Thursday, August 15, 2013

Next Bucket List Item: Lobstering: Check!

Coastal Maine is beautiful and we're enjoying nice weather although there are more rainy days this year than when were were here in August 2010. We're having a great time.
In the previous post, I introduced some of the Down East characters with whom we've become friends.  Two of them are full-time commercial lobstermen: Donnie and Errol. And these guys aren't novices. It's all Donnie's ever done and Errol's been at it a long time too, having learned the business from his father-in-law.
Wayne and I asked lots of questions about lobstering and clamming. Frankly, I'm quite intrigued by these Down East Maine occupations. I've snorkeled off the coasts of Florida and seen I've lobster there, but lobstering in Maine just seems like something from a reality TV show. So after about a hundred questions, Errol suggested Wayne and I might want to go out for an hour or two one day next week.  I though he'd never ask and, of course, I accepted without hesitation. Poor Wayne probably didn't have one bit of interest, but agreed enthusiastically.  How I love that man!
One of the great view stops along the way from Ellsworth to East Blue Hill.
I think this scene is near Contention Cove on Maine Highway 172
Our rendezvous point with Errol was at East Blue Hill where he'd bring his 35' Mitchell lobster boat to the dock for us. Maddie and her friend, whose father is also a lobsterman, will be with him. We'll run about a dozen traps. Errol says they've not been in the water long enough to be full since he last ran them, but he thinks we'll get to see enough lobster to learn how they're harvested.  We'll be in an area known as Morgan Bay. 

Lobster traps stacked on shore at Morgan Bay
Errol operates his lobstering business with help: his father works with him three days a week but his daughter, Maddie (for whom all three of his boats have been named) is his right arm. She was helping him back in 2010, when she was still just a little girl. All summer, the two of them strike out well before daylight and run dozens of traps. No matter what the question, if it's about lobster, Maddie knows the answer. Today we'll get to see Maddie at work lobstering.

Miss Maddie III coming to pick us up at the dock.

Capt. Errol, at the helm of Miss Maddie III.
He continues patiently answering my many questions.
Once we'd gotten away from the dock a bit, Maddie and Allison donned their rubber overalls, boots and gloves. Then they set about preparing bait bags.  They talked constantly as they worked.  They weren't told what to do. They knew what to do and they did it.

Preparing the herring bait bags.
Maddie on the left, Allison on the right.
Errol showed each step to Wayne and me and reminded us that after the first few traps, we could certainly expect to see how repetitious the lobstering business is.  Traps are hauled out of the water, lobster removed, checked for sex, if the females have eggs (and if their tails are notched), and they are measured for acceptable length. Those that weren't returned to the water would are put into the shallow box where they'd be banded and then boxed.  I knew immediately that I'd want to learn to band them.  Stiff fines are imposed for taking lobster that don't meet the criteria, so I don't want to be in any decision-making process, but once Errol claims them, I'll be ready to do the banding!

Introduction to the tools of the trade.
This one bands the lobstah claws.
I learned the small lobster are the quickest and are most likely to do the pinching.  The really large ones are more lethargic and less likely to get 'cha!

This is the tool used for measuring the lobstah
And so the traps began coming up. Errol has a large electric pulley to assist but once the trap comes out of the water, it has to be hoisted onto the boat railing where it's opened and the lobster are retrieved.  Because the pulley can be dangerous, Errol does that part. Amazingly, Maddie and Allison both take the traps from there and retrieve the lobster, tossing out the old bait, putting in the new bait and then turn around to begin measuring and checking the lobster on the table.

Bringing up the lobstah traps.  Allison on the left, Maddie on the right.
This one is called "the school bus" because it's real big and yellow.
After all the unqualified lobster are returned, the "keepers" are banded and put into crates that are then stacked on the back of the boat until the end of the day when they're taken to the lobster buyer. 

Maddie and Allison help me get started in lobster banding and show me a few tips to make the process go smoother.  I was as slow as Christmas but enjoyed applying every rubber band!
My first attempt at "banding" the claws.
Maddie takes it from here.

Hoisting up another large trap.

Lobstah that are too small go back into the water. So do those that are too large, like this guy.
Take a look at that claw behind Errol's left arm! 
Finally Errol pulled a nice female out of the trap that was loaded with eggs!  Having never actually seen such a sight, I first thought she had some horrible fungus growing on her underside. In fact, she has thousands of black eggs stuck all over her torso.

This "soon to be" momma lobstah has about a zillion black eggs all over her underside.
She goes right back into the water to keep the production line going.
You can see the notch in the second section of her tail.
We'd been on the water running the traps for an hour or two and making great progress when Errol, being the thoughtful gentleman he is, asked if the motion of the boat was bothering me. Funny thing, I hadn't thought about the rocking motion of the boat 'till he uttered those words.  Immediately, the rocking made me aware, then sick, of the movement.  My lobstering career is ended.

Recovery from motion sickness is easy when you sit on the boat's stern and look at the shoreline. 
As the tide began to become a concern, Errol returned Maddie, Allison, Wayne and me to the dock at East Blue Hill and he took the boat to it's mooring. That's when I noticed a squatty little lighthouse behind the dock.  Yes, it must be photographed and it's name must be known:  It's the McHeard Cove Lighthouse.

I hadn't noticed the squatty little lighthouse here at Morgan Bay when we arrived.
But now, McHeard Cove Lighthouse must become part of my photo collection of lighthouses.

Errol took Miss Maddie III to her mooring and returned in the skiff.
Thank you Errol and Maddie for interrupting your "real" lobstering work to take us out with you today. Thanks also to Allison, for letting me watch and experience a bit of what you do all summer with your own dad on his boat.  Thanks to Lori, Errol's wife / Maddie's mom for keeping Lexie and Ozzie at their home all afternoon while we were out on the boat. 

Come  the next Saturday, yet another Lobstah Feast was enjoyed and I had a whole new appreciation for my meal. 


  1. Now that is what I would consider a great experience.

  2. The pictures (brilliant colors) and they and your comments under each are really captivating and really informative!! Can see where you would have lots of fun and eating would be the crowning touch at the end!!! MS (Ohio)

  3. What a fun and educational experience! Looks like Wayne enjoyed it too. I cannot get enough lobster to eat when I am in Maine. Hope you get your share.