Gear, check. Oyster seed reservation check. Boat….
The boat is perhaps the most important aspect of an oyster farmer’s livelihood. Sure, productive seed is paramount, but once you get it, you’re stuck with it. Good gear is vital, but you don’t depend on it as much as your boat for your safety and transport.
Having learned that from veteran farmers, I set out in late 2013 with that mindset. First, I identified the style of boat I needed. Because I’ll be doing most of my husbandry on my lease, a flat bottom boat with a lot of capacity (space and weight) for gear and equipment seemed to be the ticket. From my conversations w/growers, the Carolina Skiff was the best bang for the buck in that category. The less accessories the better, for cost and ease of modification.
I scoured the internet high and low for an affordable skiff for several weeks. Most were tricked out with big consoles or brand new and way out of my price range. Finally, I found a solid looking older style skiff located in North Carolina. I’ve never bought anything sight unseen from a private seller. I was hesitant at first. But the more I talked to the seller, who sounded like an honest southern gent, the more I thought this could work. We agreed he would make the eight hour drive for a guaranteed delivery fee, and I could either pay him list price or walk away (more like he would angrily drive away, haha).
The day came and the Duck Dynasty arrived in May 2013. It was just as described – camo painted from bow to stern with a rickety looking steering console and rough looking prop. She ran fine during the sea trial (less the steering console breaking free in my hands) though and I closed the deal. I was getting a great deal on a solid hull and the shortcomings would just have to be made up through a few hundred hours of hard work.
Over the next year or so, I spent nearly every weekend transforming the Duck Dynasty into a Shuck Dynasty. I quickly realized that the previous owner was a much better hunter than boat builder and I pretty much had to strip her down do the bare hull before outfitting. That involved countless hours removing stripped/rusted screws and bolts and cutting away old silicone beads.
Once I was down to the bare hull, I began to outfit her for oyster farming. The first step was to get a port side bulkhead built, to tie my davit crane into. I turned to a family friend and expert glassman, Ted Bachelor of Moonlight Yacht Services, to fabricate it. It turned out to be an absolute tank and I’m never getting it out unless I sink the boat. Next was to find a good welder to fab the davit crane for my cage hoists. For this I commissioned Dick Wilson of WilFab, to help me design and execute the crane. Dick is somewhat of a closet genius when it comes to metalwork and he helped me think through not just design, but workflow and engineered some nice custom pieces as well. The final product tied perfectly into Ted’s bulkhead and I’m confident I’ll flip the boat before the crane or bulkhead give. Both guys are established in their businesses and were very sympathetic to me just getting started in mine. Having good, skilled people who also are your friends, is priceless.
The last, and certainly not least, steps involved me installing all of the systems on the boat. New hydraulic steering, new steering helm, new engine controls, new electrical wiring, new hydraulic hauling system, patching all of the old hardware holes and a new washdown pump. A big tube of 4200, lots of epoxy, countless trips to the town hardware store later, and the boat systems were nearly complete. I left the hydraulic system for last, as I wasn’t sure where to really start. I knew I needed a pump, some sort of control valve and a hauler, that’s all.
After researching and talking to as many old heads (Rock Hall slang for “wise person”) as I could, I decided on a simple gear pump driven by a 11HP Honda motor converted from driving a pressure washer pump. The hauler was sourced locally after meeting a crabbing supplier at the annual Waterman’s Convention in OC, MD. I ended up buying all my lines, JIC fittings and adapters from Long Cove Marina in Rock Hall. They had a nifty JIC fitting machine and were able to produce exactly what I needed from my crude schematic drawing.
After finally getting the right valve installed, my Dad and I held our breath as we fired it up and hoped neither of us would lose an eye to fluid under pressure. Fortunately we didn’t and the hauler worked beautifully. The boat was pretty much ready to launch.
I’ll do an updated post w/launch results and let the internet know if it’s still afloat. Plan on keeping it tied up to the floating dock, so will have a special bailing system in place as she now sits lower than before. For now, feast your eyes on the before & after shots: