Against The Tide Pa

Overview

With its spectacular beaches and charming towns, Cape Cod is known around the world as a vacation spot and a summer retreat for the well-to-do. But there is another Cape Cod, a hidden, hardscrabble, year-round world whose hunter-gatherer economy dates back to the Bay Colony. The world of the independent fisherman is one of constant peril, of arcane folkways and expert knowledge, of calculated risk and self-reliance—and of freedom won daily through backbreaking, solitary work. It...

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Overview

With its spectacular beaches and charming towns, Cape Cod is known around the world as a vacation spot and a summer retreat for the well-to-do. But there is another Cape Cod, a hidden, hardscrabble, year-round world whose hunter-gatherer economy dates back to the Bay Colony. The world of the independent fisherman is one of constant peril, of arcane folkways and expert knowledge, of calculated risk and self-reliance—and of freedom won daily through backbreaking, solitary work. It is a way of life deep in the American grain.
Haunted by the numbers of family fishermen who have recently been forced to abandon the profession, Richard Adams Carey spent a year among a handful of men who stubbornly refuse to do so. Reminiscent of the work of William Warner and Joseph Mitchell, AGAINST THE TIDE is a masterly profile of four New England fishermen in which every page opens onto something more profound: maritime history, maritime ecology, and the poetic celebration of a special American place.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Carey adeptly weaves many strands into a compelling, lucid story line, which should be required reading for the policymaker and concerned citizen." Sea History

"A compassionate chronicle of a threatened way of life." The New York Times

"This book should be read for its balanced portrayal of a New England fishery, but more than that it exemplifies the classic conflict between natural and human resources. Yes, it is true that certain kinds of fishing are very destructive. But Carey is also a humanist and a journalist of considerable depth, who weaves the fate of men and fish together into a whole story." The Washington Post

Washington Post Book World
This book should be read for its balanced portrayal of a New England fishery, but more than that it exemplifies the classic conflict between natural and human resources. Yes, it is true that certain kinds of fishing are very destructive. But Carey is also a humanist and a journalist of considerable depth, who weaves the fate of men and fish together into a whole story.
Sea History
...a compelling, lucid story line, which should be required reading for the policymaker and concerned citizen.
Robert Finch
...[D]eep ecological journalism at its best, an effective and compassionate chronicle of a threatened way of life...
New York Times Book Review
Business Week
Against the Tide is worth reading for his depiction of [fishermen] and their threatened communities. The portraits remind us that, in resource management at least, the best solution, as well as evidence of the gravest damage, may be found in the small picture.
Robert Finch
...[D]eep ecological journalism at its best, an effective and compassionate chronicle of a threatened way of life...
The New York Times Book Review
Kirkus Reviews
Slice it this way, slice it that, there's no escaping the drastic changes in store for the New England fishermen, reports Carey (Raven's Children: An Alaskan Culture at Twilight, 1992) in this nonetheless undespairing book. It's just that the village may have to be burned in order to save it. For Carey, the foreclosure of yet another small fishing boat meant not just the crumbling of an ancient way of life. It was the loss of yet more carriers of fundamental knowledge, like small farmers, people deeply engaged in their place of work and understanding of the notion of limits. To get a better grasp of the situation, he went on an endangered-species watch with a lobsterman, a dragger, a quahog dredger, and a long-liner, all out of Cape Cod, all owner-operators who worked inshore waters. This was during 1995–96, when an amendment to stop all groundfishing was soon to be voted upon, and a sense of doom filled the cape air. Carey is a good storyteller, braiding the tales of the fishermen's days, calling up nuggets of local history to give a sense of timelessness to their activity, introducing and making intelligible the byzantine world of fishery politics. The men portrayed here are crafty professionals and worthy souls, though Carey appreciates the fact that there is a reason why fishermen, even small-scale ones, are suspects in their own demise. He details how many of these herdsmen, big and small, trampled the commons. Arching over it all is the imperative of profits, which works against stewardship and foresight; "entry into the fishery has become a commodity, available only to those who can meet its price," outsiders and fat cats who frequently have no stake in the long-term healthof the fishery. Carey conveys "a Puritan's prickle of outraged righteousness" at the treatment of the humble New England fisherman. Yet one of them recently caught a golden haddock, a sign of good times to come. Hope springs eternal.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780618056989
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 6/15/2000
  • Pages: 394
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.88 (d)

Meet the Author

Richard Adams Carey was born in Connecticut and educated at Harvard College. After his graduation, in 1973, he went to work in a northwestern sawmill, and he has since divided his time between Alaska and New England.

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Read an Excerpt




Chapter One


Siegfried's Fabulous Horde


Brian Gibbons likes jazz. He likes Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders, Thelonious Monk. He likes music that's tough and sinewy and inventive, that sings against the mortal tenor of its own heartbeat, that blue, throbbing pulse of fatal and proximate sadness. He doesn't care so much for Bob Dylan, the troubadour of his generation, but he knows Dylan well enough to parody him: "We're artists and we don't look back."

    He stands on Snow Shore, gazing across Nauset Inlet and out to sea. At his back is history: a historical marker saying that the French explorer Samuel de Champlain anchored near this spot in 1605 and that Champlain's ship's carpenter, an unfortunate named Malouin, from St. Malo in Brittany, was killed on this beach by Nauset Indians in a dispute over an iron kettle. It also notes that this was the landing for the undersea telegraphic cable that from 1898 to 1959 stretched three thousand miles between Brest, France, and Orleans, Massachusetts, and carried the first word to America of the success of Lindbergh's solo flight. It notes as well that this was the home port of the early Nauset fishing fleet on Cape Cod.

    At his back is history: the site of the little two-room camp that Dr. Ralph Wiggin, a Boston urologist and surgeon — Brian's grandfather on his mother's side — bought in rural Orleans in 1910 for his hunting and fishing pleasure, his family's rest and solace; the spot on a curving stretch of the Southeast Expressway near Braintree where Brian's friend Eddie's MG sports carwent out of control in 1968 as it was carrying Brian to his induction into the army and from there possibly to Vietnam; the cove in Pleasant Bay where Brian, by then a husband and breadwinner, was pleased to catch his three-bushel limit on his first day of bullraking littleneck clams in 1972; all the newspaper racks and magazine stands, the television sets and radios, that in 1976 trumpeted the news on the Cape and along the Gulf of Maine that President Gerald Ford had signed into law the Magnuson Fishery Conservation and Management Act, which promised a prosperous new era for hard-pressed New England fishermen; the dock at Wychmere Harbor in Harwichport, where the famous Harry Hunt, who taught Brian how to catch lobsters, was wont to pull his lips tight against his teeth and remind his young sternman, "The wind, the tide, the weather, and every man is against ya."

    At his back is a rampart of glacial till cocked like John L. Sullivan's left fist and thrust thirty miles out into the Atlantic; at his feet is one of the Atlantic's most notorious graveyards. Since the English ship Sparrowhawk grounded against a sandbar off Nauset Beach in 1627, more than three thousand ships have met a proximate sadness off Cape Cod, and uncounted sailors have laid their bones near the carpenter Malouin's.

    But that sort of catastrophe seems impossible now. The terns — common, roseate, and least — have returned to Nauset like the swallows to Capistrano and are gathering into colonies to mate and nest. The striped bass are back too, swimming north from their spawning grounds in Chesapeake Bay and ravenously following the herring into the bays and inlets. Whales — finback, humpback, the nearly extinct right whale — are feeding off the beach on krill or bait fish schooled near sandbars such as the one that doomed the Sparrowhawk. The migrating whales occasionally break water like sandbars themselves, then settle, submerge, dissipate into spring's seething broth of blossoming diatoms and dinoflagellates, opalescent moon jellies and scarflike nudibranchs, a profligate and proliferous brew comprehending a million animals in a single quart, as many as three thousand different species among them, each tiny creature as distinct an organism as a sixty-foot finback, each as eloquent as that whale of creation's wealth and invention.

    The rim of the harbor is layered with pollen from Cape Cod's ubiquitous pitch pines, as were the hood and bed of Brian's Ford pickup as it sat in his driveway twenty minutes ago. Broad magenta splashes of salt-spray rose fleck the gritty scrub behind the beach. The scent of honeysuckle seeps down from the heights behind us, where great and fine houses of glass and cedar shingle keep watch.

    But Brian Gibbons does not look back. He holds to the harbor, where a small fleet of lobster boats, including his own, the Cap'n Toby, rests placidly at anchor. Waves roll under the yellow pollen like wrinkles being smoothed from a carpet. The horizon has a telescopic clarity, the boats a cardboard-cutout inertness. Offshore, unseen, scattered pods of Homarus americanus, the American lobster, are moving into shoal waters to their summer feeding grounds.

    Brian lingers at the door of the pickup, drinking the morning in, joyful just to be here, content in this truce he has struck, at least for the moment, with the wind and the tide and the weather, if not necessarily with other men or the history that in recent years has cast such a shadow across his and others' lives.

    "Once a week, for thirty seconds or so," he says, "you get to just love it."


At thirty seconds or so past seven, on this morning of May 20, 1995, Brian lifts the engine cover, amidships on the Cap'n Toby, and opens up the lobster boat's seacocks. The raised cover reveals a 135-horsepower, 4-cylinder, turbocharged Volvo marine diesel. The seacocks allow water from the harbor to be pumped into the engine's cooling jackets. Brian kneels at the engine hatch and checks his other fluids: coolant, crankcase and transmission oil. He switches on the battery, jabs an extra shot of fuel into the cylinders, and turns the engine over.

    Brian doesn't love the cut-down plastic milk jug that hangs jury-rigged on a breather line from his crankcase, which shivers like a nest of angry wasps as the motor kicks into life and sucks seawater into its cooling jackets. He says that Volvos are notoriously hard on their o-rings and seals, and that each day now his own Volvo is leaving a quart of engine oil in the bilge. The milk jug on the breather line slows that loss, collecting oil vented out of the crankcase and allowing it to drain back into the engine. "Where it can then be leaked into the bilge," Brian adds, smiling.

    The only thing he can do with his bilge water is pump it into the sea. If a quart of oil is mixed into that water, then Brian, according to the federal Water Pollution Control Act, the terms of which are tacked beneath his cabin's port window, is subject to as much as a $5000 fine from the Coast Guard. This happens to equal the amount of money he spent in March at Nauset Marine in an unsuccessful attempt to stop the oil loss. Those two amounts combined equal the price of a new engine for the Cap'n Toby.

    Brian stays on the right side of the feds, and keeps the inlet clean for lobsters and striped bass and littlenecks with an oil-absorbent cloth inside the milk jug and absorbent pads packed into a fine-mesh bait bag in the bilge. Every week or so he fishes this bag out with a gaff and changes it. He actually enjoys the jiggling milk jug's combination of grade-school science project tackiness and genuine efficiency, but he doesn't like the fact that it's necessary, nor the extra housekeeping it requires. He is also increasingly fearful that the money he has poured into this engine so far might as well have been leaked into the bilge or pissed over the side — especially in light of what has been so far an inexplicably poor lobster season on Cape Cod.

    The Cap'n Toby is moored several hundred yards off Snow Shore. The beach gives way to a level mud plain only one to three feet under water at low tide, which requires boat captains in Nauset Inlet to reach their vessels on the other side of the plain through a three-stage shuttle system. Moments ago Brian rowed a dinghy just bigger than a bathtub out to a sixteen-foot wooden skiff moored halfway between the beach and the Cap'n Toby. This was slightly comic, with Brian's big arms and jackknifed legs squeezed into that dinghy, his baseball cap askew. He looked like a grown Huck Finn, only now getting around to lighting out for the territories, putting on the lineaments of boyhood again as he did so.

    He tied the dinghy to the skiff's mooring and then motored the skiff into shore, beaching it behind the Ford pickup, which he had parked at the water's edge. Then we loaded the skiff with items from the pickup's bed: twelve wooden lobster traps to be added to the gear already offshore, an equal number of buoys and lengths of creosote-dipped rope (what Brian calls warp; that is, rope for hauling), two coffee-table-sized plastic totes of mackerel and squid for bait, two six-gallon diesel fuel canisters, a cooler containing peanut butter sandwiches and Diet Pepsi, and a bucket of such odds and ends as fresh rubber gloves and a handheld VHF radio. "In case of in case of," Brian said, nodding at the radio, repeating the cautionary words of Olay Tveit, the captain of a ninety-four-foot scalloper out of New Bedford on which Brian once served. When the skiff was loaded, we pushed it off the beach and pointed for the Toby.

    Now Brian arranges gear in the cabin of the twenty-five-foot boat while the engine idles. The wooden traps are piled in stacks of three in the stern, and the spindly black-pennanted buoys, constructed so their flags will bob several feet above the waves, are jammed upright through their slats. The totes of bait are stacked amidships behind the engine cover, which has been put back in place. The cooler and the plastic bucket are stowed in the wheelhouse. The fuel canisters are for topping the boat up at the end of the day, and they remain in the skiff, which has been tied to the Toby's mooring. When the engine's temperature gauge moves off dead cold and there is that first blush of heat to absorb as the seawater swirls through the housings encasing the coolant lines, Brian scrambles over the starboard gunwale to the foredeck, unties the mooring, and swings back behind the wheel.

    Spitting oil and breathing water, flying as many flags as a unit of hussar cavalry, the Cap'n Toby slips into gear and points east to the Atlantic.


Brian remembers reading somewhere in the knotty science fiction of Philip K. Dick a passage to the effect that paranoia is a fine thing, actually, a disorder that earns its keep as a sort of preemptive survival mechanism. Just being paranoid, this thinking goes, doesn't necessarily mean that everybody's not out to get you.

    But Brian doesn't like paranoia. He described it to me once as "the most self-serving of mental disorders, and beyond a certain point its value in survival is lost as it starts to erode the mind and health of its host." He also warned me that I would see a lot of beyond-a-certain-point paranoia in the New England fishing industry, that it didn't necessarily take hard times for its discordant song to be heard, that its thematic variations are as subtle and far-ranging as any Coltrane riff. "It runs the gamut from the madman who accuses everybody on the ocean of hauling his traps to the quiet fellow who always knows damned well that if you said this, then you must be thinking that."

    These thoughts were part of a letter Brian wrote me in which he sought to explain how a man born to a pair of journalists in Delaware in 1950 came to be chasing lobsters, owning a boat and a house, raising a family, and taking the measure of his occupation's psychological rip tides in Orleans, Massachusetts, in 1995. To all this Brian attaches a certain onus of fate. "Shortly after Hagen tricked Kriemhilde into relinquishing Siegfried's fabulous horde of gold," he began, "my great-great-great-great ... Perhaps I shouldn't begin so far back."

    He didn't. He began with his grandfather, Dr. Ralph Wiggin, who bought a small camp in Orleans. "This camp eventually served as a retreat and center for low-cost existence for his children (and grandchildren}. As an example, while he was stationed in Fort Dix during World War I and then a field hospital in France following the Armistice, my grandmother closed their Cambridge home and set up house with their two young children at the Orleans camp. A kerosene heater, a hand pump, and an outhouse were the amenities provided at the two-room camp. We still used the outhouse until I was four or five."

    Brian's grandmother died when his mother, Marian, was approaching adolescence, and his grandfather remarried two or three years later. "Within a few years his health began to fail to arteriosclerosis, and his fortunes declined from sundry reasons spawned by the Depression and poor health. Hence, for my mom, the Cape became a place of physical retreat and also spiritual serenity."

    Marian graduated from Colby Junior College in New Hampshire and returned to Orleans, getting by, or nearly so, on the three or four dollars a week she earned writing book reviews for the Boston Evening Transcript. Eventually she moved to Boston to work full-time at the newspaper. There she met young John Gibbons, who worked at the paper with his father and commuted with him to Boston from their native New Jersey every week. "They met; they courted; their first date was the night of the 1938 hurricane; the rest is history. (Historians have overlooked the fact that my parents were climbing Mount Monadnock the day Hitler invaded Poland.)"

    John Gibbons never went to war, and Brian isn't sure whether it was his age, his occupation, or his children that kept him ahead of the draft. During the war he left the Transcript and landed at a small paper in Wilmington, Delaware, where Brian and his two brothers and sister were raised. Marian Gibbons, however, still relished the solace of the Orleans camp, and she adjourned there each summer with the children.

    It was a life of many pleasures and few embellishments. "Believe me, it was the budget plan all the way. The summers on the Cape were a nearly cashless enterprise, the main activities being baseball, swimming, picking berries, endless combat in the beach plum entanglements while garbed in German World War I gear gathered in France by my grandfather, and a vigilant monitoring of the comings and goings of the boats in nearby Rock Harbor. Thus, the brood became Cape Codders of a sort."

    Dr. Wiggin, the first Cape Codder of a sort, lived in an age when medicine was not so remunerative as it is now. Neither did John Gibbons ever make a lot of money in journalism. In the early 1960s he lost his job at that Wilmington newspaper, but he was able to parlay his knowledge of the ins and outs of the Delaware statehouse into some catch-as-catch-can political public relations work. Brian described his grandparents' hold on middle-class status as "tenuous." He concedes that the slipperiness of that hold has shadowed his family for as long as he has lived.


For the moment the Cap'n Toby lies at rest outside the harbor, and the twelve-inch mackerels that Brian and I are cutting up for lobster bait are ripe, their bellies gravid with either blood-red roe or milt the color of sailors' bones. Brian slices them behind the gills; I put the heads and tails into nylon bait bags the size of a small purse. The bags' quarter-inch mesh openings are convenient for a lobster's claws, but not for most larger scavengers. The mackerels' flesh is dark and firm and scentless, their skin a steel blue along the spine and cut with jagged zebra stripes of indigo. These in turn are limned in iridescent tones of silver and brass and copper.

    The squid in the tote next to the mackerels have neither color nor form. They lie like gobs of phlegm in the May light, their collapsed tentacles defined only by the purple pinpricks of their suckers, their glabrous heads by the wet inkdrops of their eyes. Usually Brian sticks to mackerel and herring for bait at this time of year; these squid are here on a trial basis. Brian told me yesterday that sometimes "oddball bait" works well with lobsters, something different from their customary fare, a little more piquant, perhaps. He recalled a brief infatuation among Orleans lobstermen with squirrel and rabbit after an immigrant from Provincetown said that road kill worked pretty well up there. But when a rumor circulated that some Provincetown lobstermen were going so far as to kill dogs for bait, this practice was abandoned. Brian isn't sure about these squid, but it's been, after all, the sort of spring to drive a man to opossum.

    His main VHF hangs from a mount in the pilothouse above his Si-Tex electronic fish-finder. The radio crackles with the chatter of long-liners — fishermen pursuing cod and haddock with lines of baited hooks anchored to the bottom of the sea — who complain that as many as three fourths of their hooks today are being taken by dogs, that is, spiny dogfish. The dogfish are small but voracious sharks, two to three feet long, whose numbers have ballooned on Georges Bank and the waters immediately off the Cape as populations of cod and other groundfish, or bottomfeeders, have precipitously declined. "I love hearing that," Brian says, noting this first untoward report in his truce with the elements. "Dogs just love mackerel. They'll bite holes in these traps to get at them, and then the traps won't hold lobsters."

    The traps that Brian means to haul from the bottom today were baited with mackerel and herring three clays ago. The two hundred or so traps that he has gotten into the water so far this spring are arranged in north-south lines of ten to twelve, called strings, at points two to three miles off the beach. The precise locations of the first and last trap in each string are entered into a logbook kept next to the wheel, and the direction in which Brian hauls — whether he works from north to south or vice versa — depends on the direction of the tide. Today he'll start at the south end of each string, steaming against the tide to create slack in the ropes as he picks up his buoys and runs the lines through his hauling equipment. We head up the beach toward Wellfleet, cruising at ten knots and navigating between corridors marked by the flags of other lobstermen's buoys. "By June it's going to look like a goddamned miniature golf course out here," Brian says. "From Truro to Chatham, you'll be able to walk on the buoys."

    The narrow northern finger of Nauset Beach, alternately split open and stitched together again by nor'easters, yields within two miles to Eastham and the neat red-and-white buildings of the Nauset Coast Guard station and lighthouse. Above the lighthouse a line of gritty cliffs rears up behind the beach, running north to Truro and climbing as it goes. Within five miles the beach shrinks to a thin blank strip footing the cliffs. The sand becomes a specimen of moat, the cliffs military ramparts raised against a besieging sea that, at its current rate of increase, will entirely engulf Cape Cod within six thousand years, drowning municipal miniature golf courses and lending an element of prophecy to the Puritan cleric Cotton Mather's observation that this land would be known as Cape Cod until "shoales of coddefishe bee seene swimming on its highest hills."

    Opposite the cliffs of Wellfleet, with the tide running south down the beach, the Cap'n Toby slows and tiptoes up to the southern end of Brian's first string. This stretch of bottom is known to lobstermen as the Can, because of a large buoy that once floated here. Brian throws the motor out of gear, leans over the starboard gunwale, nabs the bobbing lobster buoy with a boathook, and then runs its rope, its warp, through a block suspended from a four-by-four oak beam bolted across the wheelhouse roof. He drops the buoy to the cabin floor and turns a handle that activates a hydraulic winch, the trap hauler, which is bolted into the cabin rail at his feet. Finally he lassos the warp around the turning wheel of the Hydro-Slave hauler. This takes but a few seconds and is accomplished with an athlete's economy of motion. The quarter-inch warp shivers and throws off water as it runs into the sheave of the hauler, then frees itself into black loops on the cabin floor. The hauler sings with a frog's mad chortle.

    The first trap is coming 120 feet up from level, sandy bottom. I peer over the gunwale into green water of deceptive clarity, which seems wholly without secrets but which frays and dissolves the straining warp into milky nothingness within a fathom of the surface. The trap is just a mote in an emerald void, then a gradually spreading cloud. In an eyeblink the cloud crimps and hardens into a geometry of wire and twine barreling toward the surface like an oncoming truck. The trap foams from the water and for an instant swings lengthwise, green and dripping beneath the block, its cargo scuttling within, the whole apparatus like a core sample torn from the bowels of a wreck, now glinting like a trophy in the sun.

    Brian throws the hauler into neutral with one hand and with the other pulls the trap over the gunwale, where a touch of the Hydro-Slave's reverse gear allows him to lay it gently upright with its gate on top. Brian makes most of his traps himself out of oak lathing, but the ones in this string are factory-made, welded together out of a square-mesh vinyl-coated wire that lasts longer under water than the oak. There are three lobsters in this trap, their claws jabbed forward in rage, their tails snapping backward in panic. Brian keeps clear of the claws as he works them out of the trap.

    One lobster is plainly a short — undersized — and Brian sends it pinwheeling back into the water. The others he puts on the pegging board, a chessboard-sized piece of plywood laid on top of the engine cover and partitioned into compartments for such items as a handful of thumbnail-length wooden pegs, dozens of yellow rubber bands as small as wedding rings but as thick as bracelets, a scissorslike banding tool for stretching the heavy bands over the lobsters' claws, a gauge for measuring the length of a lobster's carapace from the thorax to the eye socket to determine the legal minimum of three and a quarter inches, and corral space for one or two free-ranging lobsters. The pegging board's name comes from lobstermen's former practice of pushing the small wooden pegs into the lower hinges of a lobster's claws to keep them from opening. Nowadays this is more easily done with rubber bands, but Brian always keeps some pegs on hand for that rare lobster whose claws are too big for his bands.

    These two lobsters, both in the neighborhood of minimum size, are something different from the mackerels and squid, another sort of invention entirely. They claim in their coloring, perhaps, some degree of the mackerels' designer beauty. Their shells are green and black and olive, prettily mottled in aquamarine and dusky orange, spiked and tuberculated in red. Otherwise they occupy a point not even on the scale between the mackerels' wind-tunnel symmetry and the squid's broken-egg shapelessness. Our familiarity with the lobsters on our dinner plates, motionless and with all their pigments boiled away except that well-known mineral red, robs them of their real strangeness. To observe their chitinous, appendage-laden skittering on Brian's pegging board is to go far toward restoring it.

    They look like nothing so much as Swiss Army knives brought to life, given limbs and difficult personalities on the day Hieronymus Bosch was hired as a Disney animator. The eight broomstraw legs, tipped with pincers, are all out of proportion to the armored plugs that are their bodies. So too, in an opposite sense, are the claws, which even on these small specimens, one or two pounds, look so great and weighty as to be pushed like millstones ahead of them. But somehow the lobsters dance about the pegging board with disturbing agility. Somehow they hold their big claws aloft and wide apart. The claws' snaggled forceps gape. Deftly and with a sneaky quickness, the lobsters parry the threatening movements of my hands. They rotate like monstrous mantises, their stalked eyes and pronged snouts kept square to me, their claws hair-triggered like leg-hold traps. These are good special effects, I think to myself.

    Eventually I find ways for my hands to move over and behind the lobsters' air defenses. Their eyes drop like periscopes into their sockets at the approach of the carapace gauge. One of the lobsters is just barely a short, and I pitch it back in over the port rail. The other is a keeper, a chick, and with the banding tool I slip a rubber band over the smaller cutting claw, the quicker of the two, and then another over the more powerful crusher claw. Meanwhile Brian removes from the trap the old bait bag, containing now only an assortment of clean bones, and replaces it with a fresh bag of mackerel. He drops the old bag onto the pegging board for me to clean after I place the banded lobster into an empty tote at my feet.

    Brian shuts the gate on the trap. He works the last of the warp free of the hauler's sheave, puts the Cap'n Toby in gear, and lets the trap slip clear of the rail as the boat starts to move again. The trap settles comfortably into the water, like a cat into a pillow, and slips wholly under the surface as Brian looks to be sure that its warp pays out tangle-free over the boat's transom. At last he throws the buoy back overboard and throttles north to the second trap in the string.


Brian has begun at the northernmost of the strings he is hauling today, and slowly works toward home as the day wears on. There is talk. He apologizes for the occasional saltiness of his language, and the saltiness of fishermen's talk in general, with a story of that talk's sense of borders: "I was fishing on the Bell, that big scalloper that Olav Tveit ran, and Olav was bringing his sixteen-year-old son out with him for the first time. It was the old cook — cooks frequently being the mentoring types — who took the kid aside and told him that he was going to hear a lot of hard language out there, language that he wouldn't necessarily use in front of his mother, and that he should be damned well sure that he didn't. I thought that was nice. It was something that Olav couldn't say to him. Olav was a Lutheran, but he could turn the air blue with the best of them. He claimed fuck and shit pile had no equivalent in Norwegian or any other language."

    Concern for his own children was one of the factors that compelled Brian finally to abandon the Bell and other big New Bedford boats, with their ten-day voyages out to the rim of the continental shelf, out to Georges Bank and the Cultivator Shoals, in favor of lobstering. The wisdom of hindsight might call that an economically savvy move as well, now that New England groundfish stocks on Georges Bank have collapsed, now that the scallop harvest is in a tailspin, now that the docks of New Bedford and Gloucester have gone idle and their slips are full of ships for sale or in receivership. New England lobster harvests, meanwhile, have climbed steadily throughout the 1990s, so much so that this little spot off Wellfleet — which once very few people fished, coming here under cover of fog lest other lobstermen start working this rich bottom — now has that proto miniature-golf-course look.

    Brian himself isn't so sure. Again, he likes to take the long view, suggesting that the fate that made him a lobsterman has more to do with history and circumstance than market forecasts or biomass analysis, albeit he — like many others, both fishermen and scientists — saw the industry's current crisis coming a long way off. But not so far back as the early 1960s, when Brian was still summering on the Cape with his mother and siblings and when the vigilantly monitored boats sailing out of Orleans's Rock Harbor, a nick on the western or bay side of the Cape, were transforming themselves from a fleet of small commercial quahog draggers to charter boats catering to tourists and sport fishermen out for striped bass. Meanwhile, out on Georges Bank, 150 miles east of Cape Cod, the first great ships of the international distant-water fleet were making their appearance.

    "In my early teen years, the occasional odd job of helping to scrape and paint the bottom of one of the old draggers was sometimes available to otherwise listless wharf rats," Brian wrote. "Sometimes the wharf rat might even be pressed into service out on Cape Cod Bay, picking piles and bagging up quahogs." During his later teenage years, he worked — "slaved," Brian corrected me — on one of the Rock Harbor charter boats, the Empress, under a skipper known as one of the harshest taskmasters in the fleet. The not-so-patient Stu Finlay, Brian told me, "would be driven into apoplexy by my wooden-headed adolescent stupidity."

    In 1969, however, Brian was drafted into the army. He hadn't gone to college after graduating from high school in Delaware, though at that time college would have provided him with a deferment. He says he was only an indifferent student, and he was put off by the campus upheavals of the late 1960s. "I was, shall we say, ambivalent about the politics of the day," he says, "and it seemed to me that you could party and carouse just as well without the formality of attending a university." After receiving his greetings from Uncle Sam, he bought a ticket for a 6:30 A.M. bus from Hyannis to Boston and prepared for his induction the next day with what he describes as "classic debauchery." But he overslept that morning, missed the bus, and so made a desperate call to a friend who had just gotten back from Vietnam and invested his discharge money in an MG. Eddie took him racing up Route 6 and the Southeast Expressway, averaging eighty to ninety miles per hour and weaving through weekday morning traffic.

    Near Braintree, around a curve and on the back side of a rise, lay a steel I-beam that had just fallen off a truck and come to rest across the middle lane. Eddie swerved and sent the car skidding into the guardrail, where the impact shot both passengers through the MG's convertible canvas roof. Eddie hit the grassy slope on the other side of the rail and came away unhurt. Brian hit the highway and skidded on his shoulder into one of the driving lanes. There another careening car ran over his left leg.

    The accident left Brian with a steel plate in his leg and a permanent limp; also with a 4F deferment from the draft, the impossibility of GI funding for college, and $5000 in medical bills. In a roundabout way, the accident also brought him a wife and child. He became friendly with a nurse at Cape Cod Hospital during his six-week stay there. Later that nurse's sister, Suzanne St. Amand, visited from San Francisco with her infant daughter. Brian and Suzanne met; they courted; they lived together off and on for several years. Six months after Brian and Suzanne were married, in 1973, adoption proceedings made Brian the child's father.

    "By 1971 I was getting pretty serious about making money," he wrote. "I worked forty hours a week as a carpenter, two to three nights a week as a bartender, and tried to do odd jobs (painting, firewood, shingling) on weekends. This was, in part, prompted by what I thought to be enormous hospital bills, which I paid off with a few dollars here and a few dollars there every week. But the slow increments of financial gain I was realizing as a carpenter paled by comparison to the money fishermen could make shellfishing in the local estuaries.

    "Though I had gotten somewhat burnt out by my summer indentures in the charter fleet, I always pursued the bass, the flounder, and the steamer clam whenever the time and opportunity allowed. In 1972 I quit my standard construction job and went to work building a charter boat with a Rock Harbor skipper. You can imagine that through all these years, and especially when boat building, every coffee break, every lunch, every beer, was steeped in conversations about fish, technique, and money. At that time I was strong, quick on the uptake, could drink prodigious quantities of beer or liquor without staggering, and had been brought up — while friends were waxing surfboards — to work twelve- to twenty-hour shifts, often under adverse conditions, frequently with a maniac screaming at me, and with rarely a day off. I felt that I could do anything."

    Brian meant to go back to his carpentry work when the boat was launched in June that year. Instead he bought a small skiff and an outboard and went bullraking for littleneck clams, a.k.a. quahogs, in Pleasant Bay. He caught the three-bushel limit on his first day, made $40 or $50, and decided right there that he'd just made a career change — a fateful change, as he looks back at it now: "I've often thought about this early success from the perspective of a life spent luring a fish to a hook or a lobster into a trap."

    Later that summer, while Brian was in the office of the Saquatucket harbormaster, who told him that good money was being made by the offshore lobster boats moored there, Harry Hunt came in. The old lobsterman groused about an engine problem, swore at the Russian factory trawlers circling the deep-water canyons he liked to fish off Georges Bank, and lamented his lack of a third hand to go out with him that afternoon. "Four hours later I was on the Gertrude H with Harry, Harry Jr. (still a high school lad), and an old drunk who had last shipped with Harry when Harry tried to bring a small quahog dragger around from Nauset to Cape Cod Bay by way of Race Point during the 1938 hurricane. For my services as an inexperienced lobster `bull,' Harry promised me $200 per two-and-a-half-day trip. I was hooked," Brian explained.

    I never met Harry Hunt, who died a couple of years ago, but I see him in Brian's talk, the stories of other Orleans fishermen, and their gleeful imitations of his manner and speech. Brian is of medium height and build, though if you look at his forearms, at their breadth and ropy sinew, you see the same sort of musculature caricatured in Popeye. Harry Hunt was no taller than Brian but thirty or forty pounds heavier, with much of that extra beef slabbed into his shoulders, the rest into his enormous hands, which he carried in front of him like the claws of the eighteen-pounders he hauled from the deep-water canyons a hundred miles offshore. Physically he suggested a troll out of the Brothers Grimm, Brian says, but his features were American Hero out of the Hollywood mold, so much so that his wife, Gertie, called him Duke: his jaw square and rocky, his eyes narrow and hooded and penetrating.

    Hunt could be tough on his crew and tough on his family. Being a member of both qualified as double jeopardy. Carl Johnston, a friend and neighbor of Brian's, works on a dragger harvesting groundfish out of Chatham. Carl remembers once seeing Harry Jr., a grown man then, come sprinting up to his pickup truck in the parking lot at Wychmere Harbor, dive to the pavement, and wiggle underneath it like a spooked dog. Harry Jr. whispered to the amazed Carl that his old man was after him and please not to say anything about where he was. Down in the harbor, meanwhile, the elder Hunt raved from the foredeck of the Gertrude H.

    As long as Brian knew father and son, the only words of affection he heard pass between them began with Harry's promise that if his son were ever in the hospital on a life-support system, he'd pull the plug. No doubt misty-eyed, Harry Jr. would vow that he'd do as much for his old man. But Harry suffered a stroke and passed his last years in a nursing home, living in a slack tide between life and life support, his famous misanthropy flat-lined into a blurred, drug-hazed cussedness.

    Harry Hunt taught Brian how to make money at catching lobsters. As tough a master as Stu Finlay of the Empress, Hunt worked Brian to the last ounce of his wooden-headed zeal. When Brian finally quit, however, it wasn't the work that had gotten to him but the misanthropy. Yet he didn't blame Hunt entirely for the anger that always seemed to be going at a rolling boil inside him. "Hunter-gathering depends on continuous conceptualization, thousands of microanalyses going on in your head all day every day," Brian told me. "Fatigue, burnout, and the everpresent possibility that your analysis of something you can't see -- lobsters on the bottom — can be thrown off by someone hauling your pot is the combination with which paranoia opens your door. When Harry fished inshore, where we fish, he would many summers haul pots a hundred days in a row without a break, without more than four to six hours of sleep per night. Getting bait, repairing engines, fixing stuff, were all done before or after the day's haul. When I first started fishing with Harry, he was sixty-two years old. At an age when many men are thinking of retirement, he was starting to run boatloads of pots a hundred miles offshore in a forty-three-foot boat. There are reasons why he became pretty crazed."

    Brian himself, however, remains spooked by that craziness, and still feels pain over Hunt's turning on him when he finally quit. "By the time I came to know him, the great Harry Hunt had carefully ordered his universe into two vast realms: one, Harry Hunt, and two, everybody who was trying to fuck over Harry Hunt." Brian didn't quite know what to make of a man who was convinced that one empty pot in the middle of a fifteen-pot trawl being hauled from 120 fathoms had been pilfered by some cockeatin' Portagee sons of bitches of bastards. "At first, being new to lobstering, and one hundred miles from land, I didn't care. I felt like I was muscle and barbed wire, I was making money, and I was learning new skills. It's tough to be near such a black hole. After a couple years of Harry's megalomaniacal, solipsistic, paranoid bullshit, I moved on, joining the legions of bastards who were and had always been marching against Harry. As he would say with lips drawn tightly against clenched teeth, `The wind, the tide, the weather, and every man is against ya.'"


Part of the interest in hauling lobster traps lies in what else you might find in them. A common skate comes twisting out of a trap on Brian's second string. Known otherwise and variously as a little skate, bonnet skate, summer skate, hedgehog skate, old maid, and tobacco box, the raylike fish looks like home plate at Fenway but gritted over, grown eyes and a tail, possessed by a devil. Skates are on the move now, like the lobsters, swimming into shoal waters for spawning and summer feeding before retreating to deeper waters, thirty to fifty fathoms, in December.

    This skate came for Brian's herring, part of a varied diet that includes crab, shrimp, worms, amphipods, mollusks, squid, and other small fish. Brian drops it on the pegging board while he duels with a lobster that has grabbed hold of one of the trap's parlor heads, the twine funnel inside the trap that keeps the lobster from getting out. The skate's left pectoral fin — more properly a wing — catches on a partition and the fish writhes onto its back. Its underside is albino white; its sole features, a grinning mouth and two eyelike ears, are impish and eerily human. Skates are predators of juvenile cod and competitors with mature cod. Like dogfish, the numbers of skates off the Cape have vastly increased this decade as the cod have declined. The fish have some slight commercial value, around sixty cents per pound right now (versus the five dollars that Brian might get per pound for a select lobster), and Brian sometimes uses skates for bait. But he doesn't want any now; I catch the fish at the joint of its fleshy tail and pitch it back into the water.

    During that same string Brian pauses to admire a captive he pulls out of another trap. "That's a beautiful fish, isn't it?"

    The black sea bass is the transvestite fan dancer of the bass family. Its kitelike dorsal fin runs the whole length of its spine, and its pectoral fins, broad and softly rounded, sweep all the way back to its anal fin. Its scales are limned in inky blue-black, the interior of each much lighter, closer to a milky gray. These line up like strings of dusky pearls stretched along the flanks of the two-pound fish. Hermaphroditic, the fish usually produces eggs at sexual maturity, but later its ovaries dry up and its testes begin to produce sperm.

    The black sea bass may be found as far south as Florida and is one of many fish living at the northern limit of their range here near Cape Cod. This is the result of the Cape's position at the clashing juncture of those two flywheels of the west Atlantic, the Gulf Stream and the Labrador Current. Forty thousand years ago, when the Laurentian glacier was a mile thick and covered most of New England, this was precisely where the warm waters of the Gulf Stream halted the glacier's advance and eventually beat it back. One lobe of the retreating ice sheet left behind the morainal till — the boulders, rocks, and gravel — that became Cape Cod once the ocean level had risen again. But the till trails like a heap of tailings into the misaligned teeth of the Gulf and Labrador currents, which move in opposite directions, the Gulf Stream flowing clockwise up the East Coast and then out into the central Atlantic, the Labrador Current pouring counterclockwise down from the Canadian Maritimes. The meteorological sparks thrown off by the colliding currents confer upon Cape waters the fogs and gales that doomed the Sparrowhawk and too often thwarted Harry Hunt. They also make these waters unusually cosmopolitan, a place where the prettiness and the extravagance of the tropics swim side by side with the puritanism of the North Atlantic.

(Continues...)

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Table of Contents

Prologue 1 Siegfried's Fabulous Horde 12 Ivy Day in the Committee Room 46 Not as Bad as They're Crying It to Be 75 The Ghost of Harry Hunt 99 Wampum 123 Piss and Vinegar 140 The Solace of Outward Objects 146 Terminator Run 155 Always Hopefully 178 A Sea of Troubles 201 Another Fire Drill 218 The True Atlantic House 244 In Cod We Trust 284 Men's Lives 320 Epilogue 356 Glossary 367 Notes 369 Bibliography 376 Acknowledgments 380

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