Storm warnings a week before the official end to lobster season meant everyone with lobster pots scrambled to haul gear out of the water. Failure to do so prior to a storm last year resulted in an across-the-board catastrophic loss of equipment. This year six demolished lobster pots litter the outer breakwater providing ample visual evidence of how nature ruins fragile equipment and dreams of lobster success. By the time I ventured out this week, most of the commercial gear sharing ocean space with mine was already gone. It made retrieval lightning-fast but my emotions reeled back and forth between euphoria and disappointment. Lobstering is time-consuming, frustrating and messy but also interesting and exhilarating. It is a time-honored game of chance played by hopeful, hearty people with at least one screw loose.
Mid-season, pots of gear were entangled at each of the Stonington breakwaters. Multiple efforts to release them failed and weeks passed without a good solution. A casual conversation at church about my need to extract them to avoid being penalized with fines resulted in three men volunteering to help. Two of the men are certified scuba divers and one of those two is a dive instructor. A third, younger man, was pleased to be included. Friday afternoon, my dive team arrived early, eager for adventure. Although I hoped it would be a simple matter of diving with swim fins and a mask in 10-12 feet of water to untangle the lines, scuba gear was brought aboard and we left the dock laden with people and gear. The tides and weather cooperated beautifully as I became a first-time dive boat captain. Waves and swell were minimal and our prospects appeared favorable. Equipped with dive knives strapped to their legs while wearing goggles, swim fins and additional gear, two of the men splashed backward into the warm summer water and inspected the first errant pot. Keeping watch for other boats while maintaining a safe distance from the divers made me grateful for the experience on the water. I appreciate how one of the expert divers stayed on board to provide a bit of direction to me. Hand signals and words were exchanged and it seemed as though there was no pot at the end of the stuck rope and buoy. An intensive circular search pattern ultimately discovered the three-foot long pot wedged vertically in a crevice and covered by assorted seaweed in the murky water. It is only through diligence and professionalism that they were able to retrieve the well-disguised lobster pot. Physical stamina and strength were on display as the three worked together to haul the gear onto the boat. Because the second pot was located too far away to swim, the divers hauled themselves back on board over the gunwale (side of the boat). With no steps or ladder attached to the boat, I was grateful that each man was strong enough to pull himself into the boat without assistance.
At the second location, all three men launched into the water. This time, the rope only needed to be unwound from a submerged boulder. The senior diver, wearing scuba gear, physically dragged the pot away from the danger of the breakwater. Maintaining the boat a safe distance from the boulder wall, the gear and divers were hauled aboard. Because we were within feet of my remaining gear, the three men kept me company while I checked the remaining eight pots and swapped out bait. Though I would have loved to provide my dive team with lobster as a reward, there wasn’t a single lobster in sight… not even a “short”. Back at the dock, I hugged and thanked each of my friends. I had my two lobster pots, ropes and buoys back completely intact, avoided being fined for having gear in the water past lobster season… and enjoyed an interesting afternoon on the water with friends. That’s the very definition of a successful trip. Having friends come to my rescue turned a challenge into a triumph and I will always be grateful to them. As the Beatles famously crooned, “I get by with a little help from my friends.”
So here I am in the early morning just a few days before an anticipated storm and six days before the lobster season officially ends removing all ten pots from the water. The pots hold spider crabs, blue crabs, a single Jonah crab, one porgy fish, and a stumpy juvenile Tautog (blackfish). Overall, this season has been noticeably less productive than last year and I’m saddened by the reduction in the Connecticut lobster population. While rinsing each pot off with a saltwater spray, accumulated seaweed flies in every direction. By the time I’m done, the deck of the boat resembles a pebbled beach or maybe a Dalmatian. Black and brown splotches cover every horizontal and vertical surface. The overalls, boots and tee shirt I’m wearing are covered in seaweed and so are my face, glasses, hat and hair. So why am I smiling? The very last pot of the season contained a huge two pound, 18 inch long lobster. My spontaneous grin and whoop of joy reminds me this is why I have lobster pots. The season ended sooner than expected but with a sweet, buttery twist. My dinner guest is glowing a vibrant red to rival any sunset. Farewell lovely summer. Thank you for the parting gift.