies and swirls. Not long after entering Johnstone Strait, the Five Star broached, sending the crab-filled containers slamming up against the port bulwark. Shortly after, the boat rolled down and over. The crewman was wearing an older life jacket, while the skipper, who exited through the wheelhouse window, wore neither a life jacket nor a PFD.
Both hung onto the overturned hull for a while and then started swimming to shore. The crewman made it the 500 yards to land. The skipper did not. Once ashore, the crewman located a house and made a 911 call.
Several things stand out in the marine investigation report from the Transportation Safety Board of Canada.
Despite the fact that the skipper had purchased the PFDs and immersion suits after participating in Canada’s Safest Catch program, neither lifejackets nor PFDs were worn during normal fishing operations — let alone the rough conditions encountered that day. Thus, the skipper became a statistic: one of the 44 percent of British Columbia fishing related fatalities not wearing a PFD since 2004.
Though the skipper had developed a safety procedures manual, he had not led emergency drills — required by regulations and encouraged by the Safest Catch program. That might have got him thinking about stability and what would happen if the crab containers broke loose in heavy weather.
The Five Star was also required to have a VHF radio with DSC capability. The boat had the radio but not the DSC feature, which would have allowed them to send a distress signal at the push of a button.
Though it wasn’t required, the report notes that an EPIRB, which was not on the Five Star, would have automatically sent out a search and rescue distress signal when it hit the water. Thus no one knew about the incident until the crew member called 911. That was an hour and a half after the boat capsized.
The Five Star and her skipper is another dismal tale in a long line of sad stories of fishermen dying at sea when it might have been avoided. In this case, just because you take safety courses and buy the proper equipment, it really doesn’t do you much good unless you think about how to use those tools and do the training.
Written by Linc Bedrosian
Tuesday, 05 May 2015
Try walking around a strange town on a moonless night with not a star in the sky and not a light on anywhere. To make matters worse, some rather nefarious characters are looking to eliminate some questionable friends of yours that you've been hanging with. The route to safety centers on the one way out of the neighborhood you're in. But it's pitch dark. How to find it? It would sure be nice to have a little light.
Now you know what it's like to be a king salmon in the Bering Sea or a hooligan in the waters off the Pacific Northwest. Both have a troubled relationship with certain associates. For the salmon it's pollock and for the hooligans, also known as candlefish, Pacific smelt and eulachon, it's pink shrimp. And in an ironic twist that nefarious character, the fisherman, also gets pulled into the game.
In all cases, the issue is bycatch. Catch too much salmon or Pacific smelt and the fishery could be shut down.
Shrimp fishermen are using bycatch reduction devices to keep smelt out of the net. Washington and Oregon shrimpers have rigid-gate BRDs on their trawls with three-quarter-inch bar spacing. Initially that was very effective in eliminating bycatch, but lately smelt bycatch numbers have soared. As a result NOAA is considering protective regulations.
For pollock boats it's more a case of trying to avoid areas with high numbers of chinook salmon.
The answer for both fisheries may be a light, a guiding light so to speak. Last July three fisheries biologists chartered the Miss Yvonne, a double-rigged Oregon shrimp trawler for an unusual experiment.
One of the trawls they towed was a standard net. The other net had a green LED light tied to the footrope. When the nets were hauled back, the traditionally rigged trawl held lots of smelt, along with flatfish, as well as Pacific shrimp.
The catch in the LED-equipped trawl was just about all shrimp. After 42 tows, the illuminated net captured 90 percent less smelt than the traditionally rigged trawl.
Testing hasn't been as extensive with pollock trawls, but early experiments with Wesmar's new BioLight on the headrope of a pollock trawl suggests that it pulls fish away from the mouth of the net. In another case the light was placed in the mesh in front of an escapement hole. The salmon were drawn to the light and out the hole.
It appears that with just a little bit of light, both salmon and smelt can find their way out of a bad neighborhood.
Written by Linc Bedrosian
Tuesday, 28 April 2015
Every month we feature eight products in National Fisherman's Product Roundup section. Two of those are selected for a more extensive discussion because they are new, they are innovative, and they might make a difference in the lives of commercial fishermen.
From reader surveys we know it's a well-read section, but we don't generally hear how a particular product affected someone's life. Well this time we did, though truth be told, we don't know if the DSPA-5 flame extinguisher was first learned about in the pages of NF or at the local marine dealer. In this case, that probably would have been Hercules SLR in New Bedford, Mass., who informed us of the incident. However, the source isn't so critical. What's important is that the DSPA-5 did what it was supposed to do.
The DSPA-5, a product of AFG Flameguard USA, is an aerosol-based fire suppression and extinguishing system with potassium compounds that break the bond between oxygen and a fire, thus putting down the fire in seconds. It's packaged in a handheld disc-shaped object with a firing pin by the handle. Pull the pin; toss the DSPA-5 in the area with the fire, close the door, and shortly the fire should be extinguished.
This past Easter Sunday, the scalloper Freedom was towing its dredges when the winches stopped responding. The boat's skipper, Derek Eilertsen, attempted to check the hydraulic system in the engine room but was driven back by intense heat and smoke.
The crew tossed a DSPA-5 into the engine room and shut the door. A few minutes later the door was cool to the touch. When they opened the door, there was less smoke and heat, allowing them to extinguish smoldering insulation with a wash-down hose.
A leaky hydraulic hose was the culprit, spraying oil on the exhaust, which ignited the oil. The DSPA kept the fire from spreading and instead of thousands of dollars for repair work, the damage was minimal. And no one was injured.
The Freedom returned to port under her own power and, after a day spent making minor repairs and cleaning up the engine room, went back fishing.
Obviously, the DSPA-5 made a difference.
Written by Linc Bedrosian
Tuesday, 21 April 2015
The medical verdict was sobering: "Either do something different or you'll need a shoulder replacement." That's what David Hiltz Jr., a lobsterman out of Deer Isle, Maine, was told last fall.
The culprit is the way Hiltz and most other lobstermen haul back their traps: He grabs the first trap as it comes out of the water with one hand and with the other flips the gangion coming off the main warp out of the block. Haul enough traps over the years and that equals a lot of shoulder strain and pain.
These days Hiltz's shoulder is feeling much better, thanks to the hauling block he's using on his boat. It's based on a block that's been used in Canada for a number of years, only the adaptation that Hiltz and Rock Wilson at Fuller Machine in Alstead, N.H., came up with is lighter and more affordable.
Called the EZ-Block (also the name of Hiltz and Wilson's new company), it features a wheel with slightly curved teeth that grab the gangion and flips it out of the block. The EZ-Block weighs 30 pounds — versus 56 pounds for the Canadian version — is made of 316 stainless steel and aluminum, and has a snap hook for mounting.
The basic model EZ-Block, originally priced at $600, now sells for $699, whereas the heavier Canadian block costs $800. Also available is an anodized block in black, clear, army green or brown with an engraving, say of your boat's name. Originally priced at $700, it now sells for $759.
EZ-Block is a company that's still in its infancy. The first batch of blocks was released April 12 and sold out. The second batch will be available April 24, but you better get in line because many have already been taken.
Like any start-up outfit, EZ-Block is still getting organized. Yet to come is a website but according to the company, Portland, Maine-based Brooks Trap Mill has just come aboard as the exclusive dealer for EZ-Block, You can also order a block by going to the EZ-Block Facebook page or calling Hiltz at (207) 348-1045.
Hiltz says, "I just want guys to be able to save on their bodies."
Written by Linc Bedrosian
Tuesday, 14 April 2015
From Alaska to Maine, fishermen set thousands of traps and pots every day. Not all of them come back. Lines part, buoys are destroyed by passing boats and tides and storms carry traps into deeper water. These are the infamous ghost traps that, in some cases, continue to fish for years.
There’s been a lot of effort to remove derelict traps, but last year NOAA launched four gear innovation projects to not only attempt to better understand the problem but to prevent traps from being lost in the first place. The projects received Fishing for Energy gear innovation grants administered by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and funded by NOAA’s Marine Debris Program.
The projects are taking place in Washington’s Puget Sound, South Carolina’s Stono River and in Maryland and Virginia’s respective portions of Chesapeake Bay.
Crab mortality caused by ghost fishing is a significant problem in Puget Sound. It’s estimated that 30,000 crabs are killed each year in derelict pots, even though they have cotton panels designed to disintegrate and let crabs leave the pots. The problem is the pots’ design limits a crab’s ability to escape, even when the cotton panel is gone.
A project run by the Northwest Straits Foundation is testing several crab pot designs for their escapement rates to determine the most efficient pots. Recommendations will include trap modifications to improve escapement rates.
Some of the results will be released in the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s annual Fishing Pamphlet that informs fishermen of new rules and regulations.
In Maryland’s portion of Chesapeake Bay, NOAA ran a side-scan sonar survey in 2007 and estimated there were 84,567 derelict crab pots. After some initial work on technologies to reduce ghost fishing, it’s being suggested that commercial blue-crab fishermen might use side-scan sonar to improve the pot-retrieval rate.
In South Carolina, traps are lost when passing boats destroy floats on the surface or cut the trap lines. Researchers are comparing the standard single float and line to using PVC piping to protect the line and testing floats to find one made out of material that’s more durable.
What’s different about the South Carolina project is how the recovered crab traps will be recycled. They’ll be cement coated and then dumped back into the water to create oyster reef habitat. The cement provides a settlement substrate for oysters.
In Virginia, the Virginia Institute of Marine Science is testing biodegradable escape panels and visual deterrents on peeler crab pots. Thirty peeler pots were given biodegradable escape panels that were tested against 30 standard peeler pots. Preliminary results suggest no adverse effect from the biodegradable panels on the catch rate.
There are also indications that the color of the entrance funnel can deter turtles from entering a trap while enhancing blue crab catch rate.Add a comment Add a comment
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Fishermen throughout the Gulf of Mexico are praising Louisiana officials for a series of strong decisions last week that have broken the deadlock of red snapper management in the Gulf of Mexico.Read more...
According to the Portland Press Herald, the Maine Seaweed Festival has been canceled this year due to a rift between the event’s organizers and seaweed harvesters.Read more...