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Remembering Maine: Beals Island

Farrell Lenfesty was  the oldest of four children. He grew up on a farm on Beals Island. His father farmed in the summer, was part-time fishermen and worked in the woods. His maternal grandmother was the daughter of Lonny Beal, the first settler of the island. He started fishing his fist year in high school with his cousin. They both had 25 traps each and hauled them in the morning before school. They got up very early to get chores done, haul traps and then hurry to school The second year of high school, he lobstered alone and had a few more traps. He helped his father bait traps. Lenfesty graduated from high school in 1933. The first year out of high school he had a double ended boat called a “pea pod.” The Peapod was developed in the 1870s on North Haven Island. The boats were rowed but also used with sails and motor power. Usually fishermen rowed standing up. Lenfesty’s boat didn’t have a motor so he used an oar. Right out of high school, he had about 100 traps. He caught mackerel for bait. His father had a 33-foot Frost Boat, built by William Frost. This type of boat, a Jonesport model, was narrow and built for speed. However, Lenfesty liked the Torpedo Stern boat model, which was popular from about 1915-1920. This type of boat was influenced by several other different types such as the peapod. William Frost built him a 33-foot Torpedo Stern, which cost $450. Lenfesty put an engine on it and named it the Dart. “My girlfriend thought I would name it after her,” Lenfesty said. The seasons brought different work, especially since his family lived on a farm that needed constant work. “When I was young, we’d work in fall to pay bills; winter we’d work to save a little money. If we made $3 a day in winter, we were happy.” Lenfesty sold the Dart to his brother-in-law and bought a 35-foot Harold Gower boat and put a Roadmaster Buick Straight-8 engine on it. “The Buick was the best engine made,” he said. He saw a change in the size of boats over the years. “When Harold Gower started building boats, they looked large compared to what we were used to; now they look small,” he said. In 1954, Lenfesty became the first vice-president of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association. “We could contact all the fishermen in about an hour, the organization was so good,” he said. Over the years, Lenfesty experienced cycles in the timing of the lobster molt. “When I started, had to fish on shallow, hard bottom. Found a few years ago that fishing was best on muddy, soft bottom… This last year, fishing has again gotten better on the shallow, hard bottom where I used to fish. It goes in cycles,” he said. The cycles depend on temperature of water, he explained. Lenfesty has also experienced some pretty cold winter conditions. “Sometimes the boat would freeze into the ice in winter and take three or four weeks to get it out. Sometimes when the wind came from the Northeast, it’d take the ice out with the boat frozen in it. The ice would break up when it reached the bay, and we’d get the boat back to shore,” he said. The tides caused problems for lobstermen too. “Boats used to ground at low tide, and we’d have to get up early and take them to the edge of the channel. Sometimes when wind was from northwest it’d swing boat around and boat’d fill up with water,” he said. Lenfesty fell overboard many times, a risk that comes with the job of being a lobsterman. “Once I fell overboard when boat wasn’t close enough to the mooring and I tried to reach out,” he recalled. “I grabbed the gunwale of boat and pulled myself up. I can swim, but a lot of fishermen here can’t… Have to take chances to make a living.” Along with risks, the lobsterman’s job also comes with gifts.  “People have a built-in compass—the direction of the wind,” he said.

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