A boat that has been working the fishing grounds off the U.S. East Coast for 42 years has earned the name F/V Relentless. Originally built in Panama City, Fla., in 1978 at what is now Eastern Shipbuilding Group, the Relentless started as a dragger.

“When I bought her in 2002, she had these big winches and a net reel,” says owner and captain Owen Smith of Barnegat Light, N.J. “I bought her from Walter Allen. I think they were fishing the deep water looking for orange roughy. But they never found any.”

In February of 2020, Smith had the Relentless hauled out at Garpo Marine Services, on New York’s Staten Island.

“We’ve been coming here a long time,” says Smith. “They treat us really well.” Over the years that Smith has been bringing Relentless to Garpo, he has done everything from repowering with an 850-hp Mitsubishi S12A2 in 2006 to rebuilding much of the boat over the years.

Built at Florida’s Eastern Shipbuilding in 1978, the Barnegat Light, N.J.-based scalloper Relentless has been well maintained in recent years at Garpo Marine in New York. Jake Smith photo

“She’s a well-built boat. She’s all half-inch plate on the work deck, sides, and bottom,” says Smith. Nonetheless, four decades and more of service take a toll on a hard-working boat. “I wouldn’t say we’ve replaced 50 percent of the steel,” says Smith. “But I’m sure we’ve done 40. Last year we put in a new shaft log, a new bearing and redid the doublers.” Smith considered building a new boat when he saw how much steel he was putting into the Relentless, but decided to keep going with the boat he knows. “She’s a good sea boat,” he says. “I was very happy to get an Eastern Marine boat.”

The major focus of this year’s work is installation of a new auxiliary engine to run the hydraulics, primarily two Pullmaster H30 main winches for hauling the dredges, and two Pullmaster H12s for dumping the dredges.

“We used to run 15s,” says Smith, referring to the width of the dredges. “Now we use 14-foot turtle drags. They’re configured differently. There’s no bars in the triangle, and there’s like a mat in front that’s supposed to keep the turtles out. They pull harder, we use 10 to 20 percent more fuel with the 14s. If we stayed with 15s (with mats), we’d be swilling fuel.”

Workers at Garpo started by cutting a sizable hole in the bow of the steel hull. They took out Smith’s old Detroit 8V71, and slid in a new 6-cylinder John Deere 6090, 9-liter engine rated at 325 hp. “John Deere’s been good to us,” says Smith. “We got one genset, a John Deere 4039 with over 75,000 hours on it. If this one can treat us that well, we’ll be doing alright.”

At Garpo Marine on Staten Island, New York, workers wasted no time, they cut right through the bow to get the old auxiliary engine out and put in the new John Deere. Jake Smith photo

A 325-hp auxiliary may seem like a lot to run a hydraulic system, but Smith has an excuse. “I’m power mad,” he says. “But really, you need power and speed. We wanted a system for high flow, high volume.” He’s got that in the two Pullmaster H30s. Each one has a maximum operating pressure of 2,500 psi and a maximum oil flow of 115 gpm. The 14-foot dredges can weigh 5 tons when full of scallops and rocks, and Smith notes that he has had loads in the dredges that have nearly stopped the H12 winches, which are rated at 12 tons.

“We have two inline 50-gpm commercial shearing pumps,” Smith says. “The limiting factor is the control valves. Ours are 41 gpm. That’s where the pinch is.”

Smith is a hands-on owner-operator, with the new engine in the hull, he has been welding the motor mounts. “I’ve got the mechanics coming up tomorrow, and we’re going to goose her around. We might get her hooked up before we leave. We might wait and finish back in Barnegat Light.”

Smith had the Relentless back on the tow in in late May. This year he only expected to get about fishing 70 days.

“We have 24 days in the open areas, and five or six openings in closed areas.” It’s a big difference from when he started in 1986. “We could fish, but there wasn’t a lot around.” Smith guesses he worked for about 2 cents an hour back in the day, but that did not stop him from making a career out of scalloping. “It’s an interesting way to make a living,” he says. “In the ’80s I went with Kirk Larson just as something to do. In 1989, I decided it was what I wanted to do. everything about this business was right up my alley — the welding, the mechanical stuff. I ended up running boats for Kirk. And then when this boat came up I decided to buy it.”

Smith recalls that people thought he was crazy to pay $850,000 for the boat and permits. “But Kirk says I’m the last of the independents. I got in just before the door closed on guys like me. The permit was valued at $400,000 back then. Now a permit is $6 million.” While he no longer works directly for Larson, Smith sells almost all his product to Viking Village in Barnegat Light, which is owned by the Larson and Puskas families.

Along with his scallop permit, Smith got a multispecies permit with the Relentless, but has given up any thoughts of using it.

“We could fish about a week, then we’d have to get more quota and join a sector,” Smith says. “If guys with experience can’t make it, I’m not going to try.” Smith rebuilt the stern of the former dragger, replacing the net reel and stern ramp with a shucking house. “Back in the ’90s it seemed they tried to force you to be either a dragger or a scalloper. They tried to funnel everybody into categories.” Smith dedicated the Relentless to scalloping. “If we had a smaller boat, we could diversify, but scalloping is where the money is.”

Owen Smith’s new 325-hp, 9-liter John Deere in place. The engine will run the hydraulics for the big Pullmaster H30 main winches, and H12s that lift the dredges. Jake Smith photo

Smith has worked hard to make the Relentless an efficient scallop boat. When he repowered with the Mitsubishi S12A2, he used a Twin Disc MG520 gear with 4.49:1 reduction turning a 4-inch Aquamet 22 shaft and a 59 x 58, 4-blade Kaplan propeller in a Kort nozzle.

He has two gensets, a 50-kW John Deere 4045 that replaced the well-worn 4039, and an older John Deere 45-kW.

He runs two Olex bottom builder systems. One through a Furuno Navnet 3D, and the other through a Northstar GPS. “I use Olex constantly,” says Smith. I never want to be without it, so we have two completely independent systems in case one goes down.”

Smith also has a Furuno 292 bottom sounder and an older Furuno radar and Furuno sat-compass, along with his Navnet 3D. He also uses a Simrad AP70 autopilot controller, which comes in handy when he’s shucking scallops.

Smith notes that back when scallopers had 10- or 11-person crews, the captain and mate often stayed in the wheelhouse running their watches, typically six hours on, six off, while the crew picked deck and shucked.

“Now with seven-man crews, everyone has to work,” says Smith. He has a shucking box set up in the wheelhouse, where he can work and keep an eye on the boat. “I’m just a couple of steps from the wheel,” he says. Smith still runs six-hour watches. “Some people try other things, eight-hour watches. But with rolling eights, you’re always getting up at different times. We just do things the old way.”

After more than 30 years, Owen Smith knows his game, and the Relentless has proven to be a reliable boat. They appear to be made for each other. 

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Paul Molyneaux is the Boats & Gear editor for National Fisherman.

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