Written by Jen Finn
Lobstermen race to fight MS; boat is stolen and then found
The third weekend in August, 60 lobster boats showed up at the MS Harborfest Lobster Boat Races in Portland, Maine. This is the last race for points in Maine's lobster-boat racing circuit. It was also a chance to raise money to fight multiple sclerosis.
This year the races generated slightly more than $11,000 for the Greater New England Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. The money comes from race entry fees and from fishermen who give back their prize money for first, second and third place. "Almost everyone gave money back," says Jon Johansen, a race organizer.
For each race, organizers raffled off 100 gallons of a 1,600-gallon donation of diesel — an added incentive to attend. "For $20 dollars [the entry fee] you got a chance to win a $400 prize," notes Johansen.
Alfred Osgood steamed down from Vinalhaven in the 36-foot Starlight Express equipped with a 900-hp Mack. He won his class at 54 mph, which was a little slower than the 56.1 mph he posted earlier this summer.
One of the big crowd-pleasers, the 30-foot Foolish Pleasure from Beals Island, wasn't there. With something between 2,000 and 2,500 hp — no one knows for sure except perhaps Galen Alley, the boat's owner, or Bob Stephens, the mechanic — she set the record for the fastest lobster boat — 72.8 mph — at the Moosabec Reach races on July 2.
Foolish Pleasure destroyed a bearing in her engine at the Friendship races and never really recovered. At the time of the Portland races, Stephens was working on a new Dart block for Foolish Pleasure at his engine shop, Finishline Racing Engines in Augusta, Maine.
Besides the new 632-cubic-inch block, Stephens says that for next year's races he might use bigger heads. With the improvements he figures Foolish Pleasure will hit in the low 80s.
"We're making 7,000 rpm now but only making 18 pounds of boost. But she can run 40 pounds of boost and can turn 8,000. She will go over 80," he says.
Of all the boats at the Portland races, the one that might have surprised some people with its presence was the 36-foot First Team out of Searsport. Travis and Keith Otis, who operate the Searsport boatshop Otis Enterprises Marine Corp., own the boat.
The Thursday before the races, Travis hauled through his traps, and at 6 p.m. put First Team on the stick in Searsport Harbor. Four hours later the boat was gone.
Whoever took it knew how to operate a boat, because it was run some 25 miles across East and West Penobscot Bay, around Cape Rosier and down Eggemoggin Reach, between the mainland and Deer Isle. For part of the way, Travis figures the boat's radar was being used, because it was foggy early Friday morning.
Even without the fog, getting into Sedgwick Harbor is not a sure thing, unless you're very familiar with the harbor. It has a narrow corridor that Otis describes as a "pain in the ass to negotiate."
Friday at 6 a.m., the Sedgwick harbormaster saw First Team tie up at the town dock with its radio and running lights on. Not until he had returned from hauling his traps that afternoon did he get suspicious. After going though some documents on the boat, he called Otis.
"Nothing appears to have been done to the boat, though I haven't given it a proper inspection," Otis says.
First Team was back in Searsport Saturday morning at 12:30. Sunday at 4:40 a.m., Keith and Travis Otis and the First Team headed out on the 4 1/2-hour run to Portland. "We wanted to support the MS registration," Travis Otis says.
First Team, with a 410-hp Sisu diesel, won her race at about 32 mph. "I played with them until about halfway down the course and then opened her up. We wanted to give a good show, get the donations going," Travis Otis says. — Michael Crowley
Fishermen revive a boatyard; Wash. shop builds gillnetters
You're a member of an island community numbering about 3,000 people whose sole reason for existence is commercial fishing. Nearly everyone has a job directly involved in fishing or in support of commercial fishing.
The island's three harbors have moorings for nearly 800 boats and probably the same number of fishing boats operate far enough away that they only come into town now and then for servicing.
That's a lot of boats.
Then imagine the island's only boatyard with the only railway shutting down. That is what happened in Petersburg, Alaska, in October 2010, when Petersburg Shipwrights closed up shop.
"The shutdown awakened people to what a necessary thing the boatyard was," says Mike Luhr who has operated the machine shop Piston & Rudder Service in Petersburg for 31 years.
Luhr was having notions of retiring. So when fishermen tried to get him to buy the boatyard and reopen it, he told them "to pound sand. I had plans of retiring."
Finally Luhr and others came up with the idea of selling stock in a company to raise enough money to acquire the boatyard.
"There were 25 investors, and it was made clear they won't get one thin dime for six to eight years," Luhr says.
The investors were mostly local fishermen. "It was a community investment program," he says.
Piston & Rudder Service reopened the boatyard in June; Luhr took over as manager, which put an end to his retirement plans. "This sounded like a challenge," he says.
It didn't take long for improvements to take shape. Derelict buildings were torn down; 300 feet of new docking floats were put in; and soon Luhr's floating machine and welding shop, which has been in the same spot since 1910, will be moved out with the new floats.
A crane with a 35,000-pound capacity was installed on a dock, and the railway is being upgraded "to make sure there are no failures," Luhr says. The railway has a 300-ton capacity and can haul a boat up to 100 feet long and 30 feet wide.
Currently the boatyard is negotiating with the town to acquire abutting property that with the acquisition of a travel lift will allow boats to be placed on land and worked on.
Down south in the Lower 48 in Langley, Wash., workers at Nichols Diversified Industries were painting the interior of a 32' x 15' Bristol Bay gillnetter the second week in August.
The boatyard is building the aluminum gillnetter to a design of Dick Smitha's. Smitha, in Anacortes, Wash., has been building and designing boats for more than 20 years and is a Bristol Bay fisherman, says NDI's Mark Moore.
"We have modified the house for the client. It will be a wider and taller arrangement," Moore says. There's a bit of a trade-off here: You pick up interior room but gain weight and the house has more of a sail effect in the wind.
The engine space contains a 650-hp Scania that's matched up with a ZF Marine 360 marine gear and a 24-inch Traktor Jet from North American Marine Jet.
The Scania also powers an 8-inch bow thruster, the water jet's reversing bucket and steering. The net reel, stern roller and anchor winch run off the ZF gear.
Salmon will be kept chilled with a refrigerated seawater system from Pacific West Refrigeration in Sechelt, British Columbia. A 4-cylinder Isuzu will power the RSW unit.
The gillnetter is for Fran Kaul. She operates Misty Fjord Seafood Producers in Winthrop, Wash.
Kaul's gillnetter should be delivered in mid-October. Once it leaves the shop, work will start on another Bristol Bay gillnetter. This one will have a portside helm. NDI will only be building the hull and superstructure, and installing the propulsion system. Another boatshop will complete the boat.
In August NDI was also cutting metal for 21' x 11' seine skiff. A 375-hp John Deere engine will be matched up with a Twin Disc gear turning a 28-inch wheel inside a steerable Kort nozzle. — Michael Crowley
Worm shoe protects buy boat; archery is good for oystermen
A worm shoe is the only disposable plank on a Chesapeake Bay workboat. Fastened to the keel, it protects the boat when she goes aground and serves as a sacrificial meal for the bay's wood-boring teredos, which are actually a bivalve mollusk, but everyone calls them worms.
When a wooden boat is pulled up on the rails and the worm shoe is eaten away or damaged, the owner is relieved to see the worms have chosen to eat the worm shoe and not the keel, skeg or rest of the boat.
Tangier Island, Va., waterman and boatbuilder Jerry Pruitt knows full well the significance of the worm shoe on the Delvin K, his 60-foot buy boat. He recently had the boat hauled at Zimmerman Marine in Deltaville, Va., and found a deteriorating worm shoe. After the yard crew replaced it and completed annual maintenance to the boat's bottom and topsides, the Delvin K was fit to work again.
At one point there were at least 1,500 buy boats operating in Chesapeake Bay. The boats' operators bought fish and shellfish from watermen in smaller boats and delivered the product to processing plants.
These days the Delvin K is one of the last working buy boats on the bay, though she isn't hauling the catch of other fishermen. Pruitt uses the Delvin K to plant oyster seed and shells, and dredge for oysters on private oyster grounds.
Sidney Smith of Bena, Va., built the Delvin K in 1949. He was the son of James "Big Jim" Smith, who in the first half of the 20th century built boats on the Perrin River in Gloucester County, Va. Big Jim taught his four sons — Little Jim, Sidney, Jack and Frank — to build boats. Even though Sidney's name is on the registration, it's a good bet some of his brothers were involved in building the buy boat.
Pruitt owns a small railway on Tangier Island where he builds boats and runs a maintenance yard for the island's wooden fishing boats. However, his railway is too small to haul the 57' 8" x 18' 3" x 5' 4" Delvin K, but Zimmerman Marine's Travelift has the capacity to pick up the 57-footer.
Moving up to Maryland, Kevin Marshall of Crisfield brought the Fabricator, his 36-foot boat, to a four-day celebration of buy boats at Cape Charles, Va., where he would compete in the docking contest.
Marshall runs Marshall's Welding in Crisfield and recently built the boat for Maryland's winter striped-bass fishery. He has commercial licenses for hook and line and drift netting.
He took a 36-foot Carman Boats fiberglass hull and fabricated the cabin, stringers and decks from aluminum. For power, a 435-hp Caterpillar 3208TA turns a 24" x 19" nibral prop through a Twin Disc marine gear with a 1.5:1 reduction.
Marshall's main means of employment is his welding business, which includes building boats. He is currently bidding on a 40' x 12' oyster barge for aquaculture work and a 25-foot skiff that will be used in a bow and arrow cownose ray recreational fishery.
"Recreational fishing with bow and arrow is something new to me," says Marshall. "It's a recreational fishing business that's going to make the people in the commercial oyster business real happy."
Cownose rays are one of the main predators of the bay's oysters. Commercial oystermen are always looking for ways to reduce the ray population. At certain times of the year, cownose rays herd together. They come to the surface and use their wings to flap and glide across the surface of the water, which makes for an interesting target.
Incidentally, Marshall and the Fabricator won the Cape Charles docking contest that requires two attempts. You bring the boat up to the slip going forward, then swing around and enter the slip stern first, dropping four lines over mooring posts. Marshall won the contest in an amazing 34 and 36 seconds, way ahead of all other competitors. — Larry Chowning
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