Written by Jen Finn
July 23, 2013
Mass. builder takes on 'honest' job with Brockway-style skiffs
For a lot of boats being built these days, it seems you need degrees in chemical and structural engineering to figure out what you are getting.
Think about the choices for a fiberglass boat: E-glass, S-glass, Kevlar, Spectra and carbon fiber, and they all have different strength and stiffness (aka modulus of elasticity) levels. Then do you want laminates of unidirectional, biaxial, woven roving or stitch-mat fabrics? Next, throw in several kinds of resins and core materials.
That's too much for most boat owners to comprehend, so they end up trusting the boatbuilder to make the right decision. However, most builders — especially when trying something new — are trusting the company that sold them the materials to provide the proper lay-up schedules as well as products with acceptable strength, stiffness, abrasion resistance, hardness levels and weight.
At the other end of the spectrum is the simple, "honest" boat, where you have a pretty good idea just by looking at it — and climbing in and out a few times — what materials were used to build it, if it's durable or not, fast or slow, and if it meets your needs.
Lady Bug Boats, an outfit in Plymouth, Mass., builds just such a boat. These are open plywood skiffs, pretty much a direct descendent of the plywood skiffs and scows built by the late Earl Brockway in Old Saybrook, Conn.
A Brockway-built boat was just about as simple and dependable as you could get. Brockway, who died in 1996, was an unassuming character. He built boats outdoors in winter and summer, not bothering with gloves or to cover his bald head with a hat or wear anything but the lightest jacket on his skinny frame.
Often there were half a dozen boats scattered around his yard in various stages of completion. All of them were built on the ground. For the plywood skiff or scow he was building, he'd drive stakes into the ground to hold the transom in place, then use a couple of timbers to spread the side panels the necessary distance apart.
Brockway fastened his boats with nails and glue and also used tar between joints, such as the chine log and side panels. The boats would never win a beauty contest, but they were appreciated as workboats. At one point, he and his brother were building 300 a year; when he was older and working alone, the number was about 50.
In 1981, Brockway was selling unpainted skiffs for $700 to shell fishermen, clammers and seaweed rakers up and down the East Coast.
Lady Bug Boats, which builds two 18-foot plywood models along the lines of a Brockway skiff, will also sell you an unpainted skiff, but it and the painted version are held together with modern products: 3M's 5200, West Epoxy and corrosion-resistant screws.
Kenneth Martin Jr. started Lady Bug Boats because, "people were saying they couldn't get this kind of boat. It seems to have worked out well. I can't keep them in stock, and I'm booked through until September," he says.
In mid-July, Lady Bug Boats was completing a skiff for John Roberts, chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, who has a house in Maine. On July 4, a center console model was delivered to Tom Roth in South Portland, Maine. Roth, who operates the Kelly Sea, an offshore commercial fishing boat, is using his 18-footer for pleasure, some lobstering and seaweeding, Martin says.
The 18-foot skiff has a beam of 7 feet 3 inches and draws just 4 inches. "That's four inches maximum," Martin notes. The sides are made with half-inch exterior-grade plywood, the bottom is 3/4-inch plywood and the transom has two layers of 3/4-inch plywood, screwed together and laminated with West Epoxy, and another 3/4-inch layer for the outboard motor pad.
The mid-frames are 2 x 4s sandwiched around 3/4-inch plywood. On the bottom of the boat are three 2 x 6 strakes for directional stability and to protect the bottom when the skiff is grounded out.
A 30-hp outboard is about right to hang on the back of a Lady Bug Boats' skiff. "With a center console and a 200-pound guy in it, it'll make 31 to 32 mph," Martin says.
Lady Bug Boats sells about 25 percent of its boats to commercial fishermen, but Martin says that percentage is increasing all the time. "There's a lot of interest in Florida from mullet fishermen because nobody is building these boats in Florida or the panhandle."
— Michael Crowley
Hold fits moose, three caribou; Crabber gets a plush day boat
When a fisherman gets ready to have a boat built, he and the boatbuilder likely have to hash out several details in determining how big the boat will be, including license restrictions, speed, trailered or not, offshore or inshore fishing, hold size and money.
Now and then there's the unanticipated need. Jay Brevik, owner of Lee Shore Boats, a builder of aluminum boats in Port Townsend, Wash., had an owner's request that most boatshops will never hear. Edward Kinegak in Chefornak, Alaska, a small coastal village in the Bering Sea, called up Brevik to talk about building a boat.
Kinegak said he wanted a boat that would be good for halibut longlining and hunting. When Brevik asked him how big the boat needed to be, Kinegak replied that he wanted something that "will carry one moose and three caribou."
Brevik admits that he was a little uncertain how that request translated to boat size, but told Kinegak he figured, "If you quarter them up, you should be able to get them in a 22-footer."
A 22-footer it was that Lee Shore Boats built for Kinegak, complete with a center console and helm chair set up in the after part of the hull. For power, the aluminum boat has a 115-hp Yamaha outboard.
Brevik isn't sure how Kinegak longlines, but believes he sets out short skates and then hauls them — with the tide — by hand over the bow roller.
The boat was shipped to Bethel where Kinegak picked it up and ran it to Chefornak, after taking a short trip up the Kuskokwim River to his hometown of Akiachak to show off his new boat.
In a follow-up letter to Brevik, Kinegak said, "I've been fishing halibut ever since I got the boat. Now I don't have to worry when the wind starts to pick up when I'm out like 30-plus miles in the ocean. Boat performance is the best in the big waves."
Brevik admits he likes working with potential buyers in the Bering Sea. He says, "The Bering Sea guys trust us enough to order a boat unseen and have us build them their boat without a formal construction contract. They just trust us and send us a check."
Just before Lee Shore Boats delivered Kinegak's boat, the boatyard sent a similar, but 2 feet longer, boat to Seattle Shellfish with headquarters in Olympia, Wash., for geoduck fishing.
The 24-footer has a center console and a 4-foot-wide watertight door with a davit for loading and unloading. For power there is a 200-hp Honda outboard. Brevik says, "She easily does 40 knots."
Another Washington state boatyard, Buffalo Boats in Bellingham, recently completed one of its 37' x 11' 6" fiberglass Dungeness crab boats for Donny Hasler in Bend, Ore. Hasler, says Roger Allard, the boatyard's owner, has spent 30 years in the Bering Sea on crabbers and pollock boats and now wants to spend time on a smaller boat. She'll be fishing Puget Sound and Southeast Alaska.
Allard says he thinks that for a day boat, everybody "got a bit carried away building this boat," because she has so many amenities. "There's a Wallace oven and stove, a shower, flush toilet, dinette, hull liner, drop ceiling, flush lights, and she's finished off with teak. It's pretty plush inside. It doesn't look like your crab boat. It looks like one of those Bering Sea crab boats that costs a couple of million dollars."
For power, there's a 310-hp Volvo Penta D6 Duoprop. Allard says that for his boats, the Volvo D6 seems to be engine of choice for inboard-outboard arrangements. He adds that a lot of boat owners like the Duoprop, as opposed to the standard marine gear with shafting and prop, because they think it makes for a faster boat with better fuel consumption.
Allard says the 6-cylinder power package uses 8 gallons per hour at cruising speed, and a 4-cylinder Volvo burns 4 1/2 to 5 gallons per hour.
The working deck area is about 144 square feet, made up of 3/4-inch plywood covered with fiberglass. Even though the deck is plywood and the deck beams are cedar, Allard says that after 30 years many of the decks he's built are still solid.
He attributes that to a ventilation system he uses that eliminates condensation and rot. "The engine pulls the air under the deck and into the engine room and keeps everything dry under the deck," he explains.
— Michael Crowley
South blooms with scallopers; Buy boat seeks deadwood pro
The Atlantic scallop fishery continues to keep several Southern yards busy with new boat construction. Williams Fabrication of Coden, Ala., is one of the boatyards profiting from the strength of that fishery.
Having repeat customers often is a sign of success in the boatbuilding business, and Williams Fabrication doesn't lack for returning customers. The yard currently is building two scallopers and both are for owners that have had boats built there before.
One of the boats under construction measures 78' x 27' x 10' and is for Joe and Nancy Gilbert of Empire Fishery in Milford, Conn. "The boat is a little unusual in that we are installing a new style of scallop washer that has an auger and hangs from the ceiling," says Dale Williams, the boatyard's owner.
The boat is a sistership to the Regular that Williams Fabrication built in 2004. Gilbert's new boat has a bulbous bow and is powered by a 600-hp Deutz diesel that turns 2,100 rpm. Bolted to the back of the diesel is a ZF marine gear with a 6:1 reduction that spins a 72-inch open wheel.
The other scalloper under construction measures 101' x 27' x 11' and is for Lars Vinjrud of Fleet Fisheries in New Bedford, Mass. This is the fourth boat Williams has built for Vinjrud. The main engine is a 1,050-hp Caterpillar 3508 tied into a ZF marine gear with a 6:1 ratio that turns an 83 1/2-inch prop inside an 84-inch nozzle.
"The boat is pretty much the same style as the other boats we built for the firm," Williams says. "The main difference in all the boats has been length and width, and this has been dictated by the government."
Moving on up to the Chesapeake, Harvey V. Drewer Jr., of Saxes, Va., was a young man in 1947 when his grandfather and father commissioned boatbuilder Percy H. Linton of Pocomoke City, Md., to build the 60' 5" x 18' 3" x 5' 1" Chesapeake Bay buy boat that was named after Drewer's grandfather, Harvey A. Drewer.
Today, the Harvey A. Drewer needs a lot of work, and Harvey V. Drewer Jr. is 79 years old and looking for a boatbuilder to bring her back to life. His father and grandfather used the boat in an oyster business they started in 1937 in Saxes on Virginia's Eastern Shore. Today, Drewer's son, Andy, runs the business, trading under the name Shore Seafood.
The elder Drewer is hoping to find someone to work on the boat this summer. "We had planned to have some boys from down Georgia who were up this way scalloping to do the work," he says. "Their father owns a railway down there, and they are good woodworkers, but I think the scallop business got so busy they didn't have the time to work on her."
The boat is on the shore with the pilothouse on the ground, next to the hull. "It's hard now to find a good boatwright that can install deadwood," Drewer says. "It's got to be cut one way at the bottom and another way at the top. We used to have plenty of woodworkers down here that could do it, but they are all gone."
(The term "deadwood" as used by Drewer refers to the twisted staving in the bow area between the chine and keel of a cross-planked wooden boat. In other parts of the country, the term refers to heavy timbers, outside of the rabbet and between the keel and the sternpost.)
"We laid the keel on Drewer in 1947, and we launched her in 1949. We were big then in the oyster business, and we once owned 15 wooden boats," Drewer says. "We would buy seed [oysters] from down on the James River from the first of October to when the season was over the last of May. The Drewer was the best boat we had.
"If I had known my health was going to go so fast, I would have probably let her went, but God knows I love the old boat," he says.
The Harvey A. Drewer needs new side planks and some bow staving. The boat also requires major deck work. If there are any boatwrights in that area interested in some work, contact Harvey V. Drewer Jr. at (757) 824-3598. The old boat needs your help.
— Larry Chowning
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