Friday, March 4, 2011
The Landlubber in All of Us....
I have a friend who is a sailor. A man who is at home on the open ocean. A man who talks about ‘following seas’ and jibs and rudders and companionways. His language is made up of ‘fore’ and ‘aft’, of ‘bow’ and ‘stern’, and of ‘port’ and ‘starboard’.
In truth, that’s all gibberish.
I am a landlubber. I’ve only been in an ocean-going vessel once--during the summer of 1979--when my grandfather arranged for us to accompany a lobsterman on his boat as he checked his traps. We never got further than a mile away from Gouldsboro’s shore. Still, it was an exhilarating experience for me.
For me… but not for Grankie.
He was okay on the ride out. We motored along at a decent clip, and Grankie sat on the stern gun-whale, as content as could be. But I didn’t want to sit. I wanted to stand. I wanted to lean out over the sides and gaze at our wake. I wanted to feel the rise and fall of the waves underneath my feet. I wanted to be a part of the experience, and not just a spectator to it.
Our captain was an older man, and not given to idle chatter. He had a job to do. Upon spotting buoys emblazoned with his distinctive ‘colors’, he would cruise up alongside, grasp his ‘stick’ and snag that buoy by its rope directly underneath the waterline.
Obviously, you can tell I’m a landlubber by my use of the word ‘stick’. But I don’t know what else to call the captain’s staff. And in reality…the poor man had no ‘staff’. On his lobster boat, he was a ‘sole proprietor’…
Anyway, once the captain snagged that line, he hauled it onboard and somehow hooked it onto a winch. (Please forgive the technical phraseology which I’m using. It can be a bit intimidating, I know…) He’d start the winch’s motor and drag the lobster trap up from the ocean floor--and once it surfaced, he’d pull it onboard the boat. Inside the wooden trap were treasures never before seen by this girl from the western mountains of Maine.
Crabs of every size and hue. Starfish. Shallow-sea creatures for which I had no names. And of course… lobsters. The lobsterman would grasp a crustacean by its segmented back, take a ruler from his pocket and measure it. His ruler wasn’t a simple straight-edge, either--but rather, it had adjustable thingies fore and aft (note the mariner jargon, here) which would quickly tell him if the lobster was a ‘keepah’, or a ‘tossah’. (Okay... the word I was looking for just came to me… Calipers.) If the little bugger was long enough, from eye socket to the rear of its body shell, he went into the hold. If that distance was less than 3 ¼ inches, he got tossed back into the sea.
The experience of being on a real Maine lobster boat was priceless. From the captain’s expression and judging by the number of lobsters he threw back, ‘priceless’ didn’t equate ‘profitable’. The man spoke even fewer words on the way back into harbor than he had on the way out.
It was on the return trip that I noticed that Grankie wasn’t talking, much. He was a man given to garrulous discourse—a treasure-trove of exciting but exaggerated tales--so his reticence was palpable. He was gripping the gun-whale so hard that his knuckles were white. Luckily, white is a color which doesn’t clash with others, because his gills were pea-green. I stood in front of him, facing the stern (and Grankie)-- my feet planted shoulder-breadth apart as I rode the waves. I jibber-jabbered away… excited about my first trip into the Atlantic Ocean. He tried to smile. Made an attempt to speak. And finally, he took a deep breath and muttered, “Big Kay, Little Ay…If you don’t sit down and shut up, I’m going to barf.”
My grandfather was seasick! We hadn’t even ventured out into what I would consider ‘the open ocean’ but Grankie was having all he could do not to up-chuck, right there on the deck of that little lobster boat. His eyes beseeched me not to tell the captain… so I didn’t.
Instead, I stepped away from the man, trying my best to calculate the maximum distance of projectile vomiting.
Grankie survived he trip without incident and made me proud. I kept one prized starfish—the best of the bunch—as a souvenir of my excursion. And this landlubber--proud of her accomplishments and her ‘sea legs’--proceeded, the very next day, to fall off a cliff on Cadillac Mountain.
The voyage out to sea? No problem. No wooziness. No sea-sickness or nausea.
The concussion from falling off (okay… running over) a twelve foot cliff? That had me listing to port for three days.
A lobster boat in harbor
Me... the land-lubber
Grankie, my son Guy (1984) and Mammy
A lobster buoy
Grankie and Mammy--1981
Somewhere I have a photo of myself on that lobster boat, holding a starfish... but I can't locate it to scan, so I've posted a pic of me at the same age (one month later) with my Appaloosa, McDuff