The best way to make a tiny truck camper seem spacious and well-appointed is to spend the weekend on a 23-foot boat. That’s what Kevin and I did over the July 4th weekend, and we came home with a new appreciation of our camper’s amenities.
We also came home happy and smelly, with a cooler full of striped bass.
This is how it went down.
A few weeks ago, I got an e-mail from an old college friend. I’ve known Peigi for thirty years, but something like twenty-seven of them passed without our seeing or hearing from each other. Then, thanks to the wonders of technology, we discovered that we were both still alive, and living a mere two hours apart. How ‘bout that?
We had lunch a few months back and discovered, among other things, that we both have husbands who introduced us to boating.
Peigi’s husband, Ken, introduced her to boating in spades. They have a 43-foot trawler, which makes our boat, a 23-foot SteigerCraft, look like a bathtub toy. They were planning to take said trawler to Provincetown for the weekend of the 4th, and Peigi wrote to me a few weeks back to ask whether, perchance, our mooring was free.
We’ve had a mooring in Provincetown Harbor for three or four years, and we always offer it to any friends with boats, since we seldom use it. I had offered it to Peigi, but it turned out that their boat was probably a little too big, and drafted a little too much, for them to be able to use it. They decided to anchor instead.
Which gave Kevin an idea. Since they weren’t using our mooring, why didn’t we use it?
In the four years we’ve had our boat, we’ve spend the odd night on it, but never more than one. The quarters are cramped in the extreme. The cabin consists of a V-berth big enough to accommodate two full-size sleeping people comfortably, but almost nothing besides. Living on the boat means using the berth for storage during the day, and then shifting everything to the pilot house and the deck when we go to bed.
There’s no proper head, a situation we have vast experience handling, mostly with waterfront-accessible public restrooms but with the occasional portable … ahem … solution (I’ve mentioned my low-level obsession with composting toilets and will address this issue in more depth some day, if you can stand the suspense). There are no proper cooking facilities, and we brought along a portable butane burner so we could have hot coffee and scrambled eggs.
We also brought two coolers full of ice. One held a bag of oysters on the way out, and was earmarked for fish on the way back, if we managed to catch any. The other was food and drink.
We had clothes for all kinds of weather, gear for all kinds of fishing, and plenty of wine. And, really, beyond that, what does a person need?
We had planned to go up on Saturday and stay through Tuesday morning, but weather intervened, in the form of winds strong enough for NOAA to issue a Small Craft Advisory.
A Small Craft Advisory means that anyone who was planning to cross Cape Cod Bay in a small craft should seriously rethink the plan. We rethought, and concluded that it was a good idea to sit it out, especially considering that we would be towing our dinghy, a teeny tiny rowboat.
We packed the boat on Saturday, and left Sunday morning.
Once we arrived, we celebrated an uneventful crossing with our very first hot meal on the boat – scrambled-egg sandwiches.
Everything tastes better when you have to jump through hoops to prepare it, and a very ordinary breakfast of eggs on a Kaiser roll was deliciousness itself. It helped, of course, that it was a beautiful day and we were sitting on the deck of our boat, looking out at all of Provincetown.
We met up with Peigi and Ken, strolled around the town, and had a nice dinner. The day went swimmingly – fortunately only figuratively. Finding out that our dinghy was not up to the challenge of a windy harbor meant that we were this close to going literally swimmingly, but we managed to avoid that.
Monday was marked for fishing.
We’ve lived on the Cape for eight years now, and we’ve learned a lot about catching some of the species in some of the places near our house, but we don’t know Provincetown at all. We’ve fished for tuna there a few times, but we’ve never gone out for striped bass.
We may not be able to fish, but we can read, and we’d read that the striped bass bite on the back side of Provincetown was excellent. There seemed to be several ways to catch them, so we brought all the tackle we own with us. Our strategy was to go out, find the boats that looked like they knew what they were doing, and try and figure out what, exactly, they were doing.
Live-lining mackerel is the strategy of choice for this time of year in Barnstable Harbor, and we’d read that it worked well for Ptown, as well. So job one was finding mackerel. We went out of the harbor and around the race, looking for boats jigging for baitfish. We found them, and slowed the boat so we could see what showed up on the fishfinder.
Different fish look different on the fishfinder, and we’ve gotten pretty good at figuring out what’s a mackerel and what’s something else. We saw plenty of life, but it didn’t look quite right to us. Still, we dropped a line with a sabiki rig, just to see.
We didn’t get mackerel, but Kevin pulled up a couple of sea herring, also used for live-lining. We put them in a bucket and went all the way around the tip of the Cape.
And there, we found the armada. There were literally a hundred boats – at least – drifting with the tide over one particular ledge. It’s a long ledge, but still. It was the most crowded fishing spot I’d ever seen.
We found a space in the line and insinuated ourselves into the scrum. We put out two lines, baited with the herring, and waited.
I was not at all optimistic. I was not marking fish on the fishfinder. And, if even if fish were there, what were the odds? There were hundreds of lines out, with hundreds of herring, what was the chance that a striped bass would decide on one of ours? I wasn’t even manning my rod, which I stuck in a rod holder – I was in the pilothouse, watching the boats around us, worried that we were gaining on our neighbor because we drifted faster than he did.
And then I heard THAT NOISE. The ZZZZZZZZZZZZZ when a fish takes line.
“You’re on!” Kevin said, and I grabbed the rod out of the holder.
A couple minutes later, I landed a very nice 32-inch striped bass. Only then did I realize it hadn’t been my line that had ZZZZZZZZZZZZZed. It had been Kevin’s, but he let me take the fish. There’s a one-fish limit, so I stopped fishing, and we motored out to start a new drift to see if we could use our last herring to get Kevin a fish.
Not only did the next drift not yield a bass, but Kevin lost the herring.
Plan B was mining the tackle box, and he tried casting some soft plastics with weights to no avail. By this time, the armada had dispersed, and different boats were trying different areas. But they all seemed to be using herring.
I went back to the sabiki to see if I couldn’t get another herring or two. I saw all kinds of different-looking life at different depths, and dropped the sabiki down to see if it was something we could live-line (baitfish can’t resist a sabiki, and if the fish are there, you will catch them). It wasn’t, and it wasn’t, and then it was. I got us three more herring.
Kevin put out two lines, and we drifted. Within fifteen minutes, we heard that noise again, but then it stopped. Often, when you have a whole fish as bait, a fish that’s too small to eat it takes a nibble. It’ll run with your line for a while, but you lose it when you tighten the drag. He figured it was a baby fish.
But then it came back, with a vengeance. It took him a while to reel it in – a 42-inch, 25-pound bass.
With our limit in the cooler, we headed back to the harbor.
We swung by Peigi and Ken’s boat to drop off a filet, and had drinks on their bridge. It gave me a taste of what it’s like, having a boat of size. A proper galley. Not one, but two heads (which are better than one). Air conditioning! And a lovely shaded bridge on which to have drinks with your friends.
Not that I’m dissing our boat. We’ve spent many, many excellent hours on her. I’ve learned to fish on her. She’s taken us to explore Martha’s Vineyard and Woods Hole. We’ve caught almost all the seafood we’ve eaten in the last three years from her deck, literally hundreds of pounds a year. We’ve been able to take friends around to see the sights, or to catch their own fish.
And this year she took us to Provincetown for a wonderful 4th of July weekend.
After we left Peigi and Ken’s boat, we went back to our mooring and cleaned up best we could (you’ve seen those camp showers that are a big black bag with a spigot, as we were invited to a barbecue at the home of our friend Michel, who lives, rather fortuitously, exactly upland from our mooring. We brought Michel the second filet from my fish, as well as the bag of oysters, and enjoyed a lovely party with a great view of the fireworks.
So, yeah, the quarters were cramped. We couldn’t cook, and we couldn’t stay properly clean. Our dinghy is sub-standard, and needs to be replaced. Even making coffee is a huge production which, on Tuesday morning, ended in a French press full of coffee just ready to be plunged getting spilled all over the deck. A production indeed.
But we got a weekend away. We saw friends. We fished. We didn’t check e-mail and we didn’t post on Facebook.
And now, when we take the camper to Acadia in two weeks, it’ll feel like luxury on wheels.