Written by Jen Finn
March 6, 2013
Museum saves Maine dragger, rebuilt icon to launch in May
Many of New England's wooden eastern-rigged draggers have ended up on a mud bank where they slowly rotted away or were hoisted out of the water, chain-sawed up and then burned. But not the Roann, a 60-foot eastern-rigged dragger, designed by Albert Condon and built at the Newbert & Wallace Shipyard in Thomaston, Maine, in 1947.
The Roann, which fished out of Vineyard Haven, Mass., and then Point Judith, R.I., was still fishing in 1997 when she was bought by the Mystic Seaport Museum in Mystic, Conn. The boat is being rebuilt in the museum's Henry B. duPont Preservation Shipyard.
Part of the reason the museum purchased the Roann is that the boat was virtually unchanged from 1947, including the rounded stern. Besides not being extensively modified, the Roann's pedigree is superb.
"She was built by one of the top eastern-rig yards in Maine and was designed by Albert Condon. He had a really good eye. Aesthetically it was a beautiful boat," says Walt Ansel the project's lead shipwright.
While someone who knows fishing boats of the late 1940s might have appreciated how well the Roann retained her original look, that didn't mean she was in particularly good shape.
Though the Roann was well maintained, Ansel says she was pretty well "used up" when the museum bought her. That's about what you'd expect from a 50-year-old boat built of oak, except for a fir deck and ceiling planking, with iron fastenings. The Roann hadn't undergone major rebuilding, yet was working as a groundfish boat, where towing and hauling back a trawl generates forces that are constantly attempting to twist a hull's framework in several different directions.
"All the iron fastenings were gone or down to nothing. There was a lot of rot and broken frames," Ansel notes.
When the rebuilding is completed, about 95 percent of the hull will have new wood. "The keel was saved, one piece under the shaft log and two chunks of the sheer clamp," Ansel says.
The boat is being rebuilt with oak, only this time it's all white oak, which is less susceptible to rot than the red oak that went in the Roann in 1947. That's a lot of new wood; included in the mix are 300 knot-free 2 x 4s, 18 feet long for 120 steam-bent frames. Instead of iron, bronze will hold the Roann together when she goes back in the water.
In the process of tearing apart the hull, the crew at the museum's shipyard, which is made up of full-time employees and volunteers, found the workmanship done at the Newbert & Wallace Shipyard was excellent. "There were very good fits in the backbone and a lot of keys [wooden wedges] were put in the joints to keep them from slipping," Ansel notes.
Though little of the original hull remains, the tongue-and-groove cypress fo'c'sle will go back in the boat, along with the original wheelhouse.
Museum volunteers rebuilt the Roann's Hathaway chain-drive deck winch, as well as the Detroit Diesel 12V-71 main engine, which went in the boat in 1961. Ansel estimates its horsepower at about 350. The engine it replaced was a 170-hp 6-cylinder Caterpillar 13000.
One of the volunteers rebuilding the engine was Dick Wing, a retired University of Rhode Island professor who taught in the Fisheries and Marine Technology Program. He worked on the Roann's engine in the 1960s.
The Roann is scheduled to be launched in early May on the museum's new 500-ton Syncrolift dock. Once the boat is in the water, the wheelhouse and rigging will be installed.
One way the museum will use the Roann is as a traveling exhibit. She also may be employed for marine biology research. "The University of Connecticut is interested in doing a program," Ansel says.
By next summer, the museum wants to have the boat ready to travel to the Maine Maritime Museum in Bath, which will be running a fisheries exhibit from May 1 to the end of August, says Nathan Lipfert, Maine Maritime Museum's curator.
"The main thing from the museum's preservation policy is to keep the machinery running and keep the hull wet, so it's tight and doesn't dry out." Ansel says. — Michael Crowley
New Wash. yard starts strong; Fred Wahl scales back repairs
It seems like Bellingham, Wash., has never lacked for boatshops, and a few months ago it got a new one when Tom Day started TommyCraft. His first boat is a 31' 6" x 11' aluminum salmon bowpicker for a Cordova, Alaska, Copper River fisherman.
Day started building aluminum boats about 20 years ago, working for his cousin Pat Pitsch at All American Marine, which is one of those many Bellingham boatshops.
"I started sweeping floors and scrubbing welds," Day remembers. About a year later he was building boats.
Day worked at All American Marine for a few years. Then he tried other things, like building bicycle fenders, but he would return to All American Marine when a lot of boats needed to be built. The last one he built was the Chris K in 2001. That was a 32-foot Bristol Bay gillnetter with a pair of 430-hp Cummins diesels tied into Hamilton Jets.
Last spring he built an open cockpit aluminum pleasure boat for himself, used it in the summer and then tried to sell it on the Internet site Craigslist.
"I started to get a lot of calls from guys who recognized my name and asked if I didn't use to be at All American Marine," Day says. Once they learned he had worked there, Day says, "they asked why didn't I start building fishing boats." Thinking about it, Day realized that's what he did best, so he opened his own boatshop.
In doing so, he acknowledges that what he knows about boatbuilding is pretty much thanks to his cousin. "Pat taught me everything I know. He has an amazing eye," Day says.
The gillnetter Day is currently building is his own design, with a reverse chine running all the way from the transom to the bow. She'll have twin Chevy 350 gasoline engines turning Hamilton water jets.
One reason the owner wants gasoline engines is because he will fish up shallow and doesn't want the weight of diesels, which would increase the boat's draft.
Day is not installing the engines. He is doing the aluminum work on the boat, and it will be finished off at Petrzelka Brothers in Mount Vernon, Wash.
Day never did sell his recreational boat. "I decided to keep it for sea trials for the fishing boats," he says. That's good, because half a dozen salmon fishermen have been talking to him about building a new boat.
Speaking of Petrzelka Brothers, inside the Mount Vernon boatshop, a Bristol Bay gillnetter was pretty much gutted around Thanksgiving, and by the end of March will have been completely rebuilt.
"We cut the deck out, fuel tank, cut everything out of the back and basically started over," says the boatshop's Jon Petrzelka.
The boatshop is also finishing off a fiberglass hull as a bowpicker for a Cordova gillnetter. Like the boat being built at TommyCraft, this one will have a pair of 350 Chevy gasoline engines and Hamilton water jets.
Outside the Petrzelka shop are a couple of Bristol Bay bowpickers getting miscellaneous repairs and maintenance work. And an ex-Bristol Bay gillnetter that is being turned into an oil-boom boat for a nearby refinery.
Petrzelka Brothers has to have most of its work done by the end of May because the crew heads up to the Alaska salmon grounds to operate their own fishing boats.
In Oregon there is no lack of business at Fred Wahl Marine Construction, and that seems to be part of the reason the owner, Fred Wahl, will be scaling back his operations in Reedsport and Toledo.
According to a press release from the boatyard, Wahl, now 60, says, "I don't plan to keep working until I pass out on the job."
Thus, he will either sell or close down the boatyard's repair and haul-out facility in Toledo on Oregon's Yaquina River by the end of the year. That yard comes with a dry dock and travel lift, and can take boats up to 100 feet and 300 tons.
At Reedsport, Wahl intends to cut back on maintenance and repair work. And he "will no longer do sponson or lengthening jobs. So somebody needs to pick up the slack and do that kind of work for the West Coast and Alaska fleets."
The Reedsport boatyard will be concentrating on new boat construction, maintenance work for old customers and emergency repairs. — Michael Crowley
Skiffs cut fuel and repair bills; Va. builder has God on his side
Many commercial fishermen are exchanging their larger inboard-powered boats for smaller, shallow-draft boats with outboards to work closer to shore, and reduce fuel and maintenance costs.
One builder they are going to is Carolina Skiff of Waycross, Ga. Robert Sass, the company's marketing director, says, "gillnetters, oystermen and crab and lobster potters are the biggest commercial fishing users of our boats."
Several of the skiffs have been modified by fishermen to work in the Chesapeake Bay's oyster hand-scrape fishery. One waterman left the steering console in the boat but installed a steering stick. That's a vertical length of wood mounted on the side of the boat. It allows him to control the boat and be closer to his fishing gear. Moving the stick forward or back turns the boat to the left or right. He also built a small house forward of the console to cover the dredge motor.
A favorite Carolina Skiff of commercial fishermen is the DLX series that goes up to 27 feet long. "Commercial fishermen take the largest hull we make, take everything out and leave it wide open," says Sass. "They tuck a little seat in back with a tiller handle engine and leave all the space they can inside, so they can haul as many crab and lobster pots as they can."
The 27-footer was introduced after commercial fishermen requested a boat with more hauling capacity. The boat has an 8' 6" beam, draws 6 inches and will carry a 225-hp outboard.
Carolina Skiff also builds 19-, 20- and 24-footers in the DLX line, which are popular with commercial watermen, Sass says.
One advantage to the boats is they can be hauled over the highway on a trailer. And blue crab fishermen in North Carolina, South Carolina, Maryland, Virginia and Georgia follow peeler-crab runs by trailering their boats.
The 19-footer has a draft of 3 to 6 inches, a 7' 9" beam, and a gunwale height of 1' 10". It can be powered by an outboard up to 115 hp. The 20-footer has the same draft and beam but can handle 135 hp.
The 24-footer also draws 3 to 6 inches but spans an 8' 6" beam, and a 200-hp outboard can be mounted on its transom.
Francis Haynie, 79, of Northumberland County, Va., is building a 32' x 10' x 2' wooden deadrise boat in his boatshop on Cod Creek, off the Potomac River.
Haynie says he suffered a mini-stroke a while ago but has improved enough to be back at work and clinching nails. He was out in the boat shed, working on the boat, when we caught up with him.
"My hand is back better than 50 percent and I'm walking around without a stick and walker," he says. "It's coming along real good. "I'm able to work. It's awkward but I'm getting there."
The new boat is made of pressure treated spruce pine, white oak and fir. The bow deck and washboards are pine. The bottom of the boat has a 10" x 6" fir keel with 2" x 3" white-oak sister keelsons running along each side of the keel.
The washboards, deck and cabin also use pressure treated pine lumber. The stem is cut out of a 7" x 9" length of pine. Stainless steel nails are used as fasteners.
The transom of the square-stern boat is planked with two 16-inch-wide boards. Haynie uses planks as wide as he can get for the sides and stern to eliminate as many seams as possible. He caulks the seams with cotton, using caulking irons and mallets that are more than 100 years old.
The boat is being built on speculation. It would be ideal for crab potting, oystering or netting. Though Haynie isn't 100 percent better, he says the boat should be completed in March.
Haynie has not decided whether he's going to invest in an engine. He will probably wait for a buyer to help him decide what engine should be installed.
After the stroke that partially paralyzed Haynie's right arm and left him using a walker for a time, doctors told him to stop building boats. But not Haynie, "Everything I have God has given me and I don't think he wants me to stop building boats!
"I said, 'Devil get out of my way, God is with me. I'm coming back to work.'
"And I did!" — Larry Chowning
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