Maine builder is plugged with work; boatshop

favors fast lobster boats


By Michael Crowley

Joe Sargent will tell you his boatshop in Milbridge, Maine, could build a lot more boats except for one thing. “We just can’t get the manpower. We could do a lot more but are having to turn stuff away.”

As it is, Sargent’s Custom Boats is booked for the next two years. At the end of May, several boats were due to be laid up, including two 38-foot South Shore hulls that will be lengthened to 42 feet. Both are kit boats, with one going to Monhegan Island and the other to Eaton’s Boatshop & Fiberglassing in Deer Isle, Maine, to be finished off. 

This coming winter’s lineup includes a 38 South Shore, a 33 Beal Crowley (Sargent’s Custom Boats has the molds for both the 38 South Shore and the 33 Beal Crowley) and a 48 H&H. The shop will finish off all three boats. 

Next spring, Sargent’s Custom Boats will build a 38 South Shore that will be lengthened to 42 feet and widened to 16 feet for Chuck Bennett, a lobsterman in nearby Sorrento. A year ago they built a boat for Bennett’s father, Mark. Currently the younger Bennett is fishing out of the first boat built at Sargent’s Custom Boats. That had been his brother Joe’s boat who no longer needed it when he took delivery this past winter of the Haley Mae a 45' x 16' 8" lobster boat from Dixon’s Marine Group in Lower Woods Harbor, Nova Scotia, that Sargent’s Custom Boats finished off. 

Joe Bennett’s boat came with a molded top that was modified by cutting the house and trunk off at the washboard, raising it 6 inches then finishing it off with a split wheelhouse. A 700-hp MAN went down on the engine beds, and below the deck are tanks for 20 crates of lobsters.

Besides Bennett’s boat, a complete refit was done on the Ruth Cannon, a 34 South Shore that was the plug for the first 34-foot South Shore hull that was built in 1988. And the Seven Angels, a 42 H&H that Sargent’s Custom Boats built nine years ago, was in for a new deck. That hadn’t been the intent, but when deck tiles were removed it was obvious the plywood deck was rotten and had to come out. It was replaced with a composite Coosa Board deck.

“Plywood is pointless,” says Sargent. “Everything else you put into these things is all composite and lasts forever. A plywood deck is a 10-year deck, so it doesn’t make any sense.”

What does make sense to Travis Otis of Otis Enterprises Marine in Searsport is having a fast lobster boat. Something that gets out to the grounds in a hurry and is first across the finish line at Maine’s lobster boat races. 

He’s got that with the First Team, a Northern Bay 36 with a 410-hp Sisu that has won a lot of lobster boat races in Class H (436 hp to 550 hp, 36 feet and over). Now that’s more horsepower than the First Team’s 410-hp Sisu, but the First Team had been winning so many races that Otis says some people “were saying I cheat, so to dissuade that, we moved up” to Class H. 

Another boat that Otis would race is the 28-foot Easy Money, a Northern Bay 28 that he finished off in 2001. “It was my first race boat,” he says. Easy Money was in Otis Enterprises Marine’s boatshop this past winter having its engine checked out and a heater installed for its new owner, Scott Drake, a lobsterman in York, Maine, who changed the boat’s name to Lady G Marie.

Originally, Easy Money had an 8.2 Detroit for power, but when Otis decided to take it racing, he replaced the Detroit with a detuned Sisu 620DSM. Normally 235 horsepower was the lowest rating for the engine but having it detuned to 218 horsepower meant that Easy Money could compete in Class A (up to 235 hp, 24 to 31 feet).

After racing a few years, it was decided to bump up to Class C (236 hp to 335 hp, 24 to 33 feet). That required a different turbocharger and adding an intercooler to bring the engine up to 300 horsepower. Otis says when he was racing Easy Money, she hit just under 40 mph. “It was a snappy little rig,” he says, and “one of the major contenders on the race course.”

Before Drake bought Easy Money, she was briefly owned by another fisherman, who after using the boat decided she was too big. So in February he sold it to Drake, who had been fishing 500 traps out of a 23-foot skiff and wanted a bigger boat to go offshore.

Will Drake be racing the Lady G Marie? “Well, who knows?” says Otis. “But you know this thing gets right along.” 

Wheelhouses are hot at Oregon yard; seine

skiffs need to be lightened up

By Michael Crowley

Yaquina Boat Equipment in Toledo, Ore., has long been known as a manufacturer of hydraulic deck equipment for commercial fishing boats. But a lot of their work also has to do with boat repairs and conversions, whether it’s a new wheelhouse, shelter deck or some other upgrade that a fisherman needs. And in early June it looked like Yaquina Boat Equipment was lining up a lot of that conversion work. Several boats were being considered for new pilothouses, with some wanting more than that.

One of those possible jobs involves a 58-foot steel boat with a fiberglass house that the owner wants replaced with a steel wheelhouse and a new raised fo’c’sle. Another conversion project involves three layers of houses, starting at the main deck and ending with the pilothouse, along with building a new forward gantry and a flared bow. 

“Work like this has been steady,” says Yaquina Boat Equipment’s Doug Alldridge, “because it’s an aging fleet.” 

Getting rid of a house that’s been on the boat since it has been built is often done after a boat has been sponsoned, since a wider hull would reduce visibility out of the original wheelhouse. Though there are advantages to having a pilothouse installed before a boat is sponsoned. 

“The pilothouse is much cheaper and much more instant,” notes Alldridge. “And the boat can keep fishing until the house is ready.” That was the path taken by the owners of the Winona J, a 69' x 22' multipurpose boat that goes dragging, crabbing and shrimping out of Newport, Ore. The boat now has a new wheelhouse, designed and built at Yaquina Boat Equipment. 

They needed a wheelhouse closer to the boat’s starboard edge because that’s where the crab pots come aboard. And like many older boats, the wheelhouse was constantly being repaired. “They were patching and patching and patching,” says Alldridge. “It’s common when the windows go bad.” 

Once wheelhouse windows start leaking, water gets behind the woodwork, and then you get blisters on the side of the house that have to be ground down and patched. Alldridge calls those blisters, “the tip of the iceberg. A little hole on the outside means you’ve got a lot of corrosion on the inside.” He says he found that same condition on a 1979-built boat that he had just measured. “It was blistering all around the windows.” 

The Winona J’s new wheelhouse is now within 9 inches of the boat’s sides. You can’t walk between the house and the bulwarks, but when the boat is sponsoned, which Alldridge says its owners want to do, it will be close enough to the starboard side of the boat for crabbing. 

With the taller, wider wheelhouse, the mast had to be rebuilt and the anchor winch moved forward. 

By the way, you will be able to see the Winona J this autumn in five episodes of a “Deadliest Catch” spinoff. It’s “Deadliest Catch: Dungeon Cove” and features Oregon’s Dungeness crab fishery.

Strongback Metal Boats has several very different projects underway in its Bellingham, Wash., shop. One is a 32' x 13' 6" Bristol Bay Fly Bridge model gillnetter. She’s for Taran White in Sand Point, Idaho, and has a 750-hp Scania D13, matched up to a prototype jet from Hill Innovations, the 20-inch H1500. Lynn Hill, who designed the original Traktor Jet, designed this jet. He sold that company and started Innovations. 

Compared to a couple of other gillnetters having the same hull but with single 425-hp John Deere engines that hit 28 knots, “This is going to be a really fast boat,” says Strongback Metal Boats’ Rob Smith. 

The 32-footer will pack 12,000 pounds under the hatches and have a 7.5-ton RSW system from Pacific West Refrigeration.

On a smaller scale, Strongback Metal Boats delivered a 19' x 10' seine skiff on June 9 to Steve Feenstra who will match it up with his seiner the Miss Roxanne in Prince William Sound. 

The skiff is a wider version, by 2 feet, of an earlier model. The advantage of this skiff over others is that it’s lighter. “A whole lot of skiffs are being built that guys are complaining they are too big,” says Strongback Metal Boats Pat Pitsch. “They are so big they couldn’t even load them on the boat.”

The problem, says Smith, “is there’s so much structure inside the skiffs.” So when Strongback Metal Boats decided to design a 20' x 11' skiff they had an engineer decide where things could be lightened up. “He went through and lightened up a lot of the stringers, longitudinals and frame sections,” says Smith. Thus the 20' x 11' skiff comes in at 7,400 pounds with 330-hp John Deere 6086.

A Bristol Bay gillnetter the yard’s crew is just getting started on is a 32' x 15' top house model that will have twin 500-hp Cummins 8.3L engines matched up with UltraJet 340HT water jets. 

But it’s not all about a lot of horsepower and speed at Strongback Metal Boats. They are also building reef net gear going to Washington’s Lummi Island. Each reef net gear is 40' x 12' and Smith says these are the first ones built since the mid-1970s. 

Each will have three towers, winches and nets. They are towed to the fishing grounds, anchored and then the nets are dropped as the fish swim between them. Pitsch says, “a select group thinks that’s the future of selective fishing.”

NF South ATY Icon 16

Maine builder is plugged with work;

boatshop favors fast lobster boats


By Larry Chowning

The jump from sail to engine power in commercial fishing boats has resulted in hybrid-looking vessels — a cross between a sailboat and powerboat. 

In Chesapeake Bay, this started in the 1820s and ’30s when boat owners began replacing schooner sails with steam engines. Though features of both, such as a mast, bowsprit and smokestack, remained part of a boat’s appearance.

Writers and maritime historians often ignored these awkward looking vessels, perhaps because they lacked the beauty and lore of sail or the look of a powerful workboat. Also, their lifespan was short, as boatbuilders and designers soon refined the vessels, leaving out the sailboat features. That short lifespan most likely contributed to the lack of historical information being widely publicized.

On the railway at Jordan Marine Service Marina in Gloucester Point, Va., you can get a glimpse of that era watching Charles Duke install an oyster buy-boat wheelhouse on what was once the 56' x 21' skipjack Connie Francis. 

The 56-footer, once sail powered and now with an engine, still has features from her sailing days, including a 20-foot-long bowsprit and a long arching cutwater coming out from the stem. These are some of the same features that sailing schooners and bugeyes retained when they were converted to engine power in the 1920s and ’30s. 

Built as a sailing skipjack in 1984 to work in Maryland’s oyster dredge fishery, the Connie Francis was converted to power in the 1990s and renamed the Oyster Catcher, but carried passengers instead of oysters. 

Francis Goddard of Piney Point, Md., one of the last of the traditional skipjack builders, built the Connie Francis for himself. She carried up to 1,500 bushels of oyster seed or shell. 

About the same time, Goddard was building the skipjack, the bay’s oyster industry nearly went bust as MSX and dermo, two deadly oyster diseases, devastated the species. Goddard worked the boat for a while but ended up selling her. Before Duke purchased the Oyster Catcher, she had been used as a charter day cruiser for many years.

Duke manages Jordan Marine Service Marina, where he and his crew tore off the yacht style wheelhouse and cabin and built a traditional Chesapeake Bay oyster buy-boat house-aft pilothouse. They replaced deck beams and installed new decking. Clinton Midgett of Boats Etc. in Hayes, Va., has been a consultant on the job. He’s well known for his involvement in restoring wooden boats.

With the bay’s oyster industry on the rise, the Oyster Catcher is coming back into the oyster business. Duke plans to use her to haul and off-load seed and shell on the 2,000 acres of private oyster grounds he leases from the Commonwealth of Virginia. He has an application in for another 4,000 acres.

One of many positive things coming out of the comeback of Virginia’s oyster industry is that the fishery is providing enough work for oystermen to justify restoration of the dwindling fleet of large wooden Chesapeake Bay workboats. Just a few years ago, boats the size of the Oyster Catcher were on the endangered vessel list, as there wasn’t enough work to justify their upkeep.

In the same vein, Eric Hedberg of Hudgins, Va., is restoring a Potomac River dory built in 1957 that is currently on the rails at the Mathews Maritime Foundation’s boat shop on Gwynn’s Island, Va. Although the dory appears to have been designed for power, she was obviously built by an old-time southern Maryland dory builder who was still building sailboat features into his boats. She has an old-time tuck stern, also called a shield stern. Shield sterns are shaped like a shield used in battle during Roman days. This style of stern was used on early sail-powered dories. 

The 34' x 8.5' x 2' hull is a one-off style dory. The hull’s structural elements are made out of a variety of local wood including cherry and walnut. The dory had heart pine bottom planking, with each plank running stem to stern as a single piece, which was typical of this style of dory. The planking, however, was worm damaged, so Hedberg replaced the wood with PVC planking.

“Whoever built her had grown up building sail-powered dories,” says Hedberg, who specializes in building and repairing wooden boats with PVC planking. “He was probably an old man in 1957 when he built her.” Since the hull has early sailing dory features, Hedberg might install a mast and sail. 

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