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. 

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Allen Assembly Time

We’re doing some reconfiguring at our house and purchased some new bar stools on-line that were delivered in boxed-up, do-it-yourself form.  Today’s project is to assemble the bar stools by following instructions that appear to have been written in Vietnamese and then loosely translated into English.  The assembly process involves, among other things,  determining whether the “flat washer” mentioned in the instructions is the same as the “plat washer” that is labeled in the parts bag (that seems like a safe assumption, doesn’t it?) and using the dreaded “Allen wrench” that was not a known tool back when I took wood shop in high school.  

Who was this “Allen” guy, anyway, and why couldn’t he figure out a way to use a crescent wrench, instead?

When I first sit on one of these I’m going to do it gingerly.

Thumbing It

The other day I inadvertently caught my thumb in a door I was closing.  My thumb throbbed, I cursed, and then I realized with a start that until my poor pollex was 100 percent again I was totally unable to fully participate in essential activities of modern life.

The development of an opposable thumb has long been viewed as a crucial step in the human evolutionary process.  The thumb is a simple body part, made up of bones and hinges.  Yet the fully opposable thumb is unique to humans, and its development allowed humans to become complex organisms.  The thumb permits us to grip items securely and throw them accurately.  The thumb is essential to the use of the fine motor skills that allow us to perform detail work.  It is what made humans into toolmakers and tool users.

In the modern world our thumbs are more important than ever before.  They are our principal texting digits.  Your thumb performs the swipe that unlocks your iPhone.  Your thumbs anchor your hands on a computer keyboard and pound the space bar when you type your report.  Your thumb is what empowers you to open a clutch purse, use a bottle opener, pry open a child-proof container, and take notes with a pen.  Of course, it also allows you to signal an interest in hitchhiking and indicate ready assent in a noisy place.  The list of activities that require a thumb is endless, and it will continue to grow as inventiveness moves our species toward even greater reliance upon handheld devices.

With the enormously increased use of our thumbs these days, you’d think that doctors, physical therapists, and surgeons would be besieged by people with thumb-related ailments — but that doesn’t appear to be the case.  The humble thumb abides.

Using Crutches As Tools

At one time, scientists theorized that humans are distinguished from other animals by their ability to use objects as tools. Then they discovered that chimpanzees use sticks to get tasty ants out of anthills, and that theory went by the wayside.

Still, there’s something about using tools that is innately appealing to humans. We are instinctively drawn to labor-saving devices. If an invention makes our lives easier — and, particularly, if it allows us to remain prone and otherwise immobile while we are using it — we are going to go for it every time.

I’ve been exercising this inherent human characteristic by experimenting with new uses for my crutches. Sure, they’re perfectly useful for their intended purpose of allowing people with leg injuries to hobble unsteadily to and fro, but it turns out they’re plenty useful for other things, too — particularly for those people who have dogs around the house. For example, I’ve used my crutch tools for a number of other actions:

* Crutches are light enough and long enough to allow you to push a door shut when dogs inexplicably start barking during the middle of a conference call

* The rubber tip on the end of a crutch is well-suited to lifting and tossing dog blankets and shoving aside other obstacles that might entangle the crutch-user, to gently prodding and awakening snoring dogs, to retrieving towels from a faraway towel rack, and to pulling within reach of the invalid footstools, satchels, and other needed items

* Crutches allow you to successfully scratch the small of your back

I’m still working on other ways to use the handy crutch, but right now I’m wondering — is there anything crutches can’t do?