Sunday, August 22, 2010

Return to the Stern

Some nights and early wee mornings, Papa just can't buy enough mockingbirds. No amount of rockabye babies, or hear the wind blow dears is enough. Feeding, reading, rocking, and walking will not do the trick. What really works is a drive in the car. Ahhhh. She's asleep at last. Internal combustion has the soothing vibration that all my daddy tricks can't match.

Diesel engines, especially when they first start up on a cold day, have a very comforting sound to them. Diesel engines, when they quit on a cold day, really make you aware that you don't know what you got til it's gone. Now I've said it. No matter how much my project is about working without internal combustion, diesel power has some things going for it.

I've been asked to sub on a few boats recently. Monday, I went out with June. She's got a 30 foot Repco, surprisingly steady on a choppy day. June teaches more than she realizes about bait, soak time, fishing strategy. She has an efficient operation and runs the boat and handles traps and buoys with deceptive ease. Steering the boat, gaffing the buoy, sliding it forward up the rail so it slides down the rail on its own instead of having to fiddle it out of a tangle of rope on the platform. She flips tiny fish off the washboard with a dustpan, reducing bycatch mortality and maybe paying in some karma. For comedic relief, she has me run the boat and the hauler for one trap.

I worked 4 years in the stern, then jumped to a totally different way of lobstering aboard Sweet Pea. Coming back to the stern felt very comfortable. I also learned from hauling with June in a much deeper way than I would if I'd never been in my own boat hauling my own traps. Duration, location, and luck. I went back to Sweet Pea for two days with those lessons in mind.

I thought I was a mighty fishin' man for hauling with June and then hauling all 150 of my own traps the next two days and probably rowing 15 miles in the process. I came home on Wednesday evening from my tax collector office hours with sand in my eyes and thoughts of a day off the water, a morning to sleep in, time to catch up on neglected housework, paperwork, play with the kids and maybe rest the spine for a day.

Then Robert called and talked me into hauling with him for a day aboard Cynthia Lynn, one of the big, fast, heavy duty boats. There are different tiers of lobster boats, though they all have more or less the same classic profile. I believe you could fit three of June's boats inside the Cynthia Lynn.

The hauling was of a type I hadn't experienced before. On this boat, it's a 10 hour hockey game with two five minute timeouts and no face mask, a dog fight and a wet, ocean debris-covered factory assembly line with a runaway malfunctioning conveyor belt.

Big, heavy duty traps come aboard. The fourteen inch hauling plates bring up a 20 fathom trap line in about 4 seconds. Travis gets the first one down the rail and whips a couple of fathoms of extra rope toward the stern, flips the door open. I get the old bait out and clean the kitchen and middle chamber and put new bait in, with a bait bag, pogey speared through the eye and a crab speared on the bottom, while Travis measures the money crawlers in the parlor. Then he loops out around me to take the first one down to the stern while I get started on the tailer- the second of each pair. I dance over the rope he has to pull around so it stays under the rail. Then he zips behind me to finish measuring in the tailer trap. In between, a couple of lobsters get banded and a bait bag or two get filled and tied shut. Then the tailer gets placed on the stern. The process takes seconds and happens 200 times in a day. It is a fast, long, hard day.

One day aboard Cynthia Lynn is such a frenzy and overwhelming physical challenge that I do not want to do it again. When Robert asks if I'll go the next day, my answer is "no," which means yes a short while later. It's easier the second day, with easier being a relative term. The day is impossibly long, relentlessly fast. We have 300 hauled by 11:30 a.m. It takes me til 3:00 p.m. to haul 75 by myself.

When we reach Northeast Point on our way in for the day, I tell Robert it takes me 23 minutes to row from there to the harbor. After taking a few precautions such as making sure the hose won't explode out of the lobster tank, Robert goes for it. Sweet Pea takes 23 minutes. Cynthia Lynn takes 1.

We hauled 800 furious traps in 2 days. On my own I haul 150 in that much time.

The incessant hurrying, slashing bait iron, spearing on pogeys and a crab, the frantic moves all catch up with me at about 12:30 Saturday morning. My left arm is being pulled apart inside, and poked with needles outside. For all the pain, the arm and wrist are simultaneously numb. Fingers won't do what I tell them. I wake up a dozen times to wake the hand up and ease the pain. In 2 and a half months of rowing everywhere, pulling algae covered ropes tied to steel traps by hand, doing everything "the hard way," I never had any kind of pain like this.

Let me see now, the two days from last week aboard Sweet Pea, then two days of 40 foot, 1,000 horsepower mayhem as a deckand. Counting my door-to-door sales from Sweet Pea. Hmm...

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