Saturday, February 07, 2009
A Commercial Fisherman and His Wooden Boat
By Richard E. Noble
After a year or two of oystering I began to think of myself as a Commercial Fisherman and my oyster boat as a classic wooden work skiff. I would go over to Wefing's in Apalachicola and pick up a copy of the National Fisherman magazine and Wooden Boats. My oyster skiff was nothing like the Chris Craft, teak and mahogany, wooden cabin cruisers being displayed in Wooden Boats magazine. Nor was my oystering profession much like catching King Crabs off the coast of Alaska. But there were a number of similarities and a kindred spirit. We were all people who made a living off the water and we were all being oppressed by Federal and State governments and many types of environmentalists and environmental disasters of one type or another. It seemed like fisherman from the west coast to the shores of New England were all on the brink of extinction. But for the moment our life was good here in Eastpoint and our 23 foot oyster skiff was fine.
Carol and I decided to build our own oyster skiff and fishing boat. We sent away for some plans that we discovered in one of our magazines. We priced everything locally for our boat and found for a comparable sum we could have a local professional build us one - stainless steel screws, marine plywood and all. We had Mr. Hatfield in Eastpoint build our boat. I think it cost us $1500. We chose a flat bottomed boat as opposed to the V type hull. We wanted stability while sitting in the water since my wife was already on a regular diet of Dramamine.
That boat lasted us our entire oystering career. We painted the bottom with anti-fouling paint every year and Coppertoxed the inside floors and framing (Copertox is a wood preservative.) We painted the sides black to keep them dry and the decks white to keep our feet cool. We trimmed it in red. We also had a trailer built for it in Panama City so we could get it out of the water when bad weather was coming and in order to travel to other oystering spots. We oystered in Apalachicola, Panacea and Horse Shoe Beach.
Before we got our Hatfield boat we had several older boats. They needed many repairs but we didn't find instructions in any magazine. Black-mammy tar, plywood patches and stripping were the cures for most problems.
One of our boats got infested with sea worms. The worms got into the bottom because our boat sat on the mud at low tide most winters. We got all kinds of advice on what to do. But we decided to listen to the man we sold most of our oysters to. He told us to pull it out onto the hill, flip it over, coat the whole bottom with black-mammy tar and cover the bottom with a sheet of grade A 1/4in. plywood.
We couldn't figure out how that would kill the worms that had infested the bottom. We figured that they would probably just eat through in the opposite direction - but we did it anyway.
The boat was a little heavier than it used to be. We had a little trouble getting it up on top (planning out), but it made it. We had some old boats that had as many as three additional bottoms.
We sold that particular boat when we got our new Hatfield boat but years later we saw our old, worm-infested boat still out working the bay. I presume that the worms were slow eaters or that they only ate in one direction.
Our wooden boats were fun to own. They required maintenance but nothing that the two of us could not do. I was going to convert my oyster boat to a bass boat after we gave up oystering, but we never did. After so many years on the water we were more inclined to fish off a bank or a fishing pier. We do a lot of fishing off the old Eastpoint Bridge these days and we almost always catch fish.
It was fun being called “captain” and owning a wooded oyster skiff. I hope someone is still building oyster skiffs around this town. I think that a little smaller version of our flat-bottomed, Hatfield oyster skiff would make a neat bass boat. I bet it would attract a lot of attention out on a lake in Atlanta or North Carolina.
Richard Noble is a freelance writer and has been a resident of Eastpoint for 30 years. He has published 5 books that are all for sale on amazon.com. If you would like to stock his books in your store or business email Richard at firstname.lastname@example.org.