Originally published in Castine Patriot, August 14, 2014
Symposium gathers industry leaders to discuss lobster boat design
Tied up together at the Castine Town Dock, a sampling of lobster boats and lobster yachts, were available for public visits last week in connection with a discussion of the Maine lobster boat design. The lobster boat symposium was the kick-off event for this year’s Castine Classic Yacht Race.
by Rich Hewitt
Boating enthusiasts received a primer on lobster boats last week as some of the state’s top builders and designers gathered for a symposium on the Maine lobster boat design and its lobster yacht offspring.
The symposium was the kick-off event for the Castine Classic Yacht Race, and it included an open house on board several of the boats designed and built by the symposium speakers.
The chairman for the symposium, Jon Johansen, editor of Maine Coastal News and the president of the Maine Lobster Boat Racing Association, got things started with a brief slide show depicting the evolution of the Maine lobster boat and the men who built and designed them.
The changes have been remarkable as the working boats evolved from rowing vessels such as dories and peapods, to the Muscongus Bay and Friendship sloops which operated under sail, to the early make-and-break engines and automobile engines that eventually were replaced by the modern-day engines that can generate anywhere from 200 to 1,000 horsepower. Lobster boats continue to evolve and are getting bigger, wider and more powerful.
While some of the need for speed is driven by the annual lobster boat races, the size and speed of today’s lobster boats also reflects the changes in the industry, according to Peter Kass of John’s Bay Boats who designs and builds classic wooden lobster boats. Bigger, stronger, faster boats can take fishermen to where the lobsters are.
“Fishing has changed,” Kass said. “The fish are deeper and it pays for fishermen to go out to deeper waters. If you’re going 30 or 50 miles from home, you want to be safe. It takes a long time; some of them stay overnight, and they’re taking a lot of gear and hopefully, they’re going to catch a lot of lobster.”
Although Johansen noted that the builders had arranged themselves with wooden builders and those that favored fiberglass at opposite ends of the table, the only real disagreement of the symposium was about speed and efficiency.
In response to a question about efficiency, Doug Hylan, who builds and restores wooden boats at his yard in Brooklin, agreed that the changes in the fishing industry had resulted in bigger and faster boats. But, he said, that speed comes at a price.
“You give things up,” he said. “Speed on the water becomes very expensive.”
He noted that a 1,000-hp engine can burn as much as 100 gallons an hour. And, he said, even at slower speeds they’re not as efficient.
Hylan argued for a slower pace on the water.
“In my mind, 12 knots is a most wonderful speed,” he said. “We live in a beautiful spot. You don’t need to go fast; you’re already there.”
Others argued that while the bigger engines do burn a lot of fuel, especially at race speeds, they can be relatively efficient especially when you consider that they are working boats capable of carrying traps, gear and lobster.
Glenn Holland, of Holland Boat Shop in Belfast, had his own idea about the efficiency of the powerful lobster boats.
“I can eat breakfast in Belfast and have lunch in Jonesport,” he said. “And I’ll see a lot more than you do.”
Asked about the possibility of using jet drives on lobster boats, Richard Stanley, who builds wooden lobster boats on Mount Desert Island, said that it had been tried, but that it didn’t work well. Debris caught up on the engines and the boats were very hard to handle.
“It was like fishing in a Clorox bottle,” he said.
Stanley said there have been a lot of problems with that type of engine, which he added, has become a “cash cow” for boat mechanics.
The discussion included the long-running debate over hull design, built-down versus skeg. The terms refer to the way in which the hull meets the pronounced keel present on most Maine lobster boats. In a built-down design, the hull forms an S-curve and meets the keel at a steeper angle. In skeg boats, the hull comes in flatter, almost perpendicular to the keel.
There’s no consensus on which design is better and the participants noted that each has its own good features. Skeg boats are generally faster, built-down generally handle rough weather better.
One consideration, according to Jamie Lowell of Lowell Brothers in Yarmouth, is that there are challenges to building the S-curve, built-down hull.
“The skeg boats are easier to build,” he said.