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.


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.

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