Written by Jen Finn
Underdog, Lorna R are primed for lobster boat racing season
We are ready. We are armed. We are dangerous." That's Richard Weaver, the engine guru for Galen Alley's Lorna R, announcing the 30-footer from Beals Island is ready for its second season on Maine's lobster boat racing circuit.
Prior to last year's season, attendance at the various races was sagging, but in 2006 interest picked up quickly when two high-powered Down East contenders — Alley's wooden Lorna R and Ellery Alley's composite 29-foot Underdog from Jonesport — started lining up against each other. (The two boat owners are distant relatives.) It proved what anybody who has ever been to a lobster boat race knows: screaming, high-powered gasoline engines that you bet won't last halfway down the race course bring out even the most jaded racing fan.
Participation at this year's races should be up, and not just because of boats like the Lorna R and Underdog. Except for the July 4 race along Moosabec Reach, which is between Jonesport and Beals Island, there will be two races per weekend. That will cut down on the time spent steaming to races and the cost of fuel.
In addition, Rockland is hosting a race for the first time, and after a year's hiatus, lobster boats will be racing again at Stonington, a port that has always drawn a large number of spectators and race boats. This year Stonington will be paired with the race in Searsport on the weekend of July 14 and 15.
Last year's final race was at Searsport, where the Lorna R, which had pegged 53.7 mph in a previous race, dropped out with engine problems, leaving the Underdog to cross the line as the fastest boat.
This year, both boats are coming to the starting line with new iron. Ellery is dropping an engine built on a 540-cubic-inch Merlin block onto the Underdog's engine beds.
"We are not going to put it on a dyno this year, but it will be up to 850- to 900-horse anyway," he says.
That is an improvement over the previous 750-hp '55 Chevy engine that had trouble matching up to the Lorna R's 850-plus horsepower.
Last year, Ellery, who owns Main Street Auto, did a lot of the work on the boat's engine at his garage. This year, his two sons, AJ and Bronson, hauled the block up to AJ's house and they built the engine in AJ's cellar.
"It's nice to have the engine worked on here, but you know what it's like when you are trying to concentrate and you have a garage full of people watching you; all of them saying, 'Why don't you do this? Why don't you do that?'" Ellery says.
In mid-May, the engine was just about closed up, and then it was to be moved to the garage and test run. In the meantime, if you've ever wondered what a die-hard lobster-boat racer does with an old engine, Ellery keeps it on a stand in his living room, next to the trophy case. He might sell the Chevy engine — for an honest price.
Before the Underdog starts racing, Ellery has to modify the boat's rudder. "We'll take it off and cut it. See if we can take some off the face. We really had a job last year controlling the thing," he says.
One problem with racing a wooden boat is that it picks up weight the longer it's in the water. And after last year's race season, there was talk that Galen would build a new lightweight fiberglass boat, but he decided to stay with the Lorna R.
In mid-May, the engine was in the boat and running, and Weaver, who operates Weaver's Engines in Steuben, says that prior to the first race, "we're goin' make one test run and park it."
The engine, like the Underdog's is based on a Merlin block. Weaver isn't saying how much horsepower he thinks he can get out of his custom engine, just, "It's the same engine we had only tuned up a little more," or, "It's a new block and the same parts. The same thing only different."
A little engine mystery is part of racing, but there's nothing vague about Weaver's prediction for the coming races: "The other guy better be ready."
Ellery is more low key, "I think we're going to surprise a few."
So you don't miss any surprises, here's this year's race schedule: Boothbay Harbor, June 16; Rockland, June 17; Moosabec Reach, July 4; Searsport, July 14; Stonington, July 15; Friendship, July 28; Harpswell, July 29; Winter Harbor, Aug. 11; Pemaquid, Aug. 12.
— Michael Crowley
Cod quota buoys construction; Wash. yard upgrades longliner
Early spring is when the halibut fleet gets ready to move out of its winter berths in Washington and Alaska ports, and point toward the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea for another season. Coming the other way are crabbers and some trawlers, migrating to boatyards along the West Coast after months of being beat on by the weather of the northern latitudes. Some hail for general maintenance and others for more serious stuff.
One destination for many of these boats is Fred Wahl Marine Construction in Reedsport, Ore. By April, docks were lined with fishing boats and a new steel boat was being built for the Bering Sea.
The boat measures 58' x 26' and is built to the same Fred Wahl Marine Construction design as the Arctic Fox, which just returned from its first season in the Bering Sea. Like the Arctic Fox, the new boat — whose owners are the Seattle-based Rob Wurm, Brian Young and Nick Delaney — will be used for pot fishing for Pacific cod in the Bering Sea.
One difference between the two boats is that the one being built will have slightly less horsepower. The Arctic Fox has a 700-hp Lugger, whereas the boat under construction will be launched with a 640-hp Cummins K19.
The construction of both 58-footers was spurred by a large amount of Bering Sea Pacific cod quota for boats under 60 feet. The available quota may prompt the yard to build another 58-footer at the end of 2007, says Mike Lee, the boatyard's general manager.
In the meantime, the yard's repair work list in May included building a new pilothouse interior for the 124-foot king crabber the Erla-N, after she had three windows blown out by a wave this past season and the pilothouse filled with water, Lee says.
Another crabber, the 102-foot Arctic Hunter, met up with some rocks near the entrance to Dutch Harbor. That encounter opened up the bottom of the boat and flooded the engine room, pretty much full height, Lee says.
The crew got the boat back to Dutch Harbor where the holes in the bottom were plugged and the boat pumped out. The Fred Wahl Marine Construction crew replaced damaged bottom plating, put in new wiring, overhauled all the engines and replaced smaller electrical motors. Then the "bigger stuff are all going out and getting steamed cleaned, baked out and redipped and varnished and new bearings," Lee says.
And if the necessary design work can be completed in time, conversion work will be done to the Arctic Hunter, enabling her to go scalloping.
The Vanguard, a dragger out of Kodiak, was in for a stern extension. She arrived in Reedsport measuring 94 feet long and will be 99 feet when she leaves.
The additional length will provide more reserve buoyancy and improved stability. It will also enlarge the engine room, which is in the stern. The gantry is being shortened by 5 feet, which should also improve stability.
Up the coast, in Everett, Wash., Hansen Boat Co. had a freezer-longliner and a dragger in for modifications. The boatyard sponsoned the 105-foot dragger Royal American a couple of years ago, but the boat's owners left the old equipment in place. Now that they have the stability for bigger gear, they are upgrading, says the boatyard's Rick Hansen.
Two new and larger trawl winches and a new, bigger deck crane are being installed. The trawl winches probably won't require new hydraulics, but Hansen figures the deck crane will, since it has a function the previous crane lacked.
On the 125-foot longliner Beauty Bay, the boatyard is doing routine work in the engine room and on deck. In addition, a number of freezer plates are being replaced. Pinholes get in the plates as they are worn down by the sliding in and out of trays of codfish; so every so often new plates are required.
For a job that Hansen describes as "not a lot of fun, but it has to get done," a king crab boat was due in the yard to have circulating pipes replaced.
The pipes pass through fuel tanks, so "you have to clean fuel tanks and then crawl around in some very limited space and put the pipes in," Hansen says. "It has to be done because otherwise the fuel is contaminated with water or you get fuel in the crab tanks," he adds. The pipes are replaced about every 10 years.
— Michael Crowley
Shrimp boats flood Ala. yard; bay snapper rigs down to three
Jemison Marine of Bayou La Batre, Ala., has a boatyard full of shrimp boats getting ready for the Gulf of Mexico's spring fishing season. In addition, Jemison Marine was working on several repossessed shrimp boats in early April that are going into other commercial fisheries.
The Rip Tide, an 85-foot shrimper, is being set up for the longline fishery in Trinidad. The Captain Richard, a 90-footer, was recently bought at an auction. She was due to be hauled in preparation for going into the East Coast scallop fishery.
The Rip Tide had repairs to the prop, stern bearings and nozzle. The back of the boat's deckhouse was extended; bait wells were built in the boat, and she was painted.
By the beginning of April, work hadn't started on the Captain Richard, but the boat was due to be primed and painted, both topsides and bottom, and given routine maintenance before leaving Bayou La Batre.
With a depressed Gulf of Mexico shrimp fishery and high fuel costs, Jemison Marine, like other boatyards in the area, isn't building new boats, but the demand for rebuilding and maintenance work has grown.
At the beginning of April, 10 shrimp boats had been hauled and another two were in the water waiting to be hauled for maintenance work and repairs.
"We have a shipyard full of shrimp boats here for spring maintenance," says Tim Jemison, the boatyard's owner. "They want routine maintenance, but a lot of the boats need right much work. The boys are pushing the boats beyond what they should to maintain them. It's an economic thing. The cost of fuel and the depressed shrimp market has forced many of them to wait too long for maintenance.
"Because of this, we're having to replace right much steel in the hulls because they didn't take care of the little problems they had last year," he says.
Jemison Marine and some other nearby boatbuilders are also taking advantage of the demand for used shrimp boats from the Republic of Croatia. The boatyard has refurbished four 90-foot shrimpers for the Mediterranean tuna sea-farming fishery. "They are buying the boats at a much reduced price and the dollar is down compared to the Euro, which makes these boats attractive to the Croatians," Jemison says.
Up in Chesapeake Bay, Ampro Shipyard in Weems, Va., has been doing spring haul-out work on the few snapper-rig boats left in Chesapeake Bay.
The term snapper rig refers to boats that harvest menhaden for bait, which is then sold to commercial crab and eel-pot fishermen and to sport fishermen. This distinguishes the snapper rigs from the Omega Protein–owned boats that catch menhaden for the fish meal industry.
Two snapper-rig boats recently hauled and serviced at the Ampro Shipyard were the 135' x 23' Carters Creek and the 80' x 20' Osprey. The Carters Creek picked up 12 new zincs and a complete paint job. Topsides, a coating of Devoe blue went down to the waterline. From the waterline to the keel, the hull was primed and painted with Hempel bottom paint.
The 80-foot Osprey also had its bottom cleaned and painted; new zincs and a new prop were put on.
For three months, the crew at the Ampro Shipyard railway was tied up with the Miss Ann, a 127-foot dinner and cruise boat. On the hull's starboard side, frames were replaced along a 60-foot midsection. The propeller shaft was pulled and reconditioned, struts were realigned, and a new cutlass bearing installed.
On a sad note for the bay's snapper-rig fishery, Ampro Shipyard pulled all the fishing gear off the Taylors Creek. The boat belonged to Norva Co., a Virginia bait company out of White Stone, owned by David George, but was purchased by Fred Lakeman of Boston.
The 87' x 30' Taylors Creek will be fishing for menhaden off the New Jersey coast. Once the Taylors Creek leaves the Ampro Shipyard, only three snapper-rig boats will be left fishing on Chesapeake Bay, says Ampro Shipyard's Lynne Haynie.
"It's a sad state," she says. "The demand for bait is just not what it was when the crab pot fishery was booming. We are seeing more and more watermen getting out of the crab business, and this impacted the snapper-rig business."
— Larry Chowning
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