Lobstermen race for more than prizes; Whistlin' Dixie is fastest lobster boat
Portland's MS Harborfest Lobster Boat Races on Aug. 18 closed out Maine's lobster boat racing season, which had 12 races, starting with Boothbay Harbor on June 16.
Sixty-five boats showed up in Portland to race with nearly 150 spectator boats lining the course. This race is different from all the others in that more is at stake than just bragging rights and prizes. The Portland race is part of a weekend-long affair that raises money for the Greater New England Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
The festivities also include races for sailboats and tugboats — 13 knots top speed but a big rolling wake — and an auction. The weekend's celebration raised more than $100,000, with the auction contributing the biggest slice at $46,000.
The lobster-boat races generated just over $6,000. Many of the race winners donated the money they won for a first-, second- or third-place finish to the Multiple Sclerosis Society. Additional money was generated from the sales of T-shirts, as well as the racing association's donation of each boat's $20 entry fee. One fisherman just walked up to the race organizers and handed over a $100 bill. "A lot of these people have been affected by MS, so they give," says Jon Johansen, president of the Maine Lobster Boat Racing Association.
An incentive for fishermen to race at Portland is the chance to win 100 gallons of diesel fuel. Global Partners in South Portland donated 1,600 gallons of diesel fuel that is divided among 16 races. "Everyone in a race in the diesel class has a chance to win that," says Johansen. "You don't have to win the race, but you can't just sign up. You have to run."
At the earlier races, a number of boats suffered engine problems, but at Portland the engines and boats held together. Though the Lorna R, a wooden 30-footer with a 496-cubic-inch Chevy, did what it has done for most of this year's races and that's pour white smoke out of the wheelhouse as it ran down the course. As it turns out, engine pressure was pushing drops of oil past the dipstick and onto the manifold. Skipper Jeremy Chandler acted fast to put out a brief burst of flame.
One of the casualties of an earlier race, Ed Shirley's Miss Karlee, a 32-foot Mitchell Cove with a 410-hp Sisu, showed up in Portland. At the Searsport races the Miss Karlee had engine problems and had to be hauled out and trucked about a mile away to Otis Enterprises Marine Corp. to have the engine repaired. "The problem in Searsport," says Johansen, "is he was running the engine on propane."
A perennial crowd pleaser over the last few years has been Galen Alley's Foolish Pleasure, with an alcohol-fueled engine that puts out more than 2,000 horsepower. At Portland Foolish Pleasure won all her races but only got up to 42.5 mph in the fastest lobster boat race. That's much slower than the 72.8 mph record or an unofficial time of 80 mph at the Pemaquid races.
The fastest working lobster boat was Andy Johnson's Whistlin' Dixie, a Holland 40 with a 1,000-hp Cat. She beat out Gary Genthner's Lisa Marie, a Libby 34 with a 690-hp Iveco, by 2 feet in the diesel free-for-all. The timed speed was only 39.2 mph, which is five to six miles-per-hour slower than Whistling Dixie is capable of hitting. There might have been a problem at the start or the radar gun was off, says Johansen.
A boat that didn't make it to Portland and one that a lot of people would have liked to have seen — and might have beat Whistlin' Dixie — was Andy Gove's Uncle's UFO. That's a Northern Bay 36 with a 900-hp Mack that the 83-year-old Gove took to victory in the four races he entered this year.
Looking ahead to next year's races, there's talk of putting some of the high-powered non-working boats, such as the Lorna R, in another class. "They are not real working boats," says Johansen. "To protect the working boats we'll make class D for the non-working boats." — Michael Crowley
Gillnetter built for work and comfort; Seattle yard getting back to fish boats
In early August, Tom Love was completing sea trials on his new aluminum gillnetter and looking forward to two or three weeks of fishing for silvers in Alaska's Prince William Sound and then possibly fishing Cordova in the fall.
The building of Liberty Rising combined the efforts of two boatshops. The gillnetter was built at Delbert Henry's Hylite Fabrication in Palmer, Alaska, but carries the name Peregrine Boats, a shop in Peters Creek, on its side. That's because Peregrine Boats' Jeff Johnson designed the hull and supervised the building of Liberty Rising.
The two boatbuilders go back a few years, as Henry and some of his crew used to work for Johnson at Peregrine Boats in Peters Creek or Sea State One Marine in Anchorage.
At 34' x 12', Liberty Rising is a bit larger than most gillnetters, which, Love says, usually measure 32' x 10'. The extra length went into the cabin, allowing it to be more comfortably outfitted than the standard gillnetter. When Love isn't fishing, he'll be using the boat "pretty much as a summer live-aboard, so we can get out and enjoy Prince William Sound."
Thus the cabin has two nice bunks, a refrigerator, a freezer, a double settee, and, says Love, "a very nice stove and a small but fully functional head with a shower and a sink. The cabin is almost yacht quality." For a commercial fishing boat, the cabin has a fair amount of wood, and Henry says, "Love did the woodworking himself."
There's also vacuum bagging equipment. Love catches lingcod and halibut for himself and friends, and says he's "very particular about how it is processed." After the fish is vacuumed bagged it goes into the freezer.
Gillnetters used for commercial and sport fishing are becoming more common. "A lot of guys have slowly been doing that," Henry says. When Love is commercial fishing, he'll be using a net reel and bow roller built by Petrzelka Bros. in Mount Vernon, Wash.
Access to the engine room is an uncommon feature, says Henry. Just inside the door to the cabin is a hatch. Open the hatch and you step down into the engine room.
There you'll find stainless steel hydraulic lines and a pair of 370-hp Yanmar engines hooked up to Hamilton 274 water jets.
On the initial sea trials, Liberty Rising wasn't being pushed too hard, but she ran at 35 knots and at one point got up to 41 knots, "but we didn't leave it there, because the engines didn't have many hours," Love says.
At night the crew won't have any problem finding their way around the boat, what with LED lights under the gunwales to provide indirect lighting for the deck, as well as two remote controlled LED floodlights. LED lights are also found in the engine room and cabin and even underwater across the transom.
Though Liberty Rising is a working boat, at night she might be mistaken for a yacht with those underwater lights.
Seattle's Delta Marine Industries is a boatyard that built as many as 250 fiberglass seiners and crabbers from the 1970s until 1992, when it switched its focus to yachts and megayachts. It wasn't until June 2012 with the 58-foot fiberglass Sequel that it returned to building commercial fishing boats.
In this past year a second 58' x 23' seiner was delivered, and by October 2013 a 58' x 27' seiner and crabber will go into the water. She will have a 600-hp Caterpillar C18 for power, as well as Northern Lights 55-kW and 30-kW gensets.
Delta Marine Industries is also building a 58-footer on spec, only this is a steel boat. The Hockema & Whalen design was started over a year ago, "but we became so busy with other boats that we kind of mothballed it," says the boatyard's Chris Jones.
At the end of August, Jones says the tanks were being welded up and the boat was nearly ready for sandblasting and painting. He says it will be featured for sale at Seattle's Pacific Marine Expo in November, though the boat won't be ready for delivery until the spring or summer of 2014. — Michael Crowley
1977-built boat is redone for oystering; Fat Spat survives sinking and hogging
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell announced in August that preliminary figures for the state's 2012-13 oyster harvest show commercial oystermen catching 320,000 bushels with a dockside value of $11.2 million. That's a substantial increase over the 20,000 bushels landed a decade ago.
It takes boats to work Virginia's oyster fishery, and when the industry expands, so does the demand for boats to plant, grow and harvest oysters. Two Virginia oyster companies, Kellum Brothers in Weems and Cowart Seafood in Lottsburg, are upgrading their fleets to keep up with the growth.
Kellum Brothers President Jeff Kellum, his brother Tommy, uncle Joe and cousin Brandon Kellum recently bought and rebuilt a used 42-foot Hulls Unlimited East fiberglass workboat built in 1977. Hulls Unlimited East in Deltaville, Va., built fiberglass deadrise workboats from 1972 until the late 1990s when the boatshop closed.
The High Hopes, named after Jeff and Tommy's mother, was hauled at Ampro Shipyard in Weems. The yard fabricated a hydraulic oyster dredge winder, mast and a boom. Portions of the cabin and the washboards were replaced. A new engine box was built, and the sides and bottom were gel coated and painted. Wave Rider Manufacturing of Topping, Va., did the fiberglass work.
"Hulls Unlimited East built a heavy boat, one that's just right for oystering," says Jeff. "We bought the boat from Ryland Gaskins a longtime waterman who had it built in 1977. Ryland was the only owner, and we knew he took care of it."
Tommy says, "Virginia's oyster industry is growing, and we think there is a bright future here for us. We are so convinced of that that we've expanded our operations, and part of the expansion was the purchase and repair of the High Hopes to help accommodate that growth."
In April, Cowart Seafood of Lottsburg had Ampro Shipyard remove a pair of 8.2-liter Detroit Diesels from the 33' x 13' 6" Fat Spat, a fiberglass-over wood barge, and replaced them with a pair of new 210-hp Cummins 6BTA engines.
That finished up a five-year project that started back in 2009 when the Fat Spat sank while lifting oyster cages.
Lake Cowart, president of Cowart Seafood, says when the boat sank she was hogged 14 inches at the bow and stern, caused by the weight of a crane used to lift oyster cages. After she sank, Cowart decided on an extended repair plan.
Larry Jennings of Jennings Boatyard in Reedville, Va., used a 2,000-pound weight and cables to remove all but 2 inches of hog. He also fastened new planks in the sides and rebuilt the stern. That was enough to get the Fat Spat back working. Then in 2011, Jennings rebuilt the cabin.
This year, besides the new engines, the Fat Spat got a new marine plywood bottom. "We've just about got ourselves a new boat," says Cowart. "She's so tough now, we could run her over land mines and she'd keep on going."
The Fat Spat carries oyster cages to and from oyster grounds on the Coan River, a tributary of the Potomac River. Cowart says he needs a boat the size and strength of Fat Spat to lift his cages because they are built heavier than what most growers are using. The heavier cages make them harder to steal, which is a growing problem in the oyster aquaculture business, says Cowart. "If cages are light enough, poachers will take the cage and oysters away."
The Fat Spat was built in 1976 by Northumberland County, Va., boatbuilder Francis Haynie. Cowart asked Haynie to build a 38-foot barge-style boat to haul seed oyster to and from his oyster grounds. At that point, Cowart Seafood was not using cages to grow oysters.
"Mr. Haynie built boats in his garage there at his house on Cod Creek [a tributary of the Little Wicomico River, at the mouth of the Potomac River] and the garage was 33 feet long," says Cowart. "Well guess what? We got a boat 33 feet long, and it's been a good one." — Larry Chowning
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