Navigating the Cape Cod Region’s Blue Economy

Sep 1, 2020 Profiles In Blue: Lukas Smith & Amanda Bender

Commercial fishing, sportfishing and pleasure boating are central to Cape Cod’s Blue Economy. Whether you’re a scallop fisherman or run a sail charter, the common denominator is the fact that the engine must run.

Recognizing a niche in sales and service of marine diesel engines, DieselSmith LLC was founded in 2014 by Lukas Smith and Amanda Bender, both under 30, and both Cape Cod natives who decided to build a business here at home rather than seeking opportunity off-Cape. Smith said, “I’ve never considered setting up shop off Cape. This is where we can serve a customer base with which we are familiar. I know these people, what they need and the fact they need it sooner rather than later in a short season.”

Lukas is one of five sons of Cape Cod artist Odin K. Smith. His bloodline makes for an intuitive technician. Customers agree he has a way with engines.

Business manager Bender came from the fashion industry in New York City. “Diesel engines are a long way from Donna Karan,” she said, “but the basic template of business is in many ways similar. We market and brand the name — DieselSmith — and all that goes into it. Like the name implies — craftsmanship.”

For commercial fishermen and sportfishing charter captains who have limited days per season to “make it or break it” in a given year, DieselSmith works long hours to ensure these customers can get to their grounds reliably and safely. Proper maintenance in keeping a boat powered in uncertain seas (sometimes 100 miles off the coast) is essential.

“Every day they’re down, they’re losing money, said DieselSmith technician Jakob Woods, whose father is a commercial fisherman.

DieselSmith’s present-day expansion into a new facility on Route 28 in Dennis Port is underway and on pace even as it coincides with the summer boating season. You can browse their auto dealership-sized showroom with engines on display.

“These engines are not a casual investment for a boat owner,” Smith said. “To be able to see the engine and get a feel for how it’s engineered goes far beyond what statistics and spec sheets show.

“When you buy a new car or a new truck,” he said, “you don’t make a purchase of that size sight unseen. Boat owners now have the option to see what they’re buying before they buy it.”

What are the challenges in serving Cape Cod’s Blue Economy?

“It’s a short season,” said DieselSmith technician Tom Bariteau. “I get it. Three months of summer is the best you can expect on the Cape, and everyone wants to be on the water, as in now. It keeps us hopping, but that’s the name of the game.”

Parts manager Gregg Jensen said, “When a commercial fisherman dials in from a satellite phone 70 miles offshore and says his generator is down, and we’re able to locate the part he needs and next day it up here to install, you feel really good about keeping that guy on the job. We know how hard they work. They always appreciate it.”

As DieselSmith grows, it’s not just about diesel power. It also represents a fascinating new technology known as Seakeeper — a computer-controlled gyroscope that eliminates boat roll on the waves, and the sea sickness that goes along with it. Tom Bariteau brings his Seakeeper expertise to the team, “I was sold from day one on the technology, due in large part to the fact that I get seasick.”

“It’s incredible,” Smith said, “Crews can increase productivity if they’re not fighting a roll all day.”

DieselSmith keeps the Cape Cod region’s Blue Economy going and looks to the future piloted by Cape-raised millennials who have decided to stay on the Cape, serve the Cape, and hire on the Cape.