Tuesday, May 15, 2012

If You Weren't Crazy Already

It's no wonder that fishermen are unhinged. Between never ending regulatory hurdles and relentless pressure to consolidate, drive out the small boats and harbors, commoditize and otherwise crush the life out of the profession, there are things like weather and breakdowns. Lament! oh fisherman and even more, the long suffering family and partners.

I got up on Saturday already dreading going out for a stingy early season haul on a rough day. I looked at the 5:00 am buoy report giving out 21 gusting to 22 knots- no go territory. I looked out the door a little later, and what I was seeing didn't match the data. I packed up for  the day, thinking I'd go to the harbor, get a look and then come home and do other things.

I got down there, and Charlie was  getting ready to go. Ellen was heading out. I suppose I ought to try.

I dragged myself across the harbor, got my oil gear on, checked the dipstick with the unease that comes from not quite wanting to see that yes, the oil keeps getting a little lower each day, beyond what it should be. More on that sinking feeling later when the weather actually does get nasty.

I proceeded around the island to the wild north shore- an area that looks like it could be the Alaska coast, with all the bleak rocks, spruce forest and driftwood pick up sticks the size of tree trunks.

I get to the west side and, of course, it's a flat calm and dazzling morning. Blue silver water stretching away to the Mussel Ridge Islands, Owls Head, Spruce Head and the rest of the world's most gorgeous coastline.

To further confound, but in a good way, the catch is qualitatively and quantitatively much better for no reason I can discern.

Then there's Monday. I motored back Sunday night, leaving family on North Haven to get a proper start on Monday. Monday is supposed to be a super Nat-friendly 5-10 knots from the northeast.

I get a few strings hauled and the gray-green gloom sets in with occasional traction waves-my name for the the little ripples that mean big gut clenching pain in the ass fishing conditions. Things are manageable but unpleasant.

I steam across to the Mackerel Ledge where a squall and dense fog show up at the same time. OK, I'm a mighty sailin' man, I can handle it.

Then, coinciding perfectly with the deteriorating weather, the bottom falls out of my intestines and soul. That little oil leak must not be so little. There's a rainbow around me, and not the equal rights or clearing after the storm kind, but the motor falling out of the boat and bankruptcy looking kind. My eyes pounce on the oil pressure gauge. It's normal at idle, but clearly not happy when I tach up a few hundred rpms. I'm sure this means a tow into town, several hundred dollars to get hauled out and several thousand to pull the motor, or whatever seized up dead weight of cast iron is left when I get into  the harbor.

I limp in, begging the almighty to release me from my self-imposed lunacy of trying to be a commercial fisherman. I then beg Weston to help me look things over. He alerts me to the fact my hauling davit is down and imminently going to take out his wheelhouse if I don't get control of my vessel.

While I'm waiting, I very, very reluctantly look at the dipstick. The oil level that was normal a few hours ago is catastrophically low now. I want to shave my head and join a cult until the next comet goes by. Or work at Home Depot. Anything but this belligerent mechanical bull-ride of stress, unpaid bills and boat ignorance.

A few minutes of skilled inspection identifies an oil pressure sensor line as the source of all the oil spewing out of the engine. A mere 6 inch piece of tubing that rusted through. An easy fix. If I could get my hands on it. Which I can't  because the engine box is bolted, glued and caulked into place. No matter. It's gotta go.

A day later, the part has been ordered by Art Stanley, the Yoda Wan Kenobi of all things marine and diesel, dropped off on a boat he just finished fixing up that was heading out to Matinicus, and successfully installed in about five minutes.

In the meantime, I caught up on all kinds of law nerd business, laundry and yard care.

What was I was so stressed about? Quite a bit, actually. I'm a sensitive type. I'm only a very small animal. Not one of the fiercer ones, you know.

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