Come rain and high water

Some people go to the opera. In south Bristol, Maine, people walk to a John’s Bay boat launch.

John’s Bay Boat Company owner Peter Kass has been building his traditional frame plank lobster boats for almost 40 years from a waterfront property in South Bristol, Maine. He started his career as a road boatbuilder at the Gamage shipyard, but when Gamage started building steel boats he went to Padebco and then opened his own store in 1983. Kass designs and builds boats. pleasure and work boats, but its wooden boats are admired for their easy movement, a characteristic prized by all lobster fishermen who swear by their boats.

Despite torrential rains, more than a hundred people turned up to watch the launch of John’s Bay Boat Company’s latest design. Some people drove for hours.

When Kass prepares to launch one of his new boats, other John’s Bay Boat owners, curious people, friends and family of the last-built beneficiary converge on the company’s woodland property after Poorhouse Cove Road. Sometimes up to 35 current owners will drive for hours as far as Massachusetts and the Downeast just to watch Kass’s latest masterpiece slide down the roads.

The launch is an opportunity to discover the latest construction, but it is also an opportunity to share the passion for Kass boats with other owners. “Peter calls all owners a week in advance,” said Scott Dugas of Yarmouth, Maine, who owns a 42-footer. “We come here because we are all friends.

Last October, when Kass launched Twilight II, what he believes to be his 75th boat – a 46-foot red firefighter for Douglas Blasius, a 29-year-old fisherman from Friendship, Maine – the weather has discouraged attendance, but not by much. Even though it was raining cats and dogs, more than 100 people, young and old, including babies and octogenarians, all scissors and some carrying umbrellas, showed up early for the 8:30 am high tide launch. . Trucks and cars lined the narrow, half-mile dirt road to Thompson’s Icehouse on Route 129. “It’s got a lot of people here,” said a lobster boat. Another participant explained the draw. “People love Douglas,” he said. “That’s why they’re here. They respect him. He shipped, lived small, and saved his money.

Inside the bay, where until recently Twilight II had filled the shed a few inches from the doors, the tables were covered with donuts and coffee, but also Kahlua, Prosecco, Bloody Mary, bourbon, rum, champagne and all kinds of other things. The fruit salad was practically intact.

Before Kass sends Twilight II in its aquatic domain, the crowd took shelter from the rain inside the bay, under the trees and under the rounded bow of the boat. As the rain hit the yard with particular intensity, a first-time guest said he was surprised the launch had not been canceled. “Boats are made to get wet,” said one man. A lobster fisherman asked how long the new boat was. “Same length as mine,” said another without lack of pride.

Kass boats keep their value. Bernadette, a 32-footer launched in 2005, recently sold for around $ 300,000. There is a zeal for the ships of Kass. Many John’s Bay Boat Company owners are on their second or third boat. They’ll go from a 32ft to a 36, ​​and a 40, 42, 46, or 47. Kass says you can get a bigger boat, but he should expand his hangar.

Blasius ordered his boat in the fall of 2019 and it has practically maximized its width. “It is 16 feet wide,” he said. “There wasn’t much room left for the hull on the side of the boat store.” Kass says he could build them wider, but he goes against the current trend for lobster boats to get super large. He thinks that too much beam for a given length forces the bottom of the hull to flatten too much.

With Twilight II, Blasius joined the club of double owners of boats built by Kass. He started setting up lobster traps with his brother when he was 12 years old. A graduate of Maine Maritime, he worked for five years as an engineer on tankers, bought a 23-year-old, 40-foot John’s Bay boat in 2017 and loved it. so much so that he ordered the 46 foot. “The original dusk was really comfortable for its size, ”said Blasius. “I’m going 20 to 40 miles offshore, and I knew a bigger one would be even more comfortable in the weather.”

Blasius’ new boat has two side-by-side helms, one on the outside to starboard for pulling the pots and one on the inside to stay out of the weather while cruising to and from the fishing grounds. “When I arrive, I put on my oil equipment and go outside while I haul my traps,” Blasius said. “At the end of the day it’s a very comfortable ride home. “

Each Kass boat is unique. The client tells Kass what’s on his mind and Kass then carves a half-shell and draws the lines out of it. “I can’t draw anything,” Kass said. “I’m still a bit of the old world.”

Hannah Shute's photo on a dating app had a Peter Kass boat in the background, which caught the attention of Douglas Blasius.

Hannah Shute’s photo on a dating app had a Peter Kass boat in the background, which caught the attention of Douglas Blasius.

Blasius had Twilight II built with an open transom and fitted with a Caterpillar 800 hp engine for a top speed of almost 22 knots. But it sails at 1,800 rpm, which gives it 16 knots to move back and forth from its 800 traps, half of which it can pull in a day with its two stern men.

There is one thing the new boat does not have: a head. Most lobster boats see it as an unnecessary luxury. They believe that a 5 gallon bucket is less inconvenient and more reliable. “We only go lobster fishing for the day, not to spend the night,” Blasius said of the lack of a head. His girlfriend, Hannah Shute, tried to persuade Blasius to install one, but he refused.

Head or not, at launch, all of John’s Bay Boat owners gathered in front of the new build for a group photo with Kass, Shute smashed a bottle of champagne against the bow of the boat, and Kass sent Twilight II on the tracks and in the water. Blasius docked his new boat at the dock, took Kass and a bunch of people on board for a short maiden ride on the water, and returned to take a second bunch of people for another ride.

Blasius was enthusiastic about the boat, Kass and his crew. “It’s one hundred percent to my liking,” he said of Twilight II. “I chose a Peter Kass because they make a beautiful boat, they put their heart into it and they are well built. They are doing a good job. They are almost like family.

Kass is used to bringing people together for launches, but said it never occurred to him that one of his boats could play a role in a love match, which it did with Blasius and Shute.

A year before the launch, Blasius spotted Shute on a dating site where his profile picture showed a John’s Bay boat in the background. When asked if the boat in Shute’s profile photo had inspired him to pursue Shute, Blasius, who isn’t a big talker, was held back. He paused, and then, with Mainer’s sense of classic understatement, said, “I thought it was promising.”

This article originally appeared in the January 2022 issue.

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