Pot luck

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Yesterday, we checked our lobster pots for the first time.

The day before, though, we tried to check our lobster pots for the first time.

We consulted the weather forecast in the morning, and it looked like the wind, which was blowing out of the north at about eight knots, was going to pick up as the day went on. We figured our best bet was to get out early, so we headed out as soon as we figured it, at about 7:30.

Barnstable Harbor

Barnstable Harbor

When we got to the boat ramp, which is about two miles west of the mouth of Barnstable Harbor, it seemed pretty windy already, but there wasn’t much chop in the harbor and we started out.

We turned the corner into Cape Cod Bay, and it got considerably choppier, but still manageable. We can pull pots in this, I thought to myself.

Then we came out of the channel into the body of the bay, and everything changed. The waves were a good five feet, and they tossed our boat around in ways which I understand are to be expected in a boat the size of ours, but which scared the bejeezus out of me.

After we’d come crashing down in the third or fourth trough, I found myself hanging on to the rail of the console with both hands, bracing for the next impact. It came in short order, as did the one after that and the one after that. Waves were breaking over the bow, and the boat seemed to always be pointing either up or down at an alarming angle.

Terror was occupying all the parts of my brain that ordinarily do the thinking, so it took some time for an idea to penetrate. Eventually, though, it occurred to me that we didn’t have to do this.

I hadn’t even finished having the thought before I communicated it to Kevin. “Honey,” I said, “I can’t do this. I’m too scared.”

I don’t believe words to that effect have come out of my mouth since I was eight years old. I didn’t like the sound of them, but I really was too scared to do this, so there wasn’t much point in beating around the bush.

Kevin didn’t try to talk me out of it; he turned around immediately. In part, this was undoubtedly because he knows I would never say anything like that unless I were beyond discussing it. But, even at the time, I understood that many a reasonable person would decline to pull lobster pots in water like this in a nineteen-foot boat. It wasn’t a fanciful request.

That didn’t stop me from feeling like a lily-livered, yellow-bellied, sniveling weenie. We’d gotten within a quarter-mile of our pots, and I made my husband turn the boat around because I was afraid. As glad as I was to be back on dry land, I was not happy with myself. Fishing is a big part of what we’re trying to do here, and if I’m too chicken to go out in the boat in anything but a dead calm, that’s a problem.

Luckily, it turned out that I wasn’t a lily-livered, yellow-belied, sniveling weenie; I was merely an imbecile. Later that day, we discovered that the conditions had been bad enough that the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – the ultimate authority on all things wet) had issued a small craft advisory for Cape Cod Bay. You just don’t go lobstering in a nineteen-foot boat when there’s a small craft advisory in effect. You just don’t.

Unfortunately, the NOAA doesn’t issue imbecile advisories, and so people who don’t know there’s an active small craft advisory blithely head out in their small crafts. Because nobody called us on the phone and said, “STAY HOME, YOU IMBECILE,” out we went.

I can assure you that this will never happen again. A mistake like that has compelling instructive power.

Which brings us to yesterday, a different day altogether. The wind had shifted so it was coming out of the south, and had died to almost nothing. The NOAA website, which I checked, said that seas were less than one foot. Nevertheless, I felt a trepidatious flutter as we motored out into the harbor.

Trepidation is unsustainable in a dead calm, though, and I felt just fine as we pulled up to our first lobster pot.

Russ hauling a pot on to the gunwale

Russ hauling a pot on to the gunwale

We have friends visiting from San Francisco, and Russ and Mylene had come out with us. Russ took the helm as Kevin started pulling up the rope, hand over hand. I had been very worried about the difficulty of pulling heavy traps off the seabed, but it didn’t look like he was straining.

“Is it hard?” I asked.

“Not too bad.”

That was good to know, but the fact that it wasn’t too bad for Kevin didn’t necessarily mean it was possible for me.

It only took a minute or so for him to get the pot out of the water and on to the gunwale, in clear view. We all stared in wonder.

There was a lobster in the trap.

We measured it, but I could tell by looking that it was big enough to keep. Our first pot, our first pull, our first lobster.

And it wasn’t just a lobster. It was a small triumph. After fishing trips where we came back empty-handed, boat and trailer problems that kept us out of the water, bugs in our collard greens and blight on our tomatoes, here was a tangible, hard-shelled, two-clawed success. I felt something embarrassingly close to elation.

That made pot-hauling easier, I think. I took hold of the rope on our second trap, and found that I could pull it up without too much difficulty. It was heavy, and I needed Kevin’s help to lift it up on the gunwale, but I could get it from the bottom to the surface.

Kevin and dinner

Kevin and dinner

Second trap, second lobster. Astonishing.

Russ and Mylene took their turns hauling, and I went again, but the next few traps came up empty. One even had a missing bait bag. But it was okay, because we had two lobsters in the cooler, and dinner was assured.

Then, on the sixth or seventh, Kevin pulled up the motherlode: two legal lobsters, one of which looked like it was nearly three pounds.

All told, we came home with five lobsters weighing a total of ten pounds, and a renewed sense of enthusiasm.

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Comments

  1. Nice work. One point about lobstering I have never understood: why do only lobsters enter the trap? Are they the only bottom-feeders agile enough to wend their way in, or does the bait appeal only to them, or what?

  2. YUM!!!!!!!!

  3. Only once have I tried Lobster out here (“Here” being Saskatchewan) and all it did was make my go back in time to summers in PEI and fresh lobster. I can’t imagine being able to get my own lobster! Thank heavens for the occasional BC break with its attendant crabbing.

  4. How I envy you ten pounds of lobster! Which poundage does not translate into ten pounds of lobster MEAT, but more than enough for four people. Heaven!

    Glad you had the good sense to turn around, and know now to consult NOAA. Better to be a “lily-livered, yellow-bellied, sniveling weenie” than to be lobster fodder.. Only fools persist when common sense says don’t.

  5. Former stern man says:

    AWESOME….WHEN ARE YOU GOING TO HAUL AGAIN ??

  6. Outstanding! I can’t believe I missed it. I knew I never should have left the Cape. I’m in on the next lobstering adventure. And please FedEx the next haul pronto!

  7. Aaron — Lobsters aren’t the only things that end up in the trap. We caught other bottom-feeding scavengers — a couple of kinds of crab, a few personal-injury lawyers. Although I’m sure it’s not unheard of for a fish to swim in, the traps have a kind of mesh ladder leading to the entrance that lures in things that crawl.

    We’ve been told that we’ll know lobster season is over when our traps are full of spider crabs.

    Mimi — Lobsters are about 20% meat, so we probably had two pounds, give or take. Definitely enough for dinner for four.

    FSM — Soon, soon!

  8. I’m really enjoying your blog and just wanted to say thank-you. Have you seen Julie and Julia? Julie angsting through the lobster scene while the husband recasts the Talking Heads’ Psycho Killer is laugh-out-loud.