His father was a lifelong scalloper, his uncles are fishermen, and 23-year-old Chris Pinto realized as he got older that fishing is "in my blood." It just didn't look like it was in his future.
His father, Paul, died in June in an accident on his boat, which was carrying too much debt for his family to keep.
But a charity for military veterans, and a boat donated by a Westport lobsterman, are giving Pinto a chance at a career he thought he'd never have.
On Friday, the Work Vessels for Veterans charity presented a 39-foot-long fishing boat to Pinto, a veteran of two tours in Iraq as an infantryman. Pinto is joining the National Guard _ and expects to leave for Afghanistan next year _ so he can pay for a commercial lobsterman's license.
Having a career at sea to return to "means everything to me," said Pinto, a married father of a 10-month-old daughter.
"We buried my father at sea," the Plymouth resident said. "I kind of feel I'm with my father all the time."
Work Vessels for Vets was started by John Niekrash, a Groton, Conn., lobsterman, and it got rolling with help from friends including Rock and Roll Hall of Fame guitarist Dave Mason, whom he met several years ago in Las Vegas.
Niekrash got the idea for the charity in the summer of 2007, after hearing a severely wounded Marine give an emotional speech about his military service during a golf dinner. On his drive home, Niekrash wondered how he could help a veteran. It struck him to donate his boat, which he had planned sell after getting another one.
"I really don't care for the way our vets are treated when they come home," said Niekrash, who is not a military veteran. "I think we can do more as a society."
Niekrash wrote a letter to the trade publication Commercial Fisheries News, offering the boat to any service member returning from war who wanted to start a fishing career.
He got a response from Richard Giguere, a Marine reservist from Exeter, R.I., who'd served two tours in Iraq, and the charity was born in April 2008.
Mason suggested Niekrash broaden the idea of "work vessels" to include a wider variety of equipment to help veterans with small businesses.
"It just seemed a natural thing to sort of expand on this, and instead of just making it boats, maybe we can use this word 'vessel' as meaning anything that's sort of vessel for them to get from one place to another, to start a business," said Mason, a founder of the band Traffic, whose various credits include work with Jimi Hendrix and Fleetwood Mac.
Ted Knapp, who ran a technology recycling company, donated 20 laptop computers to be "vessels" toward new employment. The group set up a Web site, Mason began talking up the charity at his shows, and Niekrash said he began getting calls from donors, as well as veterans in every state.
"It's absolutely amazing and it restores your faith in people in this country," he said. "There are so many people that are good people that want to help."
The charity, which has no full time staff, has since donated items such as 100 laptops and 10 vehicles to help start businesses, including a truck given to a mentally disabled vet who needed it for his blueberry jam business in Florida. It also donated mechanics' tools.
After the donation to Pinto, by lobsterman Tim Field, the charity has another fishing boat it's preparing to give away.
Giguere, the recipient of the first fishing boat, said it means a lot to him to see the gratitude Niekrash and donors are expressing.
"As a veteran, all that we really ask for is for people to say thank you," he said. "And he went way, way above and beyond that."