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The Lobsterman Who Caught a Big One

By John Gould / October 11, 1991



ENTICED by a sudden desire, my executive chef returned from the weekly shopping expedition with an imported delicacy of great price, and to excuse this extravagance she said, "They come high, but I must have 'em."Along our part of the Maine coast this is an adage, originated by Wash Doughty long ago when he spent all day recovering a wounded coot. Fishermen, in the days when anything but fish was hard to come by, liked to salt down a barrel of coot each fall to liven the winter fare. Our Maine coot is really a scoter, and not esteemed. Coastal folks have a way of cooking them so they become edible, if not palatable. To waste a whole afternoon pursuing a coot would be considered an activity with little profit. Whe n Wash came back from rowing his peapod clearn' over to Small Point, he said, "They come high, but I must have 'em." Anyway, this made me think of Wash and how he became a hero in World War II. He lobstered in eastern Casco Bay, and during the war a good part of his normal area was a no-no for any boats other than wartime craft. Convoys made up in Casco Bay, and at times British and United States naval ships came in droves to escort precious wartime goods to Europe. If a lobsterman mischanced to get inside the proscribed area, horns went off and guns were aimed. Now and then a German submarine would work in, and more t han one had been taken care of. So Wash kept his distance, as did all the lobstermen, and on a bright October morning he was fishing out by Eagle Island. Now, Wash had an unusual boat. She was some 35 feet overall, had good fishing equipment, and Wash kept her clean and painted. But she didn't have a name. On her transom, where other boats would have Sally-Ann, or Lydia J., or Helen & Mary, Wash had painted the emblem of the Ancient Free and Accepted Masons, a fraternity to which he was faithful. He had held the offices, and once a month he would come in from sea early, change to his good clothes, and make the trip "to town" and attend lodge. Now and then a summercater would ask Wash what he called his boat, and Wash would wink and make some esoteric remark that might or might not be understood. So on this October morning, Wash gaffed (garffed, if you please) a pot buoy, rove the warp over his "wench," applied the power, and well-nigh tipped over his boat. She went down by the starboard washboard, and would have rolled bottom up if Wash hadn't eased off the power and let the potwarp run free. He was onto something that didn't give. As the fishermen say when a lobster trap doesn't come up - twas hung down." Wash was hung down for sure, and his immediate surmise turned out to be correct. A submari ne in passing had snagged into his gear. The potwarp grew taut again, and Wash's boat was being towed. This all happened swiftly. Now Wash took a hold turn on the winch, kicked off his rubber boots, and jumped overboard. He swam to Kittywhisker Island, not a great distance, and as he waded ashore he looked back and saw his boat headed at good speed for Seguin Light. Wash broke into a summer cottage on Kittywhisker, pulled a skiff down to the water, rowed to the mainland, and burst all soaking wet into Lish Brewer's store and post office. He cranked the telephone and asked for the Coast Guard at Boothbay H arbor. Much interested, the girl who was minding store approached, eager not to miss a word. The Coast Guard, part of the Navy during the war, had a whiz-kid mariner from South Dakota on duty, and when Wash told him he had a submarine tied to his lobster boat, the lad seemed to think this was improbable and opined he had a nut on the line. He began filling out an official five-page form, and asked Wash a lot of questions. Chilled to his marrow and long-since fed up with coastal red tape and naval restrictions, Wash wasn't amused. He began to shout. Then he shouted louder and louder. The poor boy tried to be patient, and asked more questions. The girl who was minding store kept saying, "My goodness! My goodness!" Then the Coast Guard boy asked Wash, "What is the name of your boat, Mr. Doughty?" Wash blew up, and the girl said, "Nasty old man!" Wash found his boat on mooring the next morning, and later got a letter from the office of the First Naval District in Boston, thanking him for his valuable cooperation. The letter was signed, "Yours fraternally, Bro. So-and-so, Lieut. Comm."

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