July 25, 2016

Offshore lobster fleet gets two new players

Shafmaster Fishing Co. has acquired two new 82-ft. lobster boats built by Washburn and Doughty Shipbuilders. The new vessels can cruise at 10 knots and have identical designs and standardized facilities. They increase the number of boats built by Washburn for Shafmaster to six. All the boats have low and lean profiles and have been constructed to permit lobster fishing 12 months a year.
If boatbuilding activity is any indication, lobstering — both inshore and offshore — is going great guns in New England. One fishing company has just added a pair of 82-footers to its deep-water fleet.

In early July, the 82′ Eulah McGrath slid out from the long, high building that has Washburn & Doughty Shipbuilders (W&D) painted in large, bold, white letters on it and into East Boothbay harbor. It was the second offshore lobster boat of that size built in 1995 by this Maine shipyard for the Shafmaster Fishing Co. of Newington, N.H.


It’s unusual these days to find one, let alone two, steel offshore boats being built to fish in New England waters Gear restrictions, license limitations and closed fishing grounds have been the news stories in New England over the past few years. The threat of those measures being enacted and then their actual passage have almost eliminated any new large vessel construction, regardless of fishery.

Boats are being built, but almost all of them are for the inshore lobster fishery or for recreational boat owners who are attracted to the lines of the New England lobster boat. Invariably, these boats are 48′ or smaller and with the exception of a few wooden boats and one or two aluminum models, the boats are fiberglass.

Shafmaster’s two 82-footers, the Eulah McGrath and its predecessor by a few months, the Carol Coles, are the exceptions in New England. The offshore lobster boats aren’t the first boats W&D has built for the fishing company. Since Shafmaster started business in 1981, the yard has delivered to it six 82′ x 22′ x 9′ lobster boats. That will increase to seven in early 1996 when another 82-footer is scheduled to be completed.

Four of the boats (the Jacqueline Robin, Michele Jeanne, Amy Michele and Jennifer Anne) were launched between 1985 and ’86. With the exception of minor modifications. the first four boats and now the two most recent vessels are identical.

Anybody who has spent time on the offshore lobster grounds will recognize a Shafmaster boat. The profile is low and lean; the stem has a hefty rake to it, and the hull is red. If you go aboard the boats, you’ll find them overbuilt by working lobster boat standards, and the mechanical layout is nearly the same from one vessel to the next. Lastly, these boats have been designed to fish 12 months a year and only for lobsters.

Compare the motion of one of these W&D 82′ offshore lobster boats to a dragger and it’s easy to see that a Shafmaster boat will not be towing nets for bottomfish. “Draggers roll a lot,” says W&D’s Bruce Washburn, who designed the boats. In contrast, a lobster boat needs to be much more stable. “If she rolls heavily, a strain will be put on the line hauling the traps back and the line will part. And deep rolls, especially with traps piled on deck, makes it hard to fish,” Washburn adds.

To develop a stable platform that would sit relatively flat when hauling gear, Washburn drew a single-chine underwater design. It’s basically a semi-displacement design with a bottom much flatter than a dragger’s. The Shafmaster boats have semi-displacement hulls, not because the design can be faster than displacement hulls but due to better initial stability.

The run to the stern is longer than on a dragger, and the deepest point on the hull is further forward than on most draggers. With a fine bow entrance, Washburn’s lobster boats tend to drive through a wave rather than over it, thus the pitching motion is not as great as on a boat with fuller bows.

The low profile of the hull and wheelhouse further reduce the boats’ tendency to roll as does the heavier-than-normal scantlings. The hull is plated with 5/16″ steel, as opposed to the more common 1/4″ plate for a vessel of this size. The plating not only takes up a good portion of the boats’ 120ton displacement, it makes for a strong hull that’s better able to take the abuse of being tied next to another steel boat or lying against pilings. Additionally, the heavier plating fairs out better as it’s welded than the thinner 1/4″ stock.

The frames are 3″ and 4″ angle bar on 20″ centers. The keel is a 3/4″-thick bar with a 6″ x 3/4″ shoe and a boxed skeg. “The boats,” says Washburn, “are grossly overbuilt by ABS standards.” They have, he says, the same scantlings as a dragger of a comparable size.

What the heavy plating doesn’t do is enhance speed. “If we wanted to go faster, we would have lightened the plating,” notes Washburn.

The Carol Coles and Eulah McGrath are expected to cruise at 10 knots, running at 1,600 r.p.m. to 1,800 r.p.m. All six Shafmaster lobster boats have Caterpillar 3408 diesels that turn 60″ x 40″ props. The first couple of lobster boats had Caterpillar reduction gears, but after Caterpillar stopped building them, the Shafmaster boats were given Twin Disc 516 gears.

Going for Efficiency

Using standardized equipment for all its boats helps maximize the efficiency of Shafmaster’s fleet operation. “You don’t have to stock parts for a number of different types of engines, and you only have to train people to work on one kind of engine and one kind of generator,” says Geoffrey Lord, Shafmaster’s manager.

Equipment standardization and specialized technical knowledge needed to maintain the machinery pays for itself when a Shafmaster boat unloads on Monday and has to sail again Thursday. During the layover, the maintenance crew can tear down and rebuild a main engine. Shafmaster rebuilds all its engines, although on major engine jobs a Caterpillar representative often works with Shafmaster mechanics.

With the luxury of trained technicians waiting at the dock, the Shafmaster boats don’t carry engineers as crew-just four fishermen. Lord says the home office can be in contact with the boats at any time and in any weather conditions because each vessel is equipped with a satellite communications system. “I know what each boat needs when it gets back, what they are carrying, and where they are. And we can communicate quite covertly,” he says.

Most of the modifications made to the Carol Coles and Eulah McGrath, compared to earlier Shafmaster vessels, occurred in the engine room. Lobster tank pumps had been mounted on the starboard side and the Caterpillar 3304 generators were fastened down on the port side. Beginning with the Carol Coles, this arrangement was reversed. The pumps have been moved to port, bringing them closer to the entrance and, thus, more accessible and easier to maintain. The generators don’t require as much maintenance, and by moving them to the engine room’s starboard side, they are now farther away from the air intakes and the moist air that was constantly being blown on them in wet, heavy weather.

Piping for the water pumps has been changed from schedule 80 steel with 3/8″-thick walls to fiberglass pipe. The problem with the steel pipes was that they were being worn down by the water flow: “600 g.p.m. going through the pipes, week after week,” says Lord. Every four years the pipe had to be replaced. The wear was especially bad in the area of the 90 [degrees] elbows, which, says Washburn, couldn’t be taken out. Once the steel started to break down and pit, the effect “just snowballed,” says the designer.

Galvanized steel was considered briefly, but it would have only provided an additional six months of usefulness, says Washburn, citing studies done by the U.S. Navy. Fiberglass pipe, even though it’s not thicker, is more resistant to corrosion caused by water moving through it. “Water velocity won’t affect it,” says Washburn. The life of the pipe is indeterminate.”

Another improvement called for widening each of the three lobster tanks from 4′ to 6′. The extra 2′ provides an additional 40% to 50% carrying capacity.

Within the tanks, Shafmaster also wanted fiberglass grating substituted for steel diamond or bar-grates as filtering screens. Fiberglass grating is now used as well in place of steel for steps leading into the pilothouse. “The fiberglass is easier to clean than the steel, and you get better traction with it,” says Washburn.

These changes fall into the tinkering category. They aren’t necessary to operating the boats, but they save money and reduce maintenance time. Shafmaster has made a number of these changes over the years–things like adding a wave break, moving the radar higher on the mast, modifying the engine room’s air intake system and adding fuel tanks to the lazarette. They are the kind of modifications that are made when you want to turn a good concept into something even better. However, as opposed to other fleets made up of vessels of various sizes, it seems obvious that Shafmaster won’t change the basic Washburn & Doughty design.

“When we had the first 82-footer built, most of the offshore lobster boats were 60′ to 65′, with a few around 75′,” says Lord. “Other fishermen had a hard time imagining why anybody needed a boat as large as 82′. But as it turns out today you can’t just go to one place a get a trip. Moving gear is the name of the game.”

As for the nearly identical vessels in the fleet, Lord says fishing year-round and steaming to grounds 24 hours away requires a design that fishermen and owners can depend on. “You don’t want to screw with success.”


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