Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Remembering Maine - part 4 of 6 - lobster!

This post is an excerpt from our 2003 cruise on the schooner Heritage. We spent last week on our sixth sail out of Rockland, Maine.


Heavy anchor chains and sloshing water woke me again, but today it sounded comfortably familiar. We made our way to the galley. Breakfast was oatmeal with toppings of raisins, brown sugar and nuts. I was hungry in my stomach, but my digestive tract was still full, and I was feeling more uncomfortable. To my relief, one of the oatmeal toppings was prunes. Ah! I put five prunes discreetly on my plate. I hoped I would eat just enough to do the job digestively but not so many that I’d become indisposed for the day.

I remember a time years ago when I took a trip with my mother and my sister Alyx to Yosemite. My sister was single then, and she was a dangerous flirt. During dinner at Yosemite Inn she’d carried on with the busboy, who asked her to meet him after he got off work. My mother, who was paying for the trip and therefore calling the shots socially, said no way. Alyx was infuriated that Mom would impose behavior requirements on her. She and I went to our room for a game of cards. She had brought along a bag of prunes, and as she vented to me she ate about 20 of the prunes.

Alyx and I, night people both, were roused from sleep the next morning at the ungodly hour of six to get on the road for home. So, heading down the east side of the Sierra Nevadas were my bossy, morning person mother and two grouchy grown daughters. Twenty miles later, Alyx realized that the 20 prunes she had eaten the night before had more than done their job. She was seized with an urgent need for a restroom. At this point we were traveling a two-lane highway with 30 miles between each tiny desert town. Alyx was in great distress until we finally found a deserted service station with an unlocked restroom. When she emerged, looking pale but relieved, she described that restroom as the dirtiest one she had ever visited.

I remembered that Captain Doug had told us we’d be leaving civilization. So I was careful with my prune consumption.

After breakfast the rowboat, not looking so spastic this morning, carried a load of us to Birch Bay Island. Again, Art and I took a walk, up the hill to the center of the island. This time, we were accompanied by Ray, the companion of Charlotte the Noisy. As we conversed, I noticed what a quiet, mild mannered man he was. He was very respectful of Charlotte. He said, “She is a real lady.” They must have a double life!

While we were walking the island, Captain Linda came ashore in the yawl boat to buy lobsters for our afternoon picnic. When we’d all returned to the Heritage, we learned that the lobster salesman had wanted too high price for the lobsters, so Linda had returned empty boated and a little miffed. Later in the day, while we were sailing, someone took the yawl boat to another island and bought 93 pounds of lobster. At the market rate, that would cost well over a thousand dollars. I doubt it was even close to that on this Maine island. I wonder if people who live on the islands think of lobster as a treat like the rest of us do.

After an exhilarating afternoon sail – sunny weather and a brisk, steady wind – we anchored near Wreck Island. The yawl boat was launched first with Captain Linda, three crew members and the 93 pounds of lobster. The rowboat made two trips to deposit all passengers and the rest of the picnic gear.
Linda standing around lobster traps
A fire had been built in the sand near the edge of the water. When we arrived on the beach, there were hamburgers and hot dogs being cooked over the fire, which would become a bed of coals for the lobster pot. Pans of potato salad and beans had been set out. Art says, “Being as hungry as I was, I had a hamburger and a hot dog and potato salad while waiting for the main course to arrive.”

An old washtub was filled with seawater and put on the coals to boil. When the steam was rising from the tub, Trevor and Sam pulled seaweed from the water near the shore. At the same time, Captain Linda and Gretchen transferred the live lobsters from their crate to the boiling water. The seaweed was then spread over the water in the pot. I asked Linda why this was done. She said it served two purposes. While the lobster were cooking, the seaweed layer insulated the water – like having a lid on the washtub – and flavored the lobster. Then, when the lobsters were cooked, the tub was dumped over, and the seaweed spilled out first onto the sand, acting as a bed for the pile of cooked lobster. The captains and crew then formed a chorus line on the edge of the shore and performed a celebratory lobster dance, ending up with a big “ta da”, which they repeated several times for the photographers in the group.
crew performing their lobster dance
Stacks of paper plates were set out on a nearby rock. Each person took a plate (or two, in some cases, for sturdiness). Captain Linda selected a lobster and put it on the plate, and Gretchen handed the person a paper bowl of melted butter. Linda looked especially for the “shedders”. These lobsters were beginning to discard their shells while alive, so they would not have been shipped to market. Rather than throwing the shedding lobsters away, though, the market proprietors are able to sell them each day to individuals coming to the dock – whether locals or, in our case, passenger schooners. Seems like a good deal for both sides.

Then the feast began in grand style. We ate our lobsters standing in the sand, on a beach, with our paper plates on large boulders. We needed no eating utensils or shell crackers. We used rocks instead, to break open the shells. The meat was juicy and tender and very fresh. We dipped the pieces in melted butter. As we ate the lobster, butter and salt water ran down our chins. Not having eaten lobster except at a restaurant, Art got a few pointers from Bill and Marjorie, the Louisiana couple, who were used to eating soft-shelled crab. They provided the finer points of eating the lobster butter, which some people see as something to throw away. Being as Art was so hungry, and the crew kept insisting that there was plenty, he was disappointed that he could only eat three of the lobsters. We made a delicious mess. Art had butter and water and juices from the top of his head down to his belly. We had to wade in the water to rinse off.

When everyone was full, Sam, the cook, made a final count. There were 31 lobsters left to take aboard. Art was eagerly waiting to see what he would do with them. The next day we had lobster-stuffed mushrooms, lobster soup, and lobster and artichoke dip. What a treat!

After we’d rinsed off, Art and I went for a hike on the island. We made our way through shrubs and stunted trees. Within a hundred feet we could no longer hear the sounds of the picnickers. We got a terrific view of the Heritage sitting in the cove. Art noticed deer tracks on the sandy moss-like ground. We followed the tracks, leaving behind our view of the water, until we crested the island, and were startled by the deer we had tracked, which we caught napping in the undergrowth. It was very quiet on the island. I became a little nervous. I had lost my bearings and it was nearing dusk. I persuaded Art that we should find our way back to the beach. I had faith that, if we could not retrace our steps, if we continued downslope we would come to some beach – hopefully in the spot we had left. After less than a mile, we could hear the picnickers again, and rejoined them for the row back to the schooner.

Captain Doug told us that conditions were right for the Northern Lights. I’ve only seen them once before, flying into Seattle from Chicago, but Art has seen them many times. In the city, though, light pollution keeps Lights from being as vivid as they are elsewhere. We decided to go to bed early, but asked to be called if the Lights were visible. I’d just finished reading to Art and turned out the light when Captain Doug called, “Northern Lights”. I scrambled out of my bunk, threw my windbreaker over my nightgown, and climbed the stairs to the deck. Doug showed me where to look. Off to starboard was a low-lying island. Around and above the island was a greenish glow. Doug said, “They may be brighter if we wait.” I stood there for 15 minutes, watching the glow and looking at the sky as Linda pointed out the Milky Way overhead. It was a clear night, and the starry sky was a spectacular display.

I grew chilly, so I went back to bed. I heard the next day that later in the evening the Northern Lights put on a colorful show for the late-night watchers.

The captain’s log for Wednesday:
Wednesday. 18 miles. Sunny. Shore trips after breakfast. Then sailed down to Stonington to buy lobsters for our afternoon cookout on the beach on Wreck Island. Sunset cannon – stars, Mars and Northern Lights.


Olga said...

Too bad to miss the northern lights, but sleep sometimes is overwhelmingly necessary. Can't think of Maine without thinking lobster feast.

Linda Reeder said...

I'm enjoying your account of your sailing adventure.

Arkansas Patti said...

Sorry you missed the big display.
I use to love lobster till a dive buddy of mine called them the cockroach of the ocean. They are bottom feeders and all those legs and feelers ruined me. I miss those days before hearing that.

Nancy/BLissed-Out Grandma said...

Growing up in northern Minnesota I took the Northern Lights for granted. Never realized that I wouldn't be able to see them from the city. Love your adventure stories.