The Great Longliner Debate
“A boat is like a house,” says Joe Carpenter, a 12
year veteran of the boatbuilding trade.” It’s impossible to deign and
build one model that will suit everyone.
In those few words, Joe may well have summed up the
controversy that surrounds fishing vessels design. For years, we at
Decks Awash have listened, while the fishermen praised or damned the
boats they used. Some of the critical comments on Newfoundland vessels
were recorded and printed, and a very recent criticism prompted Gerry
George, the newly appointed head of the Fisheries Loan Board, to ask
that we take a look at the other side of the question. After several
chats with Gerry, he took a day on the road with Decks Awash to look at
three boatyards, and the vessels they build.
Let’s briefly review the list of supposed faults. The
most prominent is the famous roll, a function of the round bottom and
comparatively narrow beam found on many Newfoundland designs. The boats
also have a reputation for being over lively in a following sea, with
the high, square transom being implicated as the cause. In addition, the
boats’ finish has been said to be rough and there’s no denying that they
are expensive boats.
Now let’s take a look at that famous roll. The
traditional Newfoundland longliners are indirect descendants of the
banking schooners which had a comparatively narrow beam, and a roundish
bottom. Lacking the steadying influence of sails, the longliners do tend
to roll with a quick motion, a characteristic that they are unstable,
especially when compared to the flatter bottom Cape Islander designs.
However, Gerry and others in the trade feel that this is a
misrepresentation of stability and point out that to their knowledge, no
Newfoundland longliner has ever been capsized, a claim that certainly
can’t be made for the Cape Islander.
Few would deny that the average Newfoundland boat
will roll more in any given sea than a comparably sized Cape Islander
design. To the average person, that might indicate that the Cape
Islander is more stable, but a naval architect might not agree. The term
stability refers not to the ability of a vessel to resist a roll, but
rather to the ship’s ultimate ability to recover from a roll. That
rolling might make the boat a more difficult platform to work from, but
some experts feel that the roll is, in itself important for safety when
big seas are encountered. The stiffer vessel’s a bigger danger of her
breaking up in the sea.
There are some basic solutions to the rolling
problem. One, which the Cape Islander illustrates, is to go flatter on
the bottom. Another feature that cuts rolling is also present in the
Cape Islander.. to go wider in the beam. The third is to build the
vessel deeper in the Keel, which tends to dampen the roll.
But boat design, like life, is a series of
trade-offs. A flat bottom may resist roll too much and twist the hull.
Too much beam makes for an inefficient hull form, one that pushes too
much water and hence is slow and expensive to run. And a deep keel means
more drag in the water, and other problems come lifeout time…special
gear and cradles, and so forth. So, the fishermen, like the motorist
looking for a new car, compares the models available, pays his money and
takes his choice.
The new boats Decks Awash looked at were in Trinity,
Port Union, and Clarenville to show an interesting evolution in designs.
In the 45 and 55 footers, the pork barrel bottom is replaced by a much
more shapely hull form, and the beam is swelled considerably from
earlier models, which one person claims were designed “more for their
beach keeping qualities than for their sea keeping abilities.” In the
days before marine liftout facilities dotted the coast, boats had to be
dragged up beaches when they came out of the water, and tough round
bottom were a real asset. Both Clarenville Shipyards and Carpenters Port
Union yard have their own designs available to fishermen who are looking
for a new vessel in the 40-45 foot class.
Obviously, choices are becoming increasingly complex
these days, as more and more designs become available. The Clarenville
yard, for example, has a new 45 footer available. Designed by the yard,
the vessel impresses one immediately as being beamier than proceeding
models, a fact which should mean well for both its carrying capacity and
seakeeping abilities. A nearly finished example of this type of boat,
the Miss White Bay, was in the water and is a very attractive boat,
inside and out. She fits nicely at the top range of the increasingly
popular 36 to 45 foot class of vessel, and the hull shows considerable
departure from the traditional half barrel shape found earlier in boats
of her size.
Clarenville is building other boats, too, these days.
Several of the new 55 footers at various stages of completion offered
Decks Awash an opportunity to see just how a Newfoundland boat is put
together. If there was one word to describe the construction of these
boats, solid would be the best.
If you glance at the accompanying photo, you’ll note
that the vessel is being double planked. The ribs are massive blocks of
sawn timber, and there are plenty of heavy bolts in evidence. This means
a vessel that should be tough as nails, able to the force of the sea
well, and capable with the bows sheathed in greenheart, of operating in
ice during the early season. The Cape Islander, in contrast, has stern
bent ribs which lack the strength of the solid timber. They are usually
single planked, and generally lighter in build. Cost comparison between
the two types are difficult to make, but if taken on a new boat basis,
the costs seem about equal for both.
One last point when considering the Cape Islander vs.
the Newfoundland longliner question; neither boat really exists today.
The longliner is now more properly called a multi-purpose fishing
vessel, while the evolution of the Cape Islander makes it hard to
recognize some boats built today as being descendants of the original
Some of the problems encountered by the Newfoundland
designs are the result of misuse of the vessel, rather than the fault of
the design. No matter how cleverly conceived and well built a vessel is,
she’ll behave poorly if used for radically different fisheries than
those intended. A lot of problems came up when traditional boats used
for longlining were covered to take trawling gear, as the extra weight a
loft affected handling adversely. Similarly, a boat built to take an
80,000 pound payload in prefect safety can become a deathtrap if the
skipper piles 110,000 pounds of fish aboard and then encounters a bad
The Fisheries Loan Board is actively encouraging
fishermen who would like to have boats drawn in their own designs to
work with the Loan Board in getting their ideas translated into working
fishing vessels. However, that process is far from simple, and the day
of the backyard builder is just about over. With large vessels now
running in the $300,000 to $500,000 range, proper shipyards are needed
to do a competent job.
Any fishing vessel built today must meet
international stability criteria, and the Newfoundland longliner is no
exception. Construction methods are tightly controlled, and the Loan
Board is anxious in Gerry George’s words, “to get out of the building
and design end.” He sees the Board being increasingly active as a source
of financial assistance and technical advice.
The Newfoundland boatbulding industry has its
problems, too, and most of them are too complex to go into it in this
article. With labor scarce and wages rising, many yards are caught in an
economic bind and face stiff competition for available contracts. If a
yard shuts down in a slack period, the highly qualified wood-workers may
well leave to seek jobs in the construction industry, and the yard, when
it gets enough business to gear up again, must start retraining new
workers, Fluctuating federal bounty policies give the whole industry an
on-again, off again aspect which makes rational planning of vessel
production next to impossible.
This article isn’t intended to be a defense of the
Newfoundland longliner, or the last word on vessel design. However, we
do hope that it provides a glimpse of the other side of what is an
ongoing controcersy, one to which there probably are no firm and final
answers. The question “which vessel is better for me” is one the
individual owner has to answer, based on his own style and type of
fishing, his performance in gear and accommodation and a host of other
We were said earlier, you pays your money and you
takes your choice.
In our next issue we’ll look at another aspect of
boatbuilding in Newfoundland.
Vol. 7, No. 3 June 1978