Maritime Explorer: Capt. Barry Gibson
The 61st annual Windjammer Days will take place Sunday, June 25 through Saturday, July 1, 2023. This year the Friends of Windjammer Days is celebrating our rich population of Maritime Explorers. Those featured have traveled extensively on different bodies of waters either for work, pleasure or both.
It took 14-year-old Barry Gibson almost two years of lawn mowing and snow shoveling to save up $300 to buy his first boat in 1965, a 10-year-old lapstrake 15-footer built by the E. M. White Co. here in Maine, powered by a 1956 30-hp Johnson outboard. He’s been on the ocean ever since.
Originally from Winchester, Massachusetts, Barry first came to Boothbay Harbor in the spring of 1968 with a high school buddy whose parents had a summer cottage on Spruce Point. Both hired on as deckhands on Capt. Bob Fish’s sightseeing boats Marabno II and Nellie G. IV and the Squirrel Island ferry Nellie G. II run by Bob’s father, Ray.
But Barry loved to fish, and spent much of his free time on the charter boat dock at Blake’s Marine, behind what is now McSeagull’s. He got to know some of the skippers, and in the summer of 1970 following his freshman year at the University of Miami he signed on as mate on the Arcade run by Capt. Tom Damery. Groundfish such as cod and pollock were the mainstay catches, and after the fish were filleted at the end of the day Barry was paid $10 and often received an additional $5 tip from the customers. Life was good.
Having accumulated enough sea time, Barry was able to sit for his six-passenger license at the Portland CG station in the spring of 1971, an exam consisting of 50 multiple-choice and 50 true/false questions. He was awarded a license that allowed him to operate between Port Clyde and Gloucester, and a few weeks later he and his buddy purchased a 1955 24’ plywood Bristol cabin cruiser (also Maine-built), named it Sasanoa, and promptly went into the charter fishing business.
Upon graduation from college in 1973, Capt. Barry went to work as a travelift operator at Boston Harbor Marina in Quincy, Massachusetts. In the spring of 1974 he bought a well-used 27-foot lapstrake flybridge Luhrs and brought it up to Boothbay for a summer of chartering. He named it Shark after a boat he had fished on several times in Key West run by Capt. Joe Russell, who had occasionally skippered for Ernest Hemingway. Barry caught his first bluefin tuna, a 550-pounder, on the Shark with local tuna fisherman and car-repairer Dan Williams, who Barry had hired as mate and who was 15 at the time.
Barry sold the Shark in 1975 and bought a local Boothbay boat, a Webber’s Cove Downeast 34 named Sands of Time which he re-named Shark II. He ran it each season until 1987, when he sold it and bought a 31-foot Rampage sportfisherman, the Shark III. He operated that one until 1993, when he had local boatbuilder Brad Simmons finish off a new 36-footer, the Shark IV.
Capt. Gibson’s big break came in 1977, during his fourth winter at the Quincy boat yard, when, on a whim, he wrote a feature article about fishing off Boothbay for Salt Water Sportsman magazine based in downtown Boston. Several months later he received a call from SWS asking if he’s like to come and interview for the position of Associate Editor. “I didn’t have a clue as to what an associate editor was supposed to do, but I put on a suit and went to the interview. A week later I was hired. Outside of marrying my wife Jean it was the best thing that ever happened to me,” he says.
Barry’s 27-year tenure at SWS gave him the opportunity to fish in places he could have only dreamed about. His travels for the magazine took him to most of the coastal states in the U.S., including Alaska, along with Deep Water Cay, Walker’s Cay, Bimini, Chub Cay, and Andros Island in the Bahamas, Jamaica, Belize, Venezuela, Costa Rica (4 times), Panama (twice) and the Portuguese island of Madeira off northwest Africa. “Species targeted included marlin, sailfish, tuna, roosterfish, all sorts of tropical groupers and snappers, bonefish, tarpon, snook, wahoo, amberjack, salmon, halibut, and a dozen more,” he says. “There were plenty of adventures along the way, including the time in Panama where someone came into our room at a remote jungle lodge and stole our cash while we slept. Fishing rod cases got lost in airports, boats broke down, we once had to buzz a
jungle airfield to get the pigs and sheep off before we could land, that sort of thing. But one of the high points was during a trip to Tamarindo in Costa Rica in 1991 where I managed to land a world record Pacific bigeye tuna on a fly rod. That record’s long since been broken, but I still have the certificate on my wall.”
Capt. Gibson was promoted to the position of SWS’s Editor in 1983, and soon began to take an interest in fisheries management. He served nine years on the New England Fishery Management Council (NEFMC) dealing with the Northeast cod collapse of the 1990s, and as a member of the Advisory Committee to the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas. He currently serves as the New England Regional Director for the Recreational Fishing Alliance, is vice-chair of the NEFMC Recreational Advisory Panel, is vice-president of the Northeast Charterboat Captains Association (which he cofounded in 1988) and serves on the Boothbay Port Committee. “I’ve always been a strong advocate for responsible fishery management and the rights of recreational anglers to access the resource,” he says. “but it’s an arena where you have to learn how to negotiate.”
Although Barry retired from Salt Water Sportsman in 2004, he continues to write about fishing, travel, and fishery management issues, and over the years. He has had some 1,500 articles and over 1,000 photos published in magazines ranging from Outdoor Life and Field & Stream to Maine Sportsman (where he has penned the monthly Saltwater Column since 1986), Sports Illustrated, and Anglers’ Journal, and currently serves as the associate publisher for the Toronto-based Center Console Life magazine. In addition to writing, he served as a Field Surveyor for Atlantic & Pacific Marine Consulting based in Gloucester, Massachusetts from 2005 to 2021, performing over 300 surveys on damaged boats to 70’ all along the Maine coast. “I really enjoyed the surveying work,” he says. “The people I dealt with were great.”
On top of everything on his plate, Capt. Gibson has run his charter service every summer here in Boothbay Harbor for the past 52 years, and in 2014 was named as one of Salt Water Sportsman’s World’s Top 50 Charter Captains. At age 72 he now primarily chases striped bass in the bays and rivers in his Shark Six, a 28-foot center console, but gets offshore now and then for groundfish and sharks. “I love taking people fishing,” he says, “and I have no plans to retire. I’m going to keep at it as long as I can.”