By Doreen Leggett
Tom Leach, who served as the Harwich Harbormaster for close to 40 years, has seen a lot of fishing vessels.
Looking through old photos the other day he came across the Doris B. being loaded with bait at Saquatucket in 1972, a few years after the harbor was built and a year before he got there.
Curious about the blue boat, he posted a request for info on Commercial Fishing Boats of New England, a Facebook page, and quickly received close to 60 comments.
“I learned something,” said Leach, who is known as an amateur historian.
The boat was out of Bass River and built by Clarence “Junior” Burgess. According to The Register Newspaper, Burgess was a consummate boat builder and this one, built in 1961, was his ninth.
He already had built the 28-ft. Dreamer (1953) and the 42-ft. “Honey B.” (1956). The first boat he built was in 1944 when he was a kid. He built many more, and eight houses on his road too.
The Doris B., named after his wife, was a beamy, shallow draft trawler, said to be the largest craft built on Bass River that century.
When it was trailered down the road to the beach to make its ride to Ship Shops boatyard (which is still around), Burgess and his crew rode on top of the boat to push back overhanging branches on Old Main Street.
The Register reported on the journey:
Asked if moving the boat through town was expected to tie up traffic, Junior taciturnly replied, “It might bend traffic a little but not stop it.” That’s what happened, too, as cars along Old Main pulled over on the grass to give plenty of berth to the 50 footer, which was weaving gracefully on its trailer to avoid any parked cars.
The Doris B. was christened with a bottle of champagne by the real Doris B. and then about 75 invitees went to a soiree at the Burgess home. She marked a turning point in his life, the paper said.
From that point on, Burgess was going to leave behind his building career on land to concentrate on fishing. Building boats would be both a hobby and a means to an end. The end is fishing, “at which he is considered a superlative professional by his acquaintances, particularly those who have accompanied him on trips.”
His plan was to use her for line-trawling between Provincetown and Block Island and she was described as having “unusually heavy construction.”
“The Doris B is 53 ft. 10 in. long with a 16 ft. beam,” the article continued. “Her oak frames are mounted on oak keel 42 inches deep near the transom and seven inches wide. The stem is made of an oak timber in which the grain follows the curve. Shipwrights sought precisely the same numbers when they built in the days of sail.”
She was described as “heavy-chinned,” which means she had a boxy, straight -edged stern and was good in small, choppy seas. Other boats, which were more rounded were designed for bigger seas.
The Doris B was built to make two-day trips. The holds were divided into four sections, Burgess estimating she would carry 10,000 pounds. She was equipped with 12,000 ft. of trawl line.
Burgess, then 39, built the Doris B. singlehanded in three months, the story goes, mainly in his basement, treating every timber with wood preservative.
What caught the eye of many fishermen on Commercial Fishing Boats of New England was her cupola, looking like house.
Mark Leach, a longtime fishermen and Tom’s brother, said that the Foxy Lady, also built by Burgess, and the sister of another fishing vessel, Armageddon, had a similar cupola.
People also recounted other boats Burgess built, which had been sold and resold from fisherman to fisherman.
As the comments continued another story emerged. The Foxy Lady, smaller lobster boat in the background, barely visible, had a story of her own.
The Doris B.’s sister boat rolled over with a bunch of traps not long after. Captained by Ted Brown from Orleans, famous in his own right, and his crew Bro Cote were rescued by a passing freighter.