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.
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