Gonna need another boat

David Bigelow aims to create a replica of the Orca.

David Bigelow's restorations of the Lydia aim to transform the boat into a replica of the Orca, Quint’s famed fishing boat, and will be used to study sharks. — Courtesy of David Bigelow

Though he may not have realized it at the time, David Bigelow was dramatically influenced by his first brush with show business. When he was 5 years old, filming for Steven Spielberg’s summer blockbuster “Jaws” began on the Island. Bigelow was then a drama student of the late Lee Fierro, who recently passed away from complications of coronavirus. In “Jaws,” Fierro played the mother of Alex Kintner, a victim of the shark’s bloody reign of terror. Bigelow was asked to fill in as an extra, splashing around in the surf. Though it was scary at the time, he believes it was worth it. 

“I think that influenced me more than I realized at the time,” said Bigelow.

Now, 45 years later, Bigelow has returned to his roots. He spoke of his new mission: a restoration of the Lydia to resemble the Orca, Quint’s famed fishing boat. 

Bigelow had intended for the restored Orca to be a part of his series, “Making the Monster,” a six-part docudrama series about the making of “Jaws.” The series is in active development, though the pandemic has forced the project to pause. Bigelow envisions that the restoration project may continue, despite the hiatus. He stressed that the crew working on the boat will closely adhere to all safety precautions and expectations.

“We do need to move forward in a way that is completely cognizant of the situation we are in with COVID-19. We are going to safeguard our crew,” said Bigelow. The group hopes that a substantial building portion of the project will begin in mid- to late August, so that the boat will be able to hit the water while it is still warm out.

“We certainly feel that we can meet the challenges of making this project work and happen safely, protecting our crew, and meanwhile meeting the objective of getting the boat built,” said Bigelow.

He would like to use restoration of the Orca to partner with Island charities and to encourage responsible and respectful practices when it comes to interactions with marine life. “It’s about knowing when to do and when not to do certain things. And I think that that’s part of what the mission could be, to create that understanding,” said Bigelow.

Bigelow also spoke of Peter Benchley, the original author of the “Jaws” novel, and his vision for the impact of the story. “He relished the success of the book because, obviously, it’s his brainchild. But, later, it vilified sharks in a way that he felt responsible for. That vilification haunted him for many years afterward, so he and his wife, Wendy, actually began getting into ocean conservation, and leveraged their fame from working on ‘Jaws’ in a way to promote greater understanding of the shark population.”

The shark “is not a creature to be feared and hated and hunted down, but to be understood and respected,” said Bigelow. 

Bigelow also addressed his vision for where the boat could fit in on the Island. “Menemsha, to us, is sort of ground zero to ‘Jaws,’” said Bigelow. “We would love to put it in there.” The group is collaborating with harbormasters and other relevant officials on the boat’s eventual placement.

Bigelow also shared that the boat will ultimately serve the Island community.

“The long-range plan is to keep the Orca III on the Vineyard to be utilized as a resource to the Island community. We’d love to work with local charities to make it something that people can take advantage of as bringing awareness to their needs.” Bigelow specifically mentioned interest in a collaboration with Camp Jabberwocky.

“This isn’t just a movie-fan tour vessel,” said Bigelow. “It’s going to have a larger role in the area, and we want to see it being effective at promoting good, healthy, informed, educational opportunities, and to be a symbol of something the Vineyard can be proud of.”

“‘Jaws,’ by no means, defines the Island,” said Bigelow. “We feel that this boat, though, can definitely be a part of attracting attention back to the Island for a new, evolved way of thinking about what the vessel means.” 

Like Benchley, Bigelow would like to use the boat to bring awareness to responsible and ethical practices when it comes to interactions between humans and marine life — especially sharks.