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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

No. 65 "I've got two lists ...," My brother Mike's fishing boats

My brother Mike was a jack of all trades. In the villages of Eastern Europe he might have been called a "fixer," because he could fix just about anything. Home appliances, large and small engines, electronic equipment, and anything having to do with an automobile were all just putty in his hands. He could  fix them if they were broke, change them to make them better and more useful, and even build most of them from scratch if the need arose, or if it somehow struck his fancy. Especially, as a carpenter he could envision something in his mind and then use a hammer, saw, plane and rule to bring it to life right in front of his and your eyes.
My brother, Mike, jumping aboard the "Seven Brothers" at our family dock

Nowhere were his special talents more in evidence than in building boats. His first one was a small speed boat that he built as a teenager. Later on he focused on open fishing boats that he used as a commercial fisherman to supplement his income. Over the years he built boats of various styles and sizes, ultimately selling each of them for a handsome profit, and then using the money to buy materials to use in building a bigger and better model.

One of his last boats, and the one that was the culmination of his aspirations both as a boat builder and a fisherman, was called the "Seven Brothers." It was a forty-two foot long trawler that was state-of-the-art when it came to the latest mechanical and electronic fishing gear. He chose the name in honor of his six male siblings, and each of us considered it a great tribute to be represented on the stern of one of the handsomest trawlers ever to work the shores of Cape Lookout and Shackleford Banks.

Mike built his boats in his own back yard. He had a large barn-shaped shed where he kept his tools and equipment. But the boats were set up under the open sky where he spent his Saturdays and most evenings after getting home from his work as a welder. The process moved steadily along from the heavy wooden skeg, to the intricate framing, and to planking the deck, sides and bottom with small strips of juniper. Eventually, after the vessel had taken its final shape, Mike would install the engine, the shaft and the propeller that would turn his wooden handiwork into a functioning fishing boat. Then, just before a launching the new boat in the Sound, he would paint it a brilliant white, except for the bright red anti-fouling “copper” paint that covered the bottom. The bottom paint was sometimes separated by a thin trim line, usually blue, that offset the primary colors with a beautiful patriotic theme.

The final, and most personal, part of the building process involved imprinting a name on the freshly painted stern. Early on Mike would hire Samuel Davis, a local artist, to paint "Lisa-Deena," the names of his two daughters, on his boats. Subsequent editions were called the Lisa-Deena II, III & IV. These were open boats, less than twenty-five feet long, with gas engines that had been salvaged from wrecked automobiles. Later on he built his first trawler, a thirty-five foot flare-bowed vessel called the "Captain Charlie." It was named for our father, who after his own retirement loved to pass his time "piddling," as he called it, in helping Mike with his latest projects.

Even with his trawler in the water, he determined that he still needed a smaller boat for some of his recreational and fishing needs, and so he built another open boat in the style of the original “Lisa-Deena”s. This one was hastily built for function more than form. By then my first son, Joel Jr., was old enough to want to spend his days with his uncle as he worked away at getting the boat ready in time for crab-potting in the Spring. As ever, Mike was patient and understanding with his nephew, even taking the time to teach him how to use a hammer. Eventually Joel Jr would run up to the work area and repeatedly beg his uncle for a "knock knock," as he had grown to call his new found toy. This scene was repeated so often, that when Mike finally got the new boat ready for launch, he named it the “Knock Knock.”
The "Seven Brothers" at Clayton Fulcher Seafood Dock

The Seven Brothers, Mike’s last true fishing boat, was so big that it took almost a year for him to finish. Because he was so successful as a fisherman, and since he was so easy, even enjoyable to work with, there was a long line of hopefuls wanting to be part of his fishing crew. Most often he would take our father along, but by that time Daddy due to his advanced age was more a passenger and observer than a true helper in the strenuous labor of handling a net and rigging. Depending the time of year, and our situation, Mike would call on Tommy, Bill or even me to go with him. More than once I was able to pay for a Christmas order or some other special purchase with money I made working on Mike's boat.

When Mike started building the "Seven Brothers" and it became obvious that this was going to be a full-fledged trawler and would need a team of several men to handle the work load once it was put into service, several neighbors approached Mike about becoming a part of that crew once the boat was ready. Not all of them however, were of the type that Mike or any other trawler captain might have wanted as a partner in their labors. So it was that he came up with an explanation that he gave to one of the applicants whom he felt did not measure up the standards he had for his crewmen.

The "Seven Brothers" moored at the family dock at Hancock Landing
When Mike was asked point blank if there were any openings still available for a place among those who would be sink-netting on the Seven Brothers later that Fall, my brother offered a response that has been part of the family's lore ever since.

"I've got two lists of potential crewmen I am keeping ," he explained to his friend, "and you can rest assured that you are on both of those lists." Seemingly satisfied to know that he was in the running, the man began to walk away, before suddenly turning back towards Mike and asking, "what kind of lists do you mean?"

"Well," my brother responded, "the first is a list of those that I might be asking to go with me. You need to know that you are on that list, but that you are the very bottom for the moment. The other is a list of all of those that I’m thinking are not gonna go with me. You are on that list too, and you are at the very top!"

"Great," the man responded as he turned and continued on his way. "I'm just glad to know that I'm in there somewhere."

1 comment:

  1. I had my surprise 16th birthday party aboard the Seven Brothers. It was a beautiful evening cruise with all my friends. We boarded at Kenny's fish house. My father even built two catamarans. One was wood and much too heavy to be easy to sail, so he upgraded to fiberglass for the second and we had a lot of fun sailing with him too. He really could build anything. All you had to do was find a picture in a magazine and he'd build it for you! I miss him so very much. Thanks for the great story. I have a beautiful picture of him in the "captain's chair" of the Seven Brothers that I think you'd like. I'll scan you a copy.