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!


  1. Nat, I arrived at Outpost Matinicus through FB, so your comment this morning caught me off guard. I would say on the contrary, you are just beginning. While this season may have ended, as you know, you learned invaluable lessons and hoaned invaluable tools to make the project even more successful next year. I know I have learned a great deal on Matinicus this year and while my season continues, the lessons have been invaluable. While this year has not finished for me, I am already excited about next year and the opportunities it will bring.
    The first time I saw you I said to Adrian, I bet he has the most profitable operation on the Island. I was right. This year it may not have had the lowest cost per pound, but it made a great difference on the environment. Next year it would not surprise me if I were right on both counts.
    Either way you sought out to make a difference and you did.
    Oh and I hope I can take a little credit for keeping the price what it was!

  2. Definitely we appreciate a little market diversity. Thank you! Thanks also for checking in and encouraging me.

  3. Next year how about some solar i-pod speakers !
    Nice to see you Guys this last end of summer and what a relief that your barn didnt go up!
    Rock on Guys