Wednesday, October 24, 2018

That's a Wrap

August went straight to November. A forecast with less than 15 to 20 knots has been rare, even though it's only mid-October. Summer and lobsters staying in the shallows seemed to stretch extra long, but then I was looking for my Amerigas hat, the one Rex gave me in 2012 when we picked up a truckload of propane in Waldoboro. The hat is the warmest I have, and converts to armed robbery or Northern New Brunswick mode if needed. In addition to putting on the Amerigas hat, I tucked tail and ran from the 2018 lobster season, though I don't' think the season noticed because the weather was too busy being cold and nasty.

When Megan and I travel in the winter, there have been several occasions when everything says 'you ain't goin nowhere,' or 'everything's canceled.' We've learned to navigate those situations by at least getting close to our jump off point in case something changes. One time, I think our plane was the only one that left the snow-caked reaches of Logan all day; it left for San Juan, so being there when basically everything else was canceled was a clever move on our part.

I tried applying this logic to taking up gear. Well, at least if I/we get out out to Matinicus, then if the forecasts with gale warnings through next July are incorrect for a day or so, we'll be ready. Henry, my super fit and hockey player/skateboarder/ninja-like nephew and I flew in a couple Fridays ago and headed out to look for a lee to haul up some pots and coil some rope. My first guess was no good, so we tucked in next to the Bluff for short warps and then a few strings of 25s that were somewhat, but not really sheltered. It was blowing briskly from the northeast, so after the first load, I figured we'd go around to the southwest side of the island. We did, and discovered the wind had swung and it was even worse over there.

Because I am stubborn, I subjected my nephew to an hour and a half or so of thrashing about to get another load aboard.

Taking up gear is normally- on a good day-  irksome and unpleasant. All the rope gets coiled, traps get cleaned out, stacked on the boat, unloaded on the wharf, stacked on a truck and unloaded in my front yard. On this particular day, I had to coil rope, run the hauler and keep steering the boat into the chop because if I didn't, she wound up side-to in no time, threatening to dump our precious cargo of junk shit old traps into the water. Since I'm still less than an old salt, there were times when it seemed that I was trying to coil the helm, steer the hydraulic hauler and point Close Enough into the chop with the pile of rope- my signals got crossed a few times.

We managed to get two boatloads to the wharf and then to the yard. This was made all the sweeter by Megan having got a fire and food going. It was black and windy and unfriendly on the water.

The next day was a great relief as far as wind, but a mixed blessing as it rained all day. Cold rain. Soak into your fleece hoodie and not let go rain. Again, thanks to Megan, there was a warm house and large food. Simple things as these are everything when one is soaked and sore and cold.

Sunday was bright and sunny, but included the return of the wind. Forget Gone With The Wind, how about just Wind Is Gone? I would pay to see that. Two boatloads later, we loaded our aching selves into the plane and flew back to Owls Head.

After another straight week of ugly forecasts, there was one calling for Tuesday's wind to be 'around 10 knots.' I hopped the afternoon mail flight on Monday and managed to tuck myself into a lee in the afternoon to get a jump on the process, because, of course, for all I knew, the 'around 10 knots' would be rounded to the nearest 25. I knew.

Tuesday was rougher than expected, and was made so by a very vigorous tide as well as generous upgrades on the wind.

I don't believe in an afterlife or what religious institutions tell us, but I did find myself spontaneously praying that the sea god should not take my good new traps when Close Enough rolled into a jolly pocket in the water and my stack suddenly slid and large gaps opened up in the pile. I may need to reexamine my position on the power of prayer.

The last load of the season did not cheat me of my hardship narrative. Those last 16 traps took more out of me than any batch twice that size. Since I missed the tide, those pots would need to stay on the boat and get offloaded the next day. 

Taking up gear requires timing boatloads with the tide, and also having weather suitable for stacking the traps on the boat. However, once traps are on the boat and the boat in the harbor, it doesn't matter how nasty it is outside the harbor. The flip-side is that it doesn't matter how poorly timed the tide is if the weather is good for taking up.

This time, both sea conditions and tide were against me, so I left the boat loaded on the mooring overnight. A better test loomed.

Matinicus Harbor is sheltered, but this morning was sloshing like the Whirlpool agitation cycle. Rowing out to the boat and getting aboard required some stuck landings and ugly moves. I was aware that my Carhartt coat and other layers would weigh about 85 pounds if I were to dump myself off the skiff or I got the boat into the wharf and offloaded traps, which was the easy part. I knew there would be a challenge ahead of time and so tied an extra length of rope onto the bit that holds the mooring pennant. This was a good move.

I got Close Enough turned around and headed to the mooring. Sure enough, with the tide being full-on high, and the wind blowing as hard as it was, I couldn't get my line up before the boat sailed away sideways. Instead, after a couple of do-si-dos, I gave up on my navigational and sailor skills and  tied the mooring pennant to the extra line and let her sag back so at least she was pointed straight into the wind. This made it possible to go forward and gradually yank the extra rope until I could get the loop aboard.

I give thanks to June Kantz Pemberton for that trick. June taught me a few simple but very useful things about being a square peg lobster harvester in a unique environment. June also taught school here on Matinicus. Once a year she would ask me to tune her guitar so she could play Summertime for her mother. I can tune a guitar. For everything else out here, I really need advice. Thanks June.