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Friday, April 28, 2006

Tonight there's news of 400 dead dolphins washed ashore on the coast of Zanzibar. Stomachs were empty, but preliminary reports indicate starvation was not an issue.

Four hundred dead cetacians is cause for concern. It would be nice to know why. Unfortunately, it's very difficult to figure these things out.

It could be the result of a medical problem unrelated to outside influences, or it could be because of an external effect, powerful military sonar, or some form of pollution.

Sonar interferes with a dolphins ability to echo-locate and navigate.

Sitting in your computer chair you probably don't think too emotionally about this type of news. However, I've been to strandings, and I've seen first hand dolphin drama. I've watched a white sided dolphin desperately push its dead baby ahead of it as the rest of the pod tried to migrate north. Members of the group came back to get the parent dolphin to give up, but it wouldn't give up. All of us on the boat could sense the desperation in this dolphin, the intense pain, the feeling of loss. We could all find some anthropomorphic explanation for what was happening. And we all cried inside. It was sad, break your heart sad. So I can imagine the pain of seeing 400 hundred dolphins flopping to death in the sand.

On the other hand, once they were dead (and this is Africa we're talking about), I can accept and understand why they would become food.

It's important to determine what caused this. If it was sonar from American warships, shame on us.

I've been out fishing in the shadow of US military sonar. I can't help but wonder how many years of my life were taken during that encounter.


(photo coursetsy of US Navy Marine Mammal Program:

Tom Friedman's Titanic

In today's column, Tom Friedman of the New York Times flippantly remarked about a comparison being made between President Bush and the Captain of the Titanic. He suggested it was an insult to the captain of the Titanic to make such a comparison:
Personally, I think that is a totally unfair charge — unfair to the captain of the Titanic.

After all, he knew where he was going. His lookouts just couldn't see the iceberg spar lurking beneath the surface in their path until it was too late. This administration, and its captain, have been staring the iceberg right in the face for years — it's called dependence on foreign crude oil. It has been totally visible, for miles and miles. And yet the Bush team has just kept sailing right into it, refusing to ask the American people to do anything hard to put America on a different energy course.

Tom really shouldn't make these kinds of statements because he's simply not qualified. If in fact Bush is guilty of neglegence and/or incompetence with respect to an energy policy (the thrust of Tom's column), then the captain of the Titanic is culpable in the tragedy that befel his fateful ship -- and even more so. I would suggest to Tom he read the transcripts of a senate hearing conducted in 1912, the conclusion of which laid blame squarely on the Titanic's captain, and the captain of the California: the first for the wreck and condition of his ship and crew, lack of training, improper staffing and more; the second for ignoring the Titanic's call for help.

If Tom understood Maritime Law, or the responsibiities of a captain aboard a ship, he'd know just how culpable the captain of the Titanic, Edward John Smith, was -- and how wrong the statement he made in his column is.

Is it enough in this world -- or on ship -- to simply know where you're going? Of course not. Do you want to be following somebody who has a destination but no real direction or safe and secure mode of transport? Isn't that a tangential definition of zealotry, or at the very least, naivity?

Isn't this one of the charges Bush critics level at him on a routine basis, that he is zealous and/or naive?

Maybe Bush is guilty of ignoring the iceberg. I really don't know. I don't know the actual condition of the ship we're travelling on. What I do know is Captain Edward Smith was fully culpable in the wreck of the Titanic and the tragedy that followed. And Tom, as a Celebrity Journalist, is guilty of hyperbole, or at the very least, oversimplification.


(Image courtesy of Titanic Nautical Society and Resource Center

Thursday, April 27, 2006


This is Genesis, Royal Carribean International's next entry into the gargantuan cruise ship sector. At 220,000 ton, she will be the largest by almost 50,000 ton.

Freedom of the Seas (currently the largest): 158,000 ton.

Queen Mary II: 150,000 ton

Queen Mary: 83,000 ton.

Titanic: 46,000 ton.

The old Titanic doesn't seem so Titanic anymore.

Genesis is on the ways now and is scheduled for delivery in 2009.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Fat People on Boats

People have gotten fatter and the Coast Guard is worried.

Since the 1960s, stability calculations (heel tests) on vessels have been based on an average weight of 160 pounds per person (140 pounds per person for vessels in protected waters), but this is all about to change.

Reports from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have prompted the USCG to re-evaluate its stability calculation process. What this means is that USCG Certified Sub-Chapter T vessels might be required to undergo new stability tests. Vessel operators who don't want to retest might avoid the procedure by accepting a new Certificate of Inspection with less passenger carrying capacity. The latter would be a simple calculation based on the CDC determination for average per person weight.

Obviously, in the passenger carrying trade, the more people you can carry, the more money you can make. So this development has some consequences, especially at a time when fuel and other costs are rising at an alarming rate,


Note on Fat Homer (courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox) Above:

Images or illustrations of a character in a comic book, video game, or animated television program or film used here are copyrighted and/or owned by either the publisher/producer and/or artist(s) producing the work in question. It is believed that the use of low-resolution versions of these images of character artwork for commentary on the character in question or the subject the character represents do not constitute copyright infrigement and instead qualifies as fair use under United States copyright law.

Any other uses of this image, here or elsewhere, may be copyright infringement.

Swelling the Canal

As reported by the Financial Times, Panama has announced a plan to double the capacity of its primary source of revenue, The Panama Canal. The five plus billion dollar project will allow larger cargo ships to transit. According to the Chief Executive of the Canal Authority, the new locks will be 1,400 feet long, 180 feet wide, with a depth of 50'. This will accomodate container vessels carrying up to 12,000 TEUs, (Total Equivalent Units) but will not, apparently, fit ships like the newly launched Freedom of the Seas, which has a beam of 184'. Nor, it seems, will it accomodate an even bigger cruise liner, Genesis, which is currently under development and will be so large as to possibly block out the sun and raise the level of the oceans two inches.


Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Buying an Older Boat

This group of six divers are returning from the wrecks of the schooners Zeeman and Alexander. Guy sitting on the starboard quarter picked up a nice porthole off the former. Big bronze porthole with octagonal backing plate and all through bolts.

I miss this little boat, but you can see she wasn't exactly up to the task. With six divers and 18 tanks and all related scuba gear, she rode low in the water. Scuppers were half under. A boat with wet exhaust can have some problems with this type of loading. The exhaust outlet gets swamped and engine back pressure increases. Obviously, boats with keel pipes and dry stacks don't have this potential problem.

The boat is a 1982 Sisu originally designed by Royal Lowell. She was a great boat, but built to standards typical of the era. In other words, she had a balsa cored hull, washboards and foredeck, and a glass-over-plywood main deck. Bulkheads were glassed on one side only. And every hull penetration was made through a hole drilled directly into the core. Today, builders know they have to reinforce the hole with solid glass before adding a through hull fitting or a deck fitting. They also know the deck and bilge need ventilation just like the roof of your house. Condesnation is a killer.

When buying a fiberglass boat older than twenty years, these are things you should look for. Find out what the deck is made of. If it's FRP covered plywood, see if it's covered on both sides? If not, and you have a boat with very little if any ventilation, you should suspect a punky deck and punky bulkheads. Look for signs of mold under the washboards.

Wire, of course, is only good for about twenty years. If the boat your inspecting has not been rewired, count on doing it, especially the wire that runs through the bilge or between cabinets and hull sides, anyplace where there's an accumulation of moisture from condensation and/or topside leaks.

Boats that spend a lot of time freighted with cargo or passengers, like the one above, might have similarly suspect areas of rot in the transom, particularly around scuppers, wet exhaust outlets, and structural supports for swim or dive platforms.

And don't forget to pull a through hull and see if indeed the core has been compromised.

It's funny, one of the first questions many boat buyers ask is about the engine. But look at it this way: Even though engines are typically the most expensive single components of a boat, it so happens they're the easiest thing to fix or replace. Pop it out. Rebuild it, put it back. Or take the old one out and pop in a new one. Depending on engine access and what has to be done to get to the thing, it's usually a lot harder and more expensive to rebuild the boat itself, i.e. hull, decks, and bulkheads. For example, the cost of re-wiring a luxury sailboat will typically exceed the cost of replacing its propulsion engine.

So the next time you think a good looking, clean boat of over twenty years is a good buy, think again. Take a closer look at the way it was built. If they cut corners at the outset, chances are you'll be paying plenty to put those corners back


Monday, April 24, 2006

Fat Belly Cod

This is my friend Dave. He caught this fat belly cod on my boat 13 years ago. The night before he broke up a fight between two giant fisherman at Gilbert's pub in Camden. He had just finished canoeing the Allagash solo and had a chest full of muscle. When the two knobs got into it, he intervened by jumping one from behind and giving him a big bear hug. The situation resolved. Dave was the hero. The next day, after two hours sleep, we went offshore and caught some fish. An old friend, a good friend. I owed him.

Btw, what is it about old friends? Time passes. People move on, drift apart.

One of the saddest things is losing touch with great friends.

- seabgb

New Boat Woes

Over the past twenty or so years most of what I've done -- and what I most enjoy doing-- is taking passengers for hire. Fishing, scuba diving, whalewatching, sightseeing. If I had my druthers, I'd have a 100' expedition vessel that slept a dozen or so people, and I'd run adventure expeditions to Labrador and back. Unfortunately, with family obligations, I just can't be away from home for extended periods of time. I need something smaller. A day boat.

Whalewatching and fishing are out. The whales have moved offshore to search for food and/or avoid the maze of fixed lobster gear inside, and new gov't regs on cod now limit anglers to two fish of 24" or better. You can't take people 50 miles offshore, reel up and then discard twenty small cod (they don't survive the trip up from depths of 40 or 50 fathoms), just to come home with two fish. It's just plain stupid. Think about it. The regs force anglers to discard and kill the small ones in order to get their two big fish. Read the Where is the Cod? report below to see how crazy this policy really is.

There's also the herring issue. While the feds have put an end to pair trawling, pressure remains severe on this ocean staple as a lobster bait. Lobstermen are now paying as much as $30 a bushel for bait, and whales, tuna, and other marine predators are getting skinnier every year. The pogies are gone. Maybe we're looking at the same fate for herring.

Unfortunately, it's not like much can be done about it. Lobstering is a multi million dollar industry. It supports tens of thousands of people. It's also highly managed and regulated, and, in many ways, a model for fish harvesting around the world. Efficient, productive and yet sustained. Why? Because it's not as much a fishery as it is an aquaculture. When you essentially throw back more than you take, you are essentially growing them in a semi-controlled environment.

This is great for the lobster fishery but probably not so great for biodiversity.

Lobstermen, and herring seiners, don't really like to talk about biodiversity. It makes them nervous. Fishermen are already under extreme pressure from whale protectionists and conservation activists. The last thing they want or need is for proponents of biodiversity getting into the act.

And yet, where does all this leave an operator like me? I'm not about to change careers and become a lobsterman. Even if I wanted to, there's a waiting list, I'd have to apprentice with someone for two years, then wait for an old timer to die. A time consuming and morbid way to find a new career.

I could rig up for scallops, or shrimp, but scalloping hit the skids last season, with catches averaging less then 40 pounds, locally, and shrimp prices practically at an all time low, around $.30 per pound. Hardly made sense to go.

Urchins used to be good, but I let my permit expire years ago and now I can't get it back. Besides, urchins are also few and far between. (Try this for a little piece of urchin fiction.)

If it sounds to you like I'm whining, you're right. I am whining. Just a little. I'm having a very hard time figuring out how to re-invest my money in a marine business without losing my shirt at the same time.

The way it looks now, I'm leaning toward a boat that will allow me to do some light salvage and mooring work in the spring, dive charters in the summer, and scallop dragging in the winter. Stay tuned. I'll let you know what happens.


Thursday, April 20, 2006

Is Bigger Better?

Freedom of the Seas, the largest cruise ship ever built. Recently launched and ready for her maiden voyage with over 4,300 passengers. All 18 decks of her.

At 158,000 tonne, she is without doubt one of the largest vessels on the seven seas.

I'm not sure how I feel about this thing. Engineering wonder. Marvel of mechanical achievement. Marketing masterpiece. Abomination.

Personally, I'd rather sail on a 12 passenger freighter than a floating city. But hey, that's me. My Dad would have loved this thing.


Getting Real in Real Estate and Boat Sales

The other day I looked at a used boat for sale in Connecticut, a triple screw high performance race boat listed for what I thought was a damn good price. When I contacted the broker, he told me the thing had come down by almost half. Originally priced new at around half a million dollars, it was set for sale at $300,000, dropped to $175,000 -- and could probably be had for $125,000. If that's not a good deal I don't know what is.

Unfortunately, the thing wasn't meant for me. With triple high performance gas engines at 750 HP apiece, a thirst for high octane fuel not available here on the water, and a hunger for nearly 100 gallons per hour (with gas prices soaring this summer to $4.00/gallon), buying the thing, even at such a great price, would have been equivalent to shooting myself in the head.

Though not really for me, I was interested in this boat because it was such a great deal. Having stuck my toe in the pond, I discovered the chilly reality was that the great majority of asking prices for used boats (and, to a certain extent, real estate) were, and still are, exaggerated and over-inflated. I bet if you did a survey of boats sold in the early nineties, you'd find the difference between asking price and selling price to be about seven to ten percent. If you did a survey of asking price to selling price today you'd find a difference in the neighborhood of twenty to thirty percent, maybe even more.

Am I suggesting the next offer you make on a boat should be half the asking price? Of course not. Worth is still measured by factors such as condition, location, new boat price, and public interest. But what people seem to be doing now is setting a price based solely on what it costs to build a new boat. Is that really just? Is it fair to try to sell a used Bruno Stillman that cost $65,000 in 1975 for $100,000 or more today? My answer is: No freakin' way!

It doesn't matter that the boat has a new engine and maybe a new set of fuel tanks. The only thing that would justify an exaggerated price for a used boat is a complete make-over, including decks, fuel tanks, wiring, hull and deck work, trim, miscellaneous machinery, etc. If it's anything short of a complete make-over you can figure someone is trying to cash in on inflation and today's high cost of building a new boat. Screw that. If you paid $50,000 for a new vessel in the eighties, don't expect to get more than that just because you kept it clean and waxed. These aren't classic cars we're talking about. There's no antique boat market, not really, not in the way you have collectible automobiles and motorcycles.

Brokers, of course, would say I'm all wet. An item is worth what someone will pay for it. They'll say an owner deserves to get what he can for his property. Maybe so. But when you have arbitrarily high values set on boats, and then you have uninformed people paying those exorbitantly high prices, it changes the whole market and brings out the opportunists.

You would think banks and surveyors would temper this trend with a good dose of reality. To a certain degree they do. But you also have lots of people buying boats with cash, and you have lots of bankers and surveyors who think way to much of their own abilities. In other words, they have their own inflated self worth to take into account.

My advice to anyone looking for a used boat or piece of real estate is to do your homework and don't rush into anything. No matter how much you may like something, if you think it's being offered by someone who just wants to ride the inflation wave, walk away. No matter how good a boat you think it is, or how attractive a piece of real estate might seem, there's always another one right around the corner.


Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Street Gang

A friend sent me this photo but I don't know who shot it and/or whom to credit. It appears here, temporarily, without permission. Don't know the road or county. Photo came with the tagline: Maine Rough Crew. If you have any info on this photo, please let me know.

(For the record, all photos on this site are either mine, courtesy of, or are here by permission of their owners.)

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Where is The Cod?

A recent News Scan article in the Scientific American has some disturbing implications for some fisheries practices. The April 2006 issue notes a study that strongly suggests our current cod management plan is dead wrong. What's startling is not so much the conclusions of the study but that the study substantiates what fishermen and hunters have known for a hundred years, namely, that taking the biggest fish (or biggest and strongest animals out of a herd) and leaving the smallest, is actually harmful to stocks.

The study was conducted by The Marine Sciences Research Center at Stony Brook University in New York. Researchers studied six generations of captive Atlantic Silversides. They culled the largest 90% from one group, the smallest 90% from another group, and a random 90% from a third group. What they learned was that killing off the largest fish reduced individual fish sizes by as much as 55%. More importantly, the stunted fish also had many deficiencies, including poor feeding habits, greater susceptibility to predation and less robust spawn.

The conclusion drawn is that negative genetic changes of a given population of animals can be sparked by imposed survival issues. If the largest become prey, it's better to be small. In effect, our cod management plan, as well as the natural propensity of hunter/gatherers to seek out the strongest and largest prey, is decreasing fish stocks and creating smaller individuals, just the opposite of what we're trying to accomplish.

Of course, not all management plans are designed to take the largest fish. e.g. cod has a minimum but no maximum legal limit, whereas the lobster fishery and the striper sport fishery have both. In light of the Stonybrook report, maybe this is why cod are obviously not rebounding and lobsters and stripers seem to be doing well.

I mention this in the wake of the article on cod traps in last month's issue of Working Waterfront. With news like the report out of Stonybrook, and with cod stocks as they are, seems somebody is jumping the gun on the idea of building cod traps. Shouldn't we first have a cod management plan in place that shows signs of actually working?


I docked my boat of 14 years and fueled it for the last time on Wednesday, April 4 2006. As if it didn't want me to leave, the docking itself was made nearly impossible by wind and tide and cold, stiff steering. I was by myself and trying to get into the fuel dock, a tight squeeze under the best of circumstances. It took me 15 minutes to get a line on. At the last second the line slipped off the cleat and I had to start all over. I had to rush back to the helm and pull out of the slot before I ended up on top of a little dragger tied to the north side of the pier. Like I said, the boat was being stubborn, or maybe I was in no real hurry to get it docked.

After fueling the boat for the new owner, who was due the previous night and scheduled to leave at daybreak, it started to snow. I listened to the weather radio for a minute - calling for 3 to 5 inches - then I walked the decks two or three times, checked the lines, and reluctantly stepped off the boat.

What surprised me was how sad I got on the drive home. I was the vessel's fourth owner. Originally, she was called the Miss Jill, then she was Squall, then Outlaw II, and finally under my ownership, Finback. Quantitatively, I wonder just how much real sweat and blood is infused into the wood of the thing. I remember one time I cut my hand pretty badly on a wire thread coming off the winch. The blood stained the cap rail. It stayed that way, red stained, for most of the season, until I sanded the spot and repainted it. You can't own a wooden boat without sweating and bleeding into it . . . literally, it leaves with a part of you in it.

Oh well, I still have a couple of cans of bikini blue paint and a few scars to remember her by.