Saturday, December 31, 2011

Year End Inventory

On this New Year's Eve, I'll be blunt: I'm pretty happy to see the departing back side of 2011.

Despite this truth, even in a year like this has been, there were many great days, high highs and large fun times with the best friends a person can have. A brief, spotty list with partial anonymity to protect the unindicted co-conspirators follows.

January- I got to finally redo the younger kids' rooms while they were skiing with their classmates at Sugarloaf.

February- St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands. Holy wow, what a time that was! Lots of exploring, snorkeling, sitting in with the Blues Society, playing a bunch of my own shows, witnessing an epic, car-melting refinery fire, several "early starts" and hanging with Tom, Orris and Tess. Tugboat Tommy you are platinum. Hope you make it back up this way.

March- Fishermen's Forum, jamming with Brian as much as we could fit it in. I didn't make it to much or any of the seminars due to being engaged in playing guitar and singing. What a wonderful detour. Brian, sushi's on me, 'specially if I find work.

Washington DC. Seeing the good of our nation in this unfairly maligned city. Staying in a highly efficient 6-to-a-shoebox configuration. Loretta, we owe ya big.

April and May- horrid weather. The rest was not so nice. The bright spot was an absolutely inspiring 3 day stay at the Carpenter's Boatshop. I never had such a growing and joyous experience not being selected for a job in my life.

June saw Sweet Pea back in action with the added feature of solar-electric propulsion, more traps and lots more learning about small boat, zero carbon commercial fishing, and solar math, involving amps, watts, volts, weight and time. Another inspirational and growing experience that on paper was not a success.

June also meant the beginning of not being able to haul on Sundays, which, in turn, made for many great Saturday nights of music on the dock with Jerm, Dave L, Dave N, Maury, Dennis, Lydia and uTom. Other memorable gigs happened with Jeff, Andy, Alfred and Dave at the Bowdoinham barn show, outdoor concert, Monhegan, the Lobster Festival and the end of year party at the Waterfront in Camden.

July was when Kathleen Shannon and Dennis from 207 finally got out. They stayed for several days and got great stories, and got them right. July also saw all four out alive.

Toward the end of August, two words: Close Enough!!! My new 26 foot Webbers Cove with the 210 Cummins in the engine box. She's a beaut. I love looking at her down at the boatyard whenever I go by. Big, Big shout to Clayton for helping me through so many stressful firsts- you probably saved me from an aneurysm or 4.

In November and December, I finally got to do the landscaping job I've always wanted to do down at Condon Cove. Thanks Jim, Sue and Betsy. I think it'll be glorious round about May.

The end of the year finds us on North Haven, where we've been welcomed into a new community, and where our kids are attending school, and we have the great advantage of inexpensive access to the mainland 3 times a day on the ferry.

Now, with that wealth of great experiences, what was I complaining about?

Friday, December 16, 2011

Hauling Out

Friday morning is warm and sunny despite the wind. Saturday and Sunday look to be very cold. It's time to take Close Enough out of her element and into hibernation 'til April. I hate to lose the sense of autonomy that I get from being able to buzz back and forth to Matinicus, but I'd hate even more to shred expensive parts or seize the motor because it's full of ice.

The consolation is that here in my new neighborhood on North Haven, I'll be able to look out the back window and see her in of the two boatyards sandwiching our rental house. She'll be close enough to go visit.

It's also time because the wind, waves and temperatures have gone from occasional belligerence to a constantly foul temper, offering a pissed off bull ride like the one I took on Monday.

By Monday, after flogging my way through 5 days of taking up gear, landscaping, roofing and trying to catch up with tax collection business and car registrations, I sorely wished to see my family. I was sore everyplace from orthopedic abuse and the muscle confusion of changing physically demanding jobs 3 times in 5 days, but a lot more achy inside.

I raced the clock to finish up gathering things I'd need on the other side. This is an ongoing aggravation of having two home bases close enough to each other that one does not have to absolutely get everything this time around. Tools, electronic connector cables, clothes, a bike pump, mail, music gear- it all had to be rounded up and cargoed aboard.

The Matinicus Rock weather station had been phoning in 23 knots gusting to 26 or 7 all day long, and I was pretty teetery on whether to go at all, and kept waiting for the NOAA-promised slackening of the wind later in the day. I'd get a whole lot more teetery later.

Just as time is running out to make a decision because I do not want to be a greenhorn captain in a strange place in the dark when it's blowing 25, I get a call from a friend who needs me to do my tax collector job. I oblige. Then time is really running out, but I decide to try it anyway because 'I can always turn back, right?' I call my advisor who figures I'll be OK 'cause the wind is directly behind me on my course to Heron Neck Light.

As I head out on the 30 degree course, my boat surfs large, steep waves, seeming to skate on her keel and seeming about 7 feet taller than I remember. This is crazy, but kind of fun. And I'll get to see my family.

Yes, it's all fun 'til I see coolant spurting out of the hot tank line. Then the fun drains out of me even faster than the vital cooling fluid that's now soaking into my guitar case. Overheating is bad for my motor. I look at the fittings and hose and can't see where the leak is. I shut down in order to disconnect the hot tank, hoping that will stop the bleeding.

As Close Enough obligingly turns side-to in the suddenly intimidating wolf packs of December breakers, I feel a special loneliness, a quiet, a distance from family, home and safety. I focus and get the hoses both unplugged, and restart. Nope. Back I go. I'm not getting to my family tonight.

The waves are considerably more difficult to contend with going straight into them. I am the pale, scrawny musician kid thrown into a rugby game designed to distract me from my broken heart by breaking some of my ribs. Big gray-green rugby bullies, planting me on back side a couple of times, this loss of stability brought on by trying to talk on the radio and steer at the same time. It never occurred to me that that would be such a challenge.

The radio connects me with my salvors back on Matinicus. After a very slow and rolly trip back to the harbor, Clayton puts wrenches and screwdrivers to the problem forthwith.

I head home, miserable.

The next day was rough, too, but blowing from the north-northeast, so waves are much more manageable, and I'm soon in the lee of Vinalhaven. Still a bit of drip, but we'll catch up with that next spring.

Foy is extremely accommodating and agrees that today is probably the day. He'll skiff me out and guide Close Enough into the lift, onto a trailer and perch her on stands out back.

I guess it's time to haul out, if for no other reason, at least to not have those kinds of crossings for a while. Now on to other things. Getting to know my new surroundings. Scrounging for work. Staying warm. Recording a new album. Now I'm talking...


Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Mo Jo Risin' I Ain't

A wise woman taught me that a newspaper makes for a better start to the day. A fisherman she is, the newspaper being good for the skiff seat on soggy days.

I had an unceremonious Wednesday morning departure from North Haven around 7:40 or so. I'd dropped off a tote of survival items on the town float, taken the van back to the rental house and said goodbye to family for another trip to Matinicus.

The December 7 morning visuals were peculiarly uninviting on the Fox Islands Thoroughfare. (I'd have it be Thorofare without the "ugh" but that's my lowbrow thing). There was plenty of ugh to go around down there this morning, and the extra letters added no elegance. Soggy cardboard was donated into my skiff overnight. Every ripple, ferry ramp girder, treeline was the same shade of green gray. Probably my complexion as well, but I was spared from that as there's no flip-down or rearview mirror in my skiff or on Close Enough. Rain. December rain. Drismalness at all compass points. Newspaper is a good accessory today.

My 5th crossing started out well. I paddled down the Thoroughfare to Close Enough and loaded my survival tote bearing thick socks, laptop, sausages and other comforts. CE came right to life, anxious to run. I yanked my skiff up and into the boat, by which I mean I grabbed the bow and essentially laid down near horizontal until the contest of my weight, the skiff's weight, leverage and gravity resolved in favor of plopping the skiff onto the platform.

After cruising through the narrows and Hurricane Sound, I fortified with a cup of black tea. No hibiscus or goji berries or any other froof or flimble, just tea. From a steel thermos with no pictures on the casing. I got to the end of the Sound at Heron Neck lighthouse and decided not to use electronics to get me to Matinicus.

The vista was that of a wet gray sheet of cardboard like they use for the backers of pads of note paper. I had a vague recollection of the course I took to get to this point going the other way and added 180 degrees.

More importantly, and I kid you not, I went by feel. The twisted, rich vortex that is Matinicus gives off some kind of energy- enough to pull me and my boat back. Everything is harder, more intense. There must be some mineral deposit or confluence of ocean currents, magma, magnetic field or other force.

Here's the offer of proof: Yesterday, I was splitting spruce I'd cut on North Haven. Splitting by hand, that is. I've split a fair amount of Matinicus spruce. It is, as Captain John Griffin calls it, "chewy". That's a broad shouldered euphemism for what a scrawny guy has more profane names for, but essentially is dense, twisted, fibrous beyond belief and wicked hard to cleave with a maul.

I was frustrated Tuesday morning, having to choose between coming back to Matinicus to try and earn a few bucks, or seeing my kids' first concert on North Haven. I resolved in favor of the latter and took out my frustrations on the pile of spruce chunks. One time after the next, I handily cleaved pieces that, to my experienced eye, would've thwarted the maul on Matinicus in the first quarter inch or so. One stroke instead of 7, what's up with that? Pieces with branches sticking out. Crack! Thick trunk chunks. Whack! Maybe the wind blows harder and forces the plant to grow tougher.

Whatever the metaphysical, sprucified bullshit, this morning I was pretty sure where I was headed with only the most landubberly, muddle headed, middle aged conscious thought. 20 minutes or so past Heron Neck, I realized that what showed straight before the bow was an ever so slightly more gray wet cardboardy looking horizon than what lay to port and starboard. Aye, there's home, then.

As I dropped the skiff off in the harbor in anticipation of heading out to take up my last load of traps, the temperature felt to drop 20 degrees and the wind picked up a dozen knots. No matter. I'm getting this done today. Off I go and start coiling rope on the engine box, untying and picking traps, stacking them on the stern with firm instructions to "stay." Waves get gruffier. Green gets more dour. Traction ripples on waves get grabbier as wind agitates water. I'm alone a couple or three miles east northeast of the Zephyr Ledge marker.

Several hours of slogging culminate in 5 traps disobeying my directive. I stare. I curse people who have no fault to account for in this. I keep going. Then the last pair of traps of the season, setting in 30 fathoms, come aboard.

Since my first season, the end of lobstering always feels like the carny leaving town. Even though my rotator cuffs and trapeziuses are glad, the rest of me is sad. Even though I'm relieved, it is an end.

Jim Morrison, I am not. The end is not my friend. I'm relieved, yes. Gear is in the yard. My boat will be safe on land for the worst few months. I'll forget the smell of bait. Other priorities will move up on the stage. Connective tissue will get rest and stretching. The full moon won't keep me awake.

The future's uncertain and the end is always near. Maybe so.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Cold Green Rings of Fire

Fishing culture seems to involve a lot of what I'd call preemptive pessimism. It's the opposite of pride going before a fall. If you think and talk gloomy enough, things may go OK. Much of my worry on the boat doesn't end up coming to pass. Other misfortunes come as complete surprises. I'll experience both sides of this mental dance before day's out.

With all the rolling and tumbling of finishing up my first hauling season and moving the family to North Haven and trying to find work for the winter, I wasn't looking forward to arriving back on Matinicus. We've had many stresses and lots of accumulated emotional baggage. The departure from our home was hasty. Items were unplugged, yanked out from their spots. Holes in the arrangement of things in the house. Dust bunnies let loose and running wild. Dishes on the counter. Petrifying leftovers in the fridge. It was going to be a sad, hard landing.

I had lots of dread over getting work done, getting paid, putting an end to a less than lucrative first year on my own boat, another open ocean crossing, only my third. As with almost all my anxieties, this round evaporated as soon as I got going on a gray, rolly-polly journey through unfamiliar narrows. I loaded a few groceries and some clean hauling clothes into the puffin, paddled out, got the Cummins purring like a giant cast iron pussy-cat, and beat the ferry down the Fox Island Thoroughfare.

I came to the end of Hurricane Sound. As soon as I saw Matinicus gray and indistinct in the soggy cold distance, I got happy. Strange thing to make a guy's spirit rise so.

The crossing went well, and I got straight into taking up traps. I coiled rope by the mile, stacked pots on the boat and got them offloaded onto the wharf as it was getting dark. Pride going before a fall is a common mental note of caution for me lately- for good reason.

I was all pumped up from having gotten 3 boat loads of gear taken up instead of the two I hoped for. I was all set to keep the train rolling, loaded one batch into the pick up truck, backed between the log pile and an extremely cantankerous crab apple tree soon to get a severe pruning after it snatched a trap and dropped it on my front windshield. I unloaded, hopped back in the truck, all action, and snapped the ignition key off.

No problem, I'll get the other one since both pieces came out. Hmm. Not in the key place. Maybe it's at Tom and Ann's place since that's where the vehicle lived before. Not on the peg board. Or the junk drawer. A call to the mainland. A couple more checks. No luck. The extra keys will come out on a plane tomorrow.

I'm shut down from trucking traps way before I've cleaned up the big pile on the wharf that's right in everyone's way. Well all right, I'll get supper. It's late anyway.

The feral cat eating my kelp from my hauling bag and I both jump when we discover each other in MY kitchen. I leave the door open and invite the creature with much profanity to leave while I run an errand. Critter's been in my house and unable to get out judging by a couple of piles and a knocked over jar of paintbrushes from a windowsill. Critter also shredded my loaf of bread, preferring a couple of small bites from each slice instead of, say, taking one slice and leaving the rest for me.

The next day is all town tax paperwork catch-up. The keys arrive with dusk and I haul all the traps back home, stack them in the yard and bring back the wet coils of rope. The coils explode in green bioluminescence each time I pick one up or drop it on the ground. Dazzling and cool. What a privilege to see this spectacle. It's great to be home.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Feeling a little Bambi-ish

Thanksgiving is often celebrated in well-worn places. Familiar rooms. Walls that echo and floors that creak in patterns we've recorded deep in our memories. A sagging couch. The dining and card playing table. A storm door with its signature rattle when someone's coming in. Home.

I cooked this year's turkey in an electric oven I'd not seen a week earlier. We are in the midst of exploring, feeling our way about and enjoying a change of scenery on North Haven Island.

Leaving Matinicus for the winter is wrenching. I'm homesick. Kids are homesick. We had a lot of reasons for leaving, but it still drags hard. Short version: our asses were kicked by nearly 6 years in a challenging, isolated environment we had no real experience with.

North Haven is very nice. We've been welcomed into another unique island community. The kids start school tomorrow, Monday. On Tuesday, I'll leave bright and early, reversing last Tuesday's journey up Hurricane Sound and steaming across to Matinicus.

I have two hundred and some odd traps to take up. Taking up is always a grind. The season has been long and draining. The air is cold, the sea inevitably choppy. Sopping wet mounds of rope must be coiled. It is a grueling sequence where traps get untied, stacked on the boat, heaved onto the dock, lifted onto the pickup truck, unloaded and stacked in the yard.

I'll be away a while longer to finish up some work commitments and prepare the house on Matinicus for winter.

I have the feeling I always got before we moved there: if I'm not on Matinicus, it isn't there. Matinicus is a cruel lover and I miss her.

Between the move, the new place, traveling to my family's home in Bowdoinham for the holiday weekend, and preparing to head back to Matinicus I'm feeling a little Bambi-ish; four hooves going in four directions, all of me spinning around. Hunting season ended yesterday, though, so I should be OK.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Just Another Warning Light

I really needed to laugh. I really, really needed a laugh. "It's just another warning light, what's one more?" My sister had asked why the brake light stayed on as we drove to the grocery in my steadfast Ford Windstar. As we headed south on 95, I explained the recent history with this noble vessel, our family's only transportation. I could see the recall notices all trailing behind, fluttering to rest in the breakdown lane. So the brake light, joining the check engine and a rattling sounding like a loose cookie sheet fixed by one corner to the underside of the van sent us both into gales of laughter.

She understands. Not only the charms of the 2000 Windstar, but the charms of past due notices, unflattering mathematical projections for next month, waking in the night with the oil tank empty, the sense the Black Friday could only be a very pale shade of gray for shoppers of our liquidity, or perhaps more appropriately Further Into the Red Friday, fridges and cupboards that have a bit of an echo from time to time, sinking down in our collars whenever the words "financial" and "future" appear in the same sentence.

It's been a challenging few months. Challenging like Shackleton's guys finding South Georgia, only without all that British skill and stoicism. After a lot of agonizing, we've moved to North Haven island for the winter. I'm dreadfully homesick. I'm also pretty well wretching every time I try to figure out how we earn enough to get through the winter without losing our home on Matinicus, and, for me, without losing my beloved boat.

I never had even the slightest difficulty sleeping until recently. Now I have not the slightest difficulty waking up at 2:30 AM, my brain inventorying the vastness of our predicaments before the rest of me is fully conscious.

I must be an almost pathological optimist. I've done a lot of what I do best- music, law, fishing, and been a colossal financial flop all the way round. I still like what I do and the eccentric collection of work experience. I actually still like being myself, living my own way. You have to ignore a lot of warning lights on your dashboard to have that kind of outlook.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Adventure Books, The Crooked Path and Undeclared Bankruptcy

I've enjoyed reading of peril. On mountains, in boats, airplanes, being a Rolling Stone, rowing across the Atlantic, fiction, nonfiction- doesn't matter. Somewhere along the way, I got attached to risk myself, going from armchair adventure to the piss your pants what the hell am I doing?! kind of adventure. Odd for a spindly, late (really late) 40's guy.

True, I'm home at night. I'm working in a familiar area, with friends in boats not more than a mile or so away. It's still the Atlantic Ocean, though, 40 or so fathoms deep, way over my head. It's November. I'm inexperienced. I'm running a boat miles from shore.

Lisa has a yellow sticky note over her computer: "feel the fear and do it anyway." I have definitely felt the fear and lurched forward into the fearful place.

Inspirational yellow stickies aside, I want to talk about how low the lows and high the highs can be within 48 hours.

Yesterday at around 2:30 a.m., I was sitting in the living room, breaking down over financial and other stress. I more or less stayed up until it was time to go out to haul traps and try to get some grocery money. The previous day had begun with a $260 bite in the ass from a forgotten bill for gas that I only discovered when the stove wouldn't light for breakfast. That money was going to be groceries and the self esteem that comes from being able to provide them.

Fortunately, in spite of a less than inviting marine forecast, I got out aboard the boat and headed out to haul. The magic of that outing was not only that I got my grocery money back, but that the thrashing of the work aboard the boat matched the turmoil inside me perfectly. My soul was balanced in between, deeply satisfied by acting in the face of internal and external turbulence. Boat rolls up to buoy, swerves up and down and sideways on the chop, gaff the buoy, run the rope through the pulley and hauler, bring traps aboard. Tend them. Run them off. Yeah.

I said goodbye to my family and flew to town. I had not been to the mainland since the beginning of October, a month and a half earlier. That fact may explain some of my extreme black and white thinking minus the white parts. I sent groceries back on the 3:45 plane out to the island.

Today I had my annual refresher to keep my law license. I saw many friends. I was surprised by the wash of positive energy. These individuals obviously did not know what a train wreck I am, and I just as happy not to think about it myself for a few hours. I never really felt like a lawyer, like it was my career destination, though I spent a decade in Maine's courts. All the same, here I was surrounded by attorneys who have worked hard, been committed and accomplished something. The folks I caught up with seemed genuinely glad to see me and positive about my whacky life.

Therein lies the conundrum of the moment. What I see reflected back to me seems pretty cool. What I feel about my situation is often so chaotic and conflicted, desperate, reckless, irresponsible. In all the stress and isolation of this year on Matinicus, I've gotten to kicking myself pretty bad. I kind of like the outside-in view better. Maybe I should go with that.

After a windowless, fluorescent sit-a-thon listening to experts in real estate, environmental, corporate, municipal and ethics law, I headed up to Waterville to play some tunes for a retirement party for a couple of my Corrections colleagues. I had no idea how much I missed so many of them. Again, the DOC was not my career destination, and I often felt bad about being lazy and unfocused, but I sure did feel great seeing so many great people. Again, they all seemed so accepting and positive.

It took some courage to play the last song of the night, an offensive and expletive filled, but also well written original song, perfectly apropos to the moment. Many times, especially in front of groups of people, I'll bail on an a risky idea and regret it. Not so tonight. I think those fine friends really enjoyed the song. Looked like they were doubled over.

I could look at it that people are positive to me 'cause they don't know what a mess I am, or maybe they know better than I do that for all my wandering, my financial disasters and other ne'er-do-wellism, it's ok for all of us to be who we are. Crooked path, undeclared bankruptcy and all. That's the real adventure.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Taking Up

Yesterday was a cheatin' day. A dazzling bit of late summer misplaced in my favor into November. The day before? Same thing. When it's nice on the water, it is way too easy to think it will stay that way. 'I can keep hauling. I don't need to bring in my gear for the year. I'll just keep going indefinitely.' Easy thoughts to have on an easy day. In spite of all the seductive, mirage-ing, tempting-you-into-being out in a gale with ice forming on everything 'cause you waited too long type weather, I am taking up gear. It is time, no matter what the sunshine and soft air try to say to the contrary.

It was literally last week, Monday in fact, that I was still making up rope and taking gear out to deep water. These shore traps, though, are pretty well empty, and in very hard shape from the mauling they take over the course of a full season right up in the rocks. Getting these pots out of the mix makes it easier to concentrate my effort where it will do some good.

What a couple of months it has been since bringing Close Enough home from Rockland! I've handled this vessel without any serious mishaps and only a long running entertainment series of slow and graceless approaches to the lobster car for the benefit of other fishermen and the buyers. Many miles of new rope put together. Many traps patched and set out, some with years of vines, blackberry canes and other vegetation having grown in. Many days on the water- some hairy where I learn a lot, some tranquil where I just try to work.

The whole kaleidoscopic circus has to come lurching home soon. The silver blue warmth of today will turn suddenly to windblown ice crusted desolation. I'll take today.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Roxanne and the Connection to Nature

A big park is proposed for the North Maine Woods. There was a bigger park proposed. Roxanne Quimby generously offered what to most of us would be a vast land holding to establish the park. I heard her speak on public TV about her efforts to create this wonderful resource. I've heard other opinions. What is missing from the debate is an acknowledgment of the deeper reason why some, particularly those who live in the North Maine Woods, resist the idea of a park.

Their concerns are usually portrayed as just about paper mill and wood harvesting jobs, or the opportunity to hunt, fish and tool around on snowmobiles and 4-wheelers. I think the real reason is that people who live in these areas value something a lot more fundamental than paper mill jobs and deer hunting. I believe residents are and want to remain part of the ecosystem. This means more than kayaking on days off from the office, skiing, leaf peeping and hiking.

This means the basic human interaction with the environment that goes on when we make our living in some way connected to the natural environment. It almost sounds crazy doesn't it? Our veggies come from Chile, electronics from Asia, retail and restaurant chain jobs from some other state, benefit checks from Augusta and Washington. What kind of loonie thinks that we can live and draw our living from our own surroundings?! I think many of us still have a deep-seated sense that we are part of the land, including our activities that take resources from the woods, the ocean, the soil, even when daily life doesn't look much that way.

A park would turn the whole ecosystem into an exclusive playground and sealed off nature exhibit. People are no longer welcome to live there. It's about a whole lot more than post WWII industry or deer camp or snowmobile trails. That's the part I think Roxanne and other park proponents just do not perceive.

I am fortunate enough to live in a place where we still interact with nature in our immediate vicinity to make our lives. It shouldn't be such an anomaly.

A few weeks ago, I drove into my home town through a back road and saw woods, fields and streams- a very rich environment. I looked at the homes and could see very little evidence of a connection between the human occupancy and the blessings of the land. But I know it's there, and I'm sure I'm not the only one who feels it.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Greenhorn Chronicles continued

Late middle September- We continue with tales of a very new captain:

I've hauled a number of days, getting more comfortable getting in and out of the harbor, onto the mooring, tying up at the bait boat and lobster car. It's a big heavy craft going through slippery water. Aboard Sweet Pea, the movement of the boat was immediate and physical, like a shopping cart or a wheelbarrow. If I moved my arms, the boat responded. Now there are diesel and hydraulic intermediaries between my hands and where the boat goes.

I gradually learn the coordination of throttle, transmission, hydraulic winch in two directions, flipping the trap aboard and running it back off without getting tangled. Every day a little more confidence spreads through my trunk and limbs. The moves get natural. Once again, I'm choreographing all the dance moves as I have for each boat I've worked aboard. Only this time, I am captain and sternman. On My Boat.

I deposit a couple of checks. Not big numbers, but huge for morale.

I've also become a gear and rope preparing machine, thanks to having a lot of gear and rope given to me. Whenever I'm not hauling, I'm in the yard, walking and unkinking rope, patching traps, rigging buoys.

I'm also starting to get seriously burnt out. 7 days a week I've been at it since early August- finding the boat, jumping through hoops, arranging financing, having drivers ed after taking the big rig on the road, learning to get to and haul traps, dodging large swells from distant tropical storms, rigging up more gear.

So I'm simultaneously getting more competent and burned out from total immersion. I start to set and haul pairs of traps for the first time. These guys can do it blindfolded with an arm and a leg tied behind them. For me it's quite a challenge. Setting pairs I quickly found out how easy it is for rope to get into a wretched ball. These hopeless tangles are a lot harder to deal with when there's two traps to haul up instead of one.

Pairs are also a lot harder to get into the boat. My first few efforts are a freak show. I'm grateful that no one is close enough to see how slow and clumsy I am with this.

Last night, today was forecast to have 5 to 15 knot winds. I should have checked this morning. Now as I'm listening to the radio and heading out, there's a small craft advisory for hazardous seas- by which they mean towering offshore swells that hatch monster breakers in places I only vaguely knew had shallow places. On top of the big waves- which are no big deal as long as I'm far away from ledges, shore or shoals- there is a robust chop from the gathering Southwest wind. After 4 hours or so of being sloshed and tilted and slapped around by the wind and water, I surrender for the day, slowly steaming back to the harbor through the very dark green water and slate blue-gray sky.

Towering waves, uncertainty about the winter, certainty of one more horrid financial gap. I've committed to the boat. Here we go. Yippy Ki Yay.

9/22

Today started actually last night. Remembered to call a friend at bed time who'd left a message at dinner. Friend advised me of a faux pas on my part. A bunch of them, actually. So I got in my first stew even though I'm hardly up to speed on any aspect of the business.

In the meanwhile, I'm taking care of the year's worth of the island's property tax calculations for the year. That piece of work always hits in the scurrying season with frantic fishing and panics that set in during September when we realize it's September, which means that winter is coming on fast.

It rained all day, and I dove into paperwork, bill paying, property taxes, gathering related signatures, rigging a few buoys and toggles, trying to keep busy enough to stay ahead of doubts and creditors. Off to sea tomorrow.

Sunday, September 25

I set 30 beater traps in dense fog and an unfamiliar area. I really love my radar. Not only because it keeps me from running into other boats, channel markers and ledges, but as a second visual navigation tool. The more time I spend on the water, the comfort level gradually comes up and the rush from learning how to navigate, learning how the boat behaves, reading the current, tending my gear with the amazingly powerful hydraulic pot hauler. So many new moves, motions, angles, sounds and smells to keep track of.

What makes it so special is that it's all been taught here, by my neighbors and friends and aside from the lobster apprentice program and one day coast guard safety course, completely unregulated. No driver's ed, no practice, very minimal instruction on the ONE Afternoon when Clayton and I brought the boat across from Rockland. The liberty to learn, challenge myself in nature without layer upon layer of restriction and constriction is precious.

September 27- At 6:15 or so this morning, I disentangled my skiff in the dusk of the wharf, rowed around the corner to face the harbor and was stunned by the sight of the harbor on a flat still morning, brilliant in the orange gold of the sunrise. The flatness amplifies the effect. This was an extremely unusual day of brilliant sunshine and no wind to speak of- very unusual in September.

I took out ten traps that had been in very close to the shore and put them into pairs with 25 fathom warps off to the norred, short version of northward. Had some tea while steaming over to the days work to the easterd, short for eastward. Am I lucky today? Yes. Unlike the first time I hauled these traps, I can see. Last time around, the fog was so thick I wasn't sure my eyes were really open at all.

What a lucky man I am to work on a boat in September in Maine.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Day 1, Again- How Many Does This Make?

Saturday, September 3.

The new boat, Close Enough, awaits me in the harbor. She's ready. Me, not so much.

Wee hours held many half awake, vague bad dreams about how I was possibly going to mess up driving the new boat. Some of them were comical, some plausible. In that nether state, I somehow believed that if I thought about it enough, I'd have experience that I do not have- I'd know what do do without ever having done it.

I anticipate all the steps- starting up, unhitching, working around the ledge and boulders, docking with the Liberty Risk for bait, get turned around and out of the harbor and heading out to get some work done.

Deep down, I am confident of my ability to learn this newest alien activity, to safely go out, work and come home dry and alive. I am also deeply aware of how little I know and how catastrophic a mistake can be. This isn't a sturdy slow 300 pound wooden boat powered by hand. I won't be just a few paces from the shore.

The other unwelcome night and dawn visitor was the wind.

It's now 7 am and I haven't found anyone to go out. I'm terrified of just getting around the ledge in the harbor and tying up at the bait boat, much less going out into the open ocean and hauling traps for the first time. I go out to the boat anyway, and start organizing. And agonizing.

I open the hatch to turn on the electrical switches and fire up the motor, but can't make my hand push the button and do it. I'm frozen. I'm also having a parental voice in my head saying that despite my probably making an idiot of myself, it is wise to have a second person aboard on this first time out.

I paddle back to the wharf and make a call, leaving a message for one guy and then convincing Craig to come out. This security and company makes all the difference.

We go out in some substantial chop and break me in and introduce the boat to Matinicus lobstering. Every move is unfamiliar. The wind is robust and the waves slosh us around. I manage to haul a handful and feel like that's enough for today.

Every transition is new and tightens my insides. My saving strategy is to go super slow. I approach the bait boat, the mooring, the dock with glacial slowness. Other guys bring in boats to the dock like snowboarders swoosh to a stop at the lodge. Not me. Water is very slippery compared to pavement, gravel or fields, where I've operated big equipment in the past. The water is slippery and boat hulls and docks are very heavy and unyielding.

Craig grabs the mooring for me and the boat is once again safely tethered to the bottom of the harbor.

The next day, I figure I'm heading out for the first real work day; I'll start making some money instead of spending like a congressman the way I have been. Note the "I figure" phrasing. I'm warming up the engine and feeling all captain-like when I notice the voltmeter is low. In instrument panel design, red is bad and green is good. My voltmeter is not in the green happy place. I stop, make calls, stop people in the road, talk to Joe in the harbor. Under 12 volts is not good enough. I decide to try it for a while thinking maybe when I rev the motor, the volts will come up. Think again. Even though the voltmeter keeps slumping further away from Green Land, I get to haul a few pots and catch some lobsters.

Further consultation with the island brain trust leads to the conclusion that I need a new alternator. I head out Monday morning with my handy U.S. Navy manual on the motor and get 95% of the way through removing the alternator- my first introduction to the cramped, awkward, knuckle skinning realities of engine work on a boat.

After loosening and removing the bolts, I smugly move to pull the alternator out, and there is a tug back from the dark recesses. There's one more nut to remove. I can barely fit more than a couple of fingers in there. There are a couple of hoses in the way. When I can get a glimpse of the last item, it looks crusted over with rust and grease. And very hard to reach.

I try open end, box end and socket wrenches. I try liberal amounts of lubricant. I try very liberal amounts of profanity. There is a single 3/8" nut between me and making a living, and it is successfully thwarting every idea, angle, heave and tool I can come up with. I try to fit a hacksaw blade in the space. I try a chisel. Morning turns to afternoon.

Eventually, Weston shows up. We spoke this morning and he told me it was "a ten minute job."
Weston sees something behind the nut that I didn't see and after a couple of "oh this is nothing" remarks that morph into "oh, no wonder you've been on this all day, it's a total pain in the ass," he gets pliers on one part and a wrench of the other, and turns until the bolt fatigues and melts itself into two pieces. The alternator is out. Along the way, I manage to mangle the wiring plug, and will need to get that ordered as well.

Unfortunately, getting the dead alternator out does not put the boat back in working order. Today is Labor Day, so I'm not getting a new one today.

Tuesday morning, Clayton advises me to remove the pulley off the front of the alternator because the new one won't have that piece. OK, I say, thinking that I'll pick up a couple of tools, apply them to the job and remove the pulley. Note the "thinking that I'll" phrasing. After an hour of wrestling, I feel as though I have as much chance of bending the doors on a wood stove with my bare hands as I have getting that pulley off the alternator.

It's a contest of getting a wrench on one part, and holding the rest of it securely. Actually, it's a matter of having an impact wrench. Silly me. I don't happen to have an impact wrench. And at this point, I don't even know I need one.

I'm near tears at this point because I manage to do 95% of the tasks, but get completely stopped in my tracks by the last 5%, simple things like old corroded nuts or things that need an impact wrench. I am ignorant of the world of diesel engines and rusted nuts and bolts and impact wrenches. I can't do the simple parts of these jobs. I need to start making a living starting last year and have been disabled by little rusted parts and things I don't know how to do.

I am in way over my head. Again.

Afternoon comes, and with it a shiny new alternator with no crumbling, rusted bits. The reinstall is a lot more fun than the removal, although I'm haunted by the fear that I have misdiagnosed the problem, and when I start the motor, the voltmeter will still be in the red place of worry and failure.

I feel I've invented cold fusion and won the Nobel Prize as I push the start button, start the motor and watch the needle majestically rise well into the green.

All is well.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

This is Why

'Why keep the church open when nobody comes?' -Summer visitor.

"This is why" said Suzanne as we all sat together remembering a friend. Not an employee of a service provider. Not a delivery person. A part of the community. We gathered as we gather when there are other losses, weddings, holidays. We gather as a community the likes of which I've experienced nowhere else. There is shared experience, hardship, aggravation, conflict, disagreement, joy, celebration. Shared. We are not hermetically sealed off from neighbors, knowing more about Jennifer Aniston's acquaintances than we know of our own. We shared unrehearsed and unpolished thoughts of our friend, Don. We sang. We prayed. We gave three cheers.

The same thisiswhy is why we tolerate the vicious weather, constant unpredictability, financial precariousness and isolation. The ass-kicking. We do it because the rest of american culture seems deadened by factory food, cubicle jobs, antidepressants and a thousand other life-sucking blandifications.

We live. It's not safe. It's messy. This is why.

I Want to be Bored Now

First and most important, Don is family to us, like all the Penobscot Island Air folks. In addition, what happens to anyone here happens to everyone. It's close like that on this island. I am sad.

It also feels as though the mainland just got a lot further away. The wind is cold and dry today. The long winter telegraphs its punch way too soon. I am afraid.

I came here for adventure. I want to be bored now.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Breaking the Silence

It's been a while, so some explanation is in order. Sweet Pea and I are no longer an item. I'll probably never love a boat like I love the peapod, or have as much wonderment lobstering as I have poking cove to cove and rock to rock, up close, quiet, one with the seals and birds and porpoises.

I came to the wrenching decision to make a change earlier this summer. I believe passionately in what I did. I wanted to prove that traditional boats, solar power and hard work can create a small scale, super sustainable commercial fishing business. Solar power works! Don't believe the negative hype.

I also proved that it would be a great seasonable job for someone with no children who also has other seasonal work, or a college student. It did not produce the revenue our family needs. There were about 2 really good months both seasons. Not enough season or money.

After reaching that decision, the next question was- what am I going to do? Poor economy. Gappy resume. Eccentric credentials. I did a lot of networking and outreach that went absolutely nowhere.

Then my mind took a big leap in what seemed like the whole wrong direction. Maybe I should just go with what I know. Maybe a proper lobster boat. Instead of getting a haircut, straightening up and flying right, pleasing the people my people have to defend me to, I'll just dig myself in deeper, dangerouser, and precariouser financially. Great idea!

I may get back to the peapod some day. I may try and electrify a small, but bigger boat. Right now, I have a very deep hole to dig out of and an extreme accumulation of stress that goes with that condition.

Here's the journal of the beginning of the next phase:

September 2:

My new boat, Close Enough, came home yesterday, 2 weeks to the day from when I first checked her out. I waded into the virgin rainforest of purchasing a commercial vessel two weeks ago, weaving together my feeble negotiating skills with insurance, coast guard documentation, marine surveying and business loan processes. I had to learn my way through many terms and ways of doing things that were completely unknown to me. Meanwhile, I am racking up expenses flying back and forth, driving around, buying safety gear and repairing a few things, and am not earning any money.

Then after a seeming eternity of blundering and lurching through the various hoops and getting the vessel purchased, she slips in the water at the Rockland boat launch. Then the easy part is done and I'm bluntly aware of how vulnerable I am, how little I know about boats with 210 horsepower diesel engines and no brakes, hydraulics, marine wiring and electronics. I'll find out even more sharply in a few hours.

After pulling away from the launch pretty smoothly and wending my way across the harbor to O'Hara's north, my first docking experience does NOT go well. Throttle and transmission controls suddenly seem extremely confusing. I can't get it right and thrash and bonk my way to a stop at the wharf. After I've stopped hyperventilating, I realize that the throttle and transmission controls are catching on each other and contributing to my lack of coordination.

While Clayton's off doing errands, I try to lube up the controls. They move more independently and smoothly.

I'm in a large maze of lobster buying, big heavy commercial boats up on land for work, shrink wrapped pleasure boats, and a large charter sailboat operation. I love it in all directions. People here do more than push e-mails and sell lattes. They get to move big boats around, fix broken things, get them back in the water. Stuff goes on here.

As I get ready to pull away for the big trip home, all is chaos, the transmission lever won't take the boat out of reverse and the boat is hard against the pilings. We shut down and Clayton figures out that the throttle and transmission cables aren't secured to the controls. My lube job worked well in helping identify a significant malfunction.

The next adventure comes partway across Rockland harbor when the temperature alarm goes off. Clayton lifts a couple hatches and we turn around. I'm out my head with panic at my leveraged position, ignorance and an alarming malfunction. I get a quick lesson in changing an impeller in the water pump for the cooling system, and we head across to my home without incident. I manage to get to the dock with no big collisions which is amazing to me because I've never done this before, am fighting a nasty GI bug and had a couple brews on the way across. I feel like I'm driving the Queen Elizabeth after my peapod. And I didn't take drivers' ed for this.

We're home. It was a long time lost on the mainland.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Turning the Corner

Hurricanes make you pay attention. Not in the cable tv drama, ooh our power might go out way, but in the holy shit way, like I could lose all my traps because I fish up in the rocks and coves where big storm surf crumples traps like pages of bad song lyrics. All my fall income, all my spring maintenance work.

Of course this was the week that my seemingly bulletproof ox of a winch picked to die. I thought it must just be my homemade wiring job or a switch that corroded. I checked all of those things with my handy tester thing. Not the problem. Then I opened the winch housing, a very sturdy metal affair with a fat rubber gasket. Made for salt water crab fishing. Only thing is- it's not remotely water proof. There was rust on everything and a translucent gray gel all over the motor that I later found out is what happens when aluminum gets lots of salt water on it. The winch insides were caked with bad looking trouble. I craftily took a motor off another winch, but it was about a quarter inch too long to fit in the space.

I tried coordinating with friends to help me move some traps and get them away from the shoreline and jaws of doom. They were all scrambling too, so after a lot of hawing and hemming, I decided to go out and haul, lengthen lines and catch a few lobsters without the hauler.

At least I had the outboard, which now didn't have to share the battery and solar panel with the winch. Except that something happened and the battery was half flat even though it had been charging unused for a week. I got a few jaunts out of it before I realized I was not moving.

Funny how quick we become dependent. I thought I had to go in because there was no winch and no motor. Eventually I realized that rowing and hauling by hand were not dealbreakers, but were exactly how I started the whole thing to begin with.

I haul and lengthen out a few traps, make a day's pay. Irene comes and goes.

A few nights later, I'm wearing a film plastic grocery bag hat over a layer of plastic wrap over a layer of mayonnaise on my head. One of the kids had some lice. This triggered a frantic household emergency management response of vaccuuming, bagging up clothes, bedding, pillows and stuffed animals and the mayonnaise treatment.

On this evening, it's just before 10 PM on a Monday and I'm washing up the dishes and surfaces from the mayonnaise intervention. Wildfire comes on, an AM radio hit I used to hear from the bunks my Dad built in the shed.

In the summer, we'd sleep out there, listen to sox games on the radio, news and pop songs. Then it hits me as I'm remembering the 2x4 I wrote my name and other sentiments on in the bunk- Dad had to build those bunks. One tiny project out of the thousands that Mom and Dad did for us. It is so easy to forget all those things.

It'll be easy for my daughters to forget the mayonnaise I plastered on their heads, the plastic wrap that went on top and the thousands of other efforts, often done through half awake eyes, veils of stress from a thousand other things, financial worries, agenda items.

Maybe it's just the plastic wrap around my brain making me sentimental. Thanks Mom and Dad.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Off Course and Loving It

After a great rocking show at the Maine Lobster Festival, I was hoping to get back out aboard Sweet Pea today. The wind forecast was for 5 to 10 knots. The actual wind arrives at 16 knots, so I'm off the boat for the day. My mind immediately shifts to: how do I get some slow-down? I've been hauling hard or flying, driving to and from performances for weeks and would like to just take up space for a day. Other plans are presented, so Ryan, Fiona and I set off for a very soulful old empty house off the beaten track on the island. It has an enormous chestnut tree that we like to climb and hang around in.

Before we get there, we're drawn to raspberries and end up picking a quart of them and going home with a pint or so.

The big mama chestnut tree is there waiting for us in the overgrown yard behind the farmhouse. We climb. Here's the thing: my fears are weaker these days, and I am having more fun. I took a spontaneous opportunity for a radio interview yesterday. Wouldn't have done that. Jumped into a songwriting contest. Wouldn't have done that. Went swimming in the river in Bowdoinham, reached out to others, taken some leaps. It's some middle aged peeling off of layers of intimidation. Or possibly, it's my bleached hair. In any case, I decide to climb as high as I can get in the tree. There are many points of vulnerability in climbing a big tree- gaps between good handholds, awkward places where I have to get around to the other side of the trunk, commitments that need to get made before the security of the next resting place. Even with all the zinging inside that comes from heights and climbing, I keep going and emerge from the upper part of the tree, higher than the chimney on the house.

After an hour or so of climbing, talking and daydreaming, we three decide to head off into the woods to see the cool old 1960's era Impala, Rambler and pickup truck decomposing in the forest, then come out behind Watkinson's and go up the road for a donut. We've done this ramble before so I was surprised how much it had grown in and how much the old cars had deteriorated since our last visit. We had many yards of head-high (on me) brambles to thrash through. We managed, and found some early blackberries along the way to spice up the earlier harvest.

I don't think we ever got more than a quarter mile from home, but it sure was a nice adventure; each part starting from an intention and going in some unexpected course.

Friday, July 29, 2011

This Was the Day

This is the week where it all happens. Rain, wind and fog pushed the start of my season way later than I or my creditors preferred. The early season was a good ride because of the lobster price being higher. Appointments, music performances on the mainland, vehicle breakdowns and the omnipresent tug of war with wind all kept throwing off the rhythm. The catch pulled its usual July slump.

This week was different. Somewhere in all the obstacles and unpredictable interruptions, the operation got streamlined and functional. Which is hard considering I very often feel there isn't enough room for both my feet in the boat by the time all my stuff is aboard. Trap flipper, battery, motor, winch, oars, gaff, lobster crate, safety and legal stuff, cleaning tools, bailer, bucket, sail, trap repair kit, radar reflector, radio, lunch, banding tray. Any time I need to change one thing, it feels like I need to upend and rearrange everything. So when it all starts feeling smooth and functional, I am amazed.

This week was productive. Even with a few windy, wavy times and taking time out to take Dennis and his camera out to haul, I managed to haul all of my gear and catch a pretty good quantity of lobsters.

Several times, I left in the morning planning only to do a partial day and wound up staying at it 'til late. Tuesday morning was gray and windy. The water off the north end of Wheaton Island was particularly steep and choppy, but Sweet Pea was not bothered.

Yesterday, though, was It. The fourth hauling day in a row. Flat-ass calm as they call it. Dazzling blue sky. Only enough hint of a breeze to put a hypnotic grid of ripples almost floating above the water. Blessings in every direction. I had to holler out praises in order not to get either giddy or some kind of greedy gold fever from the lobsters. I had to remember to bless the lobsters and the bait for giving life for my and my family's lives.

I hauled 50 and headed in for more bait and to get the lobsters back in the water at the buying station. I couldn't believe six hours had already gone by. I rowed out to Whales Back Ledge, where my traps are most distant from shore. In the brilliance of the day and the mesmery of sliding through the space between blue and silver water and sky, with my hands stiff and sore from rowing, my back tired but as strong as it has ever been, I had the realization moment. One person in an old fashioned boat, so small and far from shore, covered in seaweed, algae, snails and modern solar gear. This was the day.

The wind came up just as I was finishing the most productive week since the project began last year. The battery had just enough life to glide me back to the harbor.

Today the wind is moving faster and I'm moving slow. I'm at home with paperwork to do and other commitments to prepare for. Yesterday is permanent.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Accidental Vacations

I kick off my boot. It goes a foot and a half further than I expect because it's heavy. It tips over and discharges a quart of black water, spruce needles and leaf mold. Being barefoot is more comfortable as I pull the slime covered spruce limbs out of the water and toss them over the row of holly bushes. I'm barefoot on the quartz outcrop. I'm soaked with mud from the waste down. It's suffocatingly hot, but nothing like what they're coping with on the mainland. It seemed like the right day to wade into the pond, cut up the tree that fell in there last winter, then haul it off. I'd stay cooler with the soaked clothes and mud pack. Still seems hot, just soaking as well. And filthy. I'm back. I have mojo that's been elsewhere among all the worries.

I'd had a perfectly delightful accidental vacation except for feeling the dangle of waiting to hear for how much and when I'd have my trusty minivan back after its unexpected sabbatical. My 30th class reunion convened on Saturday after a trip up to Hallowell to see friends. The band and I enjoyed our outdoor show on a perfect July Sunday night.

Thanks to the bum aftermarket starter, I spent several extra days in Bowdoinham hanging with sister, nephews, bro-in-lo, kids and Ma. Swimming in the very warm waters of the Cathance River, hanging out in my old kindergarten classroom, now the town library, staring across the yard at the chipmunks and birds busy with their business. It was lovely. Except I'm not working. Especially 'cause I'm not working.

I got back to the island as my neighbors were in varying states of recovery from the plane crash. I am in awe of the four aboard the plane and all those who went out to pull them from the sea, care for them and get them all medivac-ed to the mainland. You are all made of some very tough, fine material.

So it has been a very full week. Not very full of lobstering, though. The alligator wrestling match of getting a mud-embedded spruce tree out of the ornamental pond snapped me back to feeling like myself. Taking a chainsaw into a pond seemed a little crazy. I was never, ever adventurous as a young person. Really the opposite. Now, however, I need something challenging, physical and crazy to feel alive. I do not know why.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

One on One Time on the Boat

The hauling rotation this year works out such that I have a short day after two full days. These are good days to take company along. Lydia came out and did a beautiful pencil sketch of a lobster. We had lots of time to talk because there isn't much else to do on a 15 foot boat besides work and visit. Then I took Lisa all the way around to the far west side of the island. Aside from Alaska-esque wild scenery of the north shore and west side, we had lots of time to visit. Yesterday Fiona crewed for my jaunt out to the Whale's Back Ledge. She was good luck for me.

The common thread, aside from wanting my family to know what it is I do in my very unusual work environment, is that we get precious one on one time. We often seem just a wee tad fractious and overly lively when it's all five together. Five sets of priorities, directions and schedules gets overwhelming. Pair time is an important, relaxing and enriching way of staying connected.

The lobsters are napping now, getting ready for the big stampede. I'm bleached and sunbaked outside and in, feeling the wear and tear of the early season push and needing a slow-down before the really long push to the end of the season.

I've added another solar panel graciously donated by my friend John, and fitting as neat as can be right behind the other one. After the disintegration of my charge controller, I had to work for a week or so on just the battery charged at home. Getting the solar system reinstalled, I was aware from the first day how much that slow steady charge extends the work capacity of the boat. Instead of limping in after 75 traps on a dead battery, I did the whole day, zipped back in, then went out the next for my short day with Fiona, then took the family over to Wheaton Island- all without any household current.

This ain't powering a laptop or radio. This is solar power doing very heavy work.

Molting time, as discouraging as it is from the fishing perspective, is a great time to enjoy the island. I took Fiona and Ryan fishing with proper fishing pole, line and hook. I've been wanting to do this for years, and always felt too hurried and fixated on work to pull it off. We tied off to one of my buoys right at the opening of the harbor next to Wheaton Island, where we'd dropped Lisa off to do some gardening. Our line wasn't in the water for 5 seconds before there was a bite. Ryan and Fiona both landed several pollock in short order. What a thrill it is to feel that tug and see the pole bending down.

Ryan and Fiona are both chafing hard today to get right back out and fish some more. I'm dragging my heels and points north, hoping to breathe and slow down. Thank heavens for no-haul Sundays.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Just Lobstering Business with a few nerdy Star Wars analogies

The Sweet Pea and zero carbon lobster project is very much an idealistic and day dreaming sort of adventure. An adventure designed to showcase old and new hardware and methods of fishing, alternative energy, slow food, sustainable fishing and such. Despite the pie in the sky-ness, it's also my job. Thanks to good prices for the catch, a year's more experience and a whole lot of help from some key conspirators, it's also my job these days, and that has to be the coolest thing of all. I'm actually making something of a living. Go figure. Me and my pipsqueak of an operation.

I'm keeping much more data this year as well, such as how many traps and how far I run the engine on a battery charge, what kinds of fish come up in the trap, and how many pounds on the scale at the end of the day. Yesterday, there were three butterfish in one trap. One grayish green one, one pink one, and one really outrageous, audacious neon pink one. They come in bright blue, bright green and black as well. Why the butterfish has such a zany color menu I don't know. Lots of flounder this year, too. They're the most fun to throw back, because after the first confused juddering motion, they take off like the Millenium Falcon making the jump to light speed. Flounder are very quick like that. But the ocean doesn't rotate and go all streaky like in Star Wars.

In the "marine environment is tough" department, the solar panel and charge controller simply stopped working, so tomorrow, I have to parse out the chain wherein photons become worker particles in my galaxy to identify where the breach is. The happy yellow charge light was gloomy yesterday, so, being in doubt, I ripped it out and tomorrow will isolate the problem.

May the photons be with you, for electricity, hot water or beach enjoyment.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Wooly Mammoth Hair

I got up dutifully at 5 ish AM and looked out to see leaves moving. That early, I don't want to see any leaves fluttering, especially a whole tree's worth. I went anyway and rowed several miles around to the west side of the island to start my day of hauling traps. In Burgess Cove and in front of Little Island, it was pretty tranquil, because the woods and shore were nearby and the wind had no fetch to create large waves.

So the first 15 pots were more or less normal working conditions. Then I ventured around West Point and started my pep talks. "It doesn't matter if it's slow, don't compare what's happening today with how it's supposed to go. Just do the job." That works for about a half an hour of clawing forward through a 15 knot headwind and a few knots of adverse current. As soon as I stop rowing, the boat makes an instant wake back from when I came, sluicing the wrong direction.

After the pep talk wears off, there is lots of demotivational cursing. Then I decide to switch to the motor that I've been stubbornly avoiding using, wanting that boost to be available later in the day. So be it. After a couple of pots, the water is shimmering with stiff wind from the north northeast. The chop appears to double by the minute. The boat starts to swivel any way but into the wind. The wrestling match turns into a rodeo event where staying on is the objective.

I decide to quit. Without the motor, I would've needed to beach, or get towed in, or spent half a day rowing in 4 inch increments back to the harbor at the expense of tendons and nerve function.

Once around Northeast Point, the head-on turns to side-to, and the waves get large and steep. Sweet Pea loves the rollercoaster, and I love her for being so happy even in very rough water. I also love my electric motor for getting me back to harbor.

I'm coming in with tail tucked, surfing into the harbor, feeling my day is over at 10:30 in the morning. I'm also realizing how little I know about compass bearings and geography, because it is instantly evident that a couple of coves are perfectly sheltered and cozy from the NNE wind. Sliding through the harbor and out the Gut, I'm in a sunny and tranquil world that doesn't appear to be even in the same area code as the shimmering, sloshing, wind blasted place I just came in from.

I almost make a day of it after all. In the afternoon, the wind flunks out completely and so I stuff a few more bait bags and head out.

After a great round 2 start, I meet a challenge worse than all the wind, rain, pain, inexperience and all other obstacles to date. Let's call it "Wooly Mammoth Hair"- a whole stampede's worth. This long, fine, stringy, brownish purply plant wraps around my ropes by the bushel. It all piles up on the trap end of the rope and weighs enough that those mammoths wouldn't have been able to move if they got wet. It also severely destabilizes the boat. I have to wrench the trap part way up with one hand and try to tear the hair off with the other and not fall overboard or capsize. It is the end of my day. Those traps are now inaccessible without hydraulic assistance and a multi-ton hull.

After all the ups and downs, I end up with a solid day's pay after all.

I wake in the night with a lump in my throat that soon comes loose in the flood. This life is really hard on the family. And my body. I'm searching for straight jobs in a tough economy while running down the mountain ahead of the financial avalanche and willing myself not to stumble.

Oz and Never Neverland are dazzling places to visit.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Up and Running, "Shopping"

The upstairs of the barn got warm as uspstairses of barns do. Especially with 50 or so people sitting close together on a Saturday night in June. This is a special barn. It has bamboo flooring, wall hangings, a full kitchen downstairs and some very tasty homemade pizza set out. Andy and Jeff Chipman are with me, playing our original songs to maybe the best listening crowd we've had. As the nearly drowned fisherman in The Secret of Roan Inish said on waking in a warm barn with several women looking down at him said: "So this is heaven, then?" It certainly was.

After the intermission, I gave the first public presentation on the zero carbon lobster project. I had a powerpoint slide show and thankfully paid little attention to it except for the pictures. I can't tolerate presenters who read their powerpoints, though I've done it more than a few times. The content is meant to be digressed from, embellished and so forth. I hope to give many more talks on the project. I'm pretty confident about what I'm doing, which for anyone who knows me, is an extremely rare circumstance.

I'm coming off the first week and a half of hauling gear. The experience is thoroughly different from last year. The pain, money, stress and blunderment are all way more tolerable this year.

I've been around to the west side, out to the islets, around Whale's Back Ledge. The catch is pretty skimpy, but the price is up, so a day's work is bringing a day's pay.

Last June, I'd been hauling for a few weeks, pulling wire traps up from the sea floor by hand. Realization was stark. I could not possibly haul enough that way to make any kind of financial contribution to my family. My wrists, back, neck elbows, shoulders felt like glass ready to splinter. The despair and panic lead me to wish I could give the boat back to the builder and do something else; what I did not know.

Then came the winch/battery/solar panel idea. It took a number of weeks to pull together. I set up the battery panel on a styrofoam veggie shipping tray from Lisa's store, put the battery under the seat and the winch on top of the seat. I took a couple of nylon cinch straps from a life vest that washed ashore and secured the winch so it wouldn't winch itself down overboard, but would instead winch the traps up and aboard.

After the bugs were worked out, that arrangement changed everything. The solar panel always kept the battery at 75% or better. My body was saved. My spirit was saved. I started making money.

This year, I've added a motor which changes the show as thoroughly as did the winch. I had no idea how to operate a motor boat. Especially where, instead of oars in the middle of the boat pulling it forward, the motor is mounted on the back, so it's a bit like pushing a pencil where you want it to go and only touching the tip to do it.

Holy wow, though, does it make life easier. I can zip between clusters of gear and then switch to rowing from trap to trap. I can get out to the start and back from the finish. I can multitask while cruising 'cause my hands are free. It does not care about wind and chop.

I feel almost (but not) guilty about how much easier it is to work with my solar team. I still know I've done a day's work, but I'm not feeling shattered when I come in.

The motor draws on the battery pretty hard, and I've had to charge up on household current a few times if I wanted to go hauling on consecutive days. Even at our very high electric rate, it's less than a buck to charge the battery from flat dead. So far on one charge, I've gotten a day's hauling and cruising plus a ride for our wonderful school teacher and his wife the next day. Not bad that I can fill my fuel tank for less than a buck and get more than a day's work out of it.

The bottom line is that I now have a fully functional solar/human/wind powered fishing operation that is beginning to make money. This is not a solar setup for charging a laptop or making coffee, but heavy duty physical work in a tough environment. My bones and tendons can tell how much hard labor is done for me courtesy of the sun.

I won't send kids to college or pay for braces with this setup, but I have a model and an understanding of the interplay between solar charging, weight and work effort. Now, as with every fisherman since probably forever, I say: just need a bigger boat.


Shopping:

I spent almost nothing to get ready this year. I bought some stainless steel and ferrous hog rings, a quart of paint and a few bundles of oak runners. Not $200 I don't think.

Bait bags, buoys, trap vents, bungee cords, cleats all litter the shore and are free for the scavenging. I climb along the rocks and walk the cobbly beaches and come back with armloads of trash that then gets installed on my traps and returned to production. Plastic trash converted to money I don't have to spend, and money I will make with my gear. Ah Hah!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

First Hauls, Alternative Energy and O Rings

The first half day back to hauling was pretty encouraging. Not the weather, but the lobsters. It was foggy and dismal as had been the case for many weeks. I baited up the afternoon before, realizing that I can bag bait even if it's blowing 25, but there are only so many calm hours to be rowing and hauling traps.

My first half day's worth of gear was pretty close around the island. I started behind the breakwater, worked around Wheaton Island, into Old Cove and Back Cove. I poked around in the fog, staying very close to shore, enjoying the boat, freshly painted trap flipper and solar charged winch- all the things that are now in muscle memory, but which were either totally unfamiliar, or which did not exist a year ago.

It was a knuckle cleaning, tendon wrenching, obsenity and despair filled few weeks at first last year as I discovered the set-in-stone limitations as well as painfully acquired some boat handling and trap pulling skills. I tell myself the same thing now when I'm doing something clumsily, which never seems to happen when nobody's watching: I am primarily an entertainer. Flailing around, messy moorings, bonking into my skiff, goofy almost balancing acts. Those are all part of the show. I got to skip all of that for the first day back. Besides, it was too foggy for anybody to see the stage.

Yesterday felt like vaulting from April, over May and June into July. I was hot and a little stifly as I started at West Point after a refreshing 42 minute paddle. I hauled a full day's worth of gear working back around the islets and ledges. I also feel as though I vaulted over the first few months of last year. I immediately took up where I'd left off in September. The setup worked. I seemed to remember how to work as well. I hauled 75 pots and scooted back in with my new motor. With the motor, I feel as though I'm sitting on the ledge of a convertible and should be waving as I putt along at a stately pace. It is regal, or at least like the second runner up at the sardine festival parade.

The motor, battery and I are still getting to know one another. Being that the winch is essential while the motor is a regal luxury, I can't run the battery flat with the motor early in the day. I don't have a battery gauge any more because the battery case marketed by the same company as the motor has corroded into nothingness in less than a year. As a result, I am starting out being very judicious with the motor, limiting its running time to official monarchical and regal occasions, or when I'm tired and there's a ways between strings of traps.

What the whole solar experience reminds me is how potent petroleum is as an energy form. I'm capturing photons a few at a time and a few hours at a time while oil is millenia of stored sunlight metabolized by plants, little algae in the ocean that died and piled up on the seabed in very large numbers.

The alternative energy experience has also helped highlight electrical and mechanical challenges in the saltwater environment. Every single time I've been out setting traps or testing the engine or whatever else, I come to an inevitable point where an electrical connection fails. Not just any electrical connection. Clayton helped me see to it that most of the gear is wired to open boat saltwater tolerance. There's this one particular connection that forever vexes me. The positive battery post on the "waterproof" trolling motor "power center," or plastic box that keeps the battery dry. I have sweet talked, dirty talked, taken apart, cranked back together every nut, bolt and ring terminal in this part of my photon supply chain EVERY SINGLE TIME I've come in.

As I was getting ready to haul my second trap yesterday- after the 42 minute warm up row- I hit the switch and listened to the gentle lap of wavelets instead of the hearty hum of my winch. The connection went again first thing, way out from the harbor. This stupid little thing was going to end my first real workday before it began. I decided to hardwire everything straight to the battery and use the box cover as a hood. The whole works was way more frisky with a solid connection. zzziinngggg!

That battery post was my o-ring, that little part that can disable an entire system. Since I don't want to spend any money on a new saltwater box until I'm actually making some money, I'll rig the box and bypass the external terminals altogether. I will zip about, waving as the Peapod Crown or Clown Prince of The Isle.

Sea you there.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Frustrations with Arithmitick-Amps, Watts, Volts and Hours

The new motor is a game changer. I slid out of the harbor several times after spending a while playing with it. On the way back in from the 3rd load, the battery quit. It is an 80 amp hour deep cycle marine battery charged by a 20 watt solar panel.

So the new motor is a game changer as long as I only want to work about an hour and a half a day. I started doing some remedial algebra in hopes of monkeying the variables. Batteries hold amps. Solar panels deliver my beloved photons turned electrons in watts. The battery gives volts. Motor draws 50 amps at full speed. The unhappy conclusion of my math exam was that a full charge takes days for the solar panel while the motor only takes an hour and a half of full time operation to drain the battery. Then there's the winch that also needs photons.

'Twar the winch who deceived me at the outset. The winch growls and generates huge torque for easily pulling traps up to the boat. I used it for many full days last summer and never seriously dented the photon bank. The battery never registered more than about 25% depleted. I figured that if the winch could work that hard and not run the battery flat, then the motor would perform similarly because it is so quiet and turns in the water, rather than growling up traps. Not so.

Now I have to either have at least a couple batteries charging and swap them, bring the main one in and charge it on household current-losing my zero carbon credibility- or not run the motor much. Too bad, 'cause it's so fun. And easy.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Breaking the Logjam

I'm going to post the actual progress for a while and stop trying to find meaning. I've gotten things rolling with setting traps out for the season. I'm up to 35 after being at it a day and a half. That would take an hour or so in a conventional boat. The weather, tides and other circumstances have made it a challenge.

The good news is that the new electric motor, charged via solar panel, is a game-changer. It is very handy to slide along with a load of traps and not need all the space that 8 foot oars require. I found it strange to get places and not exert myself. I feel like I'm riding an aquatic powered skateboard. It is to my liking.

The less good news is that the same company that sells the motor also sells a "trolling motor power center"- basically a box to keep the battery dry and provide external electrical connections. The problem is that the box is wired with components that stand up to salt water about as well as do wheat thins or kleenex. The works were highly corroded- inside the supposedly waterproof enclosure, from last year. Clayton helped me rip out the rotted tissues and replace a circuit breaker. The other problem is that the external posts corrode together miserably, requiring pliers and threatening to shred the wires attached to the post.

The end result is that the motor can't get power out, and the solar panel can't get photons turned into electrons. I really need photons! They're very helpful to me. Some marine grease is probably called for. LPS 5 or something.

The other report is that solar-electric boats work, at least so far. It's a little early to tell how well the panel will keep up with both the winch and motor.

There's a hummingbird outside the slider. The feeder is empty. I need to find out how much sugar, water and red stuff to put in.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Held Over: The March Hare Show

I want to work. I've waited for good conditions. I've stewed til the stew is stuck and blackened on the bottom of the stewpot in my soul. The mortgage is coming due. The rain, fog and wind seem eternal. My family and I have been away for most of the last month with one thing and another.

This morning there was a 20 minute window of favorable trap setting conditions. That's been it for the last I don't know how long. Unfortunately, I showed up at the harbor after that period expired. As a result, I got a grand total of 5 traps in the water and got thoroughly drenched in the process. It's pouring. I've got other commitments in the afternoon.

Many other frustrations leapt at me. The inner harbor is pretty well useless unless one is parking large skows there and running lines in every direction from them. I installed my mast, sail and radar reflector yesterday and discovered, as I was trying to load traps in the rapidly filling and very congested inner harbor, that I can't get a load on with the mast in. Take it out and hurl the whole business on the banking, along with many verbal unpleasantries.

All the variables are aligned perfectly against me being productive. If you see me, stay clear. I am mad as a March hare when there's been three months' worth of March.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Return of Sweet Pea

It's a good thing we've had two Marches and swapped May for an extra April. The very tardy transition to warmth, sunshine and calm waters around the island would be making me crazy except that I've had so many other crazinesses and obstacles and unexpected opportunities- yes, let's call these little surprises "unexpected opportunities"- that I hardly noticed that everything is a month behind. I have no traps in the water yet, which puts be behind last year, when I knew not me arse from me stern. The gardens aren't going in. The blossoms aren't coming out. There's hardly any recreational firearm discharge at all coming from the isolated ends of the island.

Among the UO's was a chance to visit at the Carpenter's Boatshop for several days last week. I got to play with boats, recharge in the spirit, and be extravagantly well fed by the same organization that made the whole project possible by delivering Sweet Pea into my family here on Matinicus.

Less fun last week were unexpected road trips, appointments, gambling on being able to stuff the family into a Cessna between fog and showers, and how, right in the middle of the crazy scheduling and coordination, out falls a big chunk of one of my molars.

I found out yesterday that photons take years to escape the sun's core from whence they are liberated. They have to bounce, get absorbed into and then escape many, many times from nuclei of other atoms before they head to earth to jump into my solar panel and charge my system aboard Sweet Pea. The 96 million mile commute is apparently no big deal after ten years inside the sun. I feel as a photon this year, having to collide with and then extricate from all manner of things that take me off the island or away from my work.

It is no small wonder, then, that Sweet Pea is actually ready for salt water. While Lydia was home week before last, she helped clean, sand and refinish the interior. We put a bit of bottom paint on and now just need to borrow a trailer and something to pull it.

There can be no more optimistic smell than linseed oil, turpentine and pine tar on thirsty wood at the beginning of the season. The before and after video appears below.

Me and my photons are outtahere! Pretty soon. I'm figuring. Depends, I guess.
video

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Spring Color

Between last week's rope and this week's buoy work, the grass turned green. Virtually overnight. That's the visible spectrum. On the tactile plane, air temperature and wind are still irksomely lurching between February Fresh and March Miserable. Sunday morning sees winds over 60 miles per hour- the winter gales' welcome long worn out. If it's sunny and there's a sheltered spot and I have a hoody under my Carhartt coat, it's tolerable working outside.

During those interludes when sun and air agree with each other, I paint buoys. This task is the most high gratification type of gear work. There can't be a much more optimistic sight than a hundred or so feet of rope strung between apple trees hung with freshly painted buoys. New paint goes on shiny and smooth over bleached, abraded, barnacled veterans from last season.

On one of the days when sun, wind and rain could find no basis for agreement, I worked in the barn, rigging up 80 new buoys from the seemingly endless pile of junk gear in the back yard. Every time I dig up a bunch of dirt-caked plastic and styrofoam junk and turn it into useable fishing equipment, every time the junk pile gets a little smaller, I am a happy fellow. These new/old buoys are every color and are hardly showroom condition. Many have been hacked up by propellers, scoured against the rocks, and puckered from being pulled underwater too far. They're all different shapes and sizes.

It's a motley, sad collection until the new paint goes on.


video

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Learning the Ropes

I was fortunate as a young person to work on a farm owned by Malcolm and Lucille Jewell in Bowdoinham. It was hard work from the beginning, but with great love and humor and the best kind of character leadership by example. One of Mal’s jokes was about losing money on every hay bale, but the volume keeping him in business. Farming and fishing share a common delusional optimism, a certain level of denial being necessary to overcome what common sense will otherwise tell you. The unit costs don’t even begin to account for weather, broken equipment and other variables. Which in turn leads to another joke about the fisherman (or farmer) asked what he’ll do with his lottery winnings and replying that he’ll “prob'ly keep fishing/farming until the money’s all gone.” Thanks to Tim Sample for that one.

Back to volume. My inside-out version of Malcolm’s joke about volume is that my profit margin is sky high on all 27 lobsters that I caught last summer. That is to say volume isn’t happening so far. I have no fuel bill and no expensive repairs, insurance or boat payments. I also don’t catch much, especially when I don’t get up to speed until mid July and get skittish with hurricane warnings in late August. Accordingly, my short and longer term goals for the project involve scaling the operation up. This year that means two hundred traps instead of 150. It also means getting them out and having the operation flowing before July.

After making the list entitled: Things That Need to Get Done, But Can’t Possibly Get Done in Time, I started with rope. My operation is amateurishly small compared to proper lobster businesses. Since I fish in close to shore, my trap lines are very short, 15 fathoms being the longest compared to the 55 fathoms and longer commonly used on bigger boats. I only need 200. compared to the guys with 800 traps in the water. Even with the small scale, there are still 12,000 or so feet of rope to be checked, cleaned, mended and untangled. I had to make 55 new 10 fathom lines with red paint at the mid point for whale-proofing, 7 fathoms of sinking rope, 3 fathoms of float rope and a toggle buoy.

I dug through an impossible baby elephant sized pile of tangled abandoned rope and buoys in my back yard to get toggle buoys, those small floats fastened partway down the trap line to prevent the line from fouling. It was like wrestling a groggy Jabba the Hutt because the rope pile had long ago melded into a single obstinate mass. Maybe a dog leash business makes more sense. Short pieces would be easy.

My hands were winter dainty, having had gloves for any real work. After a couple of days of rope work, I was chafed and leaving my own red marks on the rope. This will insure that if a whale wanders into my front yard, he’ll avoid the rope pile. ‘Nother story there. Anyhoo- my hands are getting tough love or perhaps just plain abuse.

The rope pile is done. Nice neat rows of warps in bundles of five. It had been spread out all over the front yard where I’d measured and gridded the pieces out to keep them organized. I was left with only a tiny pile of scraps for recycling. That seemed good. Now to just prepare 200 buoys, fix 200 traps, refinish the inside of the boat, put fresh bottom paint on, and rewire everything. Then it’ll be time to set gear. Then I can start work.
video

Thursday, March 31, 2011

You Know It's Time to Get Going with Gear Work When...

When it's 3 something on a Tuesday afternoon in late March and I find myself washing off toothpaste tubes and toothbrush handles, I know that it is really time to move on to the next phase of the year's workflow cycle. Not that it was an existential make-work placebo task. The dental care drawer in the bathroom was several years overdue for a little refreshment.

The drawer preferred not to close as a result of overcrowding. There were enough toothbrushes for a public high school graduating class. They were caked, stuck together. Then there were the toothpaste tubes, ranging from 90% to about 40% used up. There were two dozen or so of these "pre-owned" units, as they say in the car business. Not all the way and then thrown out, but just most or part way used before a newer tube proved more appealing to the brusher and the remainder was left for the next person to squeeze and roll up neatly from the bottom. This would not have created such a mess but for the fact that the caps were left off all of the deselected tubes.

The geology of the drawer was that as new pre-owned tubes were deselected for service, the next layer added pressure, especially when the tired person scrunched the drawer closed. The resulting matrix consisted of a solid mass of old toothbrushes, tubes and caps. Toothpaste gets pretty stubborn when it's had three or four years to sedimentate and metamorphose. I needed a soup can lid to get a bunch of it dislodged from the drawer.

Now you can see why, because of the length of my description, if from nothing else, I needed to get going on outdoor, fresh air, hand chafing lobsterman work. Everybody else seems pretty far ahead. I'm used to that sensation. I also have the same queer feeling of doing very familiar basic gear work, but in the context of a crazy new-age riverboat gamble of a concept: zero carbon lobster harvesting out of a tiny boat with bockety old used and salvaged fishing gear. Familiar and hare-brained. I know this work well AND what the ---- am I doing?

After unpiling all my things and sorting them into new piles and checking my safety items, I'm starting with rope. Going over the stiff and winter- crusted coils slopped together in a hurry before Hurricane Earl and then in October. A few mends here. A new toggle there. The simplest of tricks for a spindly old dude trying to haul up traps partly by hand- a knot a couple of feet from the trap end, which feels as though it makes that last heave about half as difficult as without the knot.

Then there will be work on traps that strangely are in worse shape than they were last spring, which was not that great. More rust, holes, broken vents, torn heads, missing runners than I remember seeing last spring. Buoys to paint and whale proof. Solar power to reconfigure and rewire. Figuring out new ways to keep everything I need on board and still have room for both feet. No sense getting too drove up about it, 'cause it's going to snow tomorrow.

***

We lost Ronnie last week. His lengthy career in the theater of Matinicus received mixed reviews, but he always took the stage with a flourish- by sea flying a non-tongue-in-cheek Jolly Roger jigger sail, by land in dump trucks, excavators, cranes, tractors, and by air in his spotless J-3 Cub. His oil truck had murals of two of his cats on the sides and "meow" where the last 4 digits of the phone number would normally appear. I will miss his word-play and humor and commitment to the island as a living community instead of a seafood strip mine. Glass raised.