Spartan Marine: Stuck in the Bronze Age

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This story first appeared in the Island Institute’s The Working Waterfront newspaper, and is reproduced here with permission. Click here

Story/Photos by Kelli Park

In a world churning with change, there is a workshop in a cove in Georgetown where the strength of bronze has withstood the test of time. Spartan Marine makes the case that there are some things better left unchanged.

“The marine hardware business has endured,” says Neil Collins, general manager at Derektor Robinhood Marina, which owns and operates Spartan Marine.

“We make deck hardware that really speaks to a different time in the marine industry,” he continues. “There’s not a whole lot of people making bronze hardware anywhere anymore. I think we’re the only ones who make it in the States with these kinds of offerings.” 

The story of Spartan Marine begins in 1963, when Andy Vavolotis founded Cape Dory Yachts in Massachusetts, which produced thousands of yachts over the course of 30 years.

“Andy was dissatisfied with what was available for deck hardware, so he designed his own,” Collins said. “That’s what we still make. He started a bronze hardware business (Spartan Marine) for his own vessels,” and then sold the hardware to other yards.

“They did everything from sailboat masts to tables to architectural pieces. They did a lot,” said Collins. 

And they stuck to proven designs, explains Skip Collins (no relation to Neil), machinist at Spartan Marine and the man behind the metal since the 1980s (off and on).

“The hardware has stayed the same since 1963,” he said. “This hardware was in use in the 1800s. The cleats and everything have been like this for 300 years.”

Skip Collins, whose father ran what was formerly known as Boothbay Region Boatyard, has spent the past 60 years working in Maine’s maritime industry. He started out as a dock boy and remembers working at the boatyard in Cozy Harbor, where they “hauled boats out with a 4-wheel drive and a winch.” 

The casting for Spartan’s hardware is done at a foundry in Massachusetts, after which the pieces are transported to the workshop in Georgetown for Skip Collins’ finishing touches. He uses machinery from circa 1942 to shape and refine a variety of bronze marine hardware pieces, including cleats, ports, seacocks, and outboard motor mounts.

“We have an excellent reputation in the industry for our opening ports, which are really the finest made anywhere in the world. They’re incredibly strong,” said Neil Collins. “Our outboard brackets were adapted from a turn-of-the-century design. We’re the only ones that make these. These are very popular with people who have traditional looking boats, but still want to be able to get off and on the mooring.”

Although the hardware remains the same, the business has changed a bit with the times. In 2018, Spartan started a website for online ordering, and it uses distributors in Europe and Australia. In a time when 3-D printing is changing the concept of production and redefining the notion of efficiency, and electronics and composites are taking over more traditional aspects of the maritime industry, Spartan Marine still relies on classic craftsmanship to create works of art with a purpose. 

“A lot of it hasn’t changed at all,” said Skip Collins, whose hands are weathered by bronze. And for now, the Bronze Age continues to live on.

Sea to Soil: Invasive Crabs Turn Fields Green

Due North Project, Maine Documentary Photography

 

TWO NONPROFITS WORKING TOGETHER TO JOIN SEA AND FARM
 

November 19, 2018

This story first appeared in the Island Institute’s The Working Waterfront newspaper, and is reproduced here with permission. Click here

BY KELLI PARK

It sounds like the elements of a macabre ritual—green crabs, a wood chipper, a manure spreader, and 275 acres of farmland.

In fact, it’s an initiative launched by Quahog Bay Conservancy of Harpswell in collaboration with Wolfe’s Neck Center for Agriculture & Environment in Freeport.

“Sea to Soil: Piloting a Market Solution to Maine’s Invasive Green Crab Threat” aims to turn the invasive species, which is blamed for killing softshell clams, into fertilizer.

Quahog Bay Conservancy is a nonprofit promoting marine conservation with a focus on building resilient biological and human communities. Its mission is similar to that of Wolfe’s Neck Center. The Sea to Soil project unites the farming and fishing communities and helps the environment by transforming a destructive invasive threat into a sustainable natural resource.

“We could fish these crabs forever and they’re not going away, so we might as well make a market for them,” said Nicole Twohig, development coordinator at Quahog Bay Conservancy.

The organization plans to streamline the fertilizer production and distribution process with grant funding, and research before and after soil conditions to increase the potential for market development. The goal is to provide incentives for harvesting green crabs.

“We’ve got a team of locals who know this area better than anyone. They’ve worked the bay their entire lives,” said Twohig. “They have the knowledge and they know the natural history, seasonal patterns, trends of species. They know this. It’s a model of conservation that works.”

Maine has seen a significant influx in the green crab population in the past few years due to rising water temperatures. Because green crabs are highly adaptable and have no natural predators, they are considered one of the world 100 worst invasive species.

Green crabs are not only able to live in water temperatures between 33 and 88 degrees Fahrenheit, but they also can survive for two months without water. During its three-year life cycle, the green crab can leave behind 370,000 offspring, which are capable of improving their food-gathering skills to decimate populations of native species, including mussels and soft-shell clams.

Recent studies by the Downeast Institute and the Maine Clammers Association suggest that less than .01 percent of juvenile soft-shell clams survive beyond their first year because of predators. In 2017, Maine saw the lowest number of clam landings since 1930.

According to studies conducted by the University of Pennsylvania for Sea to Soil, this invasive species is perfect as a locally-sourced fertilizer.

Tom Prohl, fruit and vegetable production manager at Wolfe’s Neck Center, explains that the tissue within the green crab is rich in nitrogen and phosphorous, while the shell itself is high in calcium and chitin, a naturally occurring compound that stimulates biological activity, enhances plant growth, and suppresses soil-borne pests.

The fertilizer process begins with the green crab harvest in Quahog Bay, where the conservancy employs 100 traps. Green crabs are then transported to the farm, where they’re exterminated; crabs must be exterminated prior to fertilizer production and distribution because, as an invasive species, they are considered a biosecurity risk.

They are then mixed into a manure spreader with dairy and chicken manure, and spread over 275 acres of hayfields, which feed the farm’s dairy cows.

Wolfe’s Neck will also conduct controlled year-long studies to analyze the effects on fruit and vegetable production plots, the results from which will be used to promote the fertilizer among local garden and farm markets. Wolfe’s Neck Center is dedicated to developing innovative practices in regenerative agriculture and hopes to become more involved with its four miles of coastline by developing educational waterfront workshops in the upcoming year.

By transforming a destructive force into an element that enriches and fertilizes the earth, the fishing and farming industries are exploring the potential of evolving within the life cycle. Sea to Soil aims to redefine the way we look at invasive species; instead of focusing solely on the impossible task of elimination, this initiative introduces the idea of adapting within our natural circumstances.

“We are solving the problems that the community needs us to solve,” Twohig asserts. “We’re a unique organization, but the problems aren’t unique to the bay. This model could be implemented anywhere.”

 

Canada’s Grand Manan Island Beckons Tourists

Due North Project, Maine Documentary Photography

 

FISHING REMAINS LIFEBLOOD AT THE MOUTH OF THE BAY OF FUNDY

October 31, 2018

BY KELLI PARK

This story first appeared in the Island Institute’s The Working Waterfront newspaper, and is reproduced here with permission. Click here

There are places that live in our imaginations and seem just beyond our reach. If you’ve been to easternmost Maine and looked across the water, you have seen one of these places.

Those sheer distant cliffs are on the island of Grand Manan, whose name is a fusion of French, and the Maliseet-Passamaquoddy-Penobscot word for island place: mananook. Although the landscape is stunning and ethereal in many ways, Grand Manan’s true appeal lies in its ability to sustain a delicate balance. The island is a confluence of evolving elements, including its heritage of livelihoods found in its working waterfront. In recent decades, islanders have turned to tourism to create economic activity, a logical move given the island’s natural beauty.

Grand Manan has a rich maritime history. Island life during the 19th century depended on ten steam-powered sawmills, six shipyards, and the booming commercial fishing industry. By 1851, most of the island’s population of 1,200 was involved in the working waterfront; men fished and women pickled and cured herring. Innovative fishing and seaweed harvesting techniques were developed, including weir fishing, torch fishing, and lobster fishing, with the introduction of lobster traps in 1870.

As of 1884, Grand Manan was the largest supplier of smoked herring in the world, with 300 smokehouses on the island, employing 40 percent of the population. Smokehouses, ice and salt houses, fish shacks, dulse (seaweed) drying grounds, and shipyards filled the island as the market expanded and communities thrived. By 1920, Grand Manan had produced 20,000 tons of smoked herring, but by the 1930s, the industry began to decline.

The island’s fishing industry changed with the end of smoked herring in the late 20th century, but it still lives in lobstering, scalloping, weir fishing, dulse harvesting, and pen salmon aquaculture. Lobstering remains the main source of income on the island. Some Grand Manan boats haul 13,000 pounds of lobster in a day, with 4,000 pounds being the typical daily minimum. Grand Manan’s reputation as the dulse capital of the world also has grown since the health and nutrition benefits of seaweed are more widely recognized.

The island’s fishing legacy has become tourism’s draw.

“From when I grew up, the balance between fishing and tourism has become more equal,” says Darlene Cossaboom, an island native and supervisor of the visitor information center.

“For some people, it’s a non-entity,” other than longer lines at the grocery store, she said. “For those that run the accommodations, the gift shops, the restaurants, it’s a huge part of their lives.”

The synergy between tourism and the working waterfront is linked to the preservation of waterfront access. Each village has a protected harbor and a commercial wharf where recreational boats are rare. The lack of recent commercial and residential development has allowed the communities to retain their authentic character, though housing and land prices have grown significantly in the last two decades. It is said that half of the property on the island is foreign-owned. The 1990s saw an average housing cost of $35,000, which increased to over $100,000 by 2006. Today, it’s not unusual to see residential properties listed at over $200,000, out of reach for many locals.

FOR THE BIRDS

During the Victorian Era, Grand Manan became a destination for naturalists, scientists, artists, and writers. The Grand Manan Archipelago is located on a major eastern flyway and is home to over 300 species of birds, which drew John James Audubon in 1831. Nearby Machias Seal Island is home to the largest Atlantic puffin colony in the Gulf of Maine, and Kent Island, originally purchased by John Sterling Rockefeller at the suggestion of Grand Manan native Allan Moses (the “Birdman of Grand Manan”), has housed the Bowdoin College Scientific Station since 1936.

The Bay of Fundy is also home to over 300 whales, including finbacks, minkes, humpbacks, and North Atlantic right whales, which bring their calves to the rich food supply found in the Grand Manan basin each year. The whales also contribute to tourism.

Peter Wilcox is an island native and lobsterman who operates his family’s whale-watch tour boat, Sea Watch Tours.He says the connection with visitors is powerful.

“Last week, I had a woman who cried. That was her reaction. She’d never seen them before. Some people jump up and down,” he said. One whale “would bring her calf over to show us.”

Grand Manan’s natural wonders also have drawn American painters like Winslow Homer and writers like Willa Cather. A wave of 19th century artists made their way to the island to find inspiration among idyllic rolling meadows, vast beaches, rugged cliffs towering 300 feet above the ocean, tight-knit fishing villages, picturesque lighthouses, and the highest tides in the world.

Grand Manan has reinvigorated its arts allure with the recent shift toward cultural tourism. Artists from the mainland often host workshops on the island during the summer, although there are a handful of working artists who live on the island year-round. The arts and cultural presence on the island has been enriched by the presence of Grand Manan Art Gallery, established in 2010, and Grand Manan Museum, which hosts educational exhibits and community events throughout the summer. The island also is home to Summer’s End Folk Festival, begun in 2009.

GETTING THERE

It takes planning to get to Grand Manan. The island is nine miles from Lubec, but Mainers have to cross into Canada and take a 23-mile ferry ride from Black’s Harbour.

But that remoteness is one of its draws.

Beginning in the late 19thcentury, more overnight accommodations were established, including guest houses, inns, and hotels. Families from away began to buy seaside cottages and establish themselves as yearly summer residents, many of whom have continued the tradition through the generations.

The 20th century brought larger ferries able to carry vehicles and island businesses sprang up to serve them. In 1990, Grand Manan saw a boom in tourism connected with the regular service provided by theMV Grand Manan V, which holds 300 passengers and 64 cars and currently runs in conjunction with the MV Grand Manan Adventure.

“I think if you talked to people 25 years ago, they never felt a need for tourism,” says Greg Pidduck, president of the island tourism association. A recent visit by a cruise ship illustrated the change.

“It was amazing how many people went to the wharf to see the boat and talk to the people. We actually had difficulty with people leaving to get on the bus because we had four or five fishermen regaling the people with stories,” he recalled.

The nature of accommodations is changing, though; although campgrounds, bed and breakfasts, cottages, and inns are still popular (and are all often booked on August weekends), there has been a growing presence of Airbnb and VRBO properties, which creates more opportunity for tourists and people traveling to the island on business.

A recent passenger on Peter Wilcox’s whale-watch boat asked about the security of her parked car. “I said, ‘Well ma’am, when I go to the wharf, I leave my keys in my truck. Anybody who wants to move it or borrow it, they can.’ And she said, ‘Do you lock your house at night?’ And I said no. And she said, ‘I didn’t know there was any place in the world left like that.’”

My Grand Manan Story

Finding Grand Manan was the result of what I like to call good travel karma: a beautiful fusion of serendipitous circumstances. We knew we were heading north for the weekend with no itinerary and a sense of spontaneity (and passports), and we knew we were intrigued by an island on the map off the coast of Canada, but the rest was up to chance.

Our sense of adventure led the way as we happened to slide into the last spot on the ferry; the stars aligned again after we arrived on island and stumbled upon a last-minute cancellation at Hole-in-the-Wall Campground. We jumped at the chance to camp atop 200-foot cliffs on the Bay of Fundy. We could have stayed there all day, staring at the horizon and looking for whales, but we had a feeling that this was just a taste of what Grand Manan had to offer, and we were right.

I had never seen anything like it, and I knew I was hooked.

—Kelli Park

Brunswick Boosts Next Generation of Marine Entrepreneurs

Due North Project, Maine Documentary Photography
STUDENT SHELLFISH INITIATIVE IS UNLEASHING SHELLFISH POTENTIAL

October 31, 2018

BY KELLI PARK

This story first appeared in the Island Institute’s The Working Waterfront newspaper, and is reproduced here with permission. Click here

Young marine entrepreneurs in Maine are seeing new opportunities evolve almost as quickly as the changing tides. In Brunswick, the Student Shellfish Initiative is helping some of those young entrepreneurs tap into the potential that lies just beneath the surface of the water—and the mud.

With 66 miles of coastline and eight miles of deep water frontage, the mudflats in Brunswick are arguably the “most valuable real estate in town,” according to the town’s Marine Resource Officer Dan Devereaux. The shellfish industry in Brunswick alone is valued at $4 million, although the ecological value is priceless.

“Trying to relay that importance to the younger generation is really a critical part of keeping our coastline the least gentrified that we can to keep areas working,” explains Devereaux.

The Student Shellfish Initiative is a collaboration among Brunswick High School, the town of Brunswick, and The Tidelands Coalition, a nonprofit organization that promotes marine conservation. Brunswick High School students learn the value of hands-on marine research in the outdoor classroom on the mud flats at Wharton Point on Maquoit Bay, collecting data on shellfish species and seeding the flats with soft-shell clams from the Down East Institute.

The growing popularity of the Brunswick Student Shellfish License Program is attributed to the interactive experience provided by the outdoor classroom within the past two years. Fifteen student licenses were issued this year, with most students actively digging daily during the summer; a few years ago, only ten licenses were issued with two students actively digging.

Devereaux is currently exploring the idea of developing a mentoring program to promote sustainable practices within the industry. He hopes the Student Shellfish Initiative can be used as a model for other coastal towns.

“If we can get a base of educated diggers, we’re going to be able to manage the resource more intricately and more surgically,” he says. “As we start to educate newer groups of harvesters coming in, getting these students involved and interested at a young age is critically important to keeping this industry alive and thriving.”

Devereaux believes that change is necessary. The industry cannot sustain itself with the same boom-and-bust approach that has been in place over the past century. Many students involved in the program are now exploring the possibilities in aquaculture in response to the changing industry.

Max Burtis, Max Friedman, and Samuel Dorval, all graduates of Brunswick High School and current college freshmen, have taken their entrepreneurial spirit to the next level with the creation of Ferda Farms on the New Meadows River. They started by harvesting clams at low tide, and then began to explore ideas for generating supplemental income during high tide. The business partners chose their name as an ode to their love for hockey; players use the slang term “ferda” as a shortened version of “for the boys.”

In July, Ferda Farms started with 50,000 oyster seeds from Muscongus Bay Aquaculture and has since expanded to 100,000 oysters. According to Burtis, everyone in the aquaculture industry has been more than willing to share their knowledge and experience, because, he says, “There’s still so much to be learned.”

Burtis has an entrepreneurial mind and believes the job market is a trap for many people. The young men talk about how most people their age are washing dishes, serving ice cream, or working retail.

“It gets the best of a lot of people. They get caught in a place where they don’t want to be,” says Burtis.

“It’s really cool to feel like you’re actually starting something,” says Friedman. “It says something to have a vision.”