Written by Jen Finn
September 20, 2012
Remembering a Beals Island
boatbuilder known for speed
Sometimes a kid wants to build boats badly enough that it is all he can think about. That must have been the case with Ernest Libby Jr. when he wasn't even old enough to drive legally. Fifteen was the cut-off point for kids on Beals Island. Before 15 you had to go to school. Once you scaled that 15th birthday you could quit.
Libby's first attempt at bucking Maine's education system was a bit premature. He quit a week too soon and had to go back and finish those last few days. But when his birthday arrived on May 5, Libby gave up the classrooms and books for something else.
There weren't many options then for a kid wanting to make some money, especially one who hadn't finished high school. A clam hoe and a couple of "rollers" were about the only way to go. But if you showed some talent for it, you could take the boatbuilding road.
For about $25 a week Libby went to work for Riley Beal. Libby was working under his uncle, Clinton Beal, in Riley's boatshop, building lobster smacks and sardine carriers. Clinton was doing the fitting, and Libby was doing the sawing.
Sixty-two years later on Feb. 21, Ernest Libby Jr. died at the age of 76. In those 62 years, Libby left his mark on Maine boatbuilding.
"Ernest Jr. was always thinking and trying to change designs," says Calvin Beal Jr., a Beals Island boatbuilder and brother-in-law to Libby.
After working for Riley and then building 30 to 40 boats with his uncle after Clinton set up a boatshop, Libby hung out his own boatbuilding sign. The most notable boat to come out of those early years of working for himself was the 30-foot Marguerite G.
In Down East Maine the Marguerite G "was the first boat that planed over the water instead of sailed through the water," Calvin says.
Before the Marguerite G, lobster boats "didn't lift much, probably only saw about a foot of copper on the bow, just splitting down by the sides. They just sailed through it," Calvin says. There were a number of names for those boats, razor case and razor strap, to name a couple.
Calvin remembers the older boats as "having a little bit of a belly on them so they squatted at the stern and threw a lot of spray." The Marguerite G was different. To start with, she was wider across the stern than other boats. But it was what Libby did to the hull beneath the waterline that mattered. "Instead of coming straight off from the keel, he had a slight reverse curve in the bottom, a little bit of rocker in the garboard line, enough so that she would slide out of it" and lift out of the water, Calvin says.
With a 455 Oldsmobile gasoline engine that put out 365 horsepower, the Marguerite G hit 34 mph. "She was competitive [in the Beals Island and Jonesport July 4th races] for many years," Calvin remembers.
Well, it should have been for Libby always said that even when he was 14 and down on the shore with his play boat, he was thinking about designing fast lobster boats.
Then in 1977, Libby was thinking about getting into something most builders of wooden lobster boats were trying to ignore — fiberglass. He also knew that not far away in Corea, the Young brothers (Arvid, Arvin and Colby) wanted to build fiberglass boats.
"Ernest Jr. knew fiberglass was coming and he went to the Young brothers and built them a 33 and then a whole line of boats," Calvin says. Eventually there were nine models — from 30 to 46 feet — for Young Brothers Boatbuilding.
The two best-known boats to come from the Libby and Young brothers partnership were the 33-foot Sopwith Camel and the 30-foot Camel 2, named after the World War I British biplane. For a number of years in the 1980s the Sopwith Camel and then the Camel 2 engaged in contentious, heated, high-octane-screaming races against Glenn Holland's Red Baron on Maine's lobster-boat racing circuit.
In recognition of Libby's knack for designing and building a fast lobster boat, he was one of the first 11 members inducted into the newly formed Maine Lobster Boat Racing Hall of Fame.
In 2009, the late Arvid Young was thinking back on those early lobster boat racing days, "Ernest Libby could always make a fast boat."
Amen. — Michael Crowley
45-footer going to California;
boatyard builds a combo boat
At Fred Wahl Marine Construction the Aqua Leo was ready for delivery in mid-February. The steel 45' x 18' boat is going to Tom Faulk in Santa Cruz, Calif. It's the first boat the Reedsport, Ore., boatyard has sent to that part of the West Coast in a while.
The Aqua Leo is a scaled-down version of the 48' x 18' Cascade, which Fred Wahl launched in the summer of 2009. (See "Back to basics," NF Oct. '09, p. 24.)
Faulk will be using the boat for crabbing and salmon fishing, says the boatyard's Mike Lee. The Aqua Leo has two fish holds. The forward hold is 580 cubic feet and will be flooded. The after hold is 290 cubic feet and will have an icemaker.
In the engine room is a 300-horsepower Isuzu UM6HK1 hooked up to a ZF 305-2 marine gear that turns a three-blade bronze prop. It is the first Isuzu used for a main engine on a boat built at Fred Wahl. "The Isuzu is unbelievably quiet. You don't need to put ear plugs in," Lee says.
Also in the engine room is a 30-kW Northern Lights generator.
In the past few years, the boatyard has designed and built a lot of 58-footers — four left the boatyard in 2011. The last one was the 58' x 26' Kaia, named after the daughter of one of the owners, Jeff Koetje of Mount Vernon, Wash.
The Kaia pulled out of Reedsport on Dec. 12, heading for the Gulf of Alaska and Kodiak Island for crabbing and longlining.
Another 58' x 26' crabber was in the early stages of construction. This one is for Kodiak, Alaska's Kevin O'Leary and Walter Sargent. It's the second Fred Wahl-built boat for O'Leary. His first boat was the 58' x 21' Kodiak Isle. By mid-February, the new boat's hull had been plated and was being welded out.
A 114' x 31' crabber and longliner is not quite so far along. All the steel parts except for the wheelhouse had been burned and some subassemblies were being built. This is an in-house design and should be completed by September or October.
In Fort Bragg, Calif., Chris Van Peer of Van Peer Boatworks is completing a combination boat. Jensen Maritime Consultants in Seattle designed the 58' x 25' boat with a steel hull and aluminum pilothouse for Robert Jackson in Ferndale, Wash.
Jackson will use the boat for purse seining in Southeast Alaska and Dungeness crabbing off the coasts of Washington, Oregon and California.
In what is becoming a normal practice, the 58-footer will carry a lot of stainless steel to reduce maintenance costs. That includes the rub rails, cap rails, bulwarks, deck angles, all the plumbing, and the fish holds, says Van Peer.
Both insulated stainless steel holds can be flooded and have refrigerated seawater systems.
In the engine room the main engine is a 750-hp Caterpillar C32. There are also three John Deere-powered gensets, 150 kW, 100 kW and 60 kW. Either of the larger gensets can be used for the RSW systems. The 65-kW unit will be used for hotel power, to run the RSW system in the smaller of the two holds once the water has been chilled down, or to run the circulation pumps when the boat is crabbing and the holds are flooded.
"That's why he put in three gensets, so he can step down to use the least amount of fuel," Van Peer says.
The electrically powered hydraulics can be run off any of the generators.
Accommodations include a four-man stateroom and a double berth in the captain's quarters.
On deck is a crane that can be removed when the boat is purse seining.
Jackson's boat should be finished by the end of April, though the completion date depends on the weather, says Van Peer. After that, his crew will start another crabber. This one will also be a Jensen Maritime Consultants design, only a little smaller at 57' x 22'. She will be built for Jay Gillman of Anacortes, Wash. — Michael Crowley
Oyster surge helps boatyards;
railway gets additional work
The growth of Virginia's oyster fishery is resulting in the revitalization of some older wooden boats and more work at several Old Dominion boatyards.
George M. Butler, who owns and operates Reedville Marine Railway in Reedville, Va., and whose family has run the business since 1906, says he has seen more work in 2011 and 2012 than in the previous few years.
He attributes part of the increase to growth in Virginia's winter oyster business.
The boatyard specializes in repairing and building wooden boats. Recently a 48-foot scow that plants oyster spat on private oyster grounds was on the railway. At times, the flat-bottom scow, which is owned by Fred Biddlecomb of Reedville, has a pile driver mounted on it for driving pound-net stakes and repairing docks, Butler says.
When planting oysters, the scow is towed to and from the oyster beds. Once over the beds, oysters are broadcast, either by shoveling or blowing the bivalves off the scow with a high-pressure water hose. Butler replaced bad wood in one side of the scow and did some routine maintenance work.
Currently a 50-foot buy boat is on the rails. The boat's original name was Evelyn. Now it is Twin Brothers. But Bill Hight of Urbanna, Va., who recently bought the boat, is planning on renaming it the 55th Virginia. His great grandfather, William S. Christian, was a colonel in the 55th Virginia Infantry in the Civil War.
Hight says he's considering using the boat as an oyster buy boat, and seed and shell planter.
The 50 footer isn't very old in the world of buy boats. Grover Lee Owens and Ed Norton of Deltaville, Va., built the boat in 1971. Whereas the 1920s was the decade when most of Chesapeake Bay's buy boats were built. Several boats from that period are still working.
Butler replaced wood chunks in the lower part of the round stern and a portion of the chunking in the stern's rim. The stem, some deck beams and part of the guard were also replaced. "I've worked on her before," he says. "Several years ago we put a new shaft log and horn timber in her and right much bottom planking, too."
Besides the soon-to-be 55th Virginia, the crew at Reedville Marine Railway re-planked the bottom of the 38-foot Miss Dotty, a wooden pound-net boat and has been working on the Foggy River, a round-stern deadrise boat owned by the Reedville Fisherman's Museum. Butler has a special place in his heart for the Foggy River. His father, George P. Butler, built the boat in the boatyard George M. owns today.
At the Chesapeake Boat Works in Deltaville, Va., the Capt. Ellery, owned by Kellum Brothers in Weems, Va., was recently on the boatyard's railway. The Capt. Ellery is an oyster dredge and oyster planter, and packs 3,500 bushels of shell or spat. Kellum Brothers will use the boat to plant seed and shell for Virginia's Oyster Replenishment Program and on the company's own private grounds, says the company's Tommy Kellum.
Chesapeake Boat Works' Jon Farinholt said the Capt. Ellery was in for annual maintenance work including painting the bottom, replacing zincs, cleaning and inspecting the running gear. Below the waterline quarter-inch steel plate was welded in three locations.
In coming weeks, Chesapeake Boat Works is expecting two snapper menhaden rigs, the Hush Puppy and the Osprey from Virginia's Northern Neck. Snapper menhaden boats are used to catch menhaden for the bay's crab pot and recreational bait businesses. Two scallop boats from Seaford, Va., will also be hauled out.
Part of the reason Chesapeake Boat Works has seen such an increase in activity is because the railway at Ampro Shipyard in Weems, Va., has been broken down for months and it is unclear whether it will reopen.
A spokesperson for Ampro said corporate officials would visit the yard in March to evaluate whether or not the railway will reopen. Even with the railway closed, Ampro is busy installing engines and doing in-water repairs to boats. — Larry Chowning
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