LAMOINE — Not since Spencer Tracy, Lionel Barrymore and a star-studded cast lit up the silver screen in “Captains Courageous” has commercial fishing been at the center of so much popular entertainment.
The 1937 film won four Oscars, including Best Picture and a Best Actor for Tracy.
Flash forward 75 years. Reality TV fans are glued to their screens watching shows such as “Deadliest Catch,” a Discovery Channel show that turned a bunch of unshaven Bering Sea crab fishermen into media darlings, and “Lobstermen Wars,” a chronicle of tension and competition in the 2007 Georges Bank lobster fishery, and “Wicked Tuna.”
Now starting its fourth season on the National Geographic channel, “Wicked Tuna” tells the tale of what the show’s website describes as “a special breed of fishermen” from Gloucester, Mass., in the rod and reel fishery for bluefin tuna where “the competition is brutal.”
The current season, according to a press release from the show’s producers, will “push Gloucester’s captains to the brink in the most thrilling season yet.”
Far from the brink last Wednesday, one of the show’s star captains, Dave Carraro, was at the SW Boatworks shop in Lamoine looking remarkably relaxed while overseeing the construction of his new tuna fishing boat, a Calvin Beal-designed 44-footer that, like his boat featured in the TV series, will be named Tuna.com.
Originally from New Jersey, Carraro said “I’ve been a fisherman my whole life.” He started out fishing with his father in local ponds, moved on to hanging out around the Jersey shore fishing docks and, more than 30 years ago, got his first job as mate on a charter boat. For the past 16 years, he has lived in Gloucester and fished for tuna.
“I moved up here to pursue the bluefins,” Carraro said.
It has been a successful pursuit. According to his website, between 2011 and 2013 Carraro and his charter customers have landed 136 giant bluefin tuna fishing in the Gulf of Maine, around Jeffreys Ledge, Stellwagen Bank and as far offshore as Georges Bank, “if we have to.” He also takes charter parties out to fish for cod.
Carraro’s charter book is filled for the next two years — he does about 100 fishing charters a year — mostly with repeat customers.
“It’s been the same people for 20 years,” Carraro said.
This year, they’re in for a surprise.
For the past several years, Carraro has fished aboard Duffy 38 Tuna.com. This spring, he will move his operations to a new Calvin Beal 44 that will have the same name, but is a much larger boat.
The new boat is 44 feet long and has a beam of 17 feet 6 inches — 16 feet 2 inches at the transom — and will weigh close to 35,000 pounds ready to go. The Duffy, now sold, was 38 feet 6 inches long — 35 feet on the waterline — with a beam of 14 feet and a displacement closer to 28,000 pounds — all big differences at sea.
“I’m getting older,” Carraro said last week. “I like to stay out on a boat that sits well on the drift or at anchor. Lateral stability is very important, and the Duffy rolled.”
Looking for a boat with an easier motion, Carraro said, “everybody pointed at a Calvin 44, and everybody said if you’re going to get it finished, see Stewart,” referring to Stewart Workman, owner of SW Boatworks. “You’re going to get a good boat and get what you want.”
Carraro said he “wanted a Downeast boat, nothing else,” and he is getting exactly what he wanted.
The new Tuna.com is a classic, skeg-built Downeast design with a solid fiberglass hull and a cored top that helps keep the weight low in the boat. SWB moved the pilothouse 20 inches forward from its standard location to provide “a massive cockpit, wide and deep,” Carraro said with a fish door in the transom, an in-deck live well and a custom-designed fish hold that is about 11 feet 6 inches long, 38 inches wide and 4 feet deep.
“I made it narrow so the fish,” the bluefin tuna he anticipates catching, “won’t slosh around.”
With a boat price of $10 per pound, or more, for high quality tuna that will be exported to Japan, even “small” tuna well under the 1,000-pound “giant” category are well worth taking care of.
The new Tuna.com is powered by a 1,000-horsepower C18 Caterpillar diesel turning a four-blade, 32-inch-by-34-inch propeller through a 2:1 ZF reverse reduction gear. Fully loaded, Workman said, the boat should cruise at about 21 knots and have a top speed of 26-28 knots, but maybe not with Carraro at the throttle at one of the boat’s three helm stations.
“I’m a put it in gear and chug along at 10 knots guy,” he said.
At whatever speed, the new boat will have enough fuel — 800 gallons in dual tanks — to go far offshore in the hunt for big fish and enough accommodations in the spacious pilothouse and forward cabin — including a full galley and head with shower— for a fishing party to spend the night offshore, if required. A 6 kW Northern Lights generator will supply needed AC power.
Tuna.com is the 14th Calvin Beal 44 hull SW Boatworks has built and the third the company will have finished off. Eleven hulls have gone to other builders for finish work and SWB has orders for 11 more of the hulls.
Workman anticipates that the new 44-footer will be ready for a launching on Mount Desert Island sometime early this spring. Carraro plans to run the boat to Gloucester after SWB and Billings Diesel & Marine, which supplied the engine, complete sea trials. Before that happens, an extensive package of Simrad marine electronics and a full suite of fishing gear will be installed.