This month, we ventured out across the causeway to the Sunshine side of Deer Isle to cover Captain Darryl Knowlton! After fishing for 63 years, we figured he’d have a few things to share, and we were right! At age 13, for $3, Darryl bought his lobster license. He and his grandfather then built a 14’ skiff to fish around 40 traps during summer break. He’d keep fishing these traps over the weekends into November, until basketball season would start up, then he’d take them out of the water. That first summer lobstering was 1956, and Darryl has been fishing nearly every season since then!
Around the same time, Almon Eaton taught Darryl how to knit heads and forage the woods for various pieces of spruce to craft traps. “We could just about find everything we needed to build traps from the woods,” Darryl recounted. While Darryl doesn’t craft traps from the forest anymore, he does still knit the large heads for his traps throughout the winter by hand!
While Darryl was the first in his family to make a career out of commercial fishing, he came from a line of capable individuals. His father was a dairy and potato farmer, with his plot of land on Tea Hill Rd, and he’d cut trees and pulp wood, “I was using a chainsaw by age 12” Darryl reflected. His grandfather became a cabin boy at just 10 years old. He got his captain’s license at age 16 and became master of the three-masted schooner, Phiheman, sailing from Deer Isle to New York to Barbados, transporting lumber South and returning North, laden with rum, molasses and other goods.
After graduating from high school, Darryl left to study mechanical engineering. While at Wentworth Institute, he felt torn about his studies, and was drawn back to Deer Isle. His year in school certainly has come in handy over the years however! 1964 marked the year that Darryl married his wife, Nancy, as well as purchased his first big fishing boat, F/V: 007, a 29’ wooden boat, named so because “Darryl didn’t want to spend much money on lettering” said Nancy! After a handful of seasons, Darryl upgraded to F/V: Intrepid, a 34’ Webbers Cove, built by Joel White. Darryl fished F/V: Intrepid for 17 years, going out for Maine lobster, shrimp, sea cucumbers, urchins, sea scallops, mussels, really “whatever I could catch to make a dollar” Darryl said.
In 1985, Darryl finished building F/V: Tenacious, a 37’ Repco. He had the engine installed, but otherwise built the boat entirely at home. After fishing F/V: Tenacious for over a decade, Darryl felt compelled to build himself another boat which he finished in 1997 and still fishes today! Named by Nancy, F/V: On Eagles’ Wings is a 38’ Holland. Throughout the process of being built, this boat was so well-loved, that once finished, Darryl helped his brother-in-law, Dick Kent build the same exact boat (appropriately named F/V: Copy Cat)!
While Darryl used to fish for a variety of different sea creatures, these days he sticks to lobstering Spring through Fall, enjoying the wintertime with his family and preparing for the season ahead! On the stern for his 16th year aboard F/V: On Eagles’ Wings is Tom Simmons. Tom is “just as loyal as he could be” said Darryl, “he’ll do anything for me. We get along great, but of course I’m deaf and can’t hear half of what he says” Darryl chuckled. Tom’s daughter, Samantha goes as their third man during summers, and once Darryl’s boat is out for the winter, Tom jumps onboard F/V: Justified as third man for Darryl and Nancy’s son, Matt Knowlton. “Tom is a determined person,” said Darryl, “good to keep him in the family!”
Overall, Darryl loves the independence of being a commercial fisherman, “it’s great to be your own boss, you get to go when you want, of course the trouble with that is, you always go!” In addition to catching a bright blue lobster, another unusual siting, occurred one foggy day, “It was thick of fog, we couldn’t see anything, and then all of a sudden, I saw the roof of a house, cupola and everything, just floating along, peaking out above the fog” remembered Darryl. It was a house on a barge traveling from Lubec to Deer Isle (perhaps it was the same ‘floating house’ that Darryl’s brother-in-law, Dick Kent referenced in his Fisherman Friday interview as well!)!
A couple of years ago, Darryl came down with an autoimmune disease that kept him in the hospital for five long months. Nancy recounted, “more than 70 different people came to visit, that’s what kind of community we have here.” After such a time in the hospital, with total paralysis and weeks of physical and occupational therapy, you would think that Darryl would miss a year of lobstering, but people close to him wouldn’t let that happen! With the help from friends and family, and extra support from Tom and Samantha, F/V: On Eagles’ Wings didn’t miss a season!
Darryl and Nancy love eating lobster at home. “I probably don’t bring as many home as she’d like!” Darryl said with a chuckle! When new shell lobsters show up in Spring, Darryl will bring home all of the really thin-shelled new shell lobsters to enjoy. When asked how they like to eat lobster, both Nancy and Darryl responded, “anyway!” However, Nancy really loves lobster stew. What’s in ‘lobster stew?’ Nancy says, “just pretty much lobster… and butter, and some milk and canned milk.” Darryl said a classic family preparation is to sauté the lobster in butter and add a dash of vinegar when it’s finished. Regardless of cooking method, Nancy wanted to share the tip of removing the rubber bands from the claws before cooking. “You can taste the rubber band if you don’t!” she said distastefully.
Nancy named the boat, ‘On Eagles’ Wings,’ “I’m good at naming boats!” she admitted! Biblical in nature, ‘eagles’ and ‘eagles’ wings’ are referenced in many verses throughout the bible. In Isaiah 40:31, it reads, “but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” Nancy felt that it was the perfect name for Darryl’s boat, referencing his character—strong and persistent. Now that Darryl’s health has recovered, it really does seem like he has ‘renewed strength!’ Here’s to a winter of health, relaxation and travel! Thank you, Darryl and Nancy, for all that you do for the community here on the island and beyond the bridge!