When Roy Lunk wrote his first book on the history of his home community of Des Allemands, he had modest ambitions – perhaps a few hundred people would take interest, he thought, and at the very least his children would have a reference point to learn about the rich history of their home.
“I figured six or seven hundred books would be enough. But after a few thousand (sales), I realized people over here in Des Allemands do like to read a bit about their history,” Lunk said.
That was almost 10 years ago, but Lunk hasn’t retired his pen, nor his knack for highlighting what makes the small fishing community so special. His latest work, “Boats: The Heartbeat of the Des Allemands Community” takes readers through a written and pictorial history of the different vessels locals have used over the years to take to the water and make a living, from pirogues and houseboats to mudboats, air boats and everything in between.
As Lunk explains, while these boats have indeed long been used to haul in the day’s catch, they’ve also been used as a primary form of transportation.
“The boat industry is the heartbeat of Des Allemands. It’s how people get around,” said Lunk, who’s lived there all his life. “We talk about fishing, but the boating industry in and of itself was long a huge part of our community. People who were building these boats … using skills acquired from their daddy or granddaddy. And it ends up being a pretty good project, because it helps your livelihood from then on.”
For a time, there were quite a few boat builders by trade in the community and the options were plentiful for anyone in need of a purchase. It’s not quite like that anymore, though not for absence of skill – “Some still build their own boats, they just do it in their backyard now,” Lunk said.
“They get it done and have a product they can use for however many years they stay in business. Which, in Des Allemands, tends to be for a long time, and they continue to make a living,” he said. “It’s just kind of born into these people.”
An industry that remains static, however, more often than not won’t stand the test of time. The people of Des Allemands know the water like few others, but one thing that’s kept business booming is the ability of locals to adapt to changing times. Lunk’s book takes readers through the evolution of the boats utilized to get the job done – whatever job that may be at a given time.
“For example, you look at the lugger … that was like a utility vehicle to most people back in the 90s,” Lunk said. “Just like drivers look at a utility vehicle nowadays, the lugger was just an all-around vehicle that helped them in all areas, be it fishing and trapping, or whatever else.”
The only constant is change. The steamboat engine once revolutionized industry and marine travel, and as Lunk explains, it became the standard for hauling cargo and merchandise. In Des Allemands, that became quite useful for hauling product to New Orleans. Ultimately, the proliferation of other options to transport goods – trains, trucks and other automobiles became more efficient methods and all but retired the steamboat.
The same goes for products. Muskrats once represented a major industry, but as the environment changed, that business evaporated.
“The grass (on the water) that the muskrat ate isn’t there anymore, so likewise there’s no more muskrat,” Lunk said. “The lumber industry has come and gone, as you’re not allowed to cut any more cypress trees. The fishing industry is still there and providing for our residents here. The crabbing industry is big now.”
On the cover of the book, three different boats are represented: the lugger, the skiff and the house boat. The house boat, in particular, lends to another interesting historical note, as there are houses in Des Allemands that were once indeed on the water before being pulled ashore and elevated.
While Lunk himself was not among those who made a living from the fishing or boating industries – he worked for nearly 40 years in the oil industry – he shares that same love of the water and the outdoors with his fellow community members.
“I’m out on the water every morning. Sunday’s the only day I don’t go out there … it’s how I start my day,” Lunk said. “I fish recreationally. What I catch isn’t as important as getting out there and enjoying the outdoors.”