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.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Running out of Winter, but not soon enough

I tried to skip out on half of February by playing beachside bars, exploring reefs full of Pixar fish, driving on the lefthand side of the road and generally living as a drunken sailor on St. Croix. Many, many thanks to my host, chef, guide, booking agent, manager and good friend and honky-tonk piano dude, Tugboat Tommy.

Fishing looks similar in that the boats and gear are well worn and look dubious if you're seeing them for the first time. Fishermen go out in small boats with outboards and dive for conch and lobster. They sell by the side of the road or at parking lots right out of the boat on a trailer.

I had fresh coconut water, hydroponic lettuce, all manner of bananas, passion fruit, papaya and some kind of drink made from tree bark, all from the open air farmer's market. Curry, conch stew and collaloo came from out of the way places that had that authentic taste as though they found the perfect pans to cook in 30 years ago.

The trip seemed endless, but perversely made the stateside portion of my February seem 13 weeks long. We've had the most robust winter I can remember since President Carter was in office. Many of us are short tempered, swinging between furious busywork and apathetic lethargy. The year-round Matinicus Island lifestyle requires just a little too much together time, if you're asking me this week. And last week. We better turn the corner before we (I) go all Nicholson in The Shining.

The other side of the problem is that I feel I'm already late for the early summer fishing season. I added up all the rewiring, refinishing, repair and problem solving I need to do before the first trap goes over. Hard seeing all of that fitting in with town meeting to crunch numbers for, tax season, left over winter work and kids to enjoy. Last year I designed a solar charged winch rig to go with the rest of my quirky little fishing operation. One of many problems was that I did not know the first thing about solar technology or marine wiring. Aside from the occasional zing in my finger when the business got wet, there was the matter of it cutting out and not functioning. So I need to rewire the whole works and make it waterproof.

There are many other things that I limped by with last year that need to be refreshed or completely redone. Then there are 200 traps which were a little past their prime last year, rope to groom and buoys to paint. Safety gear that needs testing or replacement. All kinds of things I still don't know much about but will have to figure out, improvise or fake my way through. That sounds like life generally.

Winter needs to go. Spring needs to be long and slow. That's all I'm askin'.