Written by Jen Finn
Queuing up for wooden boats; new 30-foot Calvin Beal hull
A year or so ago, things seemed a bit lean for Peter Kass and his crew at John's Bay Boat Co., in South Bristol, Maine. That was then. Now there's plenty of work. First off is a 42-footer that will be completed by the end of the summer. It's a pleasure boat and will be lifted aboard a freighter and shipped to its owner in Australia.
Next in line is finishing a 38-foot hull that the boatshop had started and then set aside, while the owner came up with more financing. That, too, is a pleasure boat, but once she is finished, the South Bristol boatyard is scheduled to build four lobster boats. All of them are for fishermen from Stonington, Maine.
This being John's Bay Boat Co., only wood boats go out of its doors: cedar planking over steamed-oak frames, a caulked-fir platform and — of course — plenty of varnished mahogany raised-panel doors and cupboards, and there is bound to be some teak thrown in.
"Two of the guys," Kass says, "are thinking of going back in time for more efficient, leaner hulls." And they aren't interested in large, high-horsepower fuel-burning diesels. One of them currently has a John's Bay Boat Co. 41-footer with a 13-foot 6-inch beam, and while Kass says he's going up in length to 44 feet, the beam will probably be 13 feet. For power, he's sticking with a 500-hp Cummins 8.3-liter engine. "That would be a small engine by today's standards," Kass notes.
The other lobsterman probably will go with a 43' x 14' hull and drop down from a 1,000-hp Caterpillar C18 to a diesel in the 500-hp range.
The other two boats should be 42 or 43 feet long and will have appreciably more power. "The two other guys, they are under 30. They just want to go fast," Kass says.
On the fiberglass side of boatbuilding, Shane Hatch took delivery of his 44' x 17' 5" lobster boat, the Jill Cayden. This is a good move up in size for Hatch, as he had been fishing out of a 38-footer. The larger boat means he'll be able to pack more traps, carry more lobsters and stay out fishing longer.
The Jill Cayden's hull is a Calvin Beal 44 from SW Boatworks in Lamoine, Maine. This was the first Calvin Beal 44 hull built by SW Boatworks, says the boatyard's Stewart Workman. Donny and Scott Rahkonen at Rahkonen Builders in South Thomaston, Maine, finished off the hull.
Hatch's new boat doesn't suffer for speed. With a power package featuring a 700-hp Iveco coupled to a ZF 360A marine gear with a 2.5:1 reduction that turns a four-blade 34" x 36" prop on a 2 1/2-inch stainless steel shaft, she hit 24 knots.
A Calvin Beal 38 kit boat with a hull and top went to Troy Lewis, a lobsterman in nearby Southwest Harbor. Phil Corson, a local fisherman, is finishing off the boat, Workman says. She's getting a 500-hp John Deere.
SW Boatworks also started building two Calvin Beal 38-footers on spec, and Workman says he sold "the first one before she was even built." It went to Down-East Maine lobsterman Gary Wood.
If a fisherman wants something on the smaller side, he might take a look at the 30-foot plug that Calvin Beal recently completed for SW Boatworks. The hull will have a 12-foot beam and measure 11 feet 2 inches across the transom, says Workman. He expects the 30-footer to be in production by the end of the summer.
Even before the mold is built, Workman says he has been getting calls about the 30-footer. "A lot of people are downsizing and a lot of people want to step up to a bigger smaller boat. Some guys from the West Coast have been calling looking for a wide 30-footer.
"Our designs sail easier than what they have. It's like newfound land out there. If we can just get some boats there."
— Michael Crowley
Tsunami launched Calif. yard; kids push dad to build a boat
The tsunami that hit Crescent City, Calif., this past March spared Fashion Blacksmith any damage, but it did cause a lot of people to think back to the 1964 earthquake and tidal wave that wiped out much of the town and local fishing fleet. It also launched Fashion Blacksmith into the boatbuilding and repair business.
Forty-seven years ago, Fashion Blacksmith was a blacksmith shop on 2nd Street in Crescent City. "My grandfather was a blacksmith. He shoed horses. He worked a forge," says Fashion Blacksmith's Ted Long. The shop "was wiped out in the tidal wave, and so was the fishing fleet."
His father, Dale, and uncle, Roger, had worked at the blacksmith shop. After the waters subsided, a fisherman who had lost his boat to the tidal wave "came to my father and uncle and asked them to build him a boat," remembers Ted, who was 2 years old at the time. They built it on a piece of property outside of town, and that, says Long, "is how the company got started."
This year's tidal wave "virtually destroyed the boat basin, but we were fortunate because it came in at low tide," Long says. So when the tsunami's tidal surges ceased, the crew at Fashion Blacksmith got back to work. And the boatyard had plenty of work.
The major jobs involve two boats being sponsoned and another that is in for a repowering job.
A Dungeness crabber from Astoria, Calif., was hauled out at Fashion Blacksmith measuring 54' x 16'. When she goes back in, she'll be 58' x 24'. "He's having it sponsoned and lengthened to get more deck space and improve the stability," Long says.
With a larger deck, the crabber should be able to pack all of its 500-pot allocation.
The second boat is 60' x 17' and will have her beam pushed out 4 feet to gain additional stability. Long says this is a local boat that drags, shrimps and crabs. Part of the work involves cutting off the stern to move the transom down into the water.
Long describes the boat as typical of many that were built in the 1970s and '80s, where "from amidships to the stern, the chine line goes way uphill. So if we cut the stern off and drop the chine line lower in the water, you get more boat in the water and more buoyancy."
The crabber that's being repowered is going up in horsepower from 325 to about 450. Part of the financing for the project is coming from California's Carl Moyer program to help reduce air emissions.
In Washington state, probably 15 or 16 gillnetters have been built for Bristol Bay in the past few months. Most are aluminum, but not Keith Singleton's 32-footer. She's built on a fiberglass hull from Wegley Boat Enterprises in Bellingham, Wash., and Singleton thinks she's about the best boat in the water.
"The Wegley is a Cadillac. It's the ultimate dream of having a fiberglass boat," he says.
Singleton's Naknek Leader was finished off at Seaview East Boatyard and Yacht Riggers in Seattle in 70 days. That's from the time he got the hull from Wegley Boat Enterprises until she was launched the first week in May. He thinks that might be a record.
Singleton gives most of the credit for building the boat in such a short period of time to the Seaview boatyard, which "has all the professionals that are needed on staff. There's a fiberglass shop, a wood shop, aluminum-fabrication shop, and marine-grade electricians."
Singleton, who ran a king crabber for a number of years, is returning to Bristol Bay after being out of that salmon fishery for the past decade. Then he was fishing from a wooden gillnetter built by Bryant's Marina in 1966.
A slight influence from the king crabbing days can be seen in the Naknek Leader's mast. "It's a free-standing mast more similar to a crabber mast with spreader lights. It's integral to the rain locker and the exhaust," he says.
Singleton says one reason for going back to Bristol Bay is that his two sons, ages 12 and 14, "want to go fishing with dad. They encouraged me to get going."
The two boys will be fishing with their dad for a short time this summer. — Michael Crowley
64-year-old boat is still fishing; traditional skiff built with PVC
In April, Chesapeake Bay waterman Chris Richardson had his 1947 wooden crab boat, the Miss Maggie, on the rails at Best Boatyard in Saluda, Va., getting it ready for the warm-weather crab-pot season.
Richardson crab pots for blue crabs in the spring and summer, and oysters in the winter. Prior to this year's crabbing season, he was replacing a portion of the Miss Maggie's washboards and several side planks. Fortunately for Richardson, Best Boatyard is one of the few yards on the lower Rappahannock River that caters to watermen who want to work on their own boats.
The Miss Maggie looks like other older wooden deadrise workboats, except for her tumblehome. That's when the planking along the sheer curves inward at the transom. By 1947 Chesapeake Bay's best wooden-boat builders were putting some tumblehome into their boats, and the Miss Maggie is a good example of that practice.
"I don't know who built her," says Richardson. "I will tell you this, she was built right. Even though she's 64 years old I'd trust her to take me out and bring me home before I'd trust a lot of boats that are newer than her."
This year Best Boatyard increased the fee for hauling a boat by $1 per foot, but the boatyard has continued to maintain a policy of not charging daily fees while the boat is in the yard. For Chesapeake Bay commercial fishermen like Richardson, who don't know how much maintenance work might be needed or the length of time needed to fix a problem until the boat is out of the water, this policy is a blessing in these hard economic times.
Rionholdt Once and Future Boats, formerly of Glen Allen, Va., recently moved to a waterfront facility on Gwynn's Island, Va. The Mathews County location provides customers the opportunity to sea trial their new boat prior to taking delivery, and it is adjacent to the Mathews Maritime Museum's marine railway.
In March, Rionholdt delivered an 18' x 6' 6" deadrise crabbing skiff to a Maryland waterman. The skiff is based on a design by John E. Wright and is built with cellular PVC.
Wright was one of the most prolific Deltaville, Va., boatbuilders in the early to mid-20th century, and his boats are known for their graceful lines and practical utility, says Rionholdt's Eric Hedberg.
Wright with his brothers Tom, Ladd and Tollie built boats on what is today Lover's Lane in Deltaville. John was the most prolific boatbuilder in the family. His boats ranged from 60-foot Chesapeake Bay buy boats, to 38-foot round-stern bateaux, down to 12-foot flat-bottom skiffs.
Capt. John, as he was affectionately called when he got older, built a small sailing bateau that was typical of boats used in the late 1800s along Maryland's Smith Island and Virginia's Tangier Island to harvest crabs. (A bateau was a boat with a V-shaped bottom that was generally longer than 20 feet.)
This style of sailing boat with its V-shape in the bow area and cross-planked bottom was the first experimental deadrise design built by Chesapeake Bay boatbuilders, and John Wright was a pioneer in developing the style.
The Deltaville Maritime Museum's boat shop in Deltaville, Va., and now Hedberg are reproducing skiffs based on Wright's early designs. Fishermen in the region are finding that Wright's designs still provide a stable platform for harvesting seafood.
Since the skiff Hedberg is building is made out of PVC, it should never absorb water, rot, or burn, and it is impervious to worms, says Hedberg. The boat is painted with a low-maintenance waterborne topcoat.
Three boatbuilders in the Chesapeake region are using PVC as a boatbuilding material: Rionholdt Once and Future Boats, Cockrell's Marine Railway in Heathsville, and Crab Alley Custom Boats in Chester, Md.
The boatyards are primarily building outboard-powered, flat-bottom and deadrise skiffs; flat-bottom oyster barges for harvesting oysters in cages; and replicas of early 20th-century sailing skiffs that were used for crabbing.
— Larry Chowning
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