Tuesday, August 3, 2010

End of July Report

July is down to hours. I've been out to haul 27 times. I've brought in 1,438 pounds of lobsters. I'm finally ready to start. For real.

I'm also ready to enjoy what I'm doing, though I'm a little superstitious that fishermen are supposed to love what they do, but not irritate the gods by being happy about it. Every morning now, and several more times each day, I'm sharply aware of how privileged I am to be paddling to work on the ocean. To be physically part of the environment. To peer down at the sand, the kelp forests, the eel grass. That big fish that just swam under the boat.

One of this week's lessons is that some things seem like they'll never happen, and then they do.

The oarlock saga-God bless Clayton and his machinist friend- is at an end.

I began rowed sitting down, looking over my shoulder, slow, laborious and obscenity driven as much as by muscle power. Then the stand-up oarlocks finally arrived from Oregon some time in early June.

I discovered a couple of things within the first few clumsy minutes messing about with them in the harbor. First, they were several inches too low, resulting in the hunchback sidecar pumping action, also requiring many horsepower worth of expletives.

I had been doing sort of a semi circle pattern where I bend down to plant the oars in the water, row up in a half circle and then way down to get the oars back out of the water. I must have looked like a strange bird trying to take off across the water.

My second discovery was that in spite of how comical and awkward the motion was, it was far superior to rowing sitting down. I could see just where I was going. I could steer very precisely without twisting around.

Many a fisherman reminded me daily that "your oarlocks are too low." "You need raised oarlocks." "Your life will be a lot easier when you get your oarlocks up where they belong." I had a fresh memory of how long the wait was just to get the proper oarlocks. The thought of starting over was too much. Veins pulsed on my forehead. Eyelids twitching. The pressure to produce a viable catch and make something of a living was strong enough that I just kept going; flapping across the harbor and around the island.

Clayton's friend produced a beautiful pair of stainless steel risers to make the oarlocks about 4 inches higher. We tried them out yesterday. The 4 inches entirely changes the rowing posture. Now I'm learning to row a third time. Now I am a swan. Or at least not an injured herring gull.

July is down to minutes and I finally have the rowing setup I had expected to start out with in May. I finally have all this year's traps in the water. My winch is on the boat waiting for its first tour. The light is green. In a month or so, the light will turn yellow and I'll have to reverse the whole process.
One of the continuing lessons is that when I'm doing something no one really does any more, in a way no one has ever done it, there will be many little problems without a fix waiting at the marine store. We have a thousand accumulated little handy fixes for simple problems. Getting a cork out of a wine bottle is really hard without a corkscrew. Loosening a phillips head screw is hard without phillips head screw driver. We take drain plugs for granted until we don't have one that fits. The wrong sized battery won't be any use. Keys open locked doors. A car with no steering wheel or spark plugs is almost all there and yet completely inoperable.

So it is with my beautiful peapod lobster boat with the wrong oarlock positioning. So it is as well with other aspects of fishing in a discontinued style and a modern adaptation. I can't just go to the marine store and buy a trap flipper or brackets to hold my winch to the hull of this boat or a roller to direct the rope through.

Update Friday- July is even smaller ahead of me. Today was day 1 of rowing standing up. I made it from the end of the breakwater to Northeast Point in a leisurely 23 minutes. Then Weston gave me a tow to West Point. That took about a leisurely minute and a half.

Today was also day one of learning to run the new 12 volt trap hauler. This addition to the boat came about because in the cold-sweat-oh-s--- weeks when I started hauling, pulling the wire traps up by hand was excessively brutal. Harder than anything I did when I was 19 or 26 or 36 or 46. It was not like the old days with wooden traps. One late night conclusion was that I could not pull up enough traps barehanded to make my quota. Or to save my wrists from early gnarlalysis and clawfinger. It hurt a lot. Even though I'm quite a bit stronger and much more comfortable with the task, the hauler will allow me to work longer and pull in more traps and make the numbers work. I'll run it off a solar-charged 12 volt battery.

Another new task that I'm clumsy at. Another construction and installation job that I know nothing of. I've never done any kind of automotive or boat wiring and only the simplest household work.

I never got past the clumsy phase. The winch worked spectacularly until about trap number 6. As I was trying to learn to avoid riding turns where the rope backs up on itself and gobs up the whole works, the thing went unnhhh.... Nothing.

Every previous feeling of failure, foolishness, frustrated rage poured back into my brain and belly instantly. All the progress seemed for nothing.

A little fiddling revealed that a wire connection was loose. Of course. I know nothing of maritime electricianing.

I found the loose wire and tightened things up back in the shop. How many traps next time, I'm wondering. (Turns out, a whole days' worth. Major improvement)

The standup rowing left me considerably less exhausted and crumpled over. It felt lazy by comparison with the previous configurations. I roved around the north shore, Two Bush Island and over almost to No Man's Land. Planes landed yards away at one point. Banks of fair weather clouds never got here.

It's July 30 and the operation is pretty much in place. Lobsters are present. Large ones. Weather is spectacular. La la la. Whistle, whistle. Probably should complain on ceremony just to not be boastful or irritating to the gods.

July 31

I haven't seen any in a while, but offices once had doors with rippled glass windows to allow light and color through, but maintain some discretion for important meetings and office functions. At the Northeast end of Condon Cove, the water has the same shape, but on the other side there is magical green sand and eel grass instead of filing cabinets and coat trees. Polarized lenses on my new sunglasses enhance a view that Pixar can't approximate. Silver blue July sky above, aqua green below. Perfect globe shaped school of baby fishes. Overwhelming beauty.


  1. Nat -- Steve Lindsay, piano player with the olde Myrle Street Blues Band here. I have a 15 foot peapod I built 30 years ago. I made my own pattern for standing oarlocks and had them cast in bronze in West Rockport. Next time I sail out to Matinicus from Tenants Harbor with my peapod towing astern I'll show them to you. I can't claim to have ever hauled a trap from her, though. Hope the fishing is good!

  2. Hey Steve, small world, I always wanted one of those pea pods. I rowed out to Matinicus in one of the OB boats, just as Viking lumber delivered the Price barn material for my crew out there. Hand work on an Island, we built the barn, restored the house and I have never been back. In the pulling boat was Dave Perini, and later that encounter brought me back out West. The meandering continues but I too have struggled with finding just the right oarlocks...Nat, you are priveleged to be working close to the sea, but even more priveleged to be aware of it. Thanks for that great writing.

  3. Thanks for reading! Steve, I kept trying to figure out where I knew the name from. Now I see the comment above and it all makes sense. Are you playing? I play here on Saturday nights in the summer, and you would be welcome any time. I'd love to check out another peapod. Only so many around.

  4. Greetings Nat!

    You have a fantastic blog here. Well written and a great, unique subject. I personally appreciate it as my family has a long history of lobster-fishing Down East. We hail from the Harrington area. I grew up near the coast too and absolutely love it. Now I'm living in Auburn with a desk job and your blog is a refreshing connection to my child-hood and roots.

    Keep up the great work!

    Oh, also - if it's not too rude - I'd like to offer a little bit of advice for your website here: http://www.amazon.com/Olympus-Stylus-1030SW-Digital-Optical/dp/B0013CZXP6

    ... or something like it.

    -Jeremy Keith Hammond

  5. Thanks for reading! One of many winter projects is to get the website to a better state. Get out of the office when you can.