Portland-based lobster and tuna fisherman Eric Knight takes delivery
of his first new boat, a 44-footer from Mainely Boats
It’s a long drive from Machias, Maine, to the state’s biggest city, Portland — four hours if you don’t stop or get stopped. Eric Knight, owner-operator of the lobster and tuna boat Ivy Jean had texted me at 9 p.m.
“We’re leaving at 3:30,” the message read. “That’s a long poke for you. But you’re welcome if you can make it.”
At 3:30 a.m., I find my way down to the end of Portland Pier and climb over the rail of Ivy Jean, the newest lobster boat on the Portland waterfront. It’s quiet onboard, so I find my way down forward. Knight’s two crewmen, Denver Ansley and Steve Mattson, both in their 20s, are aboard and in their bunks, Mattson clears an upper bunk for me, and I lie down for a bit of sleep. When Knight and his dog, Novi, a chocolate lab, come aboard, I get up for a quick hello.
“It’s still blowing 25,” he says. “I’m not in a big hurry.” But it’s not long before the 750 John Deere breaks the predawn quiet. Knight casts off and heads out. On deck, the flags on his high fliers snap in the wind, and the waning moon silhouettes the 44-foot boat against the waters of Casco Bay.
Knight has had the Ivy Jean for a little over two months, having taken delivery in March. He runs her loaded with fuel, bait and two 20-trap trawls to set, at 12 knots, heading for his gear about 20 miles offshore and to the south. The John Deere has a ZF 2.19:1 gear and turns a 34" x 32" four-blade propeller.
“Fully loaded with fuel and bait, ready to go fishing, she can go 20 knots,” he says. Built at Mainely Boats in Cushing and launched in March 2019 at Journey’s End Marina in Rockland, the Ivy Jean, is 30-year-old Knight’s first new build, and she’s working well for him. It’s late May, still chilly, and he’s hauling his bug gear every 10 days or so, waiting for tuna.
“There’s not much going on,” he says. “Lobsters are coming slow, a little over a pound per trap.”
Knight rouses his crew at 7 a.m., and they start their day setting the two 20-trap trawls.
“We leave our gear out here year-round,” says Knight. “We just take some in to dry it out and patch it up. A lot of guys start moving up into [Casco] Bay this time of year, but we like to stay out here for tuna.” Besides lobstering, Knight holds a federal tuna permit and catches bluefin with rod and reel. “I’d rather be out here tuna fishing than lobstering up in the bay any day,” he says.
Surrounded by an array of display screens, Knight looks for his marks as Ansley and Mattson get ready to start sending traps over the rail. The Ivy Jean’s suite of electronics includes a Garmin GPS, a Simrad sounder that Knight relies on for spotting bait when tuna fishing, a Furuno radar, and a Furuno split-beam sounder connected to a Nobeltec Timezero software program and Planar display.
“That’s like a third eye,” Knight says of the Timezero, which shows a 3-D topography of the seafloor. He gives the signal, and the first buoy goes over, followed by a trap every few seconds. Ansley and Mattson alternate sending traps over the rail. Knight does not set his gear off the stern. “This boat turns a bigger wheel,” he says. “There’s too much prop wash. It spins them, and they don’t go down right.”
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