Abating a boating: a claws pause

It won't be long before the slatted wooden lobster trap, photographic bait along the Maine coast, passes from the scene to remain a museum piece, or decor in the back-home family rooms of the summer tourists. The lobstermen resisted the vinyl-clad wire mesh pots for a long time, mostly because they were new and different, but one by one they've changed opinions. Cost runs about the same, fishing efficiency is about the same, but weight is very different and handling the waterlogged oaken traps no longer appeals. This season I watched Bubba, my lobsterman neighbor across the way, as he made his hundred and more wire traps ready for fishing. Were they wooden traps, Bubba couldn't handle more than a hundred a day, even though he's young and willing to heave. He still hauls his traps in the old-time way, hand over hand on fifteen or more fathoms of warp. He uses a sturdy skiff and an outboard motor, thus having no gearing to operate a ''wench,'' which is spelled winch.

I surmise Bubba may go a bit farther down the bay than is prudent for such equipment, but like all lobstermen he is cautious and respectful of the ocean and if things are ''bumpy'' ''down they-yer'' he stays ashore. His routine is to haul all his traps every second day and clam between. Clams have been fetching $ 28 a bushel, and he'll take at least two bushels on a tide. So unless lobsters are ''crawlin' real good'' his clamming may pay better, but two-three times this season Bubba has confessed to me that he's doing well with his gang of traps. Unusual, because Maine lobstermen seldom admit there's a penny in fishing.

Just as Bubba got his traps set, he had a rough couple of weeks. Maine law forbids hauling lobster traps on Sundays between July Fourth and Labor Day - a condescension to the summer yachting fraternity. Perhaps, too, a safety precaution for the fishermen. Well, when you're jogging trap to trap, eyes alert for your next pot buoy, it's no time for a mahogany job to come rupping up under your armpits. Any man in our Friendship harbor could dock the QE-2, but he quakes at sight of a dude ''skin-boat,'' so named for the sunbathing on deck. So Bubba was idle on the Sunday, and some ''friends'' borrowed his boat and motor to go pleasuring down on one of the islands. Pleasuring is the opposite of work-boating, and means a picnic. In the course of this frivolity they came upon a boat with its motor out of whack, and they made ready to give a tow. During this maneuver Bubba's outboard slipped its clamps and went into the drink. Very careless of everybody, but now we have two boats without power. After a time a man in pink shorts and a stinkpot gave both boats a tow into the harbor and Bubba's friends came to inform him of his loss. They were most grieved by this, and said so over and over again.

The first plan was to have somebody scuba to see if the motor could be found, and then there was some talk of finding Bubba a new motor. Which didn't help Bubba attend to his hundred and more traps, which now needed to be hauled and rebaited. An uncle let Bubba use his motor, but that was a temporary shift. I haven't heard just what the two friends did in this matter, if anything, but one day Bubba came into my workshop and said he needed a 5/16th wood bit and ''one of them there things you wind it with.'' Bubba borrows my tools if I am around or not, and this is good because when I can't find something I know where it is. I offered him an electric drill, but he felt that would be imprudent aboard a floating skiff, and I agreed. I found him a bit and brace.

He brought them back in the evening, used my oil can to fend off any harbor moisture, and put them away. ''There,'' he said.

Seems he bought a new motor at $1,400. With my bit and bitstock he bolted the thing to the stern of his skiff, a chore attesting his opinion of friends, and I told him I thought that was a sound move.

''And,'' he said, ''I put a chain and padlock on my mooring.''

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