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  • On days it was blowing too hard to haul. Mick used to run out to the island and see what I was up to. We were both part of the skiff fishing fleet out of Bass Harbor. He was still in High School and I had left College after three semesters. He was born in a boat. I had a year of fishing under my belt.

    Jeezus Ben that’ll take all day, he said, watching me cut wood for the stove with a cross cut saw. We got to get you a chain saw old son.

    We’d sit in the lee of the house on the back steps and have knowledge spells. Scheme about getting more gear, scheme about him getting a powerboat. Scheming and dreaming, with an island to ourselves it was easy to dream like kings. We fished in close around the shores where the lobsters came to shed in the summer, in close where the bigger boats couldn’t go.

    Mickey wasn’t his father’s son for nothing. First out of the harbour every morning. String of more than 200 traps out of an open, 16 foot skiff. Start in April and go all the way until November after the first snow, when the fall gales had driven the bugs to deeper water offshore for the winter. Fished all the way out to Duck Island, 11 miles offshore. Went out in any kind of weather. Even with the economy in the crapper and interest rates at 25% for loans to commercial fishermen Mickey stepped aboard his first powerboat before he graduated.

    He had it all figured out. That fall when I took up my traps I’d work for him. We’d rerig all his gear and mine to long warps and fish the 90 fathom shoals out around the Rock. He had a huge A-Frame of steel pipes welded and then bolted to the stern so we could drag for scallops in days between trips offshore.

    Never have to miss a day, he said. Always be a lee somewhere to tow in. And that A-frame will be some slick for holding gear in place when it gets sloppy offshore.

    The old timers down at the wharf took me aside.

    Benjoy, all that weight in the stern. She’ll go right ass end first.

    Flip right over son.

    Jesus, she ain’t fit Ben.

    It was still dark that morning in December when Mickey stomped into the house.

    Jesus Ben ain’t you up yet.

    It had been blowing hard southeast all the day before, muggy for the time of year and raining. I hadn’t figured we’d go anywhere but to the shop on the wharf, fire up the woodstove and work on traps.

    Offshore it was grey skies and grey seas and lobsters like you would not believe. We filled baskets and trashcans. It was a banner day. We were the only boat out and Mickey crowed over every trap that came up.

    About mid-day, the wind started to pick up north-west. Just a puff and a whisper at first. Then steady. The temperature dropped. Winter was back.

    The engine made an odd ping and Mickey shut her down and went below to take a look.

    Came back, shrugged, grinned.

    Turned the key.


    Twenty miles offshore the silence is immense. And believe you me, there is nothing deader in the water than a ship without power.

    The wind grew from a steady breeze to a full gale in the next 3 hours. The temperature dropped below freezing and kept going. The day faded. The wind howled and screamed in the cables and rigging of the A-frame. The next land was Africa.

    We rigged a sea anchor out of every trashcan and plastic basket we had on board. Like a parachute, a sea anchor keeps the long fall of your drift controlled. Keeps the bow into the wind. Keeps the seas from rolling over and swamping your fragile craft. The sea anchor hung from the bow by a thread of rope as thick as my finger.

    The decks iced up.

    We crawled on the deck, bailed with 5-gallon buckets. Crawled to the rail and dumped. We each had one rubber glove apiece. Mickey gave me the right hand glove.

    All night long.

    Old Morris told me later that the boats had been out all night looking for us. That it had been so rough that even inshore, all the radars would show was scatter from the pounding seas. He shook his head.

    I remembered huddling in the dark by the dead engine. I remembered hearing the ocean through the thin cedar planking. I remembered the joy of hearing the whock-whock of the big Coast Guard chopper and how we fell out on the deck, losing our boots in the scramble through the hatch, jumping up and down, waving, all in our stocking feet, screaming and yelling like absolute wild men while the sea smoke snaked through the rolling seas. And how the Mr Chris, all encased in ice, glittered in the rising sun.

    Jesus Ben, Old Morris said, must have been some nasty out there. Then he paused, took a long drag on his Marlboro, spit out a shred of tobacco. Squinted at me through the haze, his blue eyes so sharp and bright under his faded blue cap. Think you’ll ship aboard with Old Mick again, Ben?
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