So, between working on a maintenance project here on board the HQ and having a particularly good book to read, I spent a couple of days out of touch, more or less, from the mass media.
Nothing of note happened. Well, nothing of note to me. When I finally sat down and got caught up on the 'news' (scare quotes intended), I realized that I had just wasted 30 minutes on updating myself with minutia and noise.
Fuck me. Thanks, captain Obvious, right?
Well, sort of. The world turns, regardless, and my career choice already predisposes me to being able to narrow down my focus of concern into a boat hull-shaped space and tune out the extraneous.
I've got two cloth bound notebooks that I use for keeping maritime-related notes. The Class Book and the Dirty Book, They're each about 20-25 years old. The Class book has notes on everything I've ever taken a class in for work- everything from marlinespike seamanship to celestial navigation, cargo handling and damage control, to clamping off a cut blood vessel and calculating dosages for medication.
The dirty book is just that- it's a smaller pocket-sized book with coffee and oil stains, paint, handprints, blood, all sorts of contaminants on it- it's a book with notes for reference when I'm doing dirty work, which includes GPS and LORAN coordinates of bottom features in Boston Harbor and Massachusetts Bay, the numbers and bearings between buoys to get into several ports (for navigating in fog with a stopwatch and compass and no electronics or maybe just radar ), lists of taxi companies, the better sort of nudie bars in various ports, the phone numbers of people I've met over the years, directions to stores from docks all over the world, as well as notes on how to mix paint from scratch, start an inert-gas generator and troubleshoot the same, strip high viscosity oil from a ship using Framo pumps and nitrogen, valve sequences to isolate multiple fuel tanks across a mixmaster manifold, a list of bookstores all over the world, the numbers of different dockside phone booths, from the days before cell phones, the names of bartenders and managers at restaurants, things like that- the sort of knowledge that you need right away when you need it at all.
Combined, this represents the sum knowledge of reference-worthy knowledge that I've learned after 35 years of messing around in boats.
... and now I'm starting to make a 'clean' copy, something written neatly, and it's hard.
My hands ain't right, and they haven't been right since my early teens. Between getting my hands utterly Borked at 14, and both hands having a deep and persistent infection for 25 years (I am deeply allergic to fish oil, (yay, contact dermatitis!) and the resultant split open skin from being exposed to it all the time allowed for an infection that stayed with me, up until about 3 years ago and took over a year of hard work on the part of a doc to fix).
Well, anyways, my dashed hand-modeling career aspirations aside, I'm really unhappy with the discomfort when I write with a damn pen. I type very fast, up there with what a good secretary can do, which has been a great way to forget that writing sucks for me. Good training, anyhow.
'Good training' refers to anything that sucks at work. "Dammit,the shit tank is overflowing into the bilge, and the shut-off valve is behind a waterfall of poop water!" "That's some good training, there."
Still, all in all it actually IS good training- as a result of my taking up the mantle of scrivening my own work, I'm reviewing rules, tricks of the trade, laws and skills, many of which I no longer use in my current job- skills and minds rust as surely as metal.
Some head scratching too, from my notes. Why the hell was I so worried about rules regarding lighting on Dracones? What the fuck is a Dracone?
Well, there's some stuff like that. I can only guess that it was related to something we were doing in class.
The last 2-week tour of this voyage is underway. Tour #5 since I last saw my family.
I don't have channel fever or anything like that, but I'm VERY aware that I've been away from home for too long. After 7 years here, I'm no longer able to contemplate 90, 100, 120+ day voyages dispassionately. In fact, after I think 8 months of not working any extra, I've absolutely gotten used to that. I can see why coworkers think I'm fucking nuts to be out here.
Something I've noticed, where working extra can mean between $5,000 to $30,000 more income per year; at the end, I don't have all that much to show for it- the intangible benefits are there, but the cost of not being home eventually outweighs the benefits to the nuclear family.
I see that now. So I tend not to work extra. But it happened that I wanted to make some extraordinary purchases this summer and fall, so I sought out the extra work and am grateful for the opportunity.
Now that the money is in the bank, and I'm down to like 12 days to go, I wish I had just gone home.
It seems I'm not longer fit for my self-appointed role as workhorse. I'm not hungry enough anymore.
Mostly, getting older thus far has meant aches and pains and very slightly diminished capacities that weren't there before. Thank Christ, some Wisdom has finally manifested. I'm absolutely cool with that.
It's interesting, though, that so many little changes have happened for me to notice this voyage. OT, part time Hulk and our new full-time crewman, has made me realize how much I took for granted the gestalt of living and working here on the HQ, including how I contribute while I'm just doing the things I do the way I like doing them- having to have a conversation about how I never like having more assistance than I need was... sublimely retarded.
Anyone can understand that some people just enjoy and prefer working alone where and when possible- but having to tell a perfectly nice and perhaps even better-socially-adjusted person NOT to volunteer to come help me and not to feel guilty about it was a pretty hard sell. I'm pretty sure the new guy thinks I don't like him. The truth is that Big B and I have optimized the HQ for our own maximum efficiency given the idiosyncrasies of the HQ's deck layout and the operations that we carry out. There are times when having two PIC's (Persons In Charge) is more efficient, and those times we will call out for help when needed. But mostly, so long as it doesn't cost time, big B and I like working on deck solo when and where we can.
I was warned before I took this job that being a tankerman can make you more of a loner, and 'a little fuckin' weird' was the phrase used. It's held out to be reasonably accurate, but I was a little fuckin weird long before I was a tankerman, which may be why I'm so comfortable with the job.
A series of facebook posts by New England Waterman
focused on his family's visit to one of the more remote and beautiful
hidden gems of Cape Cod, a locals-mostly spot that was shown to me back
in 1997, when I had just returned from working in Scotland on my first
real grown-up independent study to take up residence at the Marine
Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, MA, which is pretty much the
Graceland, Harvard and Bedlam of ocean sciences.
spot I'm talking about is a stunningly beautiful glacial drumlin that
stretches out into the ocean. Lovely place. Just as it was introduced to
me, I brought my fellow techs, interns and assorted underpaid geek
friends there on the regular with my piece of shit truck. Woods Hole and
nearby Falmouth, MA, where we all lived (Woods Hole being much too
expensive for anyone short of a tenured professor, of which MIT had many
living in the damn community). MIT are the owners of the Oceanographic
Institute, which is a separate organization from the Marine Biological
Laboratory, but which shares the same area and often the same poor
employees and interns like yours truly. It is to the credit of the
Falmouth police department that they never once pulled me over when I
had 10-20 people in my truck, mostly in the back. We were a very
law-abiding bunch, though, even when drunk, which was often.
It wasn't just the cops who were cool. My neighbors were, too. 6
of us rented a gorgeous summer house, and I know of at least one current
university professor from CalTech, and another from UGA who passed out
drunk and spent the night sleeping on my front lawn to be woken up by
early beachgoers who walked down my street to get to the gorgeous and
somewhat famous beach at the end of it. Not one complaint from the
neighbors, minus one guy down the road who did complain that my
motorcycle was noisy at 5am, when I headed out to the lab on early days.
Since I was fishing back home on weekends, I brought him live lobsters a
couple of times, and he made nicenice after that.
Even the Coast Guard was cool at Woods Hole. When I accidentally
misread a formula for making tracer dye for measuring turbulence in
flowing water (this is a thing), which was supposed to be something like
.1 grams per 5 gallons of water (in my defense, the stained and faded
card said 'add 1 to 5gal, injected at 5 ml/min' so I added one 10lb can
to 5 gallons of water, used only about a quart's worth for my work, and
dumped the other 4.75 gallons into the seawater systems' drain, and it
dyed the estuary around the outlet pipe bright red, including the
plants, the gelcoat on the many sailboats anchored there (Woods Hole is a
tourist destination, as well as being the transit port to go to
Martha's Vineyard), and also the concrete and wood of the decks of the local restaurants and yacht club and marina.
Well, they found me because a helicopter spotted a fire-engine red
streak of water miles out to sea, followed it back to the Eel Pond
estuary, figured out that my lab building had a drain for our seawater
pumping system, and burst into my lab in the basement, giving me a
lecture and a warning, but no more than that.
That's it, off to the right. Bright. Red. Also florescent, if anyone had a black light.
There was a lot of that shit. Being dumb and often lazy, some
July mornings, I'd ride in on my motorcycle in shorts, a tank-top shirt,
and flipflops, and kept a change of clothes in my lab, under my giant
flume tank, a 60ftx9ftx6ft aquarium tank that I used to do things like
learning how lobsters use their sense of smell and current flow to find
food. The tank was elevated because the piping and pumpworks were
underneath, and there was a great spot there to keep a backpack full of
clothes, not to mention a refrigerated seawater tank used to house rare
deep-sea creatures behind my flume, that cohabitated nicely with bud
light and diet soda cans in the tank. Icy cold on hot days.
Food Buoy, the local deli/convenience store, had a girl there that wore
nothing but daisy duke shorts and tiny t-shirts. I learned quickly
which sandwich items were located deepest in the food cases. I was in my
early 20's after all.
The Captain Kidd was a bar that my dad used to drink at
when my parents lived in Falmouth. My father worked for "The
Oceanographic" for years, when they were doing the real new, badass shit
with the ALVIN, their submarine (the one that found the Titanic
in later years). The Kidd tolerated a lot of BS from the interns and
techs, but by no means was a college bar. It was a townie bar, exactly
the kind of bar I like and have always liked. Even so, I had to keep a
low profile and didn't go in there for a while after I dyed their back
yard bright red.
I once talked a friend out of a fistfight there. Guy has 2
doctorates, which he got at the same time, and was one of the most
mild-mannered people you'd ever meet, but someone got his Irish up, and I
got to defuse the situation, which ultimately got me laid with one of
the interns from Estuarine Ecology, so, win-win, I guess.
I packed a lot of living in just 16 months there. I also figured out
that I wasn't happy as a scientist there, but it took me a couple of
years to get it through my thick skull.
Yesterday was one of those days where just nothing went right at all. Some frustrating setbacks unrelated to work, too hot to even go for a damn walk around deck without incurring diaper rash, and every single cargo movement came with breakdowns, delays, paperwork snafus, etc.
Just a bad day, you know? Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife nagged some details out of me, where normally I just summarize and tell her I'm having a shit day, and while she's sympathetic, she's also pretty good at getting a laugh out of me. "Honee, you hev you period today? I think so, yes."
If that was my period yesterday, I'm looking forward to male menopause.
Today dawned bright and early- at 2345 last night, really, when I got on watch. My turn for the midwatch. We're loading up a car ship, and while mooring alongside this particular ship is a shit show, the crew are a bunch if nice, friendly guys, helpful. Hearing guys laughing while working together to wrestle my diesel hose in place was pretty soothing.
I don't tend to stay in a bad mood for too long. While I didn't sleep very well on my off-watch, I woke up ready to be happy, and so far it's working. By the time my watch is finished, we'll be headed for our anchorage, and are scheduled to swing on the hook for the rest of the day, which, God willing, we'll do, and which should lend itself to a decent sleep and maybe a chance to get caught up on exercise and reading my book.
Also, I'm kind of looking at a 3d printer. Does anyone know anything about them? What I know about CAD/CAM stuff is slightly more than nothing at all.
The buoyline made its usual growling shriek as the first pot came off the bottom.
was standing at my usual spot, about 5 feet behind Bob at the port
rail, just aft of the hauling station. I was leaning against one of the
four barrels of bait that we had aboard. If the salmon skins didn't
fish, we were going to be in for a long day of slinging the glop
overboard, then refilling the bags with our pleasant-by-comparison
slightly stinky salted herring bait. Photo courtesy of the World Wide Web
first lobster pot broke the surface of the brown, muddy water. There
was a flash of dark orange and brown in the middle of a whole mess of
spider crabs. "Larry!" Bob shouted. Larry the Lobster was a
children's book character. We'd shout his name whenever one showed up
unexpectedly, which, in mid summer, was every damn pot. "Looks short," I muttered. "Mah! That's a keeper" I
started flinging crabs out of the pot. Broken spider crab bits flew; we
tend not to be very careful with them. They're a pest species. When I
had a clear path to it, I grabbed the lobster by the carapace (the head
segment), spun it in my palm to look for eggs on the underside (eggers
go overboard, gently, with a little v-shaped notch that we cut in her
tail to tell other lobstermen that she's a breeder, and not to be
touched), and gauged the size. One end of the gauge went gently into
the empty part of the eye socket- the other to the back of the carapace.
The gauge fell short of the end of the carapace segment.
Photo courtesy of the world wide web
"Keeper." The pleasant clunk of the lobster being dropped into an empty bait bin followed.
"Nasssssty," Bob said, holding the old bait bag up for my inspection.
And it was nasty. The crabs and lobsters had plucked many of the skins
half out of the little meshes in the bait bag. It looked like someone
had tried to make a wig out of a mop. There was mud and black goop that
must have been pockets of bacteria.
"Hey, it don't smell bad at all!"
And it didn't. The bait bags full of salmon skins had retained the
smell of salmon, but the smell of corruption was gone. "Throw some fish
in there and we'll fish the skins again." We were going to recycle the
salmon skins by adding a herring or two to each bag and putting them
back in the traps. The next trap came up empty. Strangely
empty. Only one or two spider crabs were in the pot. Even an empty pot
will come up full of spider crabs when you're fishing their territory.
Inside the pot was a bag with five pounds of salmon fillet. "Guess the
fillets (prounounced 'fill-its' when you're a fisherman) don't fish." "Lobster repellent, Bob." "Glad we didn't use too many." The next trap came up empty again. This one had a salmon skin bait bag. "Well, shit, I'm kinda relieived. That bait was fuckin' disgusting."
Bob dumped the bait bag's contents over the side. About half stayed. He
then spent about 20 seconds picking the bag clean. "Oh, ain't this some
shit! We might be fucked, buddy."
The next trap came up. "Deuce!" two lobsters, damned rare in mid-summer.
"Jeeezuss... two hardshell males... quarters." Two high-valued
lobsters, full of meat, and decently sized. Also rare in mid summer.
Lobsters take time off in the summer to shed their shells and grow...
While they're 'soft' the shell is hardened after a few days, but there's
not too much muscle underneath yet- they haven't grown into the new
shell... so they're not worth as much money, being made up of more water
than hard shells.
When all 25 traps were up, the final count was 10. About 1/2 a lb. per trap. Not bad for the time of year.
"OK, so the skins fish. And they're free." "Yeah, Bob, but we're going to lose a lot of time fucking with the bait." "...which is free." Sigh. "Yes. Free."
The next trawl started only about 100 yards from where the last one was reset. "Larry!" A keeper and a short lobster in the first pot. The short went over the side in a arcing toss.
"Deuce!" Another double in the second pot.
"Larry!" a single in the third.
"Oh, Shit! Three Bagger! "
The next trap came up with three very fiesty, big lobsters. All keepers.
"Oh, shit, Bob..." At about the same time, a slow grin began to creep
onto both of our faces. We sat there smiling at each other like a couple
of idiots. Bob was the first to speak. "Salmon Skins!" said quietly, but with emphasis. "Big money!" I said, copying the tone.
That trawl averaged out at a pound a pot. 25lbs of lobster, when we were expecting maybe 8 or 10.
As the day wore on, we worked our way out into Quincy Bay. The catch
was as good as any October day, when the fall 'runs' of lobster bring in
the majority of the annual income of a lobsterman.
another lobsterman swung by to say hello, we stopped hauling. We weren't
ready to share the secret, or the glory, just yet. We didn't want
anyone to look into our traps and see the cannonball of salmon skins in
the bait bag, and the lobsters it was bringing up. Now that we were out
of the estuaries, the spider crabs were gone. Instead, we were bringing
up the occasional small green crab- a pest that is annoying only when in
great numbers. The two or three green crabs in each pot we left alone-
they're too small to bother even throwing out of the trap. Now, the only
thing coming up was seaweed, little crabs, and lots and lots of
lobsters. By noon, the bottom tier of the holding tank was full.
I had to stop the low drain in the tank so the seawater level in the
tank would rise.
And the catches kept improving. We were up
over 1.5 lbs a pot out in the bay. By the end of the day, the holding
tank was full- something I had never even seen before. We were both
exhausted. The extra work involved in dealing with all the lobsters,
plus the unwieldy nature of the bait, which was still making the deck
slippery as hell (though strangely this was no longer important, it
being a smasher of a day)... we were burnt out. When we were both
completely, utterly burnt out, we called it a day. Bob called ahead to
the lobster dealer, to make sure that he was in.
day... same thing. Big, crazy numbers. We had cycled through all the
gear once, now. At the end of the second day, we sat down on the pier
and started drinking the beer that was waiting in the bait cooler. Bob's
father always made sure that there was something in there for us at the
end of the day. Most days, Bob's dad would have a beer with us, if he
was there, and Bob and I would have two beers each... sometimes three.
And, sometimes, seven. This day was a seven beer day. We toasted the
salmon skins, retelling stories that weren't even a day old yet. Chuck,
a lobsterman I had worked for when I was in grad school, came by.
"Heard you guys had a slammer yesterday." Bob and I grinned at each other again, but it was a sickly one. "Cat's out of the bag, now, Bob." (that was me.)
"What, did the dealer tell you?"
"...no. I heard about it in Scituate when I was getting bait." "Jesus, Bob, we're highliners!"
Highliners are big money fishermen, the top earners, famed among
fishermen. Bob and I had earned temporary fame for bringing in quadruple
what anyone else did. Scituate, several towns over, is well outside
Boston Harbor, and a world apart, stylistically. Different fishing,
different markets, different bait sources, everything... and word was
were never able to get a big consignment of salmon skins again. The
skins that became available were snatched up, such that no one that I
know of ever found them in bulk like we did again. Perhaps they're not
shared equally, but shared enough that no one I know of ever did what we
did. But they fish, goddammit. They fish. Bob and I, in all our
years together, never had another set like the salmon skin set. We had a
fall run one year that culminated in a big day where we caught more
lobster than the day of the salmon skins, but it didn't match the
excitement. It was fun, sure, but it was the fall run, and didn't come
out of the blue like the salmon skin adventure. Of all the stories
of our time together, that day stands out as among the happiest I've
had. The lighthearted avariciousness of the whole situation has to be
exactly what gamblers feel when the're in the middle of a roll. Being a
highliner for a day was fun for the ego, but mostly the day was about
doing our job, and the unexpected nature of being rewarded for years of
patience. Good times.
Sweet lord, it's hot as hell outside. I felt vaguely guilty that we moored next to one of our mid-size barge units yesterday, and they were busy as hell, getting ready for a year-long contract in the Caribbean, loading stores and spares, overhauling all the engines, renewing lines, etc, etc. All in the awful new coveralls that my employer is insisting that people wear.
I went outside, spliced new eyes into a pair of heavy mooring lines that parted while I was away, and was pouring sweat. Beyond taking on a pallet of stores yesterday, that was the extent of what we did while the sun was up. Sun went down, we got some stuff done, but it was hell on productivity.
Today we were up earlier, but done by 10am. Rinse, repeat, until the heat breaks. I'm swimming in ball soup out there. Walking outside is like walking into a hot wet blanket. After sundown, I'll do something productive, and be thankful that we had this break when we get back to work shortly after.
My marlinespike seamanship skills are rusty. While I can still splice 12-strand single braid line quickly, I made up a monkey's fist for one of our heaving lines, and it took a couple of tries. It's been a while. On the upside, it's something I can make while sitting in the AC at my desk. Once it was done, I treated it by dipping it whole into a gallon can of white paint, submerging it and letting the bubbles come out for about 20 minutes, and once it stopped bubbling, hung it over a trash can to dry. It'll sit there for a day, baking in the sun, then tomorrow hung from a mast to truly dry out over the course of the next week. Dipping it adds weight (I don't like to add a core to my monkey's fists- it's a good way to brain someone if you knock the hat off their head) and makes it more visible in low light.
Well, I crossed a milestone. I've had a building project in mind for a while. Problem is, it ain't practical.
I like building boats. Repairing them structurally, too. But I have no space, currently, as the '2 car garage' in my house, ain't. It's 1.5 car garage.
I've been wanting to build a full-displacement hulled boat for some time- a beefy, seakindly hull, old school. Problem is space.
I live in a fancy gated community. I love it, for the most part. Only downside is you can't build boats and shit in your yard or driveway, and you can't even keep a pickup truck. No shit. No pickups. My inner redneck withers on the vine.
At any rate, I solved the issue of space, and not being able to keep a truck at my house, but I will be building a boat as soon as I get my new shop fully in order again. I'm not going to stay at my current house for more than another year or two, as I want a full shop space and I'd like my own dock with access to the ocean, but I don't want to wait that long to start on the hull that I've wanted to build for the past couple of years.
I bought the plans and paid for the wood for the hull framing yesterday.
I'm reposting a blog entry from my original blog BLUE WATER, from back in 2010.
Yours truly at the wheel of the RITA C, long ago and far away.
"if this catches lobster, bob... I quit." part 3.
The next morning was clear and fresh. A breeze had sprung up overnight,
chasing the hazy summer fug off of Boston Harbor. The breeze was by no
means certain, but as the day started, Bob and I certainly were much
improved for its' presence. It also kept down the flies.
Bob surprised me that morning, beating me to the boat. When I picked my
way across the pier (noting how slippery the area around the bait cooler
was), I saw the boat opened up, and the engine was turning over at
idle- almost inaudible. She really was the quietest boat I've ever been
on. I slung down two barrels of our regular bait- these were
smaller barrels of salted herring pickled in brine. Along with the
barrel of leftover salmon skins, we agreed that we'd work until the bait
ran out, at which point we'd head for home, it being Friday.
Since Bob had loaded up the bait bags already, I got to enjoy the ride
out of the Back River and into Quincy Bay. We were steaming to our
'outside' gear out in the southern half of the mouth of Boston Harbor-
an area called Nantasket Roads. The deck was a little tacky, becoming slick when wet. It smelled.
"Jesus, Bob, I still stink from last night. I woke up, my pillow smelled awful." "Lemon Joy, bud. That's the good shit." "Yah?" " s' the lemon- just like eatin' fish. It cuts the smell." "Yeah, well, I can still smell you, and you smell like my ex girlfriend." "Yeah, but I smell better than you do, bud."
(Author's note: If anyone shows this to my mother, you're dead to me).
We proceeded to haul about 300 traps over the next 8 hours. We
worked slow, as the remaining salmon skins still made the deck like a
skating rink. I discovered that my ass, sides, shoulders, legs elbows
and arms were already bruised, as whenever I slipped and fell,
everything hurt before I even landed. Eventually we did get through the
day. I remember that on the next-to-last lobster pot, itself a trawl we
referred to as "the shitties," being old and rotten, with razor-sharp
rusted edges poking out of the trap everywhere, an errant piece of wire
caught my overalls at about thigh-height, tearing them to pieces when I
bounced a trap off my knee prior to throwing it onto the stack on deck. "Shit! Fuck!"
"Nah. I don't think I'm going to be able to patch this, Bob." "Meh! Duct tape, a little suit sealer... good as new! Ah well, last trap, anyhow. " The last trap came over the rail.
night, Bob and I were unable to stand the stink of ourselves, and only
drank one beer after work together. We agreed to meet up later at the
local biker bar, a place where neither of us belonged or fit in, but
where both of us, strangely, were welcomed. Bob, actively, being
friendly with the crowd, and me, benignly, being a friend of Bob's. *****************
Bob and I, when we're together, shift constantly between old
memories, new conversations, and stupid inside jokes, all done
seamlessly, stream-of-consciousness style... and, working 60-72 hours a
week alone, together, 11 months out of the year, year in and year out,
you get to know someone.
That night, both of us, skin shining
from a healthy dose of Omega-3 fatty acids via the flying greasy salmon
skins, and both of us reeking of lemons, we proceeded to be ridiculously
drunk. The salmon skins became something funny. My overalls being
snatched off my body like a breakaway jumpsuit, leaving me half naked
out on deck, also funny. I had gone to my apartment, been
thoroughly cursed out by my roomate, my neighbor (himself a former
sternman of Bob's, coincidentally), and my neighbor's girlfriend for the
stink coming off me. I stripped down to my underwear on my porch,
forever scarring a whole generation of kids playing baseball on the
field behind the apartment house, I'm sure. In the shower I had packed
for a clinical-grade decontamination: anti-bacterial soap, a quart
bottle of lemon Joy (an ultra-concentrated dishwashing detergent),two
flavors of shampoo, and two lemons cut into halves, just in case. I
proceeded to scrub my skin until that shit was shining like a new penny.
I squeezed the lemons over my head, rubbed them all over (except for
one pass in a sensitive area... After I stopped screaming, I gave that
part of me a wide berth with teh citrus).
Normally, a good shower with a decently strong bar soap will rinse off the fish smell.
an hour later I was headed for the bar, and Bob and I proceeded to be
our drunk, stupid selves, and it was a good time. About 2-3 hours later,
sitting at the bar, I started getting a whiff of...something. Something
that made me hungry. "Jesusss, Bob. I shmell like a sammin dinna!" My wicked strong Boston accent gets even stronger when I get fucked up. "Yeah, me too, buddy. I started getting that earlier. That shit won't come off." "You
know, my skin feels... good. Healthy. S' the oil, maybe. You know the
weirdest part? It doesn't smell bad... it smells like a good cut of
salmon, fresh out of the oven, with lemon, and everything. Jeez, I'm
friggin' hungry now, and I'm broke. I'm going home and raiding the
************************ It was the same story come
Sunday. With slow fishing, we took the whole weekend off. Sunday
morning, I called Bob to see if he felt as hungover as I did. Bob
outdrank me, and he weighs at least 75lbs less than I do. We each cursed
ourselves, ("Why, Paul ?Why?"), and I went down to my parents house.
Before I left, I scrubbed down again in the shower, using my last lemon
in the process. I hadn't seen my parents all week, so it was nice to
come into their house and catch them reading the Sunday paper. The first thing they said to me was "You smell like fish!"
TO BE CONCLUDED in part 4... where we learn whether or not the stink is improved by 3 or 4 days underwater.
Well, I made it. Back on the HQ for my next rotation. I got worked over pretty good, and feel it, too, but coming back to a familiar vessel is such a relief that I am content enough to be here. Things should be getting back to abnormal soon.
So, without fuss-
act the Second of "if this catches lobster, Bob... I quit."
The next morning dawned hazy and still, full of promise for a scorching hot day with little in the way of a breeze.
Getting the bait on board was something that I usually started,
and the B.O.B. and I would finish it together. I usually showed up 5-10
minutes earlier, as the B.O.B. stopped at Dunkin' Donuts for our morning
coffee while I checked the engine, warmed her up and started pulling
bait out of the cooler.
Now, in my particular corner of New England, we have diurnal
(twice a day, regularly spaced) tides of about 10-11 feet on average.
This means that when you've got a boat, you need a pier above it if
you're going to have shore access to your boat, and either a gangway or a
ladder to get you from the pier to the boat or to the floating dock to
which you tie your boat.
The RITA C was tied to a finger dock bolted to the main dock, and at
low tide, sat about 15 feet below the pier, which is where the bait
cooler was. Now, Boston-based lobsterboats often have an open stern-
that is, the deck drops off into the water without a raised transom...
here's an example-
The Rita C was set up such that her deck level was almost exactly
flush with the main dock that we tied to... essentially, it was no
problem to drag something like bait right from the dock to the main
deck, once the bait was at dock-level, anyhow.
The super-sized pickle barrels presented us with a challenge...
they were another 100-150lbs in weight. And the salmon oil that slopped
all over everything the day before was intensely
slippery. Cocking a barrel to roll it somewhere was problematic- there
wasn't enough friction to make the barrel roll... we mostly turned it in
place. So, with all the grease everywhere, we hugged and lugged the
barrels over the edge of the pier and down to the dock, down the deck of
the Rita C, and up onto the engine cover, where the baiting area was.
When we were done, we were filthy and gasping for air. The day hadn't even really begin yet.
Remember the stink I talked about? This morning brought about a
new dimension to the smell. Down deep in the barrel, where the weight of
the mess of oil and salmon skins compressed everything, little pockets
of decomposition were working away, creating gas bubbles filled with
assorted degradation products. Circle of life and all that. The bacteria
were working away, until they themselves died... then, other bacteria
that like sulfur products and enjoy an oxygen-free metabolism started
taking over... making more gas.
You might see where this was going. All the jostling around released
little burps of hideous gas from the barrels. The smell of anoxic
bacteria going to town triggers the human gag reflex- it's ingrained in
our brains as part of our instinctual survival mechanisms... so I was
gagging and salivating like a mad bastard as I stood over these barrels
of death, afraid to begin the next step.
I am hideously allergic to fish oil. Strange, huh? The lightest
touch of fish oil on my bare hands makes the skin fall right off them in
massive sheets, leaving behind red raw hamburger... I've been spending
my days on fishing boats since the age of seven. Obviously I'm insane.
I wear gloves when I'm going to be working on the water. I
favor heavy rubber gloves with a long gauntlet that runs at least 1/2
way up my forearm... for protection.
With my gloves on, I dig into the first barrel, slopping a
softball-sized fistful of skins into a bait bag. I have 40 more bait
bags to fill.
There's a reason why sternman on lobsterboats are also called
the 'master baiter." I could fill 40 bags with 2-3lbs of bait each in 5
minutes. Anything slower, and I would have to face the shame of stopping
the operation while we were pulling traps so that I could bait up some
bags. This is not cool. So I bait fast.
And, as I fill bags, the level of bait in the barrel starts to
drop. I have to dig deeper, get my arms in there. By the end, my head
and one shoulder are in the barrel under normal circumstances.
...but these are not normal circumstances. The smell is changing...
evolving into something that was probably exactly what Yeats was talking
about when he referred to the "rough beast, slouching towards
Bethlehem, waiting to be born."
I am now dry heaving, filling the bags. At this point, we have left the dock, and are heading upriver.
One more dry heave, and I have had enough. I crawl over and through the bait barrels to the fresh air of the deck.
"I don't know, Bob. I don't know if I can do this."
"C'mon Bud. We don't have anything else, and we have to bait."
I bait a few more bags. I dislodge a bubble as I dig out more salmon
skins, and it pops audibly, spraying my face with a couple of drops in a
fine mist. I promptly vomit into my mouth a little, and head for the
"No! Dude! Fuck this!"
"Paul! Come on, man! We got no choice!"
By now we're far up the Weymouth Back river, a small estuary
south of Boston, and at the end of the street I grew up on. In the
early summer, I can see the buoys of our first traps from the dock. In
winter, the closest gear is 10-12 miles away, in the open water.
The deck is slippery all around the bait barrels. Dripping
oil, blood and other unsavory juices (called 'gurry' by us) have created
a slick so potently viscous that I have to hose off the deck of the
baiting area in order to be able to safely walk out onto the working
Turns out, this just spreads the oil a little.
We begin our usual ballet of retrieving the buoy at one end of a
trawl. 25 traps are roped together, 15 fathoms apart. Both of us
quickly work at picking spider crabs (large, slow, inedible crabs,
resembling foot-long spiders) out of the pots. Gorgeous hard-shell
lobsters occasionally show up, but this is July, the summer doldrums,
when lobsters are scarce. The B.O.B. empties the old bait bags over the
side as we go, attracting seagulls. The empty bags get tossed in a box
to be filled with bait after all 25 traps are aboard.
As we work, one of us hangs the bag of salmon skins in the trap
just before it is closed and stacked on deck. Mud, water, crabs, old
bait and gurry flies. Periodically, lobsters do too... undersized
lobsters are tossed over the side- keeper sized lobsters make a pleasant
'clunk' as they're dropped lightly into a plastic box. This time of
year there aren't too many clunks. Maybe 8 or 9 in this trawl, which is
OK for this time of year, and better than much of the gear elsewhere.
I slip and fall, or slip and catch myself a couple of times.
The deck is getting slippery. About 15 minutes go by, and we've got all
25 traps stacked on deck neatly. I retreat to the bait area and band
the claws of our keeper lobsters, dropping them in the holding tanks. I
then begin gagging and baiting again.
Something strange is happening... the seagulls are loud as
hell, and there's way more of them than normal. They're agitated, too.
The salmon oil is leaving a little slick in the water that
disperses after a few moments, but for now, we're leaving a sheen, and
it's got the birds all excited. The B.O.B. swings the Rita C around and
throws the end buoy in the water, letting the line extend behind the
boat. When he's where he wants to be, he throws the last trap (or pot,
as we call them) in the water and idles downriver.
Gravity and friction do the rest. The drag of the pot in the
water pulls the next trap off the stack, and so on, until all 25 are in
the water. There are now at least 100 gulls circling the area where the
traps are... virtually none follow us. The bags of salmon skins are
leaching oil into the water, leaving a sheen on the surface that is
irresistable to the confused birds, who are apparently awaiting a feast
that will never rise to the surface.
We marvel at the sight, and enjoy the birdshit-free moment,
laughing at the squawks of delight and impatience behind us. I am
rebaiting the bags quickly, slinging gurry everywhere- on the overhead,
the side windows, etc... and on my face again. This one I can't hold in.
I vomit up a mouthful of coffee on the deck. The taste in my mouth is
far more pleasant than the smell of the bait.
...this continues for 8 more hours. By the end of the day, 3 of the
barrels are empty. The deck is a nightmare, it's so slippery. I walk
with one hand on the rail, or with my arms extended like a tightrope
walker when I'm without a handhold. I've fallen 30 or 40 times, and I'm
starting to bruise from it. The B.O.B is slipping like there are banana
peels on the deck under the helm station.
... at the end of the day, we hose off the RITA C. We're a few miles
from the dock, which gives us time to clean the boat as we steam home. I
upend a LOT of dishwashing soap on deck to cut the grease... it sort of
works. I only fall once or twice. When everything's soaped, I tell Bob,
and he accelerates, giving me the pressure on the hose that I need to
wash everything overboard.
We got to the dock shortly thereafter. I remember very distinctly
slippping and falling as I walk off the boat. It is too much, one fall
As we sit on the pier, having our after work beer (or three):
"I don't know what the hell we're gonna do if this stuff chases the lobsters away, Paul."
" Yeah, well, I'm more afraid that it WILL fish, and we'll have to
do this again... If this shit catches lobster, I fuckin' quit."
I volunteered to work 5 extra days on one of our chartered barges. Turns out, I'm staying for 12 days.
Ain't that a kick in the balls. I'm helping out a friend.
Anyhow, I'm doing what I ought not- 70+ days at work.
As you might imagine, I'm not a real big ray of fucking sunshine right now. I can handle this, of course. 70 days is just a partial-voyage for a ship mariner.
I'm working damn near nonstop, from the moment I get out of bed to the moment I go to sleep. I'm not at all familiar with the barge type I'm working on, so I work slower. Luckily I had help- my right hand man is a regular on here.
well, he was until my employer's HR, in all their mighty wisdom, replaced him with a brand new guy who just finished training.
Well, so it goes. The new guy has lots of potential and is careful. More importantly, he chooses not to be insulted that I'm absolutely avoiding everyone. I'm working, doing the job. I don't want to be an absolute dong to everyone I see, so I try not to see everyone.
4 more days, then I get to go back to the HQ for another month.
I am Paul B, and I spend most of my life at sea. Ships, Science, the life of a mariner, biology and (mostly) true stories of life among the best and the worst people in the world, the United States Merchant Marines. You'll find it here, maybe. You'll definitely find rants, raves and discussion on life aboard a merchant ship. Come back and see the Brazilian girls, too, who show up fairly regularly.