Zigzagging To Work

The lobster boat workers of Stonington are early birds. They awaken at the crack of dawn, don their waterproof work clothes, pull on knee-high rubber boots, grab their lunch pails, and head to the water in their pickup trucks while the rest of the world is still abed. Those who anchor their boats off the Stonington town pier then walk down an aluminum ramp to a floating dock that zigzags out into the water. There they board the outboard craft that shuttle them to the larger, sturdier lobster boats in the harbor that chug out to the open water where the buoys and traps may be found. The Stonington floating dock employs a zigzag construction to conform to the available space while accommodating the maximum number of motorboats.

Usually this process is long completed by the time I walk by just after 6 a.m. and the floating dock is empty. Yesterday, though, a few lobstermen were just departing—with the help of their faithful dog.

Incidentally, it’s not unusual to see dogs on the motorboats, usually seated upright at the bow while their human companion operates the outboard. If you’re a dog, it’s got to beat hanging your head out of the passenger-side window of the car.

Cutting Through The Mist

It’s been rainy and cool all weekend, and today fog and a ground-hugging mist were added to the mix. Fog and mist don’t stop the intrepid lobstermen of Stonington, however. Betty and I watched this solitary fisherman navigating cautiously through the murk and returning to dry land—although, given the wet conditions, it would be more accurate to say “solid ground”—this afternoon, just before another cloudburst drenched us all.

Tools Of The Lobsterman’s Trade

Yesterday we went our for a boat ride on a beautiful day.  We were the guests of our neighbors and cruised around Stonington harbor and the nearby islands aboard their lobster boat.

They say you can learn a lot about an occupation by its tools.  For a lobsterman, the principal tool is the lobster boat.  Our neighbors’ boat is a hardy, trim craft that is clearly built for work.  Every inch seems to be devoted to the pursuit of the tasty crustaceans that dwell on the ocean floor.  There’s a lot of open space at the back of the boat for the lobster traps and the bins and buckets that hold the bait — which typically is some kind of fish that lobsters crave, occasionally mixed in with “de-haired beef hide” flavored with water, salt, and lime.  De-haired beef hide?  Our neighbor explained that the material is so tough that lobsters can munch on it for days, meaning they’ll hopefully stay in the baited trap, chewing away ,until the lobsterman hauls it up.

Every lobsterman has his or her own unique buoy, marked by color and configuration.  When they arrive at one of their buoys, they use a gaffer to catch the rope connecting the buoy to the trap, then haul the trap to the surface.  Our neighbor says he typically tries to check about 275 of his traps every day on the water. — and his days start at 5 a.m.  If there is a lobster inside the trap, the lobsterman uses the tool pictured above to stretch the yellow rubber bands and place them over the lobster’s claws, then put the lobster into a large plastic tank filled with water.  The trap gets baited and then returned to the ocean floor.  And every square inch of the cabin — and the exhaust pipe for the diesel engine, shown below — is used to store equipment, navigational monitors, knives, brushes, ropes, bungee cords, and other tools of the trade.

As I said, they say you can learn a lot about an occupation by its tools.  A lobsterman’s tools tell you that lobstering for a living is hard work. 

End Of The Season

The lobster season in Maine is over for the year. Those tasty crustaceans get a break for the holidays — and a chance to grow and replenish before next year’s season rolls around — and as a result the Maine countryside is awash in yellow. That’s because the old-fashioned wooden lobster traps you see in some seafood restaurants have long since been replaced by these bright yellow, metal traps, which are a lot more durable. The traps are all removed from the water during the off-season and are stacked just about everywhere.

Maine lobstermen and lobsterwomen work very hard, even during the off-season Along the coast you see enormous pick-up trucks, the lobster fisherman vehicle of choice, carting mounds the yellow lobster traps from dockside to workshop, where they will be examined, one by one, and repaired over the off-season. Our neighbor here has 500 of the traps, which he says is the legal limit. The traps are neatly stacked on pallets, and he uses a front loader to maneuver them into his workshop for repair. They’ll keep him busy this winter.