Dumitru welcomes the switch from shepherd to scalloper
By Doreen Leggett
Dumitru Babes had came to the United States from Romania and one day he was hanging out with close friends watching the movie “Arthur.”
Star Dudley Moore is drinking heavily, then told he’s had enough.
Moore replies he wants “more than enough.”
Sandy Keese, granddaughter, mother and grandmother of fishermen, remembers Babes hearing the line and cracking up.
“I thought Dumitru was gonna die from laughter,” she remembers. “We all roared with Dumitru thinking we all wanted MORE than enough out of life in general.”
Babes has taken that perspective seriously. He has thrown himself into commercial fishing, just purchased his first boat, and is one of a handful of local fishermen in line to purchase a qualifying permit from the Fishermen’s Alliance that will give him the opportunity to captain his own scalloper and land the lucrative shellfish.
“Dumitru has proven himself as a crewman on a local boat, and then again working on one of the most successful big-boat scallopers in the New Bedford fleet,” said Seth Rolbein, who heads up the Cape Cod Fisheries Trust at the Fishermen’s Alliance. “Now he’s getting ready to move into the wheelhouse and be his own captain. Those are the kind of steps that generations of Cape Cod fishermen have taken, so it’s great to see it happening today.”
Dumitru remembers first seeing the boat he now owns, a few years after he followed a girl to the United States. Babes was doing carpentry, other odd jobs, and a friend was gillnetting out of Chatham. He told the newly-arrived Babes that fishing was good money and he should try it.
So Babes began hanging out at the dock and met Bob Keese, the scallop boat’s owner, and asked the Chatham captain if he needed help.
“My English wasn’t that good. It’s still not that good,” he said (which isn’t true).
Keese said maybe. His brother Andy was fishing with him but he had his own boat too. “I’ll call you,” he said, and when he did, “that’s how it started.”
When Babes first stepped on that scalloper, named the Beggar’s Banquet, in 2006, it was the first time he had ever been on a boat, his first time on the ocean. His job in Romania had been quite a bit different.
“I was a shepherd,” he said with a grin.
Born in March, 1981, youngest of four boys, Babes says he got the farming blood from his mom and he just followed that side of the family into the business.
Becoming a shepherd made sense. You would have your own sheep and others would give you their sheep to take care of. You would either use private land or lease from the town. You, and some smart, savvy dogs would protect the sheep from wolves and bears and then they could be sheared and their milk used to make cheese.
“If you had a few hundred sheep you were golden,” he said.
He had about 700 sheep, many of which he still had when he emigrated to the United States.
Babes’ wife at the time, mother of his two daughters, 10 and 13, was originally from Virginia. So in a move he never expected, he bought a ticket for the United States.
“As a shepherd it wasn’t on my mind. Not too many shepherds come over here,” he said.
He was sponsored by a well-known Harwich schoolteacher, Charles McIntyre, whose daughter, Susie, was close friends with Babes’ wife.
Surrounded by English speakers, he had to learn the language in a hurry. He picked up sports lingo first because he ran the shot clock at basketball games; McIntyre was the scorekeeper when the Harwich girls’ team won the championship.
Babes was happy right away. “I’ve never been a city boy,” he said. “But it’s not easy, it’s expensive, real expensive.”
Babes kept many of his sheep until recently. He was still trying to run the business from the United States until a few years ago, when it just became too unwieldy. So he sold to his brother.
Fishing keeps him busy enough. At first he fished mostly with Bobby, but also scalloped with Andy and his wife Alane. At that time they worked close to home, not too far from the Chatham shoreline.
“There used to be good fishing out in front,” Babes remembers. There was a 400-pound limit per trip when he started and the boats were making only $4 or $5 a pound. “You still made money but it was hard,” he said.
What was really difficult at first was how seasick he got.
“I was miserable. But I went again,” he said with a grin.
Despite the initial wooziness he took to fishing, and got his sea legs.
“I guess I was pretty good at it,” he said, adding that he also enjoys it.
Babes often says the whole Keese family has been very good to him. “Sandy calls me her chosen son,” Babes said.
Although he prefers the small boat fishery, Babes also has worked on bigger boats out of New Bedford the past several years. Those boats go out in harsher weather and land thousands of pound of scallops while local boats land only 600 pounds per trip.
“It’s much harder work, but you can save money faster,” said Babes.
Babes fishes on both the Kate and then Kate II because each boat is only allotted a certain number of days. In order to get ready for trips the crew has to load 30 tons of ice, as well as enough food to get them through the voyage.
The Kate is known as one of the best boats in New Bedford. Babes knew that Drew Keese, Bobby’s son, was a hand on the boat so he would check in periodically.
“I kept asking if they have a spot for me,” he said. “You have to be fairly decent for them to save you a spot.”
Babes perseverance finally paid off and although the work is intense, the breaks and sleep short, he is pretty happy with the set up.
The trips can run a week or more, depending on how quickly the boats catch their limit of 18,000 pounds in a specified area. He doesn’t count on going home on a certain day.
“It’s best not to think about it; you’ll be happy when they say shake it out,” he said.
The hard work and good paydays made it possible to think about investing in his own boat. So when Bobby bought a new boat and named it the Sandra Ann, after his mom, Dumitru was ready. Supported by the Keese family, he bought the Beggar’s Banquet.
“That’s the first boat I set foot on and now it’s mine,” he said.
He ignored old superstitions about not changing the name.
She’s now “the Count … for Dracula,” he said, a funny celebration of his Romanian heritage; whenever he mentions he is from Romania people immediately talk about the vampire from Transylvania, a real place in central Romania.
The second reason for the name is his hope to be counting a lot of scallops.
He is continuing his work out of New Bedford, but in the meantime Babes is working on his own boat, and also working on purchasing what’s known as a scallop qualifier, a permit to lease quota and land on his own.
Bob Keese made a qualifier already associated with the boat available for the short term, which Babes is thankful for. But the Fishermen’s Alliance is selling several qualifiers outright to local fishermen to help create more opportunity and diversity in the fleet. Babes applied and has been approved for one of the available permits, priced at $55,000.
He already has a $25,000 business loan pending from the Lower Cape Economic Development Corporation, which he hasn’t used as yet because his hard work on the big boats has built up capital.
Babes has been going to meetings set up by the Fishermen’s Alliance for the local fleet to work on issues related to the scallop fishery. The program helps small boat operators stay in business by providing quota at subsidized rates, and encouraging them to continue to invest in their businesses.
That business for Babes is the Count.
“It’s a good boat,” he said, adding he’ll try to find time to both captain on Cape and crew in New Bedford. “I’m not going to give up on the big boats right now. It is more secure.”
But Babes does see a future where he can settle in and concentrate on his own business. The Keese family sees that as well.
“He is one of my favorite people on the planet who has worked so hard here in America to get where he is,” Sandy Keese said. “It makes me so happy to see him succeed here when so many immigrants are so maligned. Hey, we are all in this together and it is our differences that bind us together making one, beautiful, colorful lot.”