Before the advent of the gasoline engine, lobsterboats were powered by oar or sail. These workboats owed their graceful lines, stability, and speed to generations of other Maine fishing vessels that plied the formidable Gulf of Maine before them.
Cheap to build or buy because of its simple lines, the Dory, a high-sided, flat-bottomed, sharp-bowed rowboat, was used in many New England fisheries by late 18th century.
The Peapod was more flexible. Named for its double-ended and round-sided shape which resembled the garden vegetable, it was usually about 15 feet long, and it could carry more than a dory. Its double-ended design enabled a lobsterman to row the peapod from either direction, usually standing up and facing forward. The peapod was thought to have originated on Penobscot Bay about 1870 or even earlier.
The Hampton boat was an open fishing boat that originated in Hampton, NH. It also was double-ended, but it had a keel and was equipped with 2 spiritsail-rigged masts. Easy to maneuver, spiritsails are fore-and-aft sails with a large surface area that are raised and lowered by means of a diagonal staff called a sprit.
The Reach boat originated from either Eggemoggin or Moosabec Reach in Maine. A cross between a Peapod and a Hampton boat, it was about 14 feet long with an open hull, and was "sharp in the bow, round- bilged, keeled, square sails well adapted for rowing or sailing." Both Hampton boats and Reach boats had a sharp bow that flattened toward the stern which made them adaptable for engine power.
Although familiar as a pleasure craft today, this vessel began its career as a lobster boat. It was also known as a Muscongus Bay sloop or lobster sloop because it was commonly used for lobstering in mid-coast Maine. One man could manage its single-masted rig and haul traps unassisted, yet the boat could carry sizeable loads. With a small forward cabin outfitted with bunks and a stove, and an open cockpit aft, it made fishing in cold weather much more pleasurable. In the 1880's these sloops ranged from 16-20 feet long but over time they became twice that long.
The advent of the gasoline engine served as the springboard for the development of the modern lobster boat, according to lobstering historian Richard Lunt. By the early 1900s, gas-powered lobsterboats gradually replaced many of the sailboats and rowboats. Boats powered by engine extended the fishing range and season of their owners since they were not at the mercy of the winds or rough weather. They allowed the lobsterman to venture farther from shore year-round. Not only did the addition of the engine improve travel, its power could be diverted to the pot hauler to haul up lobster traps. The first vessels to adopt engines were the Hampton boats and the Reach boats. Dories, peapods, and Friendship sloops were not as easily converted. After World War I, cheap gasoline engines gradually replaced sail power.
- Round bottom, double-wedge hull
- A single inboard gas or diesel engine
- A small forward cabin and windshield shelter for the helmsman
- Open, decked cockpit aft
- Length varies from 20-40 feet
- Traditionally built of wood (cedar planking over oak frames), began to be replaced by fiberglass hulls by the early 1960s
- Electronic equipment, such as radar, radio, and depth sounder
Much of this information about lobster boats was derived from Lobstering and the Maine Coast by Kenneth R. Martin and Nathan Lipfert, Maine Maritime Museum, Bath, ME, 1985
Virginia Thorndike has gathered a rich collection of opinion and commentary in Maine Lobsterboats (Down East Books; 168pp; $15.95). Subtitled Builders and Lobstermen Speak of Their Craft, the book consists of 29 interviews with those men (and the occasional woman) who have built, worked in and cared for these uniquely graceful and serviceable craft. Read the rest of the review online.