Last weekend my home town of Cutler witnessed a significant event – the launching of a new lobster boat. Not too much happens in the sleepy villages of Downeast Maine, so a boat launching is an exciting and well-attended affair.
|Villagers line up to witness the boat launch.|
This boat launch was particularly significant to me because the boat belongs to my brother and was built in my father’s boat shop (Little River Boat Shop). The boat, called The Phantom, is also one of the largest (if not the largest) lobster boat to grace Cutler Harbor.
Throughout the winter months, my father, brother and several other Downeasters labored away in my father’s boat shop, transforming a fiberglass hull into a sturdy, seaworthy, graceful lobster fishing boat capable of carrying six tons of gear and harvesting thousands of pounds of lobster in a range of weather conditions. As detailed in my book, How to Catch a Lobster in Down East Maine:
“The design of a Down East Maine lobster boat is a balance between seaworthiness and functionality. The boats have a high bow, making them relatively seaworthy when heading into the wind. The stern and sides are wide and shallow so that lobster traps can easily be hauled aboard and wind action is minimized when the boat is broadside. Wind action is also minimized by the boat’s long keel, which runs almost the full length of the hull below the waterline. The keel and hull work together to ensure that the boat tracks well in a following sea, one of the most difficult sea conditions in which to handle a boat. The hull itself comes in one of two designs: builtdown or skeg.”
As with many Downeast boats, my brother’s boat is a skeg boat. Over the next few weeks, I hope to update this post with more specs of my brother’s boat (boat and engine size, horsepower, cruising speed, etc) but I’m holding fire until I confirm those details with my father. One thing I do know is that Maine lobster boats have certainly gotten bigger over the last 20 years or so. In the 1970’s and 1980’s, a thirty-five to forty foot boat was a good sized lobster boat. Now, Maine harbors are filled with many lobster boats in the forty-two to fifty foot range. Last year my father actually widened out his boat shop to accommodate the larger sized hulls fishermen have been ordering. Still, as you can see from the picture, my brother’s boat hull barely squeezed through the Little River Boat Shop door.
|Tight squeeze – the boat hull squeaks into the shop earlier this winter.|
As with many Downeast boat shops, my father’s shop was a social gathering place for town folk and family throughout the winter while the boat was being built. Various fishermen would stop by to witness the progress and comment on the design. My brother’s sons and other children would often hang out in the shop after school. As mentioned in my book, the social aspect of Downeast boat building is an important element in the transference of knowledge and skills from one generation to the next. Especially in the 1900’s on Beal’s Island:
“Most…boat builders didn’t learn their trade in school. Rather, their skills developed through the years, from their practical knowledge of what made a good working lobster boat and their cultural practice of passing expertise along to the next generation. Beals boat shops were social gathering places for friends and family, particularly sons and sons-in-law. Some children literally grew up on the shop floor absorbing the craft. The boat shop was their school.”
|Cutler children line up on a float, awaiting a ride on the newly launched boat.|
My brother, who grew up on the Little River Boat Shop floor, will continue the practice of boat building long after my father retires. Perhaps one of his sons will take up the craft as well.
|The newly launched Phantom, sitting pretty in Cutler Harbor.|