As captain and crew meet on the docks the dark morning begins, the slow prelude to the growing rhythms of another day catching lobsters. There is little time to linger. Before the jetty is even cleared there’s a boat to fuel, bait to load and a hole $500 deep dug. In the growling dawn there’s bait to ready, gear to prep and thoughts of rest to stow. The boat will be back in 12 hours or so- catch unloaded, gear cleaned, deck readied for the coming day- but until then a thousand lobsters or more will cross the gunwale and all hands will be busy.
There are 130 million lobsters crawling the bottom in the Gulf of Maine and over 60 million pounds brought ashore each year to fill plates around the world. But with the buyer paying low and the costs hanging high the lobsterman still has to fight the tides everyday and keep hauling to get ahead. If he or she is just out “changing the water in the traps” or “restocking the snack bar” the boat will be up on backyard blocks before the summer tourist crush arrives.
“We’ll be steaming nawth, haul the outside string first.”
“Back before the game stawts?”
Lobstering is a dance, stepped across the seasons on a dance floor submerged and dark and crawling with critters. Each month the dance floor moves; sometimes deeper, sometimes closer, sometimes to rocky ground, sometimes to mud. And everyday, sometimes every hour, the dance hall changes as the sea slides from a warm embrace to a nasty slap in the face.
But the dance steps are always the same- haul, pick, bait, set- all day, every day through the months, the years and the generations. It is not the dance of young lovers, tentative and slow. It is the hard-work dance of thousand-horse boats- rolling, bucking, smashing the waves- pulling up paychecks from the cold dark sea. It is the tough, stubborn work of tough, stubborn people. It is the lobstering life.