STONINGTON — Maine boatbuilders, many of them based in Hancock County, have a reputation for turning out quality vessels that extends far beyond New England. On Monday, another locally built boat headed for a distant port not on a truck but sailing on its own bottom.
Late last month, Surry-based Wesmac Custom Boats launched a 54-foot research vessel for the state of Georgia Department of Natural Resources.
On Monday, after completing sea trials and the tests required for certification by the Coast Guard to carry up to 18 passengers plus a crew of two, the Reid W. Harris left the Billings Diesel & Marine shipyard on Moose Island and headed out into Penobscot Bay on the first leg of what delivery captain Linda Greenlaw predicts will be a four-day trip along the Atlantic Seaboard to Brunswick, Ga. Running time is estimated to be 75 hours, exclusive of fuel stops, for the 1,000-plus-mile trip.
During a trial run aboard last week, Greenlaw said she was excited to be making the trip. A fisherman as well as an author and delivery captain, she loves to be on the water and was hoping for an opportunity to deliver another Wesmac boat later this year through the Panama Canal to California.
Whether or not that happens, Wesmac owner Steve Wessel said he was happy to leave boat deliveries to Greenlaw, his wife.
“I’ve had enough sailing,” said Wessel, who was an offshore fisherman for many years before he became a boatbuilder.
Wesmac has been involved with the Reid W. Harris project for about two years, according to Bill Grindle, the company’s general manager.
Douglas Haymans, the director of Georgia’s Department of Natural Resources Coastal Resources Division, emailed the company to alert it that the state would be posting a request for bids for a new research vessel sometime in 2018.
“How he learned of us is a tad vague,” Grindle said, “but he and his captains knew that they wanted a rugged Downeast style boat.”
More particularly, the agency wanted a 48-foot to 56-foot fiberglass boat to be used for ecological and other coastal studies in the waters off the coasts of Georgia, Florida and the Carolinas. According to Grindle, stability and “crew safety” were considered key elements of the boat’s design.
Rarely thought of as a commercial fishing powerhouse, Georgia has a significant shrimp fishery. The agency currently conducts a regular series of monthly surveys in six estuarine systems using an elderly trawler as a research platform.
The agency is also active in the open Atlantic Ocean waters off the Georgia coastline, which serve as the predominant calving grounds for endangered right whales.
The Reid W. Harris is a standard Wesmac 54 with a waterline length of 51feet 6 inches, a beam of 17 feet 6 inches and draft of 6 feet even. With a solid fiberglass hull and foam-cored fiberglass pilothouse and forecabin top, the boat displaces about 65,000 pounds.
With plans to tow a small midwater trawl net from the hydraulic winch mounted on the afterdeck, the boat has plenty of power. With a 1,000-horsepower Caterpillar diesel under the platform turning a five-blade 38-inch-by-33-inch propeller on a 3-inch shaft through a 2.48:1 reverse reduction gear, in sea trials last week the boat had a top speed of 21.5 knots and a cruising speed of 18 knots. ZF Smart Command controls provide throttle and shift management; a Sidepower bow thruster aids maneuvering in tight quarters.
As a work boat, the Harris has a simple finish in her spacious deckhouse. The extensively equipped helm station is in the forward starboard corner. Behind the captain’s adjustable padded helm seat, fore- and aft-facing banquets are separated by a rectangular pedestal-mounted table. An L-shaped banquet with round table is located in the opposite corner of the wheelhouse on the other side of the sliding door to the work deck. Another heavily padded seat faces forward across the companionway from the helm station.
Moving forward and down three steps, a full galley is located to port and a head with shower is on the starboard side. As might be expected, gray and black water from the head are contained in holding tanks for shoreside pump out. Forward is a bunkroom with four curtained berths.
The captain of the Reid W. Harris will operate the boat from a helm station that has excellent forward visibility even while the boat is running. Greenlaw said it was scarcely necessary to use the Zipwake trim tab system to keep the bow level.
The vessel is named to honor Reid Walker Harris, a Georgia native who, as a state legislator, was the principal author of several early and important environmental laws including Georgia’s Coastal Marshlands Protection Act of 1970. He was credited as an early adopter of the concept of ecology and environmentalism, and published the book “And the Coastlands Wait,” about the creation and adoption of the 1970 law.
Harris died in 2010 at the age of 80.