Thursday, October 21, 2010

3,080 Pounds of Carbon Dioxide

A hundred times in the last month, I've thought I was going to get back aboard Sweet Pea and haul more traps, or try out my ultra cool electric backup motor. Storms have threatened, good days have gone to making some cabbage for the long, poor winter. One thing or another has kept Sweet Pea sitting awkwardly on the grass instead of swanlike in the harbor. 

Today I started pulling the operation apart and bringing the pieces home. Solar panel, winch, safety gear, trap flipper, bait bags and iron, oarlocks, oars. The boat will come tomorrow, though I really have no idea how to accommodate the craft inside my congested and tiny barn. 

It's a lifetime of 5 months ago that the boat was towed into the harbor. There was no winch, no trap lever to help get the traps aboard. The sail was still a curiosity I'd found in the barn. I had no idea how to sail- still really don't even though I've done it a few times. I had no idea how to row, how to approach buoys, how to haul traps, judge the weather, moor the boat. I had no clue about any of it.

The boat arrived in Matinicus harbor not only lacking proper oarlocks, but having been sent with only one that fit the socket. Great for rowing around in a small circle. I rowed for weeks sitting down, trying to learn the approach to traps, hurting my neck, and, really, everything else. Wind was an invisible bully. Waves and rocks terrified me as I tried to gauge how close was too close without finding out. Pulling up steel traps standing in this very small boat was the hardest physical challenge I've ever experienced. 

By far the most stressful element I can share was the financial realization that poured over me cold and abrupt as a bucket of snow melt. On the worst of those early days, I came home very sore and $25 or so richer. The emotional impact and panic around making the thing pay was far worse than the rowing and pulling on ropes. Shame. Guilt. What have I done!? What will I do now!? How do I get out of this?

It got better. First the standup oarlocks finally came a month later. Then Clayton rigged them to the proper height. Then Dad, bless him, bought me an electric winch. The number of traps per day rose. The time out on the water came down dramatically. I got more comfortable staying out of the breakers but getting into rocks. I sailed. Lobsters were plentiful. The price was decent. There were many beautiful and profitable days on the water, at least for a few weeks after the operation was up and running properly.

Though I'm sure they had their own conversations, incredulous and laughing, the fishermen never stopped helping and advising and checking on me out on the water.

All told, I brought in about 2,800 pounds of Maine lobster this season. Based on a boat using 25 gallons of diesel per day for 250 traps that yield 2 pounds per trap, my harvest saved about 140 gallons of diesel which, according to the EPA, saved about 3,080 pounds of CO2 emissions.

Sweet Pea is done for the year. She did beautifully. The boat was the one thing I could absolutely count on every day. Here's to the Carpenter's Boatshop and to the design, evolved right here on tiny Matinicus Island.

Next time, I'll look at next year, the evolution of my operation, the bigger issues of food, environment, economy and community as well as marketing and logistics.

Thank you for reading!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Why Would You Want to do That?

Good question as I'm doing the staggering drunk orange rodeo clown act in the stern of the Samantha J.

During a particularly absurd sequence where the boat jumped and rolled in many directions simultaneously, I thought I'd be clever:

"Bull riders only have to stay on for seven seconds or something."

Captain Clayton trumped me instantly:

"Yeah, and they get to sit down!"

Why indeed? It's a good question on a day when it's blowing 25 out of the northeast. Not many boats ventured out of the harbor this morning. It's starting to get cold. Norah Jones's warm sleepy soft flannel voice sounds wicked out of place here.

The deeper question is why not? Many of the comments on articles about what I'm doing, many of the conversations I've had and a lot of the obvious unstated points all ask why I would quit being a lawyer and work as a stern man. I have felt disapproval and bafflement from close points in my life and from people who do not know me. Aside from the fact that I never made much money as an attorney, my question is why is that kind of work respected so much more than being a sternman? Like being a lawyer is so great. I've come to realize how much status has to do with it and how stupid status is.

Call me crazy, but I am at least as proud of learning to work on the ocean as of getting through law school and handling cases. Working on the sea has unique challenges and its own language just like the law. Well not just like. Fishing is fun. And it hurts a lot.

"He was just some stern man. They all look the same to me." Lisa and I have heard this a number of times.

Sternmen do arrive here with tattoos, scars, conditions of release, varying phases of opiate dependence, and garnishment orders for child support, taxes and medical bills. That's not all of them and that is not all there is to them, either. I've also found them to be generous, extremely hardworking individuals with surprising amounts of specialized skills and knowledge. There is that status thing, though.

So again, the question is, why would I do this? I was trying to answer it for myself this morning, while also trying to admire the gray wet desolate beauty of the ride out to the westerd (local variant of westward). Then onto the stereo comes Desperado, by the Eagles, that somewhat hokey but extremely well crafted song about a guy who makes life hard on himself out west somewhere. Way out west where they would not know what "westerd" means. I am not a desperado, but the answer to the question came to me while the song was playing.

Somewhere around 1978, the Eagles released a live double album with Desperado on it. The song is preceded by a beautiful string section intro that reminded me of wilderness. Mountains, streams, valleys. I loved that intro. I loved reading Edward Abbey. I also was living amidst some turmoil at 16 , but if I was in the woods, or out in a field, I was happy. At ease. The nagging, itchy square peg divorce kid feelings did not follow me there.

So that's basically it. I like being outdoors, and always have. Status or no. Why give up status and security? Why be so hard on my body? Shouldn't I be doing something respectable and letting my body rot from the inside in a chair or car and then trying to make up for the inactivity in the gym? Won't I have to pay the piper? Oh, probably. Definitely eventually. This day looks like at least an installment on the piper payment schedule.