Burned out boatshop to be rebuilt; 39-year-old wooden boat still fishing

When firefighters reached Wayne Beal's Boat Shop in Jonesport, Maine, the night of Dec. 18, the place was fully engulfed in flames. Inside the shop was a 40-foot mold with a partially laid-up hull. There was also an older boat that was in for repairs. The boat and the mold were destroyed, along with everything else in the shop.

Several boats that were outside the building were not damaged. "All the fire was contained in the building. It was a metal building and held all the heat in and didn't affect the outside boats," says Wayne Beal.

The devastating fire was so intense that little evidence was left behind as to its cause. "The fire marshal couldn't tell where it started," says Beal, "and the insurance company hired a fire investigator, but he couldn't determine what went on."

This was the second Maine boatshop destroyed by a fire in the past three months. On Oct. 2, flames tore through the main building at Clark Island Boat Works in St. George, taking with it a Duffy 46 hull. But as Dan and Andrew MacCaffray are rebuilding the shop in St. George, so, too, will Beal rebuild his boatshop.

"We'll move ahead with a new building when we get money from the insurance company," says Beal, "and get squared up with the bank for a construction loan." The new steel building — 60' x 100' — will be the same size as the old building. Beal hopes to be working inside by midsummer. Certainly it won't be much later, as he has boatbuilding work scheduled for next winter.

Beal still has the plug used to build the 40-foot mold. Once the new building is completed, "and I get operational and can afford to do it, I'll pull that plug inside and pull another mold off it.

Currently Wayne Beal's Boat Shop has molds for 46-, 36-, 34- and 32-foot hulls. There was an order for a 46-foot lobster boat, but without his building, Beal has farmed that project out to Patrick Feeney in nearby Cutler. Feeney, who has finished off hulls from Wayne Beal's Boat Shop, including a 46-footer last spring, will build the boat for Ryan Geel, a Jonesport lobsterman.

In South Harpswell, Maine, Finestkind Boatyard has two commercial boats in its shop. One is an older wooden lobster boat and the other is a 10-year-old that never got past the bare hull and top stage.

The wooden lobster boat is the 38-foot Lizzie, built in 1975 by Beals Island, Maine's Willis Beal. Owner Todd Hubbard is the brother of Mark Hubbard, who owns Finestkind Boatyard.

The Lizzie is getting painted top to bottom and having some "minor repairs," says Mark Hubbard. That includes "a couple of planks that have to be looked at, but nothing serious."

The last time the boat was in the shop was three years ago, when it got a rebuilt engine, new engine beds and new floor timbers. Some 10 or 12 years prior to that, "we put a new deck on, new wash rails and glassed the trunk," says Hubbard. "Every so many years he comes in and has something done to keep up with it." Besides periodic maintenance, the reason a wooden boat going on 39 years old is still fishing year-round is because "it was well-built in the beginning," Hubbard notes.

The 10-year-old boat is a Duffy 42 built at Atlantic Boat Co. in Brooklin, Maine. The boat's new owner trucked her to Finestkind Boatyard as a bare fiberglass hull and top to be finished off for the offshore tuna fishery.

The boat arrived without an engine, but it looks like she'll get a Caterpillar C18 with about 1,000 horsepower.

The deck and all the panels in the boat will be Nidacore. The pilothouse will be extended with a galley inside and below will be the engine room and an icemaker. The pilothouse and the accommodations area up forward will have heat and air conditioning.

A large fish hold and two live wells for bait will be built below the deck and aft of the winterback. Launching time should be sometime this spring. — Michael Crowley


Alaska shop builds seven seine skiffs; 29 years later gillnetter in good shape

Bay Welding Services in Homer, Alaska, is building nine boats: a 32-foot bowpicker, a 32-footer for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and seven seine skiffs.

The 32' x 14' 8" bowpicker is for Jim Pollock of Homer and will start fishing in Prince William Sound "but will be capable of doing double duty in Bristol Bay," says the boatshop's Mike Heimbuch. Pollock's boat has a pair of 424-hp Cummins diesels hooked up to MJP Ultrajet 305HTs. There's also a watermaker and a refrigerated seawater system.

The seven seine skiffs are 20 feet long, while varying in width from 9 feet 6 inches to 12 feet. Six of the skiffs will have a TraktorJet — 15 to 18 inches — and the seventh will have a shaft and prop arrangement. The engines going into the skiffs are John Deere, Iveco or Cummins, with horsepower ratings of 400 to 500.

The demand for seine skiffs is fueled by "four consecutive years of a very solid pink salmon and chum salmon pricing, and on the heels of a lot of good production that we haven't seen in over 15 years," Heimbuch says.

Bay Welding Services is also designing a 48-foot combination gillnetter and seiner with twin water jets. "It will be built for speed," says Heimbuch. "We want to have her cruising at 23 to 24 knots."

He says they are also "on the cusp of building a seiner" that currently is "spec'd out at 49 feet 10 inches." Heimbuch adds, "We also have a lot of interest in 32-foot stern and bowpickers."

In 1985, Petrzelka Bros. finished off the Predator, a Bristol Bay gillnetter. This winter the Predator is back in the Mount Vernon, Wash., shop, and except for "dents and bangs was in remarkably good condition," says the boatshop's Jon Petrzelka.

The boatyard was working over the hydraulics and electrical system on the Predator, installing a new RSW system, building a flush deck and rearranging the fish holds.

The Predator is one of several boats at Petrzelka Bros. The boatyard is also outfitting a new aluminum hull from Sound Craft Marine for gillnetting in Bristol Bay. It's a tophouse model with a Volvo diesel and a TraktorJet for propulsion. For maneuvering she'll have a bow thruster. Petrzelka Bros. is also building and installing the boat's net reel.

The choice of a TraktorJet for the new gillnetter isn't unusual. More salmon gillnetters are installing this type of propulsion, as "it seems to work very good in Bristol Bay pushing a heavy load, especially for a single application," says Petrzelka.

A bowpicker from Cordova, Alaska, was back in the Mount Vernon shop after having its interior rebuilt and being repowered seven years ago. This time the bowpicker is getting a flush deck, new fish hold and new reel.

Flush decks are also becoming more common on gillnetters. The traditional deck layout has the hatch for the fish hold above the deck, which means a fisherman has to bend over, pick up the fish, stand up and drop it in the hold. With a flush deck, the deck and top of the fish hold are at the same height. "You just push the fish into the hold," says Petrzelka. "It's a lot less back-breaking work."

Petrzelka Bros. moved the Predator's deck up 20 inches and the bowpicker's 12 to 14 inches. In both cases, they added a railing to the bulwarks after they raised the deck. For safety reasons, "You want something about waist high," Petrzelka says.

A 35-foot fiberglass boat from Jetliner came in as a bare hull and was being finished off for Dungeness crabbing, shrimping and halibut fishing in Puget Sound. For power she has a 350-hp Cummins hooked up to a Konrad sterndrive. "The Konrad is becoming more popular," says Petrzelka. "You have to use a transmission between the engine and the outdrive, so you don't shift in the unit. It seems to hold up a little better because of that."

Petrzelka Bros. also has a "25- to 30-year-old Roberts fiberglass boat for Bristol Bay that's pretty darn worn," says Petrzelka. "We are helping the guys out. I said we don't have the manpower to do the work, but you can do it, and we will coach you." — Michael Crowley


Chesapeake replicas built with PVC; a wooden scalloper goes to the worms

Just a few feet from the edge of a marsh along Virginia's Milford Haven is an old, worn-down deadrise skiff built by the late Deltaville, Va., boatbuilder Lewis Wright.

Wright started building boats in 1916 at the age of 14. His father, Tom Wright, taught him to build boats, and Tom learned from his brother John Wright, a noted builder.

Lewis' first boat was a flat-bottom skiff a customer in Baltimore bought for $20 in 1916. The skiff was hauled to Baltimore on the schooner Ester A. Waters, which was owned by Lewis' uncle. Until he was well into his 80s, Lewis built boats in a cinderblock building on Deltaville's Lovers Lane.

Recently, boatbuilder Eric Hedberg who operates Rionholdt Once and Future Boats in Hudgins, Va., had a Chesapeake Bay crabber place an order for a deadrise boat like the one in the marsh, and Hedberg used that Wright-built skiff as a model. Hedberg specializes in reproducing historic Chesapeake Bay boats using PVC boards, which eliminates the maintenance associated with wooden boats.

He builds boats out of 3/4-inch PVC boards cut from 18' x 4' panels. The new Wright skiff measures 18' x 6' 6". The inside floor is of torsion-box construction, which leaves open spaces between the bottom of the skiff and the inside floorboard that Hedberg fills with foam.

The skiff is an exact replica of Wright's deadrise skiff. "I build reproductions of wooden boats that I think are sweet looking and good boats," says Hedberg. "Lewis Wright had a great eye for building skiffs, and you can see it in his boats."

Hedberg also has a 12-foot flat-bottom wooden skiff built by George Butler of Reedville Marine Railway from which he plans to build a replica. "I've gotten permission from George to build this skiff," he says. "It is not easy to build a pretty small boat, but George Butler can sure do it."

Future replicas include those for boats built by retired Mathews County boatbuilder Edward Diggs. "Mr. Diggs built a wooden 16-foot garvey that is really sweet, and I plan to built one of those.

"There are people who want these old-time tested boats but don't want them out of wood," says Hedberg. "I had one fellow tell me that 'when you buy a used wooden boat, you've got to buy it again every three years'" because of the cost of maintenance.

"I'm not trying to reinvent the wheel by building these old boats. I'm trying to build them identical to what they were. But mostly I'm trying to honor those old-time boatbuilders and the deadrise culture that went along with building Chesapeake Bay wooden boats."

At some point, it costs more to keep a wooden boat going than it's worth. That's what Andy Benavidez, who operates Benavidez Seafood in Grafton, Va., found with his 74' 6" x 18' x 12' Stephanie B, a wooden scalloper built in 1979 by St. Augustine Trawlers in St. Augustine, Fla.

Benavidez fished the Stephanie B for years in the Mid-Atlantic scallop fishery, but shipworms or teredo navalis, those tiny mollusks that bore into wood, have taken their toll. So Benavidez has Smith Marine Railway in Dare, Va., breaking her down for scrap.

"You think of a railway as being used to keep boats alive and active, but we have to deal with boats at the end of their lives, too," says the boatyard's Tim Smith. Smith Marine Railway only hauls and services wooden boats and has been in operation since 1842.

"The Stephanie B has seen a long life and she has been worked hard," says Smith. "We worked on her when she was named the Carolina Tarheel and was owned by Seaford Scallop Co."

Smith says the hull is peppered with wormholes. The "sea has beat her to death." His crew is breaking the hull down, cutting tanks out and removing whatever else can be salvaged. "We've taken the decks, waist, cabin and rigging off," he says.

The name Stephanie B, however, will not be gone from the scallop grounds. In 2011 Duckworth Steel Boats in Tarpon Springs, Fla., converted the 80-foot New England trawler Elizabeth to a scallop boat for Benavidez. He renamed her the Stephanie B II. The Elizabeth was built by Fairhaven Shipyard Cos. in Fairhaven, Mass. — Larry Chowning

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