Sunday, April 25, 2010


I am at that stage of life when it is perfectly excusable to indulge oneself by living in a dream world from time to time; a place where even the impossible can come true. For me such times usually occur at two AM in the morning, to an accompaniment of Tevye the milkman singing “If I Were a Rich Man”. And I start thinking . . .
If I were a rich man, I would own a boat. Not just any boat. Not even the usual “boat”. It would have to be a ‘Down East’ lobster boat; a 34-footer would be about right. And it would have to be a Beals Island type, with a classic cedar “carvel” plank hull, built up on a white oak back bone, with steam-bent frames of locust wood, and an extended deck house just long enough to enclose a small living space for overnight cruising. It would be nice if it had an up-to-date diesel power plant, oh, a Perkins or better yet a Caterpillar would do nicely. It would have to be a 1970s vintage, and originally built by one of the Beals or Alleys themselves, or, in a pinch, a “glassed-over” rebuild of one. I would keep her moored in New Harbor, where my friend Merle Thompson could keep her ship-shape and runnin’ smooth for when I could get back to the mid-coast two or three times a year. (It’s a long way to coastal Maine from Zion.)

“Sleepless Nights” captures the worries of a young lobsterman hoping for a good season in order to make payments on his first boat.

Of course, it goes without saying that even though no longer a full time “working boat”, it should have a hydraulic trap hoist and all the appropriate fittings so that I could pull a few well-placed lobster traps when the need arose; on the right side if you please. You see, I not only love lobster boats, the folks who cherish and operate them, and the waters they ply, but that pincer-snapping crustacean which gives purpose to the whole enterprise. After all, my favorite soup is lobster chowder, my number one sandwich is an over-stuffed lobster-meat roll, and a deep-dish, double-crust lobster pie gives new meaning to the word sumptuous.

“Pandora”s two-man crew loads up with bait and supplies at a Boothbay Harbor wharf.

Some time around 1773, Manwaring Beal settled on the island which became “Beals Island”, just a stones’ throw away from the present town of Jonesport, in the upper mid-coast of Maine. He was joined by Captain John Alley soon after, and it was here, and among their direct descendants that a legend was born and nourished. The graceful lines of what would become one of the most sea-worthy and practical working boats of the northeast, from the upward shear of their bow, to the low gunwale of the main deck can be traced to the proud ancestry of that time and place.
To this day, ownership of a “Beals Island” lobster boat and its offspring speaks eloquently of a love affair which continues to touch the lives of whole new generations of those who go down to the sea where the lobster is king.

“Red Lady II” displays the graceful lines of a “back bay” lobsterman. Nowadays, most working boats have long-lasting fiberglass hulls built out of molds duplicating two-hundred-year-old wooden boats.

Like their “cowboy” cousins of the West, fishermen of the Northeast are themselves cut from a patriotic mold.

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