Thursday, August 17, 2017
Okay, skip my reference to the heart of darkness in the last post. I am of Italian heritage and prone to the occasional histrionics. Maine is beautiful, blessed with picturesque towns, finely designed and built boats, and friendly people. The tidal range has increased the farther down east we have travelled, as has the number of lobster buoys.
The Chesapeake was good training grounds for avoiding the colorful jellybean like objects that carpet the surface of the waters here in Maine. Charlotte regularly informs me that our next destination has the highest concentration of buoys, which is hard to imagine as where we are floating now averages a buoy per square foot.
Carrie Rose has encountered them as far as 4 miles offshore in 200 feet of water and packed into bustling harbors. One long time Mainer told us to “Go right through ‘em!” in a similar vein to Admiral Nelson’s famous cry before decimating the French fleet. Not possessing Nelson’s hutspa, I’ve demurred.
We have encountered them in flat calm, in dense fog, in current strong enough to pull them under the water, and on the North Atlantic in wind and waves that obscure their presence until the last moment. Since crossing into Maine the autopilot has been more off than on.
I have made a study of lobster boats intricate dance amongst the buoys. They race from buoy to buoy barely slowing as the fisherman gaffs the line that attaches the buoy to lobster trap . Through a series of deft moves, the line is hung on an overhead pulley as the buoy is deposited on the gunwale. The line is wrapped around a hydraulic spool that pulls the trap up. When the line tautens it stops the boats momentum, swinging it broadside and then the trap appears hanging on the side of the boat.
In another set of choreographed moves, often involving the help of a deck mate, it is pulled up flat on the rail, opened, cleaned, restocked with bait, and picked clean of its lobsters. Some are haphazardly thrown back into the sea, some into a waiting large white wet well, and others carefully measured . . . a few millimeters deciding their fate.
The boat accelerates as the trap is let loose, its line careening down the side of the boat and off the back. This is done with a studied grace that I would not expect from the usual beefy crew. But I do a disservice here: men, women, children both svelte and rotund perform the task with equal ease whether in a bay’s oily calm or the roiling North Atlantic swell. It is impressive and well worth the occasional change of course to avoid becoming entangled.
A lobster boat is a fine craft: pointy, its knife like bow steeply plunges into the water with a slight backward curve. The beam quickly widens and is carried to the flat stern. After an initial rise, the shear flattens to a working height a couple of feet off the waters surface. A cutty cabin seamlessly blends into the pilothouse’s slightly stern tilted windshield and ends amidships. Seen from the port a lobster boat looks almost recreational but from the starboard, it is eviscerated revealing the inner workings.
They rumble by with dry exhaust stacks pointed to the sky. Small midline boxes conceal the many hundreds of horsepower gulping either gasoline or diesel. I’d say these lobstermen are the last to carry on the tradition of the muscle car.
Maine is carpeted with colorful buoys, with every inch of its water (both above and below) patrolled on a daily basis. Maine is rocks and breaking surf on tree lined coasts. Maine is sea birds — petrels, gannets, and guillemots —never seen before. And Maine is sea creatures that pop up have a look around and a breath and disappear into the depths. Carrie Rose will see what else Maine is in the coming months as it comes out of the darkness into the light.