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.


  1. Go Nat Go! Remember what they say, an adventure is a nightmare seen in hindsight. You will do this. We are proud to know you!

  2. I LOVE when people do hard stuff and write about it. I remember your post about having enough of being a lawyer. It was quite powerful. Keep posting! and hang in there.

  3. I propose a new nickname, Mad Max Matinicus! Sounds kind of Roman and romantic.