Developing a Prince William Sound Bowpicker

Finn the Fisherman has been working hard. He had a busy, but
productive, season. He’s been performing maintenance on his boats and nets and
supervising some minor upgrades to his boat. After months of hard work, Finn
thinks to himself, “I deserve a day off!”
Finn decides to visit a local boat builder to see what is
going on, and heads to Sedro-Woolley to visit Barbary Cove. As he pulls up to
the shop, Finn notices the overhead door is open and he observes the activity
of boatbuilding.
Finn walks into the shop, noticing a new 32-foot bowpicker
sitting on a trailer. He asks one of the workers, “Where is the owner?” Just
then, Jim Bower, the owner of Barbary Cove emerges from his office and greets
Finn, “Hello Finn! It sure is good to see you. How long has it been? Seems like forever!” Finn grins and responds, “Well Jim, it has been a while. Not forever
– more like 6 months. I’ve been busy with fishing and boat maintenance.” Jim
shakes his head and notes, “Knowing you Finn, you are probably spending most of
your time carrying money to the bank or investing. You see, I talked with Larry
Lawless, your lawyer, and he told me all about your big profits from fishing.”
Finn laughs and notes, “Larry does like to exaggerate. Larry
is the one with the big bucks, not me. Tell me, Jim, what have you been up to?”
Jim responds, “I’ve been very busy this last year. About a
year ago, I decided to research the bowpicker market and develop a new
bowpicker to sell in Cordova, Alaska.” Jim invites Finn into his office, they
both sit down, and Jim begins talking:
As a boat builder, I’m always looking for market
opportunities. After building aluminum commercial vessels, primarily landing
crafts, for the last five years, and talking with a boat broker friend in
Alaska, I learned there could be a business opportunity to build bow pickers
for the fleet in Cordova, Alaska.
I flew to Cordova and spent about a week talking with the
fishermen and looking at their vessels. This was a good experience. I learned a
lot. It is always good to talk with the end user and find out what they want in
a boat.
I looked at used bowpickers that are on the market. There
are usually a few late model aluminum boats. These vessels represent the latest
thinking in bowpicker design and build. However, I learned there is a large
selection of older used vessels. They range from 10 to 30 years of age. Many of
these boats have fiberglass hulls and cabins and they seem to range in size
from about 27 feet to 30 feet. The most popular power for the older vessels was
either single or twin gas engines with inboard-outboard drives.
In addition to the used market, I reviewed the current
offerings by a number of respected builders. The hulls and cabins are available
in aluminum or fiberglass, with aluminum appearing to be the more popular
choice. The current builds tend to be approximately 32 feet long with an
11-foot to 12-foot beam.
I learned fishermen have different opinions about the size
and weight of their vessels. One group advocates a slightly smaller vessel that
has placed a high emphasis on weight reduction. They believe a lightweight
vessel will be more fuel-efficient and, therefore, more profitable to operate.
One builder builds a very substantial and relatively large vessel. This vessel
is strongly constructed, has a wide beam, and lots of freeboard. It has an
excellent reputation for being able to continue to safely fish when the weather
turns nasty. Another builder has developed a boat that is very popular. He has
come very close to designing and building a boat that appears to meet most of
the expectations of many fishermen.
My research into the history of design evolution leads me to
the conclusion that bowpickers have evolved over the years into a very well
thought out vessel that is nearly ideal for its mission. The obvious question
was, “Can I improve the breed with better design?”
Many of the current builders of bowpickers have developed
their boats based upon experience, past successes and failures, and a good deal
of hope and/or luck. It is not uncommon for builders to design their boats on
the proverbial back of an envelope. I felt there was an opportunity to bring
the substantial knowledge and experience of naval architecture to bowpicker
design. This is not to discount the experience and lessons gained from many
years, but to combine this experience and knowledge with the scientific skills
of a trained naval architect.
I spent a number of months working on the design of
bowpickers. One of the most critical elements of good design is an accurate
weight analysis. In talking with the fishermen, most of them seem to have
little idea of how much their boats weigh when they leave the dock. By
carefully looking at the hull design and the draft, I could easily calculate
that the average bowpicker, with gas engines, weighed about 14,000 pounds as it
leaves the dock. This weight includes nets, fishing gear, fuel, water,
hydraulic fluids, safety gear, personal belongings, and crew. Of course, there
are some boats that weigh less and some that weigh more, but the more popular
brands that appear to have successfully hit the “sweet spot” weigh about 14,000
Diesel engines are popular with many fishermen due to better
fuel economy and the perception of greater safety and reliability. However,
diesel engines weigh considerably more than a gas engine and most diesel
engines require a reduction gear to properly work with a jet drive. In addition
to the heavier weight of the engines and gearbox, diesel engines usually
require a larger jet, further adding to the weight difference. Based on these
observations, I concluded the average bowpicker with diesel engines will weigh
about 16,000 pounds as it leaves the dock.
Based on weight analysis, I concluded proper design of a
vessel needs to adjust the vessel size to the estimated weight. In naval
architecture, there is a concept known as “bottom loading.” Bottom loading is a
calculation of the weight per square foot of planing surface of the hull, or
the hull bottom. If the bottom is too lightly loaded, the vessel will exhibit
poor handling and may become dangerous to operate. If the bottom is too heavily
loaded, the vessel will not get up on plane and will exhibit sluggish
performance. Bottom loading is critical to the design of a planing hull vessel.
Recognizing the importance of bottom loading, I used a
computer program developed by Lou Codega and Donald Blount, two highly regarded
naval architects of high speed planing hull design, to design hulls with proper
bottom loading. Based on my analysis, I concluded a diesel powered bowpicker
should be approximately 33 feet long with a 10½-foot chine beam, and a gas
powered bowpicker should be approximately 31½ feet long with a 9½-foot chine
Based on bottom loading analysis, I designed two hulls, one
for gas power and one for diesel power. To the best of my knowledge, I am the
only builder to differentiate the hull designs based on power options.
Professional Design
After several months of research and preliminary design, I
turned to a professional designer to assist me with this project. I selected
Steve Pollard of Specialty Marine located in Scappoose, Oregon. I’ve worked
with Steve for years and have built a number of his designs. Steve is a
competent designer who is well trained in naval architecture and has a
commitment for designing and building a structurally strong hull. In addition,
Steve had completed the design of another bowpicker recently and had a good
feel for what the fishermen wants and needs. In addition to the above
considerations, Steve uses computer-aided design and can provide a cut file for
computer cutting of all the component aluminum parts of the hull, deck, and
Computer design and cutting has numerous advantages.
Computer design allows us to design a hull with a perfectly developed surface,
making the bottom and sides relatively easy to form on the boat’s framing.
Computer design allows us to conduct hydrostatic calculations with great
accuracy and ease. And, finally, computer design produces a cut file that
allows us to precut all of our aluminum, greatly increasing accuracy of the
assembly process and reducing shop hours. Bottom line, a computer designed and
cut hull is far superior to a hand lofted and cut hull. The fisherman will have
a superior product for little, if any, increase in cost.
Steve Pollard has a reputation for designing strong hulls.
Our bowpickers are no exception. We have transverse frames spaced 30 inches and
two girders running the full length of the forward bilge and fishholds. The
frames and girders extend from the hull bottom to the underside of the deck,
resulting in a very strong but relatively lightweight hull. We fully expect our
hulls to easily have a life expectancy of 40 years or more.
We also design our hulls with numerous watertight bulkheads.
We incorporate a crash bulkhead in the bow, a watertight bulkhead at the
forward end of the fishholds and another at the aft end of the fish holds. By
designing a hull with 4 watertight compartments, the potential for flooding and
sinking is greatly reduced.
Cabin Design
Based on discussions with fishermen, we noted a desire for a
slightly larger cabin. With this in mind, we designed a longer cabin to create
more room. Many vessels place the head compartment in the aft starboard corner
of the cabin, thus restricting the view aft. We placed the head compartment
behind the helm station, resulting in a minimal obstruction looking aft.
We gave care to the design of sight lines from the helm
station. Unlike almost all builders, we added windows to the recessed area for
the cabin entry door. This feature costs little but adds substantially to sight
lines and operator safety. We also placed an oversized window on the aft
bulkhead for improved aft visibility.
A small but important touch is to leave room behind the helm
station so a fisherman can add cabin heat. Many fishermen prefer a small diesel
heater and we have provided a perfect location.
We designed extra wide upper and lower bunks so the
fishermen will enjoy their sleeping time. We cover dual density foam with
Sunbrella fabric, both for the longevity and for occupant’s comfort.
Knowing the importance of adequate electrical power, we
incorporated a large inverter aft of the galley and under the upper bunk. This
will provide adequate power to run a microwave and/or power a computer. In
addition to the inverter, we provide numerous 12-volt outlets around the cabin
for the convenience of the fishermen.
The next step, after completing the design, was to build the
boat. All boat builders know the first vessel built to a design is the most
difficult vessel to build. There are many lessons to be learned on the first
build, no matter how many boats you have previously built. As you go through
the process of building the first vessel, you discover easier ways to complete
certain tasks, therefore improving your build time on subsequent builds. You
also encounter minor design errors that need to be corrected. As you assemble
the parts, you think of new or different ways to begin and complete tasks,
resulting in a better product with less build time.
We have not been immune from the learning curve associated
with the first build. We placed the hull side on the port side with great
difficulty. After thinking about our process, we took a different approach on
the starboard side that proved to be much easier and faster. Due to the lack of
accurate drawings from the engine supplier, the designer was only able to guess
at the engine bed design. As we installed the engines, it became obvious we
need to redesign the engine beds so the engines would properly fit into the
Several more issues arose that called for rethinking the
next boat. We did not have sufficient chases for electrical, water, and
hydraulic lines running from the engine room to the forward bilge area. We
added chases through the fish holds. We located the house batteries and fresh
water tank in the forward bilge area to improve lateral weight distribution.
Bowpickers, with engines and cabin aft, tend to be stern heavy and benefit from
moving weight forward. As the engine room evolved, we added a storage area for
tools and spare parts forward and outboard of the port engine.
During the build process, there are many decisions to be
made. An important choice is material selection. Do you select the lower price
component or the higher quality item? Our choice is to go with quality.
Experience suggests quality pays in longer life and reduced maintenance. No
fisherman can afford to lose fishing time due to equipment malfunction or
Another area where we invested care is chafe protection.
Boats move, and chafe will destroy electrical, water and hydraulic lines very
quickly. We have exercised great care in protecting our lines. As an example,
all of our electrical lines are encased in split loom for chafe protection. In
addition, we make liberal use of hangers and ties to ensure the electrical
lines will not move when the boat is under way.
In addition to chafe protection, we placed importance on
access for maintenance. The engine room and forward bilge areas are designed
with quick and easy access to all component parts. Not only does this make
maintenance easier and cheaper, it actually promotes good maintenance
practices, which are essential for reliable operation.
Many of the bowpickers will be trailered. Due to height
restrictions, we designed and built a radar arch that is quickly removable.
When trailering the vessel, the radar arch can be removed and placed on the
reel or forward deck. We have eliminated worries associated with overhead
collisions when trailering.
Trim Tabs
We originally purchased brand name off the shelf trim tabs.
After inspecting them, we concluded they were not built strongly enough for the
rigors of commercial fishing. We designed and built our own heavy-duty trim
tabs. The tabs have been designed to allow the Hamilton Jets to reverse thrust
without affecting the trim tabs.
We conducted extensive research into hydraulic cylinders to
obtain quality cylinders that will last in an adverse environment. Many
builders use an inexpensive lightweight cylinder that has a one-year life
expectancy. We believe the fisherman would prefer to pay slightly more and have
cylinders that will last multiple seasons.
Jet Guard and Ladder
We designed and built the jet guard to be strong and to
provide protection to the jets. But, we went further. We incorporated a ladder
to allow a fisherman to self-rescue in the event of falling overboard. In our
research, we saw no boats designed with the ability of the fishermen to
self-rescue should he fall overboard. To our way of thinking, this is an
unacceptable hazard that needs to be addressed. If we can save one fisherman’s
life, then our ladder has served its purpose.
Sea Trials
We completed our first sea trials last month, and they went
very well. Most of our systems performed as expected and with no problems. We
did encounter minor problems in the operation of one of the buckets on the
Hamilton Jet. Hamilton dispatched a mechanic to assist us. The vanes on the
hydraulic pump to operate the buckets tend to get a little sticky when sitting
on the shelf. He sorted through that problem and quickly solved it.
Another issue we encountered was seaweed in the jet intake.
We ingested seaweed as we crossed over a tidal area with substantial floating
seaweed. We attempted to clear the intake grates and impeller but were not
completely successful. When we returned to the dock and hauled out, we saw a
fair amount of seaweed hanging from the intake grates. This is more of an
operator error than design/build flaw. We should have throttled down and
coasted over the weeds.
Final Punch List
Based on our sea trials and known items to complete, we have
a week or two of work to complete and then we will conduct sea trials again.
Based on the first sea trials, we are pleased with the performance of the
vessel. On the second sea trials, we will have enough break-in hours on both
engines so we can conduct runs to determine speed at different RPMs.
Finn’s Observations
 “Wow!” “I had no idea
how much thought and work you had to put into the development of a new boat.”
Finn continues, “What will you do to market your new creation?”
Jim sits back, smiles, and observes, “Marketing is our next
challenge for this project. We will market directly to the fishermen in
Cordova, we will list our first vessel with a broker in Cordova, and we will
develop a website that educates the fishermen on the advantages of our
vessels.” Jim continues, “After spending a year on this project, our next goal
is to sell the first vessel and then get orders for additional vessel. We
believe we have a superior product that should appeal to fishermen. It is
designed to be a tough, reliable, and efficient machine that should help the
fisherman catch lots of fish. And, as you know, Finn, catching lots of fish is
the key to earning lots of money! And we want our fishermen friends to earn
lots of money.”