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06 March 2015

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turcopolier

Idle Hour

By W. Patrick Lang

“Idle Hour” was a “backyard class” lobster boat. She was clinker built by two carpenters for the exacting work of pulling lobsters from the cold depths of coastal waters. An old Willys jeep engine ran the screw that drove her through the waves and powered the drum winch that hauled water soaked traps from the seabed far below. She was a handsome craft and attracted tourist photography swinging at her mooring. She was painted white with a green stripe around the hull. The wheel house had a red roof,
The boat was strongly built so that she could “swim” in the choppy seas off Kennebunkport, Maine. There were always wind waves there, always. The ever present gales and coastal currents whipped the sea to four and five foot waves even on what the weather forecasters might think a calm day. To live in those waters, the little work boat was built with a high freeboard and a bluff, upturned forepeak.

She was owned by a French-Canadian named Albert Morin who was also the proprietor of a small “super-market” in an inland town. The boat put down forty lobster “pots” in a string half a mile long. These were hauled twice a day to be emptied, re-baited, and sent down again into the depths. The traps were the traditional wooden boxes fitted with netting. These were baited with rotten fish hooked to the side of the inner chamber, the one the fisher folk called “the chamber of death.” The bait was bought from the Shackford & Gootch fishing company on the town wharf at Kennebunkport on the Kennebunk River. Most of the lobsters went to Morin’s grocery store. If there was a surplus the extras were traded for bait or sold to Shackford & Gootch for the wholesale market price. That was usually about 40 cents a pound. The price varied, but not by much.

Morin had appointed his teenaged son, Raymond, to command the boat. The young man had a hired seaman to assist him most days, but his high school friend Pat Lang came aboard often to help and for the sheer joy of being at sea and free of the land.

One fine day in May, 1958, the friends took the boat to sea for a special harvest of the ocean’s produce. They had graduated from high school the week before, and this trip would be one of the last together in “Idle Hour.” Raymond would soon leave for college in Boston and Lang looked forward to a year spent far to the south in a place unknown to him from anything but books.
The sky was bright; the sun warmed the air as it shone on the dark blue water. Clouds sailed to the land on the breeze.
The 40 foot boat began to pitch fore and aft as she crossed the bar and exited the river for the open water of the Gulf of Maine. Walker Point was on the port bow. The big frame house there was a pretty landmark. Returning fishermen were happy to see it ahead after a long day. To starboard on the other headland was a jumble of dark and foreboding buildings that were said to be a monastery of some sort.

Lang sat on the deck in the cockpit, his back braced against the transom. The sea was too rough for a seat on a gunwale bench to be comfortable.

His friend was at the wheel with the drum of the winch pressed against his knees. There was a davit and block pulley at his right elbow.
They wore wet weather gear from the boat’s cabin storage forward.
Spray whipped the cockpit and wet the dark red of the painted deck.
The ridges of their rubber boots kept them from sliding, but only just.

“You still want to be a dentist?” Lang asked his friend.
“Yeah, I don’t want the grocery store. My old man accepts that more or less. I want to do biology at “Northeastern” and then dentistry somewhere in Massachusetts. I just want to make money, be comfortable, and own a nice boat.”

“Maybe you could buy this one…”

Ray Morin laughed. You could just hear him above the sound of the sea and the cries of the gulls following them in hope of a handout. “No, he says he will sell her in a few months. He doesn’t want her if he doesn’t have me to run her. Cheap bastard, he doesn’t pay me. He says college will be payment enough.”

“Ah, that sounds familiar.”

“You still going to that place in Virginia that I never heard of?”
“Yup. I got a letter from Tulane last week offering me a full “ride” in English for four years, but I’m not going to take it.”

“Why?”

Lang struggled within himself for an answer. Morin was his friend. They had been “running” in tandem in grades and class office through the last four years. “Oh, just to torment my “old bastard.”

“Do you still want to go in the army?”

Lang pulled the bill of his old baseball cap lower. “I think so.”
“Why didn’t you go to West Point?”

“My eyes aren’t quite good enough. I would need a waiver that they seldom give. My eyes are good enough to be an army officer, but I would need a waiver for West Point. I think that’s funny. And, I don’t want to study math and engineering. The place is all about that. So, I will go to this other school. I can’t say I know much about the place except it has a good reputation and Marshall went there… Maybe I should go in the navy. I like boats.”

“I’ve noticed. Are you still dating Madeleine Lajoie?”

Lang had not expected that question and felt defenseless. “No, she sent me on my way some time ago…”

“Why?”

“She said she was either going to take a job she was offered with the corps de ballet of some dance company in New York or study math in Boston. In either case she didn’t see any place for me in the picture. Besides that, her widowed mother doesn’t like me.”

“That’s a shame. She’s a beauty, a real beauty… Does that mean you are finished with her?”

Lang smiled. “Ah, I see. You are going to be in Boston as well…”
“But are you finished with her?”

“Don’t try to be noble. It doesn’t seem natural for you. I am going to be busy for a couple of years, but I will look for her eventually.”

“Ah,” Morin said shaking his head a little. “Here comes our string of floats.”

Lang steadied himself against the boat’s motion and went to his place next to the helmsman. He leaned outboard to starboard to see the float approaching in the “chop.” There was an iron handhold in the bulwark by the davit. Grasping that in his left hand, he leaned out over the side and reached down for the float. He had canvas work gloves on but the water was cold even in May. He gripped the float just below its bulbous base. There was a multi colored stick above that but for this operation it was just in the way. With the strength of his 18 years he lifted the float and the 80 pound weight of line, lobster pot, brick weights and lobsters off the bottom and high enough so that he could loop the line over the block on the davit and then pull in enough slack to wrap it around the drum of the winch.

Ray had the engine idling. When he saw the line around the winch he put the hoist in gear. The old jeep engine roared in seeming joy at its task and up came the pot from the bottom.

When it broke the surface and sailed into the sunlight, Pat swung it in so that it could rest on the gunwale.

There was a large metal tank on the cockpit deck. It was half full of sea water. A smaller bait tank stood next to it and a galvanized bucket as well.

Lang opened the domed, hinged top of the trap. Sea water was still running down on the deck and over the side. The boat continued to jump up and down and to roll as well in the trough of the waves. There were three lobsters and a crab. They were beautifully colored in dark greens and brown with orange edges on the shells. He extracted them one at a time. He tossed the crab over the side as well as one of the lobsters that was clearly too small. He had a pocket full of little wooden pegs, and pegged the mandible of each claw behind the joint so that it could not open. Without that precaution the lobsters would clip each other’s’ claws off. One-clawed lobsters were worth less. The pegged lobsters went into the sea water tank. He reached in the bait tank for a piece of slimy, stinking fish. The eyes of the dead fish were particularly ghastly looking. The filthier the bait the more the lobsters loved it. He closed the lid of the baited trap, glanced at Ray and then swung the “pot” out over the water. He heard the winch change gears and let go. The trap plunged back into the deep. When the line went slack, he unwrapped the float from the drum and tossed it back into the heaving water.

Ray put the propeller in gear and “Idle Hour” ran away to the next float. The color bands on them identified the owner. Other color patterns could be seen in the distance near the boats that were servicing “strings” of pots.

40 traps later, the harvest tank was three quarters full, the “pots” were all back on the sea floor, baited and oozing lovely repulsive smells for the catch to come. Ray would be back the next day with his hired man.

They turned to a southwesterly course. They were about four miles offshore with no “Fish and Game” boats in sight.

Lang inspected the lobsters in the tank, measured them with the state government issued brass tool that identified lobsters legal for harvest. Lobsters could be kept if they fit a certain “bracket” in the length of the main shell from eye socket to the end of the main segment. There were cut outs on either side of the tool. When applied to the animal they indicated whether or not it was the correct size. He found some that were too large and tossed them back into the ocean after removing the claw pegs. One big male reached around and grabbed his sleeve as soon as the peg came out. He was about a ten pounder. He could “father” a lot of baby “lobstahs.”

Ray laughed as he watched Lang lean outboard to hold the lobster in the water.

Feeling its escape to be possible the “cock” lobster let go and fell away into the dark blueness. Several more went back into the deep. All of these were too small. There were about 30 lobsters left in the tank.

Lang had kept four “hens” that were just a little too small. They had gone into the metal pail. He searched under a cockpit gunwale seat and found a small propane camping stove and a length of board that would just cover the mouth of the pail.

“Idle Hour” “steamed” along the coast with a following wind on a course that would bring them to shore in a couple of miles.
Lang seated himself on a locker top and braced the stove between his boots. He lit the tiny cooker with a match. He then put the bucket with the four lobsters and three inches of Atlantic Ocean on top. The old board topped the whole thing. He held it with one gloved hand to keep everything in place as the boat rose and fell in the following waves. After a bit the lobsters stopped thrashing around. When they were a nice red color he put them on the deck and went forward to take the wheel.

Ray came aft with a hammer and a screwdriver. They had a clean car hubcap on board and soon it was covered with lovely lobster meat. They ate in silence. Every single piece of shell went over the side. There were heavy fines for what they had just done, but they could see five miles in every direction to seaward. The “Fish and Game” knew that fishermen fed themselves aboard the boats but with the common sense often displayed by “Down-Easters” ignored that simple truth.

They rounded a headland into the mouth of a small river. The stream was only 70 feet wide but they knew it was cut deep for a few hundred feet up the river. Ray throttled back while Lang filled a burlap “gunnysack” with lobsters. They crept up the little river with Lang calling depths from the bow in the clear water. There were sedge covered mud banks to other side. The little fishing boat finally came gently to rest against one.
A car door closed somewhere close ahead. There was an invisible state highway and a bridge there.

Two young people appeared as they “waded” through the tall grass.
Lang carried the sack of lobsters to the bow and handed it across. “Don’t go into Kennebunkport with these” he told one of his classmates. “Ray’s dad would skin us if he knew.”

“Nancy Richards asked if you would be there today for the clam bake,” one of the boys said to Walt.

“Your cousin?”

‘Yes, we’ll be on the beach at my parents’ place at Wells.”
“Tell her we’ll be there as soon as we can…”
The two boys on shore pushed the bow away as Ray reversed the engine. They backed slowly downstream until they could turn the boat.

As he brought the engine to a full throated roar, Ray looked at his friend. “I thought you didn’t like her.”

“Hey man, any storm in a port.”

“Yeah, you should go to sea.”

The End

The Twisted Genius

pl,

I've loved this vignette since I first read it several years ago. I know the area. Saint Anthony's Monastery, established by Lithuanian Franciscans, is just across the river from Kennebunkport. Once I was mistook for a visiting priest when visiting. I always stopped at the Maine Diner when passing through. Although infested by tourists in the Summer, it was a great place in the off season.

William R. Cumming

TTG! You are always welcome here to boat on waters I live on or near.

The Twisted Genius

WRC,

Thanks. Someday this old pirate may show up at the dock looking for a tankard of rum.

Charles I

Cock lobster, too funny.

Got no surf TTG, but I live in the pines on a west facing breezy bedrock point ten feet above a broad river. I prefer the gentler lapping, dappled sounds of lake, river, fir & tamarack with a bit of rustling dock hardware in the wee background. Except for frozen bits.

Fred

TTG, thanks for the post, I was wondering just when the Everglades Challenge would return. As to rum try some Flor de Cana Grand Reserve, 7yo. I picked up a bottle over Christmas and only now broke it open. It's has a nice flavor to it.

confusedponderer

Pat,
bautifully written. Your story becomes alive when I read it.

Just tis: Two guys on a boat - Morin, and Lang.

And TTG,
"IMHO the sound of the surf can only be equalled by the sound of the wind in the pines"

Where I grew up we have a large garden, and behind that a little forrest with a little poplar-lined river. That was where I was messing about as a kid, intimately familiar with every stone and tree, and the smells and sounds of the forrest.

On my explorations the rustling of the wind in the trees was always with me. I learned to listen to the wind. There was a peculiar freshenening of the wind that indicated that I better find some cover because it was about to rain soon. In a storm, it would turn into a roar.

My room was towards the garden, and since I slept with an open window, the rustling of the wind accompanied me into my dreams and greeted me in the morning.

When I visit my mother and stay overnight, I still can tell the weather without opening my eyes, just by the rustling of the wind and the sound of the church bell. I get up early to have my coffee in the quiet of the garden before my siblings wake up. Usually, my mother's cat joins me after a while, giving company at arm's length.

I can spend hours at the sea just listening to the surf. With eyes closed, it feels like home. Over time, living land bound, I have found a mostly adequate substitute in the Rhine, a river large enough to have beaches, a surf and a horizon.

I'll never forget a trip on a ferry over the North Sea to Newcastle on my way to Scotland. I was in my early twenties then. It was stormy and the sea was rough. I couldn't sleep. I felt my stomach needed moorings. So I went on deck. Along the horizon, like pearls on a string, were the lights of oil rigs. My stomach came to a rest, and I decided to take a walk around the deck.

At the bow I met a mad Englishman who was laughing loud at the storm. He was probably drunk, but of a friendly sort. Ferries over the North Sea then had duty free shops, and Brits would always buy as much booze as they could possibly afford and start consuming it right away. But in a sense, I could feel it too, the wind and the sharp sting of the seaspray in my face made me wide awake. It was intoxicating in its own right.

He laughed at me, too, and invited me to share his Whiskey and Water. To the extent the storm allowed that, we had a nice chat on storms and the sea and went our ways.

turcopolier

CP

"Laine" was my avatar in an earlier draft. Sorry I didn't get that name out everywhere. pl

John Minnerath

I always loved the sea and boats, but it's been many many years since I moved into the mountains of Wyoming. A few brief times afloat in Alaska showed me my sea legs were gone.
One of my favorite stories is "The Boat Who Wouldn't Float" by the late Farley Mowat.

Lars

EC is a very good test for small craft design and development. I spent 18 years in SW Florida and this time of year the weather and winds can change frequently and rapidly. It is nice to see it becoming an annual institution.

confusedponderer

Thought so.

Fred

Col.,

Your lobster tale reminds me of the summers I spent at Coles Point on the lower Potomac (the Virginia side). I could almost smell the salt from reading your story and remembering my own experiences on the water.

Tidewater

Tidewater comments to TTG,

I grew up sailing on the Chesapeake based more or less in the Deltaville/Rappanhannock River region. I can remember some spectacular night runs up to and back down from the Annapolis Fall Series. I've raced off shore. I have also spent a lot of time on the ICW. I settled for being a crew, never even had my own first command. (See Conrad's wise and funny story "Youth.") I have a spot now on a crick on an old timey sea island on the South Carolina coast and an Alden ocean shell. (Cricks there can have tiger sharks at the mouth, porpoise off the dock. I've got the pix.) I too have a little voyage planned, just to row around the island. (The Alden would be no good on the ocean, by the way, regardless of what they call it.) In the mean time there is some roof work to be done. I think the skerry and the Walkabout are both elegant designs and I can see how much thought has gone into what you are doing. I think that both designs are interesting in that they can be rowed and sailed. However, a quick look at the plans does not seem to show much in the way of flotation. Also, the rig is light and of course, unstayed. Frankly, when I look at something like the Chesapeake Light Craft design on Wooden Boat Forum, I like the IDEA that there is real buoyancy at both ends, even though there is no self-bailing. Hinckley of Southwest Harbor has given new and elegant meaning to the name "picnic boat". I just think the Walkabout is terrific for lake, for rowing, for the Everglades Challenge, and for very careful day sailing on a summer's day along the lower Potomac. But. That sentence "...can handle the open Chesapeake" really caught my attention. No sir, those terrific little boats cannot handle the open Chesapeake. They are "picnic boats." I would have no peace of mind taking one of those across the Potomac towards Point Lookout from the Northern Neck. I remember once noticing how bad it got out there. The skerry or the Walkabout simply would not take a knockdown. I am sure you have thought this through.

One thing that your interest in the Everglades Challenge reminded me of is that in the back of Wooden Boat magazine there is always a section where they offer free boats to the right taker. Often these are interesting old boats, some big, some little, into which a lot of work has gone, which simply for whatever reason cannot be finished. So I checked to see if the magazine was on the internet. It is. I think that you might be amused to see what is offered at the moment. I'm not recommending, just noting that it's good for a grin.

One other thing. If you are doing any roof work in the near future as I assume you are: I was told last year by a young roofing contractor about a new product for a roof coating. It is expensive but it is amazing stuff. You could actually roll it on a flat section of roof. It is also particularly good in the areas where once they would have put flashing and now simply "weave" the asphalt shingle. It is called GACO. I put down a gallon just to experiment and I think it is revolutionary! I got mine from a big roofing supply place. You won't find it (yet) at Home Depot.

I really liked "Idle Hour." Sometimes I sense a little something cold in the point of view that is salubrious.


Peter C

The Everglades Challenge does look super fun. My boat of choice would be a Hobie Cat. I love how much energy and efficiency cats can harvest. Defiantly not a fishing or sleeping machine! This is a good time of year to visit Florida. Rather that drag a small boat from the West Coast, finding a suitable unit in Florida and doing some sea trials in preperation would be the way for me to go.


TTG, the miserable time of my Navy days was overhaul or extended time in port for repairs. Ships and boats belong at sea, bays, rivers, and bayous. It's hard to beat a Naval ship going at 20 knots at night with the sea full of luminescent algae that left a glowing trail off the bow wake. Most pleasurable was watching the Dolphins streak under the bow and surface and then dart back and fourth for several minutes during night maneuvers off the California Coast. The most frighting, but fascinating were the Sea Snakes in the Golf Of Tonkin. There were literally thousands floating like pogo stick in the water.

Charles I

Magnificent song. You'd also like his "Barret's Privateers"

Charles I

A Canadian classic.

My folks were good friends with one of Mowat's friends, Newfoundland artist David Blackwood, who did the cover of Mowat's "A Whale for the Killing".
Resident in Port Hope ON last I knew, if he's still alive. I inherited lots of his prints, and I watched him make me one, I think for my 13th birthday.

One of those precocious voracious child readers, somewhere I still have a "Dear Char. . . " note from Farley about my fervor.

John Minnerath

I discovered Mowat as a teenager in 1956 when I read "The Grey Seas Under".
One of my favorite authors, bar non.

The Twisted Genius

Well,that was short. EC2015 is cut short by the Coast Guard.

"ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Coast Guard is scheduled to terminate the WaterTribe Everglades Challenge near Englewood, Florida, due to safety of life at sea concerns Saturday."
"Watchstanders at Coast Guard Sector St. Petersburg have coordinated the rescue of more than 11 people from the water during the small-craft regatta, which started in Tampa Bay, Florida, and ends in Key Largo, Florida. There has been reports of people with various stages of hyperthermia and the weather on scene continues to deteriorate to 4-foot seas and 20-knot winds."

Crossing Tampa Bay is often tough, but this is first time I've heard of the CG terminating the event. There have been weather holds before. My guess is there will be soul searching about having future entrants demonstrate their seamanship in less strenuous events prior to entering future ECs.

The Twisted Genius

Tidewater,

I appreciate your advice and I will never underestimate the Chesapeake. I have hear how dangerous it can be. I am impressed with the SCAMP community in their continuous efforts to make their design safe. They practice recovering from capsizes, even in rough seas. That's smart. I plan on doing the same. I've done a night crossing from Provincetown to Boston Harbor in a kayak, but that was when I was in 10th Group.

I love those old boats in WoodenBoat magazine, but I bet upkeep on those is a bear. That and Yankee are only two magazines I still receive hardcopy. I'll definitely check out that GACO. Sounds interesting.

The Twisted Genius

rick,

That was excellent. I see he did a version of "Rolling down to old Maui." He does a great job. Every bit as good as the Dreadnaughts' version.

Charles I

In a more serious vein, have you ever read Nicholas Montserrat's "The Cruel Sea?

http://www.amazon.com/The-Cruel-Sea-Classics-War/dp/1580800467


Think there was a movie too, but I'd recco almost all of his books, esp one called the Kapillian of Malta.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/82471.The_Kappillan_of_Malta

dilbert dogbert

Thanks for the memories. I was in my senor year in college in 1958. I was hooked up with a young woman who's father had a commercial fish business in Morro Bay. He ran a couple of fish boats there and sold the product in SF and LA. I did not go to sea on those boats as I had a full time job staying in school. I spent a lot of time down on the docks as the boats unloaded their catch. Those years were some of the best years of my life. I married that girl and woefully lost her young.
I used to subscribe to Wooden Boat and one day while looking though it is spotted a for sale ad for the Samarang. I had just finished scanning in photos that my current wife's dad had taken when the family was sailing on the Samarang. I got in touch with the owner and sent him a DVD of those photos. In chatting with him on the phone I learned he had met my brother in law while the BIL was rebuilding the Angelina down in Newport Beach. The Angelina was launched in 1946. The Finns built strong. The Santa Barbara Historical Society had an event celebrating the life of the Lindwall Boat Works so I went down to see the Lindwall boats that were part of the event and see my BIL. He brought the Angelina back into the family at that event. He asked me how much it would cost to fix her up. I said I think half a million. He said no way. I asked him a couple of years ago when we did a cruise from Solomons around and up the Rappahanock how much the rebuild did cost. He said 1.6 million. I thought my early estimate was high. Inflation I guess,
The Angelina is docked at Solomons. The BIL lives on the water near Mt Vernon.
Again great writing and a great memory jogger.

John Minnerath

Yes, watched the movie a couple times too.
I'm sure you read Mowat's "And No Birds Sang" about his experience in Italy during WWII.

Charles I

I read 'em all. Problem was, as a voracious child reader, desperate for escape, I just consumed them, to my benefit for sure, but at a very shallow level.

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