A photograph of old Lampara fishing craft from 1927.

Lampara fishing launches line California's Monterey Harbor in 1927. Photo courtesy city of Monterey

One of the many reasons I enjoy researching historic boats so much is that the further you dig into their designs, the more those lines remind me of modern boats. It was during one such online daydreaming romp (ostensibly for vacation information on Monterey, CA) when I came across one of those old designs—Lampara boats, a group of craft designed and built for harvesting Pacific mackerel, sardines, and anchovies during the Pacific canning boom of the early to mid 20th century.

The “Lampara” name actually comes from a type of fishing net (very similar to a purse seine) that was brought over to America—and all the way west to California, in this case—by Sicilian immigrants in the early 1900s for harvesting mackerel, sardines, and anchovies. The name stuck as a way to generically classify a wide variety of fishing craft that use the Lampara-style net. My favorite are the smaller Lampara launches, which typically ranged from about 20 to 35 feet in length.

picture of an old Lapara fishing craft.

And old Lampara fishing launch. Note the high, flared bow and rounded stern. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

These sturdy, seaworthy Lampara launches closely resembled the high-bowed, rounded-stern fishing craft that still work the Mediterranean today. They were usually constructed of Douglas fir and redwood (both of which were readily available from nearby coastal forests). Small gas and diesel engines provided propulsion and were sometimes used to power a gaff and boom used to work the nets.

But how do you fit several tons of anchovies on a 30-foot boat? You don't. Smaller Lampara boats towed along an open wooden barge, which was used to contain the catch until it could be offloaded at a shoreside cannery. If you’ve ever been to Monterey, you’ve likely visited Cannery Row, which was at one time one of the epicenters of the Pacific anchovy and mackerel rush.

A photo of a Menorquin yacht.

A modern Menorquin trawler, which has Lampara boat DNA. Image courtesy of Menorquin Yachts

If these old, Mediterranean-inspired fishing craft had souls, I might be able to talk you into believing in boat reincarnation. You’ve probably never heard of a Menorquin powerboat, but if you’ve seen one (and you’ll definitely remember if you have), you are basically looking at a big Lampara boat with a more recreational attitude. It’s a testament to the seaworthy design of these tough old fishing craft.