A Big Wave journey

Big Wave Captain Ryan Barrett uses a chainfall to jockey the new power plant on the Big Wave in Newport. (Photo by Bret Yager)

NEWPORT — It’s the dream and goal of anyone who spends significant time in commercial fishing.

Unless you’re a moneyed investor, you start on the deck, learn how everything works — from winches to weather to your crewmate’s breaking point. The persistent ones who demonstrate a knack eventually make it into the wheelhouse, where the hard labor of the deck is replaced with the stress of responsibility. Those who forge through this level look to the next — buying so they can have the direct benefit of ownership and of their own work.

But ownership is a high bar and it means that the captain is willing to take on the entire responsibility of the operation. The stress doesn’t go away.

Those who succeed in the fisheries are eternal optimists — because belief in the next haul, the next season, gets you over the rough patches.

On the Big Wave, Ryan Barrett is looking steadily ahead to the goal.

The teal green 58-foot shrimper/crabber has been in shipyard for about a month, but work has been ongoing for several months as Barrett and his crew overhaul the boat with upgrades designed to put it in top contention.

The Big Wave is getting a new K19 Cummins engine, exhaust system, intermediate shaft and screw. The dividers between fish hold bays have been modified for smoother flow of shrimp into the hold.

Barrett honed his skills as the captain of the crabber and shrimper Eddie & Rod for more than a decade, and began operating the Big Wave last October. During the 2018-19 crab season, the Wave — formerly the Sea Sick II before a major sponson job and new wheelhouse — was an awesome ride and working platform with its 26-foot wide deck, Barrett said.

But it was underpowered and he knew that more work needed to happen so the boat could efficiently tow the necessary shrimp nets and process the 65,000 pounds needed to fill up for a proper trip.

The time away from the fishing grounds is an investment, and no fisherman likes to be in shipyard. But the timing may be good. The shrimp season so far this year is nowhere near the pace of last year, which was the third most profitable ever. Newport fishermen are grinding out long trips on the water to get their product, and sometimes they’re falling short of a full boat. Trawlers had initially been hopeful of a good haul after sitting at the dock on a strike that spanned a month and a half.

“I highly doubt this will even be close to last year’s overall catch,” Corey Rock said in a recent Facebook message from the Fishing Vessel Kylie Lynn. “I think we all got fooled on this one.”

Barrett is rolling with the punches. Most Newport captains can name one or more people without whom their career probably would never have left the dock. Barrett credits his business partner, Brad Benner, with a lot of what is making it possible for him to take his shot.

“I couldn’t have done it without Brad,” he said of the man he is buying out. “He made me a path to ownership.”

Barrett and his crew are ready to get their ship back into contention, but he said it’s important to make sure the proper steps are taken first.

“I’m hoping to be out here by the end of July,” he said. “But you know how shipyard goes.”

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