By Doreen Leggett
Zach Bennett’s grandfather and father were well-known, successful captains, but he never went fishing with them.
“That would have been nice,” Bennett said, his voice part slow drawl, part Cape Cod, unfailingly polite.
Bennett, 28, was sitting in his truck at Saquatucket Harbor, his black dog Otis beside him. He was looking at his new boat, having just gotten back from a trip and in a few hours he’d be headed out scalloping again.
“I’m married to the boat. I will be for the first few years,” Bennett said, not seeming too upset about it.
“I feel bad for the dog,” he added.
Though Bennett didn’t grow up offshore, he did shellfish, with a little freshwater fishing in the ponds. His grandfather Fred Bennett has been fishing for more than 60 years and his dad, Edward, fished for more than half his life, but when Zach was young he didn’t know what he wanted to do.
In his late teens, around the time he decided he had enough of high school (he ended up going to Nauset High nights and getting his diploma) he decided he wanted to fish commercially.
So he asked Captain Greg Connors for a spot on his boat at the time, the F/V Synergistic.
“I didn’t know anything about gillnetting. I just knew I wanted to give it a shot,” Bennett said. “He hired me because of my last name.”
But those who know Bennett well say he was destined by blood and temperament to wind up where he is.
“He is just a fishermen, right from day one,” said his grandfather. “He reminds me of me when I was getting started.”
Fred is proud of his grandson, and already sees him growing his business.
“He is just a really nice kid,” said Bennett. “It’s his first big boat. He’ll go from there.”
Scott Cornwall, who grew up with and fished with Zach’s dad, had much the same take.
“I tell his dad that kid is going to do wonders,” Cornwall said. “The kid is just like me, just like his dad, just like his grandad: he just loves being on the water. He is a go-getter.”
Friends say that he has an entrepreneurial spirit. Willing to pay his dues and work hard, he knew the moment he worked on Connors’ boat that someday he was going to captain his own.
Bennett spent time on others boats on the way. The first was a 23-foot Seacraft, a bit too small and not really safe crossing the wily Chatham Bar.
Around that time his dad bought the Synergistic and Zach and his older brother, Jared, ran that together. The brothers get along on land, but on the boat “it didn’t work out well,” Zach said with a slight smile. “We split ways pretty fast.”
The younger Bennett ended up working with Cornwall, who was running the Dawn. T at the time.
Then Captain Doug Feeney told him about his boat in 2015 and “I bought it right then and there.” He named her Elisa.
He went dogfishing by himself on the Elisa, also working with other captains, sometimes his brother. He went scalloping a few times and found he liked it.
When his older brother Jared was looking to diversify beyond gillnetting, he bought a scallop permit from the Fishermen’s Alliance, which allowed him to enter the fishery. Zach worked on that boat, the F/V White Cap, and helped Jared with direct sales at the dock over the summer.
So last fall Zach filled out an application with the Fishermen’s Alliance, and bought a permit of his own. Then he went on the hunt for a boat.
Bennett says he still loves the Elisa and the money he made with her over the years helped him build up his bank account to buy his first big boat. He sold her to another local fisherman who is paying her off in installments.
“I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep her forever,” he said.
Bennett was looking for a boat he could use to scallop or gillnet and he ended up finding about five of them, but the one that caught his eye right off was Helltown.
“It was pretty much love at first sight. I didn’t want Beau to know,” Bennett said, laughing.
Beau is Beau Gribbin, a long-time Provincetown captain. Gribbin, who has two other larger boats, had been looking to sell the Helltown, even though it has a special place in his heart.
Zach said he’ll keep the name of the boat, which is meant to honor Provincetown’s mythology and history. Puritanical settlers thought the town was only good for heathens, pirates and fishermen, so fishermen and outcasts created their own community on the backshore, nicknamed Helltown.
Bennett has only had the boat for a short while and the first thing he did was take it to New Bedford. Cornwall went along for the ride and the Helltown went first to Fish Island, where Bennett and his dad took off her old rigging, then to Pope Island for welding and other work.
“He rigged out the boat and did a hell of a job,” Cornwall said. “I might take a few trips with him.”
After spending close to four months in New Bedford, Helltown has been at Saquatucket for a month or so. Bennett and his crew took her for a shakedown cruise and then her first real trip.
“We’ve been learning as we go,” he said.
In the beginning he only took one crew member, but lately he has been doing well enough to take two or three.
The weather windows can be small in the winter, but Bennett goes as often as possible. “I want to get as much tow time as I can,” he said.
Bennett isn’t going the direct sales route. He sells his scallops at the auction in New Bedford. His dad takes the scallops up, for which Zach is very grateful.
And though he didn’t talk about fishing with his grandfather while he was growing up, that has changed.
“Now all we do is talk about fishing,” said Zach smiling, including Fred’s suggestions of places to go.
“I haven’t tried them yet, but I will.”