In a just world, the Richard & Arnold would be one of the best-known landmarks in Provincetown. The venerable queen of the fleet — a true highliner — she has been fishing since the Great Depression. (In fact, Capt. David Dutra, who has owned and skippered the Richard & Arnold since 1979, said she was actually built to evade Prohibition; designed in the 1920s as a rum runner for the gangster Dutch Schultz.) In a just world, tourists would flock to the east side of MacMillan Pier to take pictures of this living legacy. But, as Dutra would be the first to tell you, this isn’t a just world. The perennially beleaguered Provincetown dragger fleet may have taken its final blow with the enactment of sector management regulations in 2010. “I’m a ghost,” Captain Dutra told me that year, when he was 65. “I’m the oldest man. I’ve got the oldest boat. I still love it, but all the spirit has been taken out of me.” Still the Richard & Arnold keeps coming and going. But for how much longer is anyone’s guess. At Casey’s Boatyard in Fairhaven, Mass., the Richard & Arnold took form in the 1920s as a half-scale version of a Gloucester schooner: 60 feet long on deck and 15 feet abeam, drawing 7 feet. She is “eastern rigged”; that is, the wheelhouse is aft. (In most other fishing vessels, wheelhouses or pilot houses are at the front of the boat.) From the outset, she was built to be a motor-sailer, having both a 100-horsepower Wolverine gasoline engine and a set of sails to steady the vessel and assist the engine. As part of the Dutch Schultz legacy, she was given an extra big belly-like hold to carry liquor bottles. Yet, Captain Dutra said: “Even wide open, she don’t leave a wake. She cuts through the water like a stiletto.”
The vessel never saw contraband service. In fact, she didn’t leave Major Casey’s boatworks until about 1933/34, when she was purchased for $3,500 by Capt. Frank Parson of 416 Commercial Street, owner and skipper of the dragger Arthur & Matthew. Captain Parson named the vessel after two of his sons and — quite remarkably — her name has never changed in more than 70 years.
By the end of the 1930s, the Richard & Arnold was already recognized for her prowess in getting big catches in a short time to the Boston fish market. She was designated the highliner of the fleet at the Provincetown Fishermen’s Association ball in 1939. In the 1940s, she was purchased from Captain Parson for $3,500 by Capt. Anthony Thomas (b ±1902), whose son, Anthony S. Thomas Jr. (b ±1925) served on the boat and whose grandson, Anthony L. Thomas (1950-2010), practically grew up on the boat.
Young Tony started fishing in 1962, when he was 12. At that time, his grandfather was the owner and captain. His father was the first mate and cook. His uncle Donald — far better known as the “Dancing Cop” — was on the crew, as was Russell Hollway; a five-man complement. When the vessel was sold to Charlie Bennett in the mid-60s, Tony Thomas told me: “It broke my heart. I couldn’t believe they did that.”
About five years later, Alfred Silva of North Truro bought the Richard & Arnold. Silva is shown as the master in the Vessels/Owners Log, available on the Provincetown History Preservation Project site. At this time, in the early 1970s, the boat was valued at $7,000. He completely rebuilt the vessel, Tony Thomas told me: installing a new V-8 engine, renailing the bottom, adding a side winch and constructing a new pilot house. Indeed, the Richard & Arnold was looking so good that the younger Thomas could not resist the chance to reclaim the boat of his boyhood, buying it from Silva in 1976. “That was the mistake I made,” he told me candidly. “I bought it on emotion, instead of using my head. There were better boats for almost as much money. My father told me, ‘Do not buy the boat.’ It wasn’t what I needed.” Captain Thomas sold the boat to Garren and Holway, who owned it briefly.
Captain Dutra and his wife, Judy, stepped up in 1979, after 10 years of owning the Wildflower, a little Nova boat (along the lines of the Patience Too). Born David Souza in 1945, he had grown up at 12 Pearl Street. His paternal grandparents were Joseph Souza, a native of S̃ão Miguel, and Mary (Valentine) Souza. His maternal grandparents were Capt. Michael Diogo (d 1943) and Amelia (Costa) Diogo. Captain Diogo was the master of the Fanny Parnell, which passed into the hands of Capt. David Souza (d 1947), who had married Captain Diogo’s daughter, Julianna. Three years after Captain Souza’s death, Julianna was re-married, to Herman Dutra, the foreman at Duarte Motors, whose father, Manuel, owned the Viola D — named for his mother, Viola Dutra. Young David took his stepfather’s name. Judy worked with him on the Truro Aquaculture Project in 1996.
Under the byline J. J. Dutra, she is completing Nautical Twilight, the story of a Cape Cod fishing family, which is to be published in 2011.
In recent years, Captain Dutra watched disconsolately as other wooden fishing boats almost literally disappeared before his eyes, sinking at anchor. “They go to hell faster, just sitting there not working,” he said in 2008. (“Provincetown’s Fishing Fleet Is Sinking Fast,” Cape Cod Times, Feb. 10, 2008.) Two years later, new conversation rules were imposed requiring that groundfishermen join a collective known as a sector, which would have an overall quota that the vessels could divide among themselves. Because the quotas were set on catches of the immediate past, and because the Provincetown fleet had already been operating under strict quotas, Captain Dutra and other owners protested strongly that the effect would to freeze them at catch levels that were uneconomically low. “Here you’ve got an 80-year-old boat that’s got more history than most, but you can’t use it,” he told The Banner, as the new system began. (“New Fishing Regulations Gut Provincetown Fleet,” The Banner/Wicked Local, 15 May 2010.)
Later in the year, when speaking with me, he was even more downbeat. “It’s not possible to survive” under the sector system, Captain Dutra said. “The fish are back but they’re not allowing men to catch them, unless you join a sector. We turned fish into a commodity that can be bought and sold. The Richard & Arnold has been turned from a highliner into nothing.” (He recommended Saving Seafood as a Web site that reflected his priorities.)
The wheelhouse of the Richard & Arnold, like that of other boats, is a jarring contrast between technology that would have been familiar to Azoreans a century and a half ago and electronics that don’t look much different from something you’d find in a modern office cubicle. Just don’t get Captain Dutra started on the SkyMate Vessel Monitoring System, which tracks his movements for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “This ain’t helping me catch fish,” he said, squinting at the screen. “It’s just the government right here in the wheelhouse. I paid $3,500 for my own ankle bracelet.”
Mixed in with rancor and regret, though, is obvious fondness and respect for the boat’s past. “An old Portygee told me one day that this boat had a lucky keel,” Captain Dutra said to me. “It can find the fish. It’s been very good to me and my family.”