Chasing Lobsters: The Lore of Maine Lobster Boats

Lobster boats are the backbone of Maine’s lobster fishing industry. Chris Caswell in, “So What is a lobster Boat,” describes a Down East lobster boat as the pickup truck of the Maine coast. These workboats allow the more than 6.000 Maine lobstermen to haul in their catch. Lobstering is a family tradition and licences are often passed down from generation to generation. Lobsterman and Tenants Harbor native, Victor Cole, says it best:

Our lobster boats are our lifeline. We literally depend on their safe condition, their seaworthiness and their good fortune to keep us alive.

Lobster Boats

Ever wonder about the kinds of boats used to catch live lobsters? Most of the Maine lobster boats are small, ranging in size from 22 to 40 feet and operated by a solo captain or with a small crew of sternmen (deck hands) to help haul traps. There is little hold space and open back decks with a winch that helps pull the traps from the ocean floor into the boat. Larger boats can fish in deeper waters and farther away from shore.  Over the years lobster boats have changed due to the evolution of marine technology and the increasingly competitive economic battle among those who make their living on the sea.

History Lobster Boats

Like most things, the slower and less efficient products are left behind. The boats of old, made strictly of wood, were not as structurally sound and durable as today’s fiberglass hulls (introduced in the 1970’s) that act as a sturdy shield against the ocean and battering winds. Equally important, the fiberglass boat required less maintenance and repair than their wooden counterparts.

The Dory

One of the earliest fishing vessels was the Dory, an original workhorse of New England coastal commerce–dubbed the “Little Lady of the North Atlantic.” Invented by Englishman Semeon Lowell who settled in Amesbury, Massachusetts. The boat was named after a species of redfish called John Dory.  The dory was a flat-bottomed, wooden contraption, powered by oar and sail, it was used across all kinds of marine industries, including the lobster trade. The historic Lowells Boat Shop, the oldest continuously operating boat shop in the United States,  still makes the Dory today.

Lobster Boats

The Peapod

First setting sail in the waters of Northern Maine in the late 19th century, the Peapod’s shallow build served best for inshore lobster fishing. The Peopod measured about 15 feet long and was built like a canoe and shaped like the garden vegetable.  It was made for carrying heavy loads and had more storage capacity than the Dory. It’s double-end design made it possible to row in either direction making it easy to navigate in the shallower waters closer to the coast.

Engine-driven boats

Introduced around the beginning of the 20th century, engine-driven vessels started to replace the earlier man and wind-powered boats. These engine-powered designs had their origin in turn-of-the-century naval torpedo boats, making them fast, narrow and easy to maneuver, similar to their warship cousins.

Modern Day Lobster Boats

By the 1950’s offshore lobster fishing became more prevalent, along with the advent of those familiar wire-mesh lobster traps requiring the boats to have more space on board. Flash forward twenty years and the model of the lobster industry, the Brimstone, is born. Created by Harold Gower, this boat is still used today to navigate the seas for the great prize all lobster fisherman search for. Though the boats now are larger and use more fuel, some believe that in the future, we should go back to the Brimstone because of its ability to move faster and easier through the water with less power, thus saving fuel.

Notable features on present day Lobster Boats include a high bow, which is intended to push aside the sea and any larger waves that it may produce. It possesses easy access to lobster traps, all the while giving protection to the crew aboard. What’s more, many modern day vessels are equipped with hydraulic haulers, bottom depth sounders, radar and GPS.

There are many types of Maine lobster boats on the water, but the defining feature that all possess is each hull joins into the skeg. This provides for better sailing on rough seas and the ability to carry a heavier load. Perfect for a heavy haul of lobsters.

Lobster Racing & Lobster Yachts

Since the time of the sail powered boats the men chasing lobsters have always been game for a race. According to Commercial Fisheries News’s, lobster boat races have become a popular sport and pastime. Testing the durability and make of the vessels, these races are not only competitive but fun to watch. Races are organized by boat length and type of engine, categories include: a wooden boat class, a gasoline class, and a diesel class. The non-working  race boats hold little or no resemblance with the real working fishing boats. Although the prizes only range from $100-$300, the races have more to due with community, camaraderie, and of course, the competitive spirit of the independent lobstermen. Checkout the Maine Lobster Boat Racing Association (MLBRA) for the summer race schedule (from mid-June to late August).

Over time Maine has been best known for its manufacturing and building of Lobster Boats, originally used strictly for fishing, these majestic Maine Boats are now being used as family ocean vessels or lobster yachts. The possibilities seem endless for these hand crafted ships.

Maine Lobster Boat Quick Facts

  • The State of Maine limits each lobster boat to 800 traps in the water at a time.
  • The live tanks on some big boats can hold as much as 850 pounds of live lobsters.
  • A small lobster boat (about 20 feet) modestly equipped can cost about $25,000. Bigger boats at 40 feet or more can cost upwards of $400,000. Boats can be purchased with both open and closed sterns.
  • It was not until the 1950’s that some lobster boats were equipped with a hydraulic pot hauler.
  • In the 1900’s you could buy a Dory fishing boat for a whopping $12.
  • The waiting list to obtain a commercial lobster licence can be years or even decades.
  • Galen Alley’s lobster boat, Foolish Pleasure’s, set the speed record for a gas powered boat at 72.8 mph.

It is safe to say that the lobster industry and its fleet of vessels has changed over the years, but all the boats from the past and present share the same goal… catching lobsters, a trade driven by the riches of the sea. You don’t need a lobster boat to catch fresh lobsters. Order direct from the seafood experts at LobsterAnywhere.com.

Current Day Boat Builders

Atlantic Boat Company
355 Flye Point Road
PO Box 217
Brooklin, Maine 04616

Calvin Beal Boats and Young Brothers Boats
358 Douglas Hwy
Lamoine, ME 04605-424

Ellis Boat Company
265 Seawall Road
Southwest Harbor, ME 04679

Even Keel Marine Specialties, Inc.
123 Even Keel Road
Yarmouth, Maine 04096

Holland’s Boat Shop
7 Mill Lane
Belfast, ME 04915

Lowell’s Boat Shop
Builders of handcrafted wooden boats since 1793
459 Main St, Amesbury, MA 01913

Wesmac Custom Boats
158 Blue Hill Road
PO Box 56
Surry, ME 04684

Citations:

  • “PMY – Power&Motoryacht.” So What Is a Lobster Boat? N.p., n.d. Web. 12 June 2015.
  • Billings, Cathy. The Maine Lobster Industry: A History of Culture, Conservation & Commerce. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.
  • “EDITORIAL: Summertime – Another Season of Lobster Boat Racing.”Commercial Fisheries News. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 June 2015.
  • “Buying A Maine Built Boat – Maine Built Boats.” Maine Built Boats. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 June 2015.
  • Cole, Victor. Chasin’ Crustaceans: Stories behind the Names of Maine Lobsterboats. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.
  • Griffin, Nancy. “Maine Lobster Boat Races Have a Boisterous History.”Maine Lobstermens Community Alliance RSS. 14 July 2014. Web. 29 July 2015. <http://mlcalliance.org/2014/07/14/maine-lobster-boat-races-have-a-boisterous-history/>.

Comments

  1. I am trying to find why Maine Lobster boats have the opening on the right side of the boat? They differ from Canadian Lobster boats which are symmetrical. I cannot find the history of this opening anywhere?

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