ROANN: Eastern-Rig Dragger

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ROANN

Roann is one of the last surviving examples of the fishing vessels that replaced sailing schooners like the Museum’s L.A. Dunton. The eastern-rig draggers originated in the 1920s; indeed, Thomas McManus, who designed the Dunton, was influential in their development. Draggers completed the revolutionary advance from sail to engine, and from hooks to nets, in New England fishing technology. Powered by a diesel engine, and dragging a large conical fishnet called an otter trawl along the seabed, Roann and her crew of three could catch cod and haddock twice as fast as dorymen from a vessel like the Dunton could with their baited hooks. Draggers were also the first to catch large quantities of flounder.

As an “eastern-rig” vessel, Roann has her helm aft and her working deck amidships like schooners and like the big British-style, steam-powered steel trawlers that introduced the technology in eastern New England just after 1900. “Western-rig draggers” of Connecticut and Rhode Island, like the Museum’s Florence, which grew out of the local fishing sloop tradition and worked in more protected waters, had pilothouses forward and working decks aft.

Roann

Museum shipwrights preparing Roann for her re-launch after an extensive restoration. May 2008

Albert E. Condon (1887-1963) designed Roann in 1944 for Roy W. Campbell. A native of Friendship, Maine, Condon worked as a boatbuilder before taking night classes in naval architecture and becoming a draftsman and later a shipyard supervisor. In the 1940s, while superintending the Pierce and Kilburn yard in Fairhaven, Massachusetts, Condon was a leading designer of such fishing craft. His plans, including Roann’s, are part of Mystic Seaport’s Ships Plans Collection.

Three years after Condon completed the design, Roann was built by Newbert & Wallace of Thomaston, Maine, a company that built dozens of draggers and was well known and respected for high-quality, durable construction. Her master builder, Leroy Wallace, a protege of Condon’s, opened his yard about the beginning of World War II and remained in business for 30 years.

Roann

With reframing and replanking finished, Roann was re-launched in May 2008 after a three-year restoration. Some interior, mechanical, and deck work were completed once the vessel was back in the water.

At 60 feet, Roann is on the small end of the spectrum for eastern-rig draggers, but she is a hard-working, seaworthy vessel that survived 50 years of work without major alterations. Roy Campbell of Vineyard Haven, Massachusetts, fished Roann from Martha’s Vineyard, dragging local waters for flounder, cod, and haddock. Her second owner, the late Chet Westcott, fished Roann from Point Judith, Rhode Island, as did her last owner, Tom Williams, and his son.

The eastern-rig dragger had been around for more than 20 years when Roann joined the fleet, and the type remained the standard New England fishing vessel into the 1970s. Since then, however, wooden eastern-rig draggers have virtually disappeared, replaced by larger, more efficient steel-hulled stern trawlers like the one Tom Williams bought to replace Roann, which have their pilothouses forward and use net reels and stern ramps to fish more safely and even more productively.