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.