Boats, Trucks and Fishing – Survival

        This topic can be condensed or it can have a vast range of directions to go in. I have been writing about “then and now” with the fishing industry, but I have left out some very important factors for the survival of our fishing industry. Which one comes first? Well, it would seem that we need a boat in order to fish. Then, we need trucks to transport our lobsters from the dock to their destination on land. Years ago, and even now, we also had smack boats to hold and deliver lobsters from the dock to usually Boston for further marketing.

        My Dad was working on the lobster smack, Perry B. and Lynn II based in Stonington when my brother and I were born. The boats were primarily used for lobster transport at that time and evolved to using box trucks and tractor-trailer trucks.

        The first lobster boats were dories or dories with sails, which goes back a ways. Then, as time went on, we had wooden lobster boats with center console steering and spray hoods for cabins. How many remember the beautiful torpedo stern boats? They did have inboard engines. The outboards didn’t come along until later. A large lobster boat for that time was probably 28 to 30 feet long and 8-½ feet wide. They were very seaworthy and fairly fast for their design. Their engines were car engines, preferably Oldsmobile, Ford, Pontiac, etc. The funny thing is, they usually ran like a sewing machine and were quite economical. They were equipped with a brass bit head, which also had another name that is not acceptable to use…but most of you know the piece of equipment that I am referring to. There were no pot haulers with the plates until later on. From there, wooden cabins were being built for better protection from the weather, with full windshields and a better place for the exhaust pipes.

        By the time the seventies rolled along, there was a big breakthrough for a longer lasting boat with less maintenance. Thus came the fiberglass hulls and deck tops.

Dad used to say to Philo Dyer (well known wooden boat builder from Vinalhaven), that he was building his boats backwards, wooden boats were built from the inside-out and painted last, the fiberglass boats were painted first and built from the outside-in. Philo never appreciated Dad’s philosophy! But it is true, a fiberglass boat is painted first in the mold with gelcoat and then layered with fiberglass saturated with resin. Some also have a core that makes them a little lighter and stiffer. It also adds a little more floatation.

        Most of the boats have evolved from 30-32 foot boats to 40 to 50 feet in length with a width of 16-20 feet. They also have primarily diesel engines now with wet exhaust instead of the pipes going through the shelter top. The boats are going further out now and are required to fish trawls due to the whale rules. This is much more dangerous for the smaller vessels. It puts too much weight on the side board. Makes them tipsy.

        Now, with such large boats, it is much more difficult for them to fish within the three-mile line, because they are too large to maneuver around the rocks and ledges like the smaller boats. Unless they can afford two boats, one for inshore and one for offshore, it is starting to create an inshore and offshore fishery.

        I’m going to get to the trucks now. They have evolved over the years as well. The trucks also went from smaller to larger over the years. I remember when a truck was a big scary looking Mack with the bulldog on the hood and a roaring engine to go with it. We got out of their way when we saw them coming down the road! The boxes or trailers were stocked with ice instead of refrigeration units or reefer units. (I guess I can say that now). They hadn’t been created just yet.

        Now, by the ‘70’s and ‘80’s, we mostly saw cab over trucks, which looked like boxes going down the road. It was much easier to turn them around in tight places. They were also very efficient but uncomfortable to ride in as they were mostly spring ride instead of air ride and you sat over the engine. Remember B.J. and the Bear! That truck was cool. Then we went to long nose Pete’s, Freightliners or Kenworths with big stacks and lots of lights along the bumper and trailer. We were fortunate enough to be part of that Heyday, with Smokey and the Bandit and Sonny Pruitt. Just a few of many urban cowboys of that time. Everyone had dingo boots and cowboy hats! And of course, a CB radio.

        The similarity that I am getting to, is we all needed each other to make our product move and get to market. Most of the fishermen and truckers had a common respect for each other whether it was on the land or on the sea. If someone was broken down, we did not leave them stranded, we helped.

        If you really look at the numbers, when Mike and I were involved with trucking, the numbers for the mileage rates are not much different from then and now. There is a lot of overhead, insurances and sizeable monthly payments. The income revenue to the truck has not kept up with the cost of operation for the owner-operators. This is much like the price of lobsters going up very slowly over the years. They also have been regulated to death much like the fishery. They now have electronic logs much like the VMS systems.

        These two industries have a lot in common because they both have a tendency to be strongly regulated by the federal government. Fishermen have conservation measures, (whales, over fishing), as for the trucks, there is electronic logs, drug testing, mileage, fuel taxes, even pollution standards in some states where they are not allowed to go into unless they have special pollution control apparatus. (smog cans).

        As a matter of fact, a lot of fishermen are truck drivers during the off-season. This is where the two come together. I’m sure that everyone knows someone that fishes and drives during the off-season! Most of our lobster dealers also have their own trucks and their drivers are also fishermen. As vastly different as the two industries are, they still work hand in hand. Dare I say that this is traditional Old School!