In the 1960s, when I started hanging around Perkins Cove, everybody had a compass, but not everybody used one.
Raymond Hayes kept his box compass under a pile of pot warp in the forepeak, so it wouldn't fall to the floor when it was rough. He was untroubled that the warp also served as a nest for the anchor.
One foggy day when we finished hauling lobster traps he asked me if I knew which way home was. I was 12 or 13. Based on the groundswell I pointed into the gray. "Take her there," he said.
Every now and then he'd pull his pipe out of his mouth and say, "Hold 'er off," and I'd turn the wheel a spoke or two to the left, a little more southerly than westerly, and eventually we steamed out of the fog, right on course a half mile or so from the cove.
I thought I was in the presence of a mystic. Raymond chuckled and told me he'd been watching the depth on the flasher.
There are a million stories like that, of kids at sea filled with wonder at the world awaiting them. In the days before Maine lobstermen had loran or radar, Sonny McIntire was renowned for his ability to steam for hours in the fog, only to slow down, kick her out of gear, and have the bell buoy in front of the cove looming just ahead.
His knowledge of the bottom is also legendary. One time he found a string of gillnets we'd lost, even though he hadn't been with us when we set them.
It was the winter of 1972, and both high-fliers had parted off in a storm. We spent an entire day looking for them, with no luck. Sonny offered to come out with us the next day. We ran back out to 40 fathoms and looked around for a while. Nothing doing. Sonny scratched his chin, eyed a bunch of landmarks, and glanced warily at the sounder. "That fathometer isn't right," he said. "Jog off a little more."
So we did. "Now throw it over," he said. We tossed the grapple overboard and it wasn't two minutes before we'd hooked onto our gear.
That can't happen anymore. The art of navigation has been lost to time and the microprocessor. I'd like to think today's young fishermen pause occasionally, if only for a moment as they're punching waypoints into the GPS, to ponder the sublime skills of their predecessors. Imagine what it must have been like to make a trip to Georges Bank in the fog of summer, under sail, coming and going with a leadline and a sextant you had one chance to use in two weeks.
Of course, knowing where you are can be a matter of perspective. "I've never been lost," a fellow skipper told me on the dock at the cove one night many years ago, "but I've missed this bleepin' place by 18 miles."
* * *
More than one fisherman has observed that, as hard as it is to catch fish, you ought to get paid for them, preferably without getting beaten on price or weight, though occasionally you will take a beating on both.
Although practically it may not have made a difference, I always felt it was better to get beat on price than on weight. A guy can pay you less for your fish than you want and still be a good guy. If he pays you for less fish than you unload, he's a thief.
Overall, I had pretty good luck with fish buyers, not counting 50,000 pounds of redfish we sold for fertilizer after Maine Fisheries kept pushing us to the back of the line to make room for its own boats. After a few days we re-iced the entire trip, but when they finally slid us under the boom they said the fish had spoiled and condemned the trip.
If you haven't shoveled 25 tons of redfish that have had two weeks to settle into the hold and interlock their every spine, don't bother to put it on your bucket list.
Joe Kashmir, on the other hand, was as honest as they come. When he trucked fish for us I felt we were getting paid for every pound, most of which he sold to John Nagle in Boston, who I thought did right by us on price, as well.
Joe was as strong as an ox, tougher than a bag of hammers — he once spent a winter making solo salvage dives on a sunken liberty ship a dozen miles offshore — and not in the habit of taking much BS. According to legend, the numerous pieces of plywood that had been scabbed over the siding at the Rainbow Hotel in York Beach were in fact patches covering holes where Joe had pitched one drunk or another out into the night without bothering to lug 'em to the door.
I ran afoul of him only once. I'd sneaked out one winter day and had a few cod all to myself. He must have forgotten he'd trucked them, because three weeks later as we unloaded one night I told him I needed a check. "I'll tell you the same thing I tell the old man," he said, referring to one of the cove's patriarchs. "If you want a check, you gotta go fishing."
I told him I knew a place where he might try the fishing and the next thing I knew, he'd jumped off the back of his truck swinging his tote hook like a lasso — not that he needed it — and was hopping over draggers toward me on the Hard Times, where I was cowering behind the winch.
Only thing saved me was his memory, which refreshed just as he was about to give me an appendectomy.
Wooden ships and iron men, indeed. Who thought we were living in the olden days?
— Jerry Fraser
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