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The Early Bird Gets the Lobster

OUR Maine Maritime Museum in Bath is well worth a visit if you chance that way, and if you look, you may see a boat I gave them in a generous moment. Although you may not, as I've heard they credited the gift erroneously to a ne'er-do-well cousin of distant standing, who chuckles and doesn't tell them. Lately, the museum has been using radio commercials to invite summer visitors. Among the coastal attractions they speak of are the picturesque Maine lobster fishermen, who offer something of a Winslow Home r tableau as they leave "at crack of dawn" to visit their traps.

At dawn?

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Here in beautiful Friendship, which owns more lobster fishing licenses than any other port, if them there colorful lobster catchers ain't off down below by daylight, it's 'cause it ain't no Haulin' Day, and they went back to bed. Maybe tomorrow. Nobody gets up ahead of a lobsterman.

Dawn is the precise moment when a catcher can pull his first trap of the day - lawfully. Which means he's well out of the harbor at least an hour before sunup, and seven or eight miles down the bay ready to gaff his first pot-buoy and reeve the warp over his wench to commence the day's work. There's no slug-a-beddin' until dawn in the lobster business.

Except when the boys don't haul. The down-Maine coastal people know all about that devil sea and respect it. Before putting to sea around two o'clock in the morning, the lobstermen gather in small groups at the several wharves and backs to the show-wer they gaze into the darkness over the harbor and meditate. Will it be a Haulin' Day? They've heard the foolish weather forecasters on the radio, and now they'll decide for themselves. A fogmull, chance of on-shore wind, what's the day to be like? If satisfi ed 'twill be a day to haul, they come to an agreement in silence. One by one, without a word, they'll break up the witan, shove their skiffs in the drink, and go to their powerboats on mooring. At dawn the sun will drip crimson bubbles into the ocean, and every man will have his first pot-warp ready to haul.

If they likewise silently agree 'twill not be a Haulin' Day, one by one they turn from the tide, walk up from the show-wer, and go home. Prolly back to bed until sunup. But on a Haulin' Day, well before dawn, our harbor comes to life. I remember listening some years back to a newborn Friendshipper who had closed out his affairs in Ohio and come here to buy a harborside home and become a native. He sat on his veranda his first evening, joying in the serenity of the twilight, and when the western sky lost its color he went to bed. He told himself the smartest thing he ever did was leave the jangled existence in Ohio and move here. He was surrounded by silence, and he was glad. The slight movement of the Friendship air with the change of tide rustled the brown-ash leaves outside his bedroom window, and there was no other sound. Content, he fell asleep and slept like a babe.

Without his knowing it, the picturesque Friendship lobster catchers, right out of Winslow Homer, roused and rose, congregated at the show-wer, and began their matutinal meditations about the weather. Silently, they agreed 'twas a day to haul, and they went to their boats. The slumbering gentleman from Ohio was then rudely brought to his heels, and with one foot in a wastebasket he trotted around the house and out onto the veranda, in great agitation as to why, suddenly, Maine was far worse than Ohio. Thi s was his introduction to the customary predawn ceremonies in Friendship Harbor as 300 lobstermen touch the ignition and warm up their engines. It is not, really, much like the way the Maine Maritime Museum describes it.

You get used to it. However, we (ourselves) do not live near the harbor, and seldom know if 'tis a Haulin' Day or not. Although if the wind is right the uproar in the harbor will carry to us, and we are aware of a rumbling overtone that has come from five miles away.

The Maritime Museum folks do not speak, either, of the radios. When the lobstermen start their motors, they also turn on their band, loud enough to be heard above the engines, and they talk with one another while getting into their weather clothes. Until they are at sea, the conversations sound somewhat like the crowd back when Ted Williams belted one at Fenway Park. But only on Haulin' Days. The museum people should make that clear.

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