With the sale of Viking, a 40-foot fishing boat that has plied the waters off the Vineyard for three generations, the Island’s once-vibrant fleet of small wooden draggers is now at the brink of extinction.
Craig Coutinho of Vineyard Haven confirmed this week that he will sell Viking along with his fishing permits.
Mr. Coutinho, 63, said he will retire after fishing from Viking for 50 years, primarily out of Menemsha. The boat is now in the Oak Bluffs harbor where it usually spends the winter. The sale, which is still pending, includes the transfer of the fishing permits that run with the boat. Mr. Coutinho would not disclose the name of the buyer or the price, but said the boat will go to Provincetown. He also said the buyer is primarily interested in the inshore state fishing permits for fluke, flounder, groundfish, conch and squid. “He wants to sell [Viking],” Mr. Coutinho said of the unnamed buyer. “He already has a boat . . . everyone wants the permits today. Nobody wants a wooden boat,” he added.
Viking was built in 1929 at the Casey Boatbuilding Company in Fairhaven, a company known in its day for building fast rum-running boats in addition to fishing vessels and later racing sailboats. She is one of the last of a breed of wooden boats built when fish were plentiful and commercial fishing was a year-round industry.
“I got tired. I’ve done it for 50 years. I was 11 years old when I started fishing in that boat. I think that is long enough,” Mr. Coutinho said. “Everything is getting tight. Fuel is expensive. The cost of everything has gone up. With a wooden boat you have to haul it out, maintain it. It is not at all like a fiberglass boat,” he added.
Last summer Mr. Coutinho fished out of Menemsha, as he has for at least 30 summers, dragging for summer flounder. His daily quota was 300 pounds. Mr. Coutinho sold his fluke to Stanley Larsen at the Menemsha Fish Market. “He is a dedicated Island fisherman,” Mr. Larsen said this week.
Viking has a long and colorful history that includes a fire and at least one sinking. The vessel came into the Coutinho family in a newsworthy way. On Sept. 6, 1946, the Gazette ran a story about an explosion and fire on Viking in Menemsha Harbor a week earlier. “The Viking, literally gutted by fire, and shaken by the two explosions which occurred in her hull, will require new timbering in places, new planking to a degree, and general refastening, with respect to the hull proper . . . It is expected nevertheless, that the vessel will be in commission before winter,” the story said.
After the explosion, owner M.S. Duarte of Vineyard Haven sold the boat to Capt. John A. Coutinho, Craig Coutinho’s grandfather. Mr. Coutinho was a native of Madeira and spent most of his adult life on the Vineyard waterfront.
Viking was rebuilt at the Martha’s Vineyard Shipyard and re-launched in January 1947, at which point the Gazette ran another extensive story. Restoration of the vessel included replacing the gasoline engine with a diesel engine.
Years later, in November 1962, the fishing boat almost sank overnight in the Oak Bluffs harbor. The boat was spotted going down by police officer Peter Williamson (who later would become police chief in that town). Mr. Williamson alerted the fire department, which responded quickly with a pump.
In February of the following year, the boat did sink. With the help of a local diver, Joseph Leonardo Jr., of Oak Bluffs, and Lester Baptiste operating a Goodale Construction Crane, Viking was brought back to the surface.
Mr. Coutinho remembers the stories. On the night of the sinking, he recalled that when his father learned what was going on, “He flew out of the house.” “I was just a kid,” he added. More important, he recalled the leading role the wooden boat played in the workaday life of his father and grandfather, who both were full-time commercial fishermen. “In those days it was a good living. These days it is a different story,” Mr. Coutinho said.
“I remember my father and my grandfather used to go on the back side of Noman’s Land in the wintertime to get yellowtail flounder. Those days are over. I haven’t seen yellowtail flounder in years,” he said.“I fished with my father for 26 years.”
In recent years Mr. Coutinho said he always fished alone and never took crew.
In addition to fishing for fluke last summer Mr. Coutinho supplied lobster bait for the local Menemsha fleet from his catch.
Mr. Coutinho said he had a good season, working among a dozen or so boats in Menemsha Bight and Vineyard Sound from May through September. “Years ago it was from April to November,” he said.
Will he miss Viking?
“I tell everyone, you come to a point, of course it bothers you. But it is a material thing. It is wood and a propeller. All things come to an end,” he said.