Friday, September 22, 2017
The lobster fishing community is a parallel universe in Maine, impenetrable by us from “away”. It is hunkered down on island hideaways or in cubbyholes tucked into the mainland’s jagged coast. Cruising guides that usually error on the side of optimism, are blunt in their description of certain bastions of lobsterdom as being unwelcoming to recreational boaters.
Lobstermen and women seem the perfect foils for country western songs. Many are scruffy with cigarettes dangling from their mouths. They exude the machismo of total disregard for their health. But this cannot be the total truth, for many come from deeply religious backgrounds and have a legacy of fishing that goes back to great grandfathers.
For the indigenous, training can start as early as five years old. Knowledge handed down from grandfathers and fathers is priceless. In a local bookstore, I asked if there was a lobster fishing textbook that would be used in a community college course titled Lobstering 101. I received a puzzled look and was directed to the shelf labeled Maine.
There I found a skinny book written by a young woman who fished with her father and grandfather, and then went on to earn a higher degree. She does a good job of explaining a life spent on the water, particular customs and superstitions, the biology of lobsters, and the rational behind many of the practices we watched as we cruised through miles of lobster buoys.
But I imagine much of what is done is instinctual. I gained an understanding of cruising on the Great Lakes: the weather, the waves, the lee and weather coasts, and the peculiarities of harbors by putting in thousands of hours. From what I have witnessed here, these lobstermen earn a lifetime of experience before they are thirty.
Despite what I have stated above many of the harbors are both working and recreational. Lobster boats intermingle with cruising boats and in many places distinctive one design sailboats raced by the local yacht club. If there is a dock at all, there are often working and recreational sides.
Lobster boats come in many sizes. Most are in the mid 30 foot range. They have powerful engines and large four bladed props that enable the captains to muscle the boats around. I sat in the pilothouse and watched them maneuver to and from the docks. They did it with aplomb.
If I cut off Carrie Rose’s salon, she could certainly go fishing, so watching them is instructive. The only thing I lack is the self confidence to use the power available to me. But that said piloting Carrie Rose is becoming instinctive. I end up in tight places without much thought and only afterwards try to dissect how I got there.
I compartmentalize my fears and in doing so keep my options open. For me it is the only way to keep cruising. To keep throwing us into new situations and not fall back on familiar territory, this requires a certain recklessness and a willingness to take risks. And with that comes the responsibility to minimize those risks.
That is the fine art of cruising, which I suppose, for superstitious reasons it is not talked about much. Each person has their own perception of these risks and that perspective changes, one way or another, with experience. This is the foundation for an interesting life, even if not recognized.
It is a valuable lesson to learn at the helm of a cruising or lobster boat, and maybe it will create a wormhole between the two. I’ll be thinking of this next year while steering through the multitude of buoys placed by those lobstermen from the other universe, and hope that the experience gained will keep a buoy from wrapping around the prop!