FISHING AND COMMERCIAL VESSELS

Designs for these types of vessels are available in all materials and hull shapes. These designs date from the late 1930’s to about the early 1960’s. In the case of the fishing vessels the majority are 35’ to 55’ on deck and the commercial freight vessels from 45’ to 125’ on deck. Most of them are fine sea-going vessels even if their principal use might be along shore or coastwise fishing and freighting. At that time the ability of a vessel to be used for other endeavors was a paramount consideration at the time of designing and the slight extra cost in construction to accomplish this may have been as much as 3% to 5%. During this period of design, many of us were shifting from sail to auxiliaries or to straight power vessels. The hull shapes developed were strongly influenced by the shape of the sailing vessels as we knew what shape of hull imparted a wholesome seaworthy and seakindly vessel. As with sailing vessels, we were working with displacement type hull forms. Steel construction was just beginning to be accepted as a viable alternate to wood, often with grave misgivings. Engines were still very heavy, slow turning, and of low horsepower by today’s standards. Some engines turned only 300 to 500 rpm and did not require reduction gears. Maintenance was minimal and complete engine overhauls were measured in the tens of thousands of hours. In former times, 5000 hours of engine time per year more or less indicated that the vessel was not working very hard. On several of my designs that were worked hard by their owners, the logs would show 7000 hours per year for several years running. When the overhaul was required, it was done on the vessel as everything could be done in situ by removing the side plates and head. The types of vessels were longliners, dredgers, draggers, trawlers, drifters, handliners, and purse seiners. The freight boats hauled a variety of cargoes including farm produce, coal, lumber, and passengers. Some also were employed at times as buy boats during the oyster season, while others dredged crabs. Some of the larger ones were hauling cement, case oil, building materials, case goods, tractors, cattle, bricks, and occasionally automobiles. Down islands, riding in the auto during the passage was considered first class passage

I still design these small freighters today. Many are used as traveling machine shops or woodworking shops, and several carry a portable bandsaw mill which is set up ashore as the need arises. Several are in the inter-island trades, and still others are used as yachts. While most are straight powered hulls, others are auxiliaries of the sail assisted motor vessel type. 

Other than some small grouper fishing vessels, I am now seldom engaged in fishing vessel design. Fishing vessels have become very sophisticated and, due to improvements in their gear and the common use of freezers and mechanical refrigeration, have increased their size many times over what they were a few decades ago. Examples of this is the change over from single rig to double rig on shrimpers, and, today with automation, the small longliners that used to shoot their lines at 4 to 5 knots can shoot their lines at 8 to 9 knots.

When the Federal Government and individual states formulated and passed a multitude of new rules and regulations regulating fishing and fishing vessels, they usually had little or no understanding of what they had done. It was then easy to foist all these changes upon the fishermen in an effort to cure a problem that at the time did not exist. Most of the regulations are due to an effort to cure a problem and shift the blame on problems caused by the Federal Government and the individual states. I am happy that these regulators were not around in the times of dinosaurs as we would be up to our neck in them now.

At first, the regulators just tied a fisherman’s hand behind his back; then they tied both hands. Surviving this, they broke one leg and still the fishermen were able to continue even if they limped. Now they have broken the other leg and tell the fishermen to smile as all of this was for their own good and, besides, they cured the limp. The small vessels were economical to operate and most were owned by their skippers, and as long as they fished one or even two fisheries the rig could be kept simple. When they were forced to expand just to make a living and, at the same time, because of restrictions and quotas, also had to enter a completely different fishery and method of fishing, the need then was for a combination vessel (a compromise) which seldom yielded the best of both worlds. Today, working six to ten different permits is the norm. Will those small vessels make a comeback?  Probably, about 60 days after the covered wagon replaces the truck.

The return to smaller vessels may become necessary due to the pending new regulations. The licensing of all captains, regardless of experience, is imminent and it will be based on sea time aboard X, Y, and Z tonnage. Sea time will be based on only 4 hours a day in spite of the fact that manning the vessel, fishing, and processing go on for 24 hours a day. Crew competency will be based on seamanship standards, which will probably never arise in his life at sea. I know very few fishermen who could qualify as an Able Seaman in the old sense of the meaning. In fact, I doubt that there are many left today who call themselves an A.B. could qualify either. As master of a fishing vessel, I prefer a fisherman first and a sailor second. The tonnage laws and the computation of tonnage will also change. Structural requirements via an unrealistic rule will be extended down to all but the smallest vessels. Subdivision will also be imposed on all vessels. There is a possibility that every vessel will require a licensed engineer whose qualifications are based on engine horsepower, with a restriction against having any other duties aboard the vessel. Extensive stability calculations and minimums established based on a hypothetical vessel rather than the actual requirements of a particular type of fishing vessel will be enforced.

Some of these small fishing and freighting vessels are suited to passagemaking yachts if one can find a matching horsepower in today’s market. Unfortunately, in many cases, the displacement of the vessel is such that the smaller engines will not bring them up to the service speed or the horsepower is so great that the fuel consumed would reduce the range below acceptable standards. The brighter side of the picture is that the weights used in the conversion to a yacht are of small concern as it would be difficult to add as much as a hold full of fish and ice. Ballast will almost always be needed to bring the vessel to her best cruising waterline. There are few yachtsmen who would be comfortable cruising at 7 or 8 knots unless they have experienced being becalmed for several days at a time, or have been elated over several days of 125 miles, noon to noon. If they have, then a consistent 168 to 192 miles, noon to noon, would be akin to flying.

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