The Newport Beach Dory Fleet — Looking Back # 4 — 1971

A Line to the Sea—and the Past: Newport Beach Dorymen Like Biblical Fishers

Newport Beach—The dory fishermen of Newport Beach have been likened to the fishermen of biblical times on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Poems have been written about them. A restaurant, The Dorymen, has been named for them. Books and magazine articles have praised their courage in facing the ocean’s good and bad moods in small boats, and their independence in shunning the 9to-five way of life.

Their “office” — a patch of sand next to the Newport Pier where their boays are pulled from the surf and their fish sold in open-air market fashion-has been made an official landmark by the Newport Beach Historical Society.

“What a great life,” said a pink-faced, overweight touris standing toe-to-toe with a rubber-booted doryman. The smell of fish and bait was thick in the salty breeze. Sun glinted on the ocean and the gentle surf made soothing sounds. “I bet there’s nothing else in the world you’d rather be doing,” the tourist went on. Try me on beer drinking,” the doryman answered and turned away.

Carl Marberry is 43 years old. For 20 of those years he has fished with the Newport dory fleet, and he knows that the sun is not always sparkling on the small friendly waves and that the surf is not always gentle. He knows that even on a day of beautiful weather the fish might not bite, and when the fish aren’t around, he knows for sure that the bill collectors and the hungry mouths at home are.

Carl Marberry

Don (Red) Zeitler is 20 years old and has been a dory fleet regular for only two years. During a spell of good weather a few months ago, Red fished every day for 20 days, caught 2,3000 pounds of mostly rock cod and took in $800.

‘End Up With Zero’—“But then,” he said, “you can go another 20 days and end up with zero.” Like several days ago, when he rowed his dory through the surf, started the outboard engine and headed seaward on a course of 240 degrees, roughly southwest. It was a thick, gray day, and within minutes the coastline had vanished in the mists and the 18-foot dory was alone. The breeze, blowing from the southeast, was picking up. “Southeasters bring rain or fog,” Red had said earlier, “and the sea gets all sloppy.” He was steering by a battered old compass fastened to the bottom of the boat. His other navigating tools were a wrist-watch and an inexpensive fathometer. He knew the speed of his boat, about 15 knots, and he knew that in almost an hour he should be over Dago Banks, a submarine mountain whose peak is 110 fathoms (680 feet) below the surface, halfway between Newport and Catalina Island. He was looking for a little red flag marker he had rigged on a float some days earlier when he had found fish on the banks. The southeast wind was getting colder, and a fine drizzle of rain was coming out of the fog. Red’s running time was used up. He slowed the engine and began searching for his red flag marker.

Widening Circles—Visibility was less than half a mile. He cruised in widening circles, standing upright in the rear of the dory, a lonely figure in big boots, yellow oilskin overalls and a  dirty visored cap from beneath which his shoulder-length red hair flowed and whipped in the wind. He had sufficient gasoline on board to assure his return to Newport—but not enough to waste in a long search for the small red marker in the gray wastes. He switched on his fathometer to see if he could locate the 110-fathom peak of the ridge somewhere below him. The fathometer wasn’t working. He circled some more, looking for the flag. No luck.  In the slim hope that he was over Dago Banks, he stopped the engine and streamed the long line of baited hooks that had been coiled precisely in a wooden tub. When he came to the end of the line, he held it for a few minutes and suddenly smiled a little. “They’re chewing at it,” he said.

He tied the end of the line to a float, threw it overboard, started the engine and prepared to fish another spot a few yards away with a rod and reel. A half hour passed. He reeled in the line on the rod, straining at the 6=pound weight he had attached to carry 25 baited hooks several hundred feet down. The first two hooks held two small sharks, about 18 inches long. Red flipped them off and threw them back in disgust. The third hook was empty. The fourth had a dark gray sea trout. All the rest were empty. “One fish,” Red said.

He stowed the rod, started the engine and searched out the float to which he had attached the other line, the main line  with 50 hooks. He found the float, but there was no line attached to it. In some way, it had gone adrift. Red threw the float into the bottom of the boat, started the engine, took a quick heading from his compass and felt the freshening southwest wind driving the thin rain and the spray from his bow against his right cheek as he steered northeast to take him home to the Newport Pier. “Twenty dollars,” Red said. “That line and hooks and bait cost me $20… for one fish.

It was past noon. He had come out through the surf just after dawn. He would get back somewhere around 2 p.m. With the help of other dorymen, he would drag the 1,000 pounds of boat, motor and gear on rollers up the beach. He would work until after dark overhauling his tackle, getting a new trawl (line), baiting the hooks and coiling them in the tub ready for tomorrow.

Some of the other dorymen would have had better luck that day. They would have hauled their boats up and opened bright umbrellas over them, creating instant open-air markets on the sand.  The some, with the help of their wives, would have cleaned and sold theirnewspaper-wrapped fish to beach visitors. Some—as Red would have done on a better day—would have taken their catch to nearby restaurants which are regular customers for fresh seafood.

Dory fishing can be dangerous. Two men have disappeared in their small boats. Red himself was rescued by a Navy ship 14 miles offshore after he drifted for 7 hours. And Carl Marberry, burly and tough, with tattooed arms, admits to a strange mishap 8 years ago. “I was about a mile off shore,” he said, “I came on a big ball (school) of anchovies and I got greedy. I was scooping them into the boat with a long handled net. “I got about 1,6000 pounds of ‘em in with me. And then I put one more anchovy in, and we sank.” He was rescued by his father-in-law, Paul Phegley, another doryman. The boat was recovered, after his engine broke down too, and is the one young Red uses now.

Marberry says he didn’t know until recently that all dorymen were invited to be honored guests at a banquet given by the Newport Beach Historical Society two years ago. It was the occasion in June, 1969, on which the fleet site was declared a historical landmark, and all the 15 fishermen were supposed to be in the dining hall of the Balboa Pavilion  to receive formal praise for their courage, their independence, and “their contribution to the colorful history of Newport Beach.” Three or four of them, including Red, showed up. “Did you have to pay for the dinner?” Marberry asked Red.  “Hell no. It was free. We were guests,” Red answered. “What’d they serve, steak and prime rib?” Marberry asked. “Rock cod,” said Red. “Rock cod that was caught that day.” Marberry stared at him, turned and clumped away in his hip boots.

“You have to be like a squirrel and save up for when the weather’s bad.

Me, I don’t save mine. We eat chicken one day and feathers the next.”

—Carl Marberry, Dory Fisherman

—Gordon Grant, Los Angeles Times, March 8, 1971

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Additional stories on the history of Newport’s Dory Fleet 

The Newport Beach Dory Fleet — Looking Back #1 —1934


The Newport Beach Dory Fleet — Looking Back #2 —1950—-looking-back-2-—-1950/

The Newport Beach Dory Fleet — Looking Back #3 —1969—-looking-back-3-—-1969/

The Newport Beach Dory Fleet — Looking Back #5 — 1973—-looking-back-5-—-1973/

The Newport Beach Dory Fleet — Looking Back #6 — 1988—-looking-back-6-—-1988/

The Newport Beach Dory Fleet — Looking Back #7 — 1989—-looking-back-7-—-1989/


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