Thursday, May 27, 2010

Day One, Take 3


Today is the next Day One. It’s my first day of intending to haul all 50 of my traps in the water. It also turns out to be Generosity Day. Biscuit gave me a ride to the wharf. Darlene gave me a ride back. Dennis gave me a tote of bait. Jamie gave me an electric winch (unfortunately unresponsive, but nice nonetheless). What great support I've gotten from these supposedly tough fisherfolk.

I didn’t catch as much as I’d hoped. This was partly because I hurried things, hauling half the gear on three nights’ set, intead of 5 like I should have. In typical exasperating fashion, some places the bait hadn’t been touched yet, some places it was gone.

My invention, the trap flipper also began its latest demise. One bracket that holds the rig onto the gunwale let go, causing the whole thing to rack around in a crooked fashion. The crookedness gradually chewed up the other bracket, and it collapsed later on. I tied the whole business together with green nylon twine I found in the great barn cleanout of last winter. It was ok for the day, but had to basically be reassembled after each trap. The lesson after another several hours reinforcing with plywood is that: A- maritime work beats the crap out of everything. My flipper-as tough as it seemed, being heavily screwed together out of oak stock, could not stand up to commercial fishing, could not withstand my mightiness. It broke. Lesson B: when you’re making something that nobody has made before, it will evolve by showing you what breaks next. Fix this, that breaks. Now I’ve made the brackets nuke proof with sandwiched plywood, which means one thing. Some other part will break next time. Even broken all over and held together with twine, it works better than pulling the trap over the rail.

Today’s other lesson is that although fog may come on cat’s paws, it comes very quickly. It’s a blinding hot and sunny day until I’m 41 traps into my goal of 50. By 42, it was time to head in. No radar reflector, no compass. Gotta go. Cold and gray in a minute. The harbor was beautiful in the mist. I sold off and despite not finishing, despite the mechanical failure and the short set, I didn’t lose money. After my first essentially full work day, I was no more wiped than I had been after half that many.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Staring Seal


My hauling t-shirt has two big tears, one under each arm. Did I bust out from the rowing and hauling like the Incredible Hulk? I don’t feel that rugged. More like fishin’ E.T.

Today on the north side of Ten Pound Island, I was startled by a splash near the boat. A moment later, up pops a seal, staring. This seal looks big. Maybe it’s the size of my boat that makes him look bigger than I remember. He follows me for 10 minutes or so, coming up to stare every so often.

I’m on the last fifteen pots of the day, having started on the far opposite end of my gear. This was a big day. I did the two extremities of my territory at least an hour faster than last time. I didn’t miss buoys and have to lock the oars back in, go around and retry. The bait stayed on and there were lobsters present. The weather was nice the whole time.

Most importantly, I hauled two days in a row, which sets me up to do two things. First, haul all of the pots in one day next time. The bait and soak cycles will fit together. Second, after 10 days or so of hard, frustrating work and stumbles, I can take a couple of days off. Muscles can recover, other work will get done, home chores can be caught up on.

Oh, yes, there is also the healthy number of lobsters in my crate.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Little Increments and Little Obstacles


Today was the first taste of what I had in mind when I imagined this venture. The sound. The quiet. The water and birds. I’ve never heard birds taking off from the water because of the diesel roar. The sortie was good, most of the way. By the time I got to the last ten, however, the wind was bullying me and I had to row home upwind. When I crawled into the harbor, one foot forward and 9 inches back for every stroke, my hands were screaming. Elbows didn’t seem to fit together any more.

I rowed substantially farther than on previous outings- to the back side of Ten Pound Island, then back past the harbor to Two Bush Ledge. My whacky looking roller and trap spatula worked very well, taking a lot of strain off the back and keeping the center of gravity in the boat instead of a foot out over the water. I hauled 5 more traps this time. Little increments.

I’m a big fan of Roz Savage’s book Rowing the Atlantic- Lessons Learned on the Open ocean. Savage was the first solo woman to complete the transatlantic rowing event from either the Azores or the Canaries, I can’t recall which, and Antiqua. All the doubts, malfunctrion, inexperience and growth seem pretty parallel. Except she went across the Atlantic. I don’t have to do that. I do, however, have to push myself beyond all my physical and engineering limits and then go home and try to be father, husband, lawyer, tax collector and community member. When I got in today, Lisa was in dire need of help with kids so she could open the store for the year. The junk metal truck man, Dan, had this one afternoon to get my scrap metal ready to go on the ferry tomorrow. I start hucking rusted pipes, gutters, mangle bike frames, bed springs and the like out to the road and helped load up. The ferry tomorrow also means I can get rid of the six banana boxes-300 or so- of video cassettes left behind here by our predecessors. OK, except that they can't be in banana boxes for recycling, and I have to remove all the cardboard boxes, stomp those down and bag all of the stuff up. Blisters and barnacle cuts are a distraction. There are dishes to wash, calls to return and laundry to do from 2 weeks ago. Even as I post this, it's 8 minutes before my middle girl's school starts, so I have to have an ear downstairs to make sure she's not late. I'm not getting any traps hauled because my son left the car door open and the battery is dead as a stump. It's windy again. Little obstacles.

I’ve read a few books in the vein of “I undertook a challenge and sorely tested myself and found out the real struggles were not what I expected.” All of those books appear to be written by singles or couples with no young children. In addition to sea peril, physical limitations, and the great one-two combination of too much age and no inexperience, I have Daddy Guilt. Like our family’s move to Matinicus, the children really did not get a choice. I am not yet fulfilling my financial duties to the family, and have doubts about being able to with this fishing business. What kind of role model am I? I like celebrating and modeling intelligent risk, adventure, growth and trying different things. I don’t like modeling recklessness and financial irresponsibility. The truth is, this project is full of both.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Autopilot Through the Darkness

As I write for the first time since the Dark Days, I open my duffle, pull out my computer and see the videos I packed for the kids to watch. I haven’t unpacked from the road trip that began May 4, and it’s now the 17th. Since then, I’ve been back and forth a number of times to get the boat, not get the boat and then get the boat. Clothes, kids stuff books and travel necessities are all still sprawled on my side of the bedroom.

That explains, in part, why I’ve been so frantic and despairing. The Dark Days began a few hours after the boat came last Tuesday. The realization of what I was getting into hit all at once. No experience, tiny boat. Big Ocean. Cold water. Pep talks about rapid, cold and terribly uncomfortable death soon followed. Then I started taking the boat out on Thursday. The brisk southwest breeze spun me lightly around, pushing me, bullying the new kid. I hauled a total of 6 traps- a mighty wrestling match by itself- and then swooshed all over the place getting home, getting the boat moored, getting ashore.

The next day, I went out to haul again. Took some “suckerheads” for bait, thinking I was the sucker, later confirmed by others. Suckerheads are useless as bait. Live and learn. Hauling twenty traps was the most strenuous thing I’ve ever done. It didn’t feel very good thinking I was getting nothing back next time due to bait quality. By the end, every grasp of rope came with a gasp and grimace. Every trap resisted coming aboard and sorely tempted my and the boat’s center of gravity.

At this point the panic and shame set in full force. I wanted to return the boat and find a commune in Montana where I could get a new name. I knew the boat was not set up properly. I also knew that because nobody was doing this kind of fishing anymore, I couldn’t just go get the proper accessories in the local marine store. That meant expense. I haven’t paid for the boat yet, much less more gear. That no one sells. Then I’m thinking about solar panels, batteries and power winches, or better still a solar outboard. Or nuclear, maybe. That’s not really petroleum, right?

By Friday, I felt I had made a huge, expensive and utterly irresponsible mistake. What was I doing ditching my jobs and pursuing this idea? What kind of crackpot was I showing my children?! I hated myself. Fortunately, my autopilot said keep working on it. Go like hell. Lisa- bless her- reminded me that it was to be expected that I’d need to spend a couple of weeks getting properly geared up.

I started trying to design a ramp and lever device to take some of the strain and imbalance out of getting the trap aboard; one of the real vulnerable and strenuous parts of the process. I also started trying to create a roller to reduce rope friction and chafing and take some effort out of hauling the traps up. The trap flipper thing had worked really well on the Blue Note, my little aluminum skiff I hauled a few out of last year. Basically, it tilts the trap out so you pull it up a slant instead of deadlifting it straight up. My new version sucked. It tipped over on the rail, dumped the trap and was unmanageable. My new roller was made from a bike wheel hub. The box around it was also unstable. Next idea: fasten the roller and flipper together so they stabilize each other. By the time I’d confidently assembled this rickety, crude and Mad Max meets the Bayou looking device, it was late on Friday, so I couldn’t test it.

Saturday was very still and overcast- good for hauling. Right up until my boot sole touched Sweet Pea’s deck, at which time the fog instantly became clam-chowder thick and the wind, my new foe, had started. I wanted to go out anyway at least to test the new rig. I went out around Wheaton and started hauling. The flipper was marginally uselful but looking like it wanted to collapse any time. The roller spun well for about the first three traps, then got very reluctant. And tilted.

That day’s 20 traps also wrecked me, and projected a mental movie of my future either destroying myself physically for no money or bailing on the whole fiasco.

Autopilot saved me again. I obsessed and just about burned out my spatial relation cortex trying to design something that would work. I pulled out pvc pipe, vaccuum hose, toggles, a plastic candy cane, pipes, rods and stuff I can’t remember. I took a long walk, stewing, obsessing, visualizing, throwing out one idea after the next. Clayton produced the brass wheel that started things going in a better direction. Many more designs and layouts followed. Many trips across the harbor in the skiff, out in Sweet Pea, and back with a list of failures and another round at the drawing board. Late Monday, I came up with what I thought was the right design. The trap just popped up and in. The sun shone. The water was friendly. I got my first paycheck $42.10.

We’ll see what tomorrow brings. I guess I’m not going to the commune yet.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Wind Power- Good or Evil?

Owing to exhaustion from hauling my own gear, sea testing myself and the boat, and setting 70 of Clayton's, I have to stick to the basics. I can't think of much in the way of good storytelling or life lessons. Today Sweet Pea and I were out a couple of times. I did haul a very few pots and caught a very few lobsters. Mostly, I tried to get used to handling the boat, breaking traps and dealing with The Wind. My new companion. The Pod slides along very nicely, patiently teaching me to row. When the southwest breeze puts a big shimmer on the water, I get a memorable lesson in hydro and aerodynamics. If one end is lighter, it must go downwind. Why did I not know this? Before I figured it out, there were 15 or so very tense minutes where I thought something was spinning me around just to torment. The rest of the expedition was spent trying to figure out where to put everything- oars, gaff, bait, measure, lobsters, trap, radio, accessories.

The terror and embarassment of going onto the open ocean in a jolly breeze and a petit-pod, hauling traps up hand over hand, getting them aboard and back overboard, clawing my way back to the harbor, skiff-jumping, tying up, swapping this and that from one boat to another- all of the jitters and gawkiness of doing this the first time will abate some, I hope. There were a few instants where I could just enjoy the beauty of the linseed/pinetar/turpentine ribs and planks of the curved interior of the boat and outside of that, the ocean.

I'm sure I amused and scared all those who watched. Sorry, Donna. I am home writing this, so that's good. Good night.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Boat and Trap Launching

I can stand up with a guitar and pour out a Bob Dylan song comfortably. Or my own song, or James Taylor, Taj Mahal or something from the Great American Songbook, pop edition. I don’t think about every note. I don’t think about any note. I tip the pitcher and it pours out. That is because that 4 minutes or so of performance was assembled starting about 35 years ago. My knowledge is subconscious now.

Clayton takes me out to set my first 50 traps. I had planned on doing this all myself, and thought that taking motorized help was somehow cheating. Clayton is a good friend and doesn’t have a sternman right now, so I trade a load of his gear getting set for a load of mine. We zip off to Two Bush ledge, tie a trap to warp. Warp to buoy. A causal flip off his wrist and I give it a shove. Over it goes. One trap in the water. Why here? How will I remember? I didn’t plan on coming over here. Then it’s five in the water and another 5 behind the Beach Ledge marker. How will I remember? I didn't realize my buoys were so small and essentially invisible out here! This patch of ocean where I’ve worked hundreds of days for four years suddenly seems as foreign as parachuting into Siberia or the Amazon Basin. It’s so big. Everything is so far apart. I’ll never remember. I’ll never be able to see the buoys. I’ll never be able to set them back where they are set now. How does he know this. He seems so casual. Like I sing a song, he drops traps.

And so it goes on the back side of Wheaton Island, Old Cove and Ten Pound Island. It seems very exposed in a large, wild, open ocean. How did I think I was going to come out here in the wild in a tiny wooden boat that I don’t yet even know how to handle, dealing with finding buoys, safely hauling traps aboard, resetting them and getting home dry and intact? It’s completely ludicrous. These guys have decades of subconscious knowledge and centuries of inherited instinctual intuitive skill. Me, well, I’ve got an ok singing voice.

On the back side of Ten Pound, we drop off the last five in a rollicking westerly swell seemingly a few feet from stern, steep, jaggedy, intimidating granite formations. I don’t even want to come here in my little boat, invisible to the island, rolling around like a marble on a pickup truck bed, much less try to hoist traps in and get them out before the grouchy rock gods take a whoofle out of me.

Maybe my good friend is trying to scare the shit out of me to smarten me up. But there’s still that quiet voice saying the next great adventure of my life is underway. I’m going to Antarctica, Kazakhstan, the Congo right within a half mile of shore of the tiny island that adopted my family and I.


My boat was launched in Round Pond on Tuesday afternoon. The four individuals who built her got the first ride following the blessing by Rev. Ives. As though the water didn’t know the boat was there, it slid, surreal, the only disturbance coming from the dipping of oars. This is truly a magic design. The Boatshop crew has been nothing but enthusiastic, while also saying that it was a challenge unlike other building projects. Having two bows and no stern, planks could not be run long and then trimmed. Looking at the hull, I have absolutely no idea how our two dimensional brains can accommodate all those curves. Maybe it’s a fourth dimension thing, and that’s why the water does not even know the Sweet Pea is passing through. I take a paddle, disclaiming as I embark, that I have no idea how to row the boat. The boat seems to know and is patient with me. I’m immediately aware that this 300 pound, 15 by 4.5 foot boat moves much more easily than my 80 pound ten foot aluminum skiff. That’s the design magic that was created before humans even learned how to work with aluminum. It’s a better design. A much older design. And there we come back to one of the fundamentals of the Zero Carbon Lobster Harvesting Project. Progress really means that what’s better should be the measure of the future. Not necessarily what’s faster or bigger or louder.