Bob Stacey was known as a hard-working fisherman.
With little interest in anything else except hunting, the young fishing skipper from St. Lawrence, on the southern tip of Newfoundland’s Burin Peninsula, worked tirelessly in his chosen profession. If he wasn’t at sea, he was working on his boat and fishing gear.
Bob was a St. Lawrence oddity in some respects.
St. Lawrence bills itself as the Soccer Capital of Canada and it has good reason to make that claim. Its team, St. Lawrence Laurentians, has clinched the Newfoundland Provincial Championships nearly 30 times. It has been the Atlantic provinces’ champions five times and competed in the national finals on three occasions.
It is said that most boys back in Bob Stacey’s era had built up a collection of soccer balls before their second birthday. Not Bob — not even soccer could get his mind away from being on the water.
“All Bob ever wanted, even as a child, was to be out in a boat with anyone who would take him onboard,” says his dad, Pierce (Percy) Stacey.
Pierce was a miner for most of his career, but when the St. Lawrence fluorspar mines closed in the late 1970s, Pierce bought a small inshore “swamp” boat and fished for a few years.
Bob made a few trips with his dad, but he fished mainly with longliner skippers as a deckhand until he bought his own dory when he was in his mid-teens and fished cod.
In 1984, at just 20 years of age, Bob made an expensive and bold move — he purchased a 35-foot longliner. He acquired licenses to catch herring, capelin, squid and crab, but his main species was still cod.
Built in Bay d’Espoir, Newfoundland, just three years prior to Bob’s purchase, the Jesse Marie, was a good and sturdy vessel and served Bob well for a decade.
The waters off the south coast of Newfoundland are ice-free most of the year and licensed to fish a variety of species, Bob, like other inshore fishermen in his region, fished almost year-round.
Unlike the northeast coast of Newfoundland, codfish on the south coast don’t migrate far offshore in winter. Typically, there were some years better than others, but Bob and his two crewmen worked very hard and managed to carry out a successful fishery.
As with most Newfoundland and Labrador fishermen, Bob Stacey’s life was turned upside down in July 1992. Cod stocks had fallen to critically low levels and the federal government placed a moratorium on cod fishing.
Stunned by the unexpected news, fishermen took their gear out of the water and weighed their options. Many of them eventually decided to accept government offers to buy back their fishing licenses and got out of the fish business — but not Bob Stacey.
Determined to make it without access to cod, Bob worked harder than ever and in the winter of 1994/95, he commenced an entire retrofit of the Jessie Marie, including plans to make her larger.
The refit was a massive undertaking, but Bob, along with his crewmembers, Hughie Rennie and Trent Doyle, took the Jesse Marie to Fortune and had the vessel hauled up on a marine slipway where they would do almost all of the upgrade work on their own.
In the fall of 1994, the guys rebuilt the wheelhouse and the main deck. At the time, Bob was fairly confident that he would soon receive a scallop license, which meant new and heavy equipment would have to be installed on the stern of the vessel.
In turn, they also needed better stern buoyancy and a greater bearing surface to accommodate the added weight of scallop drags and other additional gear. To satisfy that requirement, they added a whole new compartment to the stern making the Jesse Marie closer to 40 feet than her original 35.
Bob obviously planned to fish his refitted longliner for many years because he continued to work on the vessel, starting with a new fibreglass cover on the entire hull. In January 1995, Bob attained his scallop license giving him even more incentive to go all the way with the refit. Among other things, he bought a refurbished engine that spring. It was a 135-HP marine diesel, keel-cooled engine along with the transmission, dash and wiring harness.
Although his expenses were mounting, Bob was more determined than ever to do the best refit possible.
Undaunted, he and the crew worked through the winter and spring doing carpentry work, mechanical engineering requirements, along with electrical work and more.
Scallop dragging requires heavy rigging. Bob had a 10-foot scallop drag bucket (rake) fabricated from angle iron and rod steel and fitted with a bag made of rope on the upper portion. A dumping table measuring 10 feet by five feet was built on the stern of the vessel and an A-frame made of steel pipe reinforced with steel flat bar was bolted next to the table.
Of all the additions Bob made to the Jessie Marie, perhaps the most critical was a stabilizing unit. Known officially as paravanes, most fishermen call the stabilizers “fish” because of the triangular shape of the flat metallic units that are submerged in the ocean to prevent the vessel from rolling.
In the case of the Jessie Marie, two aluminum pipe booms were fitted, one at each corner of the aft wheelhouse controls. The steel and lead “fish,” measuring three feet by two feet, were attached to the booms by a chain.
Rounding out the new gear installations, a drum winch with 1,200 feet of steel wire cable was fitted forward of the fish hold for use in dragging the scallop buckets.
It is estimated the total additional weight added to the longliner in the refit was 2.2 to 2.6 tonnes.
Several of Bob’s friends, some of whom were experienced fishermen, worried about that much extra weight. One fisherman said the stabilizers were designed for a larger vessel. Bob’s father Pierce said he has also wondered if the Jessie Marie might have been too top heavy following the upgrade.
Another fisherman friend of Bob mentioned that he felt the vessel didn’t have enough freeboard remaining to accommodate the additional weight of a large catch of fish.
“If he had a good load of fish onboard, she would be almost down to the gunwales,” he said.
The all-new Jessie Marie was lifted back into the water in the spring of 1995 and Bob, Trent and Hughie were soon back fishing.
By early fall, the guys had used their scallop gear a number of times and things went fairly well. After assessing their performances in the new fishery, they discussed the efficiency of the scallop fishing equipment.
After some debate, they decided that the eight-foot wide scallop bucket was too small, so they increased the width to 10 feet to maximize catch rates. As hoped, the larger bucket caught more scallops per tow, but it appeared prone to snagging the ocean floor more than the eight-foot bucket did.
To accommodate that issue, the crew tried attaching the towing cables to the top of the A-frame. That move seemed to help although an occasional snag still occurred. In fact, in several cases, the vessel had been brought to a full stop when the bucket caught in the seabed causing the stern of the Jessie Marie to be pulled underwater for a short time.
The crew also observed a quickness of rolling that seemed to be associated with towing from the top of the A-frame rather than from the tow bar, even when the stabilizers were deployed. To use a popular fishing term, the vessel appeared more “cranky.”
Join us next month for Part II of It Must Have Been Really Quick.