Three years ago Bob Dobias Jr., owner of Cape Codder Marine, got an email from one of the organizers of the Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby. The subject line read Cape Coffee.
“We thought it was an email scam of some sort because it talked about donating a boat,” he recalled.
Cape Coffee was of course a mistake, an odd auto-correct sent to a business whose owner at the time had not even heard of the derby. Eastern Boats had recently finished its run of donating the grand prize, and the derby committee was looking for a new company to step in.
“But then we looked into exactly what the tournament was,” Mr. Dobias recalled. “For some reason it had never come across our radar but we were impressed with the number of participants and then when we started mentioning it we found out that everyone knew about it — except for us.”
Mr. Dobias said yes and for the past three years Cape Codder Marine has donated the grand prize boat, a Cape Codder 19, fully loaded with engine and trailer. Each October his boat has shared the stage with the grand prize truck or car — but this year the boat will be the sole grand prize in the spotlight, albeit one with less fanfare. Due to Covid-19 the normal celebratory derby key ceremony will not take place this year. Organizers are still working out the details for a possible small in-person ceremony with a live-stream component.
The story of the Cape Codder 19 dates to the late 1960s when Sandy Urquhart was tinkering with hull designs aimed at creating an affordable craft made specifically for Cape and Vineyard waters.
“There’s that two to three-foot chop that happens every day off Chatham, Monomoy and Vineyard Sound, there’s always a breeze in the afternoon,” Mr. Dobias said. “Sandy wanted something that would ride well through water like that for a 19-foot boat.”
“Back in the 70s, for a guy with a decent job and two kids, a 19-foot boat would be the ideal size,” he added.
But over the years people gravitated to larger, more expensive boats and the design fell out of favor.
Mr. Dobias picked it up on Craig’s list, looking to revive the classic, affordable design. At the time he was doing tree work but had always cast an eye on the water. In high school he moved from upstate New York to Swampscott and quickly shifted to life on the ocean.
After purchasing the design, he went into business with his father, Bob Dobias Sr. In addition to boats, the two run a lobstering business, putting out 750 pots in the Swampscott area. The boat business is headquartered in Lynn.
“Lobstering has always been our primary source of revenue but over the last three years we’ve gotten busy with the boat business as well,” Mr. Dobias said.
The company does mostly custom work, from the 19-foot and 24-foot Cape Codders, to a 35-foot lobster boat.
Mr. Dobias and his father come down to the Vineyard every year for the derby awards ceremony, arriving a few nights before the grand prize drawing, although that will change this year. Mr. Dobias said the first year remains the most vivid in his mind.
“That was when John Stasiuk won. He’s a tree guy, actually. He lives down in Connecticut. We’ve come to be friends with him and stay with him on the Vineyard for a weekend ever since. That captures, I think, a lot of what the derby is about, those connections.”