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View from the Porch - Issue 129

Issue 129

By Peter Bass
Fisheries, fashionistas, and that rat-infested ghost ship I love writing for this issue because it rouses me out of the midwinter blues by advancing my thinking squarely into spring. Plus this issue coincides with the Maine Boatbuilders Show and the promise it brings for the season ahead. Another bonus is that it is only a few weeks until fishing season. Hardware and convenience stores in Maine will fill in the gaps in their fishing tackle displays as opening day approaches. In the Wilton, Maine, of my youth, when we lined the shore at the foot of Wilson Lake to cast into the open water at the beginning of the season, we usually were surrounded by snowbanks at the edge of the parking lot and the size of the open water was restricted by ice floes. I do not remember anyone catching anything, but we were always there. It was our existential moment as 8 year olds: we are here, it is opening day, we cast, therefore, we are fishermen.

Yes, we have no shrimp Several fisheries got bad news this last winter season, but the baddest news of all went to those who fish for Gulf of Maine shrimp, Pandalus borealis: the entire season was suspended. Maine shrimp historically have been a cyclical resource. Some, or even much, of that variability is due to environmental cycles and not fishing pressure. Specifically, the species is thought to be very sensitive to water temperature. A degree or two warmer water in the southern limit of their range (the Gulf of Maine) may all but eliminate the population for some time. I dream of having a local shrimp supplier for my mid-Atlantic porch, although it is all but impossible there to find a proper hot dog bun to put it in, anyway. The only one available is made by Pepperidge Farm. While it is sliced correctly on the vertical, the bun itself looks too much like the inferior horizontally sliced version, which just doesn’t fry up right. And then there’s the elver At this writing, the state and Maine’s Indian tribes were in a standoff over licenses for the upcoming elver season, according to articles in a variety of state news outlets. The state wants to manage the catch by limiting the number of licenses issued; the tribes prefer to manage it by limiting the amount of elvers landed, while still giving any tribal fisherman a shot at the fishery. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission requires the state to limit licenses to 744, out of which 200 go to the tribes. The tribes, however, issued 575 licenses last year, and have said they do not plan to begin limiting them this year. It’s a hot potato because elvers (Anguilla rostrata) have sold for as much as $2,000 a pound in recent years. From the outsider’s perspective, a system that rewards some people with obscenely high incomes and prevents others from participating at all seems out of kilter. Plus, the elver is at the bottom of a food chain that impacts many other fisheries. Perhaps Maine should join every other state save one on the eastern seaboard and outlaw the fishery entirely. Let the slimy little buggers go to sea and be free. What would PETA do? Las Mainas As a long-time critic of Maine’s bizarre approach to casino gambling, I read with some interest in the Ellsworth American about the giveaway price of a gaming license. While some states get $50 million to $400 million for such a license, Maine’s informed electorate never looked at the fine print behind the referenda when we voted to allow casinos and harness racing in Oxford. So not only do we have casinos tied to harness racing, we received only a couple hundred thousand dollars for the licenses. Maine investors and a New York City-based hedge fund built a $20 million project in Oxford and then flipped it for $160 million to Churchill Downs of Kentucky, implying a license “value” of $140 million. One thing I hope we have learned is that a citizen referendum is usually a pretty poor way to make policy. The referenda were written by the interests who stood to benefit, and who counted on a low level of sophistication in the voting booth. I am not usually this crabby, the topic just brings it out in me. Casino gambling is a blight on the Maine brand. Harness racing is a loose confederacy of small businesses which now has a perpetual annuity thanks to the voters. I don’t begrudge the harness racing business their windfall, but it seems a convoluted way to justify casinos. Fishing fashionistas There was a fun column in the Ellsworth American about a woman lobsterman who is tired of wearing commercial foul weather gear cut to fit a man. We aren’t talking fashion necessarily; baggy foulies can catch on any number of things, which is not a great feature when you are moving around on a boat. Genevieve Kurilec McDonald has fished for nine years on her own boat and others and has modified her gear to work better. She started a Facebook page called Chix Who Fish to gather information about how to improve commercial gear for women and has had over 200 responses from all over North America. Her original idea was to provide the information to a producer like Grundens. However, she is now exploring starting a Maine-based enterprise to design and produce the product herself. On the porch we think that it is a great idea and would like to offer ourselves as consultants. We don’t know much about anything, but have opinions on everything, including foul weather gear and women. Give us a call. Of rats and men There were many news stories this last January about an unmanned former Russian cruise ship, the Lyubov Orlava. The ghost ship was said to be drifting toward Ireland with hordes of cannibal rats aboard, although neither the location of the ship nor the number of rats were substantiated by actual observations. The story dates back two years to when the ship was impounded in Newfoundland in a dispute over debts. The crew deserted, rats moved in, and the Orlava sat vacant. The ship was being towed to a scrap yard in the Dominican Republic when the tow cable parted. The ship was later retrieved by the Canadians, towed clear of shipping lanes, and released to drift across the Atlantic toward Ireland.

Why do we care about this on the porch? My son, Sam, the editor of Skiing magazine, once spent a Halloween aboard the Orlova in Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina. He was en route to the Antarctic Peninsula as a journalist to do some ski-mountaineering for a week, but the ship could not leave Ushuaia due to mechanical problems and the expedition was canceled. He did, however, accomplish the trip a year later on a different ship. It was the trip of a lifetime and you can see and hear his narrated account at, or search for: Skinet White Rose Full Story. The British press had a field day waiting for the ghost ship, but the latest consensus was that the Orlova and her rodent crew slipped beneath the waves in one of this year’s brutal early January gales. By the way, there may be a few Sugarloaf stickers stuck here and there on scientific outposts in Antarctica, probably on the outhouses. Over the bar I would like to note a couple of sailors who left port for the last time. The first, Arthur Fournier, was a legendary tugboat operator and character on the Portland, Maine, waterfront. Colorful, profane, and very competitive, Fournier built a towing business first in Massachusetts, then Portland. He was famous for showing off bullet wounds in his chest, received when he had a shootout with an armed robber at his Boston office. If you can find it still online, please read the obituary in the Portland Press Herald by Edward Murphy from November 17, 2013. The second sailor I want to remember was a friend and character at the Hinckley Company in the 1970s, Sam Johnson. He died at age 84 in late 2013. A lifelong recreational and competitive sailor, he was also an accomplished draftsman who lent his touch to many custom projects on Hinckley boats of the time. He was a great storyteller and shipmate; we appeared together in a Yachting magazine ad sailing a Hinckley 49, although we were identifiable only to ourselves. He was a big personality in all respects, and a great friend for 40 years. Bon voyage, Sam. Hinckley Yachts, the book Hinckley Yachts: An American Icon, by Nick Voulgaris, has just been published by Rizzoli. A profile of the company through 80 years, it includes a foreword by David Rockefeller, and contributions by Charles Townsend and Martha Stewart, Hinckley owners all. I look forward to my copy. I am just disappointed that the author of View from the Porch was not called upon to add a section with his fellow distinguished yachtsmen and women. I am sure it was just an oversight. Pot farmers headed for the big house Out in the unorganized territories of Maine, Township 37 to be more precise, we have a real life Breaking Bad story that has ended with felony convictions for all involved. The irony is that two of the men involved, who will spend at least 10 years in prison, were convicted for growing and distributing marijuana in the same month that the public retail distribution of the substance became legal in Colorado. In all likelihood, by the time these two men are released, it will no longer be illegal to do what they were doing in any state, although it will be heavily taxed and controlled. The case, which has been going on for several years, also involves forfeiture of a lot of property. It is hard to make Cheech & Chong jokes when you realize how much of these men’s lives will be lost. One person involved took his own life in 2011, just before testifying before a federal grand jury. The View from the Box Boatbuilder Steve White of Brooklin Boat Yard has a new floating residence at a marina in Belfast. It is not a boat, though. Instead it’s a floating steel cottage made from re-purposed shipping containers. An article in the Working Waterfront detailed the project, which had a number of collaborators, including SnapSpace Solutions of Brewer, which specializes in converting containers into office and residential spaces. Similar floating homes have been tried in other locales, although they often run afoul of local ordinances since they are not technically “boats.” A company I am associated with wanted to have a yacht brokerage office on a float in a marina slip, but discovered they couldn’t do it unless the space could truly be classified as a boat, with propulsion, lights, and safety equipment. Evidently, you can’t park just anything in a marina in Charleston, South Carolina. Here in my winter quarters, there is a marina with boats that have been on the bottom since a hurricane several years ago. All the lines lead upward to the dock. I guess that’s what sailors mean by a hurricane hole. I have read a remarkable statistic about the boatbuilding business in Maine. It seems that of the $1 billion worth of boats built in the U.S. annually, nearly two thirds ($600 million) are built in Maine. Just think, we can do that without the support of a casino. The boatbuilding business truly represents the Maine brand and you can be a part of it. As you stroll the aisles of the Maine Boatbuilders Show in Portland (March 14-16, 2014), keep that checkbook handy, and buy a boat. Stay away from Oxford And the painted ladies Decks of cards and one armed bandits Will send you to straight to Hades. Spend your money wisely But be sure to spend some On skiffs and boats and yachts from Maine That’s your rule of thumb. And when the Porch is a-beam And we’re watching closely A boat from Maine will get a pass For dangling fenders, mostly. We have our standards to uphold And our purpose steady Don’t expect a summer’s pass Feet up, binoculars at the ready.

Contributing Editor Peter Bass was a serial boat owner prior to his current impecunious period, and requests that his readers pick up the slack by buying Maine built boats of ever-increasing size forever. To submit your comments... newsy tidbits, photos, illustrations, clippings, rants, and raves for possible use in this column, use the form below. Or mail to “View From the Porch,” P.O. Box 566, Rockland, ME 04841 or fax to 207-593-0026. Items may be edited for length and clarity; materials become the property of Maine Boats, Homes & Harbors, Inc.

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