A tip of the ‘cap’

by Evan Bower

  • <p>CONTRIBUTED PHOTO</p><p>Chockle Cap sets out from Lunenburg harbour for the last time on March 12.</p>

For the first crew of Lunenburg's Chockle Cap, trips on the vessel were experiments conducted on the sea.

The 90-foot, half-wood and half-steel vessel was not only unconventional, those aboard weren't even sure it had the power to tow the seafloor and get the catch back to shore.

But after a collision with a Highliner vessel sunk the Margaret Jane in 1980, the Adams and Knickle Ltd. fleet was in need of a replacement, and a wooden hull at A.F. Theriault Shipyard - built to carry herring but abandoned before completion - proved too good to resist.

It took a few modifications, but before long, not only did the experiment work, but Chockle Cap went on to be the area's last wooden offshore-fishing vessel.

"That's how we ended up with the Chockle Cap, and that's why you'll never see another one like it," said Kevin Mayo, captain of the ship for 18 years and a member of the crew for its entire 29 years on the sea.

Aside from supplying Adams and Knickle scallops, the unique vessel's presence has been a fixture on the Lunenburg waterfront, carried the Olympic torch before the winter games in 2010 and, according to company president Jane Ritcey Moore, became like a pet to its port town.

But on March 12, the recently sold Chockle Cap set out from the Lunenburg harbour for the last time, headed toward Newfoundland for a new life in fixed-gear shrimp, crab and turbot fishing.

"It feels like an end of an era for this whole company, that we've gone to freezing at sea as opposed to landing fresh," said Mayo. "It's a piece of history for this company and for the town, and certainly for myself. The only consistency in any of this is change, and this is the next step."

Any ship has its quirks, says Mayo, and Chockle Cap was no different. Chockle Cap's qualities ensured it was always "the smallest and the slowest" scallop vessel on the sea, but that was all part of its charm.

"During its working life, we worked the vessel, and what she could and could not do, and understood it to the nth degree," said Mayo. "Now that she is no longer going, of course, now it has a sentimental place in my psyche, but at the time, you just worked the boat."

It may have been the ship's peculiar construction that brought out the parental instincts in employees of the company and people throughout the sea-faring town. Because of its size, says Mayo, people developed a tendency to "keep an eye" on how it was doing.

"[Everyone] made sure she was ship-shape and was glad to see her come in," he said. "And glad, when the quota was finished at the end of the year, that she was safe and tied to the dock."

Chockle Cap made between 14 and 18 trips a year, hitting the traditional scallop fishing area's for Atlantic Canada - Georges Bank, Browns Bank, Western Bank.

In his nearly three decades on Chockle Cap, Mayo logged in the neighbourhood of 75,000 hours on the ship in trips alone, not counting the time he spent on it in port. But looking back, it isn't the long days at sea on the vessel that come first to his mind, but what it did for his and many others' livelihood back on land.

"We always paid the bills, you know," said Mayo. "Twenty-nine years on the vessel, I raised my two children, paid all the bills, and she treated us just great."

Now, Mayo captains the freezer vessel Maude Adams, trading the distinctively small boat for the largest vessel the company has.

But no matter where his work takes him, he knows he'll probably always be the Chockle Cap guy.

"It's certainly been a huge piece of my family history because of the 29 years I spent on it. There are people who identify me with the boat and ask me about it all the time, and that's OK, I'm OK with that," said Mayo.

"She certainly paid for herself many times over, she worked well, and we made it a successful venture. Chockle Cap did us proud."

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