Wednesday, October 24, 2018

That's a Wrap

August went straight to November. A forecast with less than 15 to 20 knots has been rare, even though it's only mid-October. Summer and lobsters staying in the shallows seemed to stretch extra long, but then I was looking for my Amerigas hat, the one Rex gave me in 2012 when we picked up a truckload of propane in Waldoboro. The hat is the warmest I have, and converts to armed robbery or Northern New Brunswick mode if needed. In addition to putting on the Amerigas hat, I tucked tail and ran from the 2018 lobster season, though I don't' think the season noticed because the weather was too busy being cold and nasty.

When Megan and I travel in the winter, there have been several occasions when everything says 'you ain't goin nowhere,' or 'everything's canceled.' We've learned to navigate those situations by at least getting close to our jump off point in case something changes. One time, I think our plane was the only one that left the snow-caked reaches of Logan all day; it left for San Juan, so being there when basically everything else was canceled was a clever move on our part.

I tried applying this logic to taking up gear. Well, at least if I/we get out out to Matinicus, then if the forecasts with gale warnings through next July are incorrect for a day or so, we'll be ready. Henry, my super fit and hockey player/skateboarder/ninja-like nephew and I flew in a couple Fridays ago and headed out to look for a lee to haul up some pots and coil some rope. My first guess was no good, so we tucked in next to the Bluff for short warps and then a few strings of 25s that were somewhat, but not really sheltered. It was blowing briskly from the northeast, so after the first load, I figured we'd go around to the southwest side of the island. We did, and discovered the wind had swung and it was even worse over there.

Because I am stubborn, I subjected my nephew to an hour and a half or so of thrashing about to get another load aboard.

Taking up gear is normally- on a good day-  irksome and unpleasant. All the rope gets coiled, traps get cleaned out, stacked on the boat, unloaded on the wharf, stacked on a truck and unloaded in my front yard. On this particular day, I had to coil rope, run the hauler and keep steering the boat into the chop because if I didn't, she wound up side-to in no time, threatening to dump our precious cargo of junk shit old traps into the water. Since I'm still less than an old salt, there were times when it seemed that I was trying to coil the helm, steer the hydraulic hauler and point Close Enough into the chop with the pile of rope- my signals got crossed a few times.

We managed to get two boatloads to the wharf and then to the yard. This was made all the sweeter by Megan having got a fire and food going. It was black and windy and unfriendly on the water.

The next day was a great relief as far as wind, but a mixed blessing as it rained all day. Cold rain. Soak into your fleece hoodie and not let go rain. Again, thanks to Megan, there was a warm house and large food. Simple things as these are everything when one is soaked and sore and cold.

Sunday was bright and sunny, but included the return of the wind. Forget Gone With The Wind, how about just Wind Is Gone? I would pay to see that. Two boatloads later, we loaded our aching selves into the plane and flew back to Owls Head.

After another straight week of ugly forecasts, there was one calling for Tuesday's wind to be 'around 10 knots.' I hopped the afternoon mail flight on Monday and managed to tuck myself into a lee in the afternoon to get a jump on the process, because, of course, for all I knew, the 'around 10 knots' would be rounded to the nearest 25. I knew.

Tuesday was rougher than expected, and was made so by a very vigorous tide as well as generous upgrades on the wind.

I don't believe in an afterlife or what religious institutions tell us, but I did find myself spontaneously praying that the sea god should not take my good new traps when Close Enough rolled into a jolly pocket in the water and my stack suddenly slid and large gaps opened up in the pile. I may need to reexamine my position on the power of prayer.

The last load of the season did not cheat me of my hardship narrative. Those last 16 traps took more out of me than any batch twice that size. Since I missed the tide, those pots would need to stay on the boat and get offloaded the next day. 

Taking up gear requires timing boatloads with the tide, and also having weather suitable for stacking the traps on the boat. However, once traps are on the boat and the boat in the harbor, it doesn't matter how nasty it is outside the harbor. The flip-side is that it doesn't matter how poorly timed the tide is if the weather is good for taking up.

This time, both sea conditions and tide were against me, so I left the boat loaded on the mooring overnight. A better test loomed.

Matinicus Harbor is sheltered, but this morning was sloshing like the Whirlpool agitation cycle. Rowing out to the boat and getting aboard required some stuck landings and ugly moves. I was aware that my Carhartt coat and other layers would weigh about 85 pounds if I were to dump myself off the skiff or I got the boat into the wharf and offloaded traps, which was the easy part. I knew there would be a challenge ahead of time and so tied an extra length of rope onto the bit that holds the mooring pennant. This was a good move.

I got Close Enough turned around and headed to the mooring. Sure enough, with the tide being full-on high, and the wind blowing as hard as it was, I couldn't get my line up before the boat sailed away sideways. Instead, after a couple of do-si-dos, I gave up on my navigational and sailor skills and  tied the mooring pennant to the extra line and let her sag back so at least she was pointed straight into the wind. This made it possible to go forward and gradually yank the extra rope until I could get the loop aboard.

I give thanks to June Kantz Pemberton for that trick. June taught me a few simple but very useful things about being a square peg lobster harvester in a unique environment. June also taught school here on Matinicus. Once a year she would ask me to tune her guitar so she could play Summertime for her mother. I can tune a guitar. For everything else out here, I really need advice. Thanks June.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

One Small and Very Powerful Metal Fragment

Each time I broke another drill bit, I was shocked, surprised. No fing way did I just do that for the fourth time. Inconf'ingceivable! Panic had taken hold of me in the form of a 3/8" by 1/4" bolt fragment. This small intransigent piece of metal was now in complete control of the other 6 or so tons of Close Enough.

If I can't get the bolt out, I can't refasten the lower alternator brace, reset the alternator, put the engine covers back and actually run the motor.

***

There was some excitement a couple weeks ago when the lower alternator brace broke for the second time in two years for no apparent reason or purpose other than causing toxic levels of frustration and bewilderment. The problem makes itself known by dropping my voltage a few tenths. Not enough to fry anything, and still enough to charge batteries, but just enough to keep me obsessing over the readout.

I've been through a few alternators in 7 years and bought one last year just in case. I decided to swap them out when the voltage got wonky, but only got as far as loosening up the lower brace and finding it broken. How this short stout little hunk of metal could ever break, let alone twice was way out beyond my limited base of salty diesel knowledge.

Clayton welded the brace back together and I ordered a new one. All seemed well enough until the second day back when voltage readings started going way up instead of sagging down. As in, instead of a few tenths low, it was reading up to four whole volts over. Tail tucked and hoping we didn't trip the main engine breaker or burn to a crisp, with the merry chirp of the VHF telling me it did not like 18 volts, we headed back to the harbor and tore the engine box apart to install the new unit.

Aside from one bolt that chose to shear off instead of cooperating, that was a relatively easy repair.

All was well until the ferry was canceled on Tuesday. The Matinicus ferry is an important lifeline during the two to four days per month that our fair state indulges us with a trip aboard the Everett Libby. Two to four days per month unless something breaks or someone installs a bilge pump backwards on that lumbering partially decomposed ox carcass of what passes for public transportation infrastructure in Maine.

Meara really, really wanted to come out to the island with friends for a couple of precious days between farm work and heading back to school and work. 'That's part of why we have this boat, ya know,' I said out loud to Megan while the interior monologue was less confident.

Crossings are usually memorable. I had been lulled by a couple of boring ones to pick up new traps in Rockland earlier in the season and hadn't left Matinicus waters since then. The next would stand out.

We set out through fog so thick you're sure you have something in your eyes and that they are making cartoon spirals. A friend told me when I first bought Close Enough that its kind handle very poorly in a following sea. I would refine that. In a relatively bigger following sea, she's fine. In a medium size following sea, she is a drunken mess, with stern trying to pass bow. I wouldn't want to watch me on radar as I was constantly swinging 30 degrees off course in both directions.

I was worried there must be a rudder problem until we headed back out into the fog toward Matinicus at which time she tracked elegantly exactly where I pointed her.

All was again well until just outside the harbor when voltage dropped from the normal 13.8-14 to 13.6. Charaist, what now?

I was astonished that ignoring the problem did not help, and after a full day of stewing and watching the voltage change for no good reason, I started taking things apart again. This time, it was yet another bolt on the alternator brace assembly that had broken. That doesn't look so big and bad I reassured myself.

Clayton outfitted me with an assortment of boat dental tools and I set off to drill, gouge and coax out that small metal fragment between me and employment.

As with all boat work, the space is cramped, slippery, asymmetric and very hard on knees, back and neck. This is the only excuse I can offer for drilling off-center and actually making a small virtually cost free repair into a much more expensive and time consuming one. I fixed 'er until she was good and broke.

With the hole drilled cock-eyed, the extraction tools wouldn't work. After some consultation, I decided to try and drill another small hole, and hope to get the fragment turned into smaller fragments. This was a very bad idea and I pursued it relentlessly. Drill bits snapped like pretzels. Knees pleaded for mercy. Brain overheated. Now I had misshapen oversized hole(s) in the wrong place.

That would be a fail.

After the obligatory emotional breakdown, I decided to head home where I needed to clean up and get ready to play some accompaniment for a wedding at the church. The next morning, my plan was to temporarily bolt the mess together and hope it held until the new parts arrived.

So far so good.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Memorial Day-Rhubarb Pie and Remembrance

Hubris- which I think means arrogance and misplaced optimism- could describe me this morning. I got away with it, though, so hah! I'm smug now here on the couch, but was not so while trying to weave between the large, belligerent piles of water bullying me on the way back into the harbor.

The forecast was for unmanageable conditions; not good for hauling or setting traps. We got going for the day with the sun shining and a gentle breeze, and decided setting one boatload of gear should be no problem.

After moving two truckloads of traps and a third with rope, buoys and bait bags to the wharf, the sun and gentle breeze gave in to a raw easterly wind and overcast. After the boat was freighted, my clever plan was to run downwind until we got to Southern Point and a lee in which to work. Getting across the harbor was more intimidating than it should have been and required tacking and then a quick turn to encourage the now baited but untethered traps not to dump themselves in the harbor.

'It's pretty roly-poly.'
'Yep. I have a plan.'
'Good.'

Running ahead of the easterly and setting gear off the west side of the island went according to plan, with the only downside being me having ignored Megan's query as to whether I was adequately dressed.

With the last pair sinking by Black Rocks, the voltage indicator started its well-timed erratic behavior; not enough of a deviation to be alarming, but still disconcerting. Leaving the shelter of the west side, the sea got gradually rowdier. Rambunctious chop or erratic voltage are ok separately. I have a vivid memory of the last time I smoked an alternator, tripped the main engine breaker and needed a tow in. That was a serene and tranquil day.

Looking through the sheets of spray on the wheelhouse windows, the word hubris popped into my head.  'I have a plan.' Great, but what about all the things not in your plan? That's dumbass hubris.

I throttled back in the escalating chop and perplexingly, the voltage returned to normal.

Once moored, I looked at, yanked and prodded the alternator and belt and found no suggestion of the problem.
***
Rhubarb pie is a genuine treat. Rhubarb itself, the electric celery or puckering string-fruit, is an improbable thing to put in one's mouth. A bite of the end of a stalk dipped in sugar, though, makes me 8 years old and almost done school for the year instantly. To then bake it into a pie is sublime. Rhubarb is genuine.

Chicken McNuggets, by contrast, are imposters of the very food from whence they came. In order to have them taste the same in Boston or Anchorage, they first have to extract out all the genuine chicken essence, destroy the structure of the meat and replace those components with artificial something or other.

The saddest thing to me about the Codfather story and turning wild fish into an investment product through catch shares and fleet consolidation is that they also ended up McNuggetizing the fish! This the industry did by shipping it to factories where they could process out all the genuineness.

When you only have to pay the people who do the work to make the food and do not need to pressure the resource and overprocess the food in order to 'generate shareholder value,' I think it is a genuinely good thing.

Which leads to the first haulback of the year of my lobster gear. The catch was decent, by which I mean I was not in the hole for bait and fuel at the end of the day. I was, however, a little crestfallen at all the work leading up to that day producing $35.80 in my pocket. Well, $35.80, plus a bucket of lobsters than when cooked on the stove let out the most marvelous aroma of genuineness; a salty, fishy smell of a still independent and decorporatized fishery. Two people, one boat, a lot of work and real food. It could have been on a woodstove 150 years ago or a fire on a beach a thousand years ago. It's that kind of basic comforting aroma and immediate reminder of our connection to our environment.There's no McFaking that.

As we remember sacrifices made for our way of life, let us also remember what makes it rich and special. To me, it is about touching and being touched by the earth and sea from which we all arise and to which we return, and all of the infinite variety and authenticity out there.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Setting Out 2018

There is a hummingbird outside my back sliding glass door. Stuck to the glass is a thermometer with a decal image of a male cardinal. The hummingbird is probably disappointed that the bright red spot is neither a flower or a properly marked hummingbird feeder.

After a chilly, foggy and very breezy morning, the air outside is warm and heavy and still, contrary to the small craft advisory and marine forecast. It was in the earlier conditions that I left the harbor this morning to set a boatload of gear. I told Clayton where I was headed, and that I was just looking for now. Leaving the mouth of Matinicus Harbor, the seas were rough, but just manageable enough to take a look, then try one string, then pair by pair, empty out the boat. Close Enough rolled around in the chop and I did a few dance moves, but never got to that point where it felt out of control. Visibility was shutting in as well so I needed to keep an eye out as I still have no plotter, haven't checked out the radar for the year and wasn't willing to add the variable of not seeing or being seen.

I had a fix on Wheaton and Tenpound Islands and western ledge and felt like that was enough to keep me oriented.

The visibility went out for good at just about the same time as the last pair of traps pulled down the 25 fathom lines 'out front,' which is Matinicus language for not very far from shore and to the east.

I was feeling pretty good for having persisted as I tied up and paddled in to Steamboat Wharf. I should not have stopped to chat with real fishermen. The early results are pretty discouraging for them, which most likely means dogshit for a tourist like me.

Maybe it was the last drive in this part of the work cycle, or too many days in a row of hurrying through other work to get here and of wailing on my back and hands, but my heart was sinking thinking it was all to just pay for bait and fuel.

Was I the hummingbird trying to get sweet stuff where there's none to be had?

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Boat Time!

Boat ownership is not for the faint hearted or sensible. It is always an adventure. Just like jumping out of a perfectly operational airplane or handlaunching fireworks or other things we should know better than to do.

After 6 and a half years, I am no longer terrified of my boat or all the hundreds of parts that are waiting their turn to rust out, short out, give out or fall out. Now I am only very sad when these things happen. It is not the boat's fault that I get sad. It is my inability to absorb the basic lesson that shit breaks. Boat shit breaks more. It is a life lesson that I comprehend cognitively, but not emotionally.

Those things being said, yee-fuckin haw!!! Close Enough is back on the water, having come across from the very good winter home with the good folks at J.O. Brown & Son, Inc.

The crossing was no big deal, except for the fact that my plotter blanked on me and I had to get through Ledbetter Narrows and Hurricane sound by fuzzy memory. It's way easier than I'm making it sound, I'm just trying to act big.

On the run to Matinicus from North Haven, reaching the end of Hurricane Sound is still a little thrill. The rocks are a gateway to big water and the trip home.

It was also cold. WTF, hands take turns in the pocket or on the wheel it's freaking May 12 already kind of cold. Both hands were numb by the time I got into Matinicus Harbor. I was numb earlier in the day for looking out the window and not dressing properly with ski gloves and a gortex parka.

After mooring, I did my usual wiggling of wires, connecting and unconnecting and just plain hoping for a different result on reboot. The plotter was not having it. Based on the display, it was convinced I was a few hundred yards up onto Nantucket Island.

Plotter or no, I was determined to get a couple of boatloads of gear set. That meant setting the strings which hug the shore well enough that I can find them without waypoints. At one point, rounding the corner to the back side of Tenpound Island, I looked up and realized where I was. My plotter inside was happy and spot on.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Apruary?

I recall April on Matinicus as a mixed bag weather and workwise. There would be sweet days in the yard, underrunning rope or patching traps with tunes playing and birds singing. There would be rainy windy days to stay inside and avoid paperwork.

My April on Matinicus this year- which I worked so hard to be ready for- has been an unmixed bag of rotten weather; days spent watching sleet bounce off my deck or watching it rain sideways. Today featured a low of 32 and a high of 34 with 40-something mile an hour winds all day long. This is not what I pounded my way through months of office work to earn. I have not even begun boat preparation work, which I'm usually done with by now.

I spent Sunday neurotically cutting wood which I did not anticipate that I would be unneurotically baling into the stove the very next day. I thought I was being obsessive in sawing and splitting up the chunks which it turns out are half gone already.

I feel as though the entire calendar has slid a month to the henceforthward. Cold wet springs last til about the first week in July, and late summer goes to Halloween. I want my April back.

I also guess I should not read google news. There were several articles about the slowdown in the big-ocean circulation that keeps Ireland from looking like Northern Labrador and keeps the cold water churning  and upwelling nutrients southwest into the the Gulf of Maine. This slowdown could, according to scientists, deprive Western Europe of warm ocean currents, make Africa drier and hotter and create harsher winters here in North America. Thus is created the monster I am calling Apruary.

Apruary is bad. My crocuses were pressed not in a poetry book, but in a layer of ice outside my door. All my spring work is now late. Staring out the window makes no difference. Staring out any other other window is equally fruitless. It is 360 degrees of wind, rain and cold foulness.

Is this a good month to discover my old oil fired boiler is now an oil chugging smoke machine? Well, yes it is. When I got up, as much as I felt stingy about using heating oil, I saw the gale bent trees and the 32 degree temperature and figured my son and his buddy should have a habitable environment and that the old boiler should be fired up every once in a while.

There was initially a bit of an aroma that I wrote off to not having run the heater for a year or so. Then, after I had gone out to the shop in many layers of insulation to paint the very buoys I usually painted in shirt sleeves, Ryan came out in sock feet and asked if I was aware of the house being full of smoke and the chimney puffing gray, gooey smoke.

After consulting my expert panel, I set about pulling apart the boiler, vacuuming out the gobs of soot and figuring out how to detach the burner unit from the boiler. There was a disintegrated gasket. There were pieces of what looked like a liner of the boiler chamber. After reassembling the pieces, I was discouraged enough to not bother trying to fire up the old beast.

Now I need to bring out a professional to resuscitate the system or buy a different and simpler heater to keep things tolerable and comfy for my baby and me.



Sunday, December 31, 2017

I would've said this could only happen on Matinicus

We've been tormented by a malevolent winter spirit in Bristol. Once the temperatures go down, stove gets packed and the furnace kicks on, an unwelcome visitor always calls. It invites itself into the basement next to our laundry machines- just one of its devious tricks designed to confound our attempts to locate its source and kill it.

Based on some research I'd rather not have done, sewer gas is not only unpleasant, but toxic and potentially explosive. We moved in in May and didn't know we had a problem until the following winter. Some days it was faint, but if laundry was done, toilets flushed or showers taken, the stink-kracken became ferocious and embarassing to us in front of company.

One particular piece of sheetrock behind the laundry area has been on and off at least a dozen times over the last couple of winters. The smell seemed to be coming from a small enclosed space between the laundry and a bathtub only accessible by walking through the basement to the far end of that floor. On one occasion, I scrunched myself into the space, dug up what I could, reached as far as I could and at one point yogaed myself around and upside downish so I could shine a light under the cast iron tub. Underneath the tub, which could only be gotten to exactly this way, I retrieved a very rusty .22 revolver. As many great plot scenarios as this discovery invited, it brought me no closer to finding the source of our tormentor.

One or another variation of this exercise was reenacted every so often when the stench drove us over the edge. One time I was so sure I was tracking the smell, I decided to tear up a floor, only to find dry flawless concrete and a well sealed drain line headed under the slab to parts outside.

4 plumbers and 4 figures later, nothing had improved or made any difference at all. There were many false starts. Enzymes? It worked! Thank heavens! Oh no it didn't.  Ventilation, covering things up, reinstalling traps right side up and opening windows all led nowhere. 'Must be a dry trap... a buried floor drain...broken pipe...clogged vent.' Calls and emails to our realtor and home inspection professional were futile. The liberal use of air fresheners when the house was shown to us made more sense now.

Yesterday, we decided to try again as this long stretch of below zero to single digit weather has emboldened the beast. Off comes the sheetrock, away go the camping gear, tools, garments, bikes and other storage items so we can get at the walls.

Part of the challenge is having no real idea how one part of the floor configuration and plumbing relate to rooms, walls and piping in other parts of the same floor. Peering through a breadloaf sized hole near the ceiling where heat and water supply pipes come out, I could see a drain pipe a couple of yards down the line in the other section of the floor. I was also blasted by a steady river flow of badbad smell. Lots of measuring and running back and forth between different sections of the house got me to the point where I had some idea where the wall was that enclosed the drains.

That was as good as it got. I went to bed baffled and discouraged. None of it made any sense. The smell seemed to be coming from everywhere and nowhere. The places where it was the worst had no openings from which the foul spirit could emerge.

This morning I decided that exploratory surgery in the ceiling of the other section was the only option. I measured and cut out a section where the drain I'd seen from the ceiling of the other room was supposed to be. Using a mirror and a squirt bottle of soap suds gave me the posture of a guy who had a clue, but yielded nothing else.

In for a penny, in for a pound. I decided to open up another part of the ceiling and got a stronger smell. I cut one more section and out fell the answer to our 3 winters of suffering. An orphaned vent pipe hung open to the world spewing nastiness. At my feet was a plug intended for use when pressure testing new plumbing. It must have fallen out years ago. Why the thing wasn't capped properly I can't imagine.

The problem was ultimately found on the furthest side of the house from where the smell seemed to be the worst. The corridor in the ceiling somehow carried the smell to the other end of the floor due to the furnace running and the woodstove sucking air into that end of the house.  Possibly.

2018 should smell better here. The gas creature is back in its lagoon where it belongs.