Waterlines: Tangled Up in Pots

Author:
Publish date:
A close call in Maine’s Penobscot Bay

A close call in Maine’s Penobscot Bay

I learned to sail on the Maine coast as a boy, and one of the things my elders taught me was to respect fishing gear. If you got caught up with a lobster pot, you did everything you could to get clear without cutting the pot warp. It represented a family’s livelihood and thus was sacrosanct.

I crossed a Rubicon of sorts in the late 1990s, when the lobster fishery was booming and lobster pots were so thick on the water you felt like a running back when cruising looking desperately for clear lanes to sail in. The crisis point came one summer when I anchored at Burnt Island, taking great care to stay clear of the many pots that littered the harbor there. I woke in the morning to find my ground tackle enmeshed with a pot warp anyway. True to my upbringing I jumped overboard and spent 20 minutes in the water, which in those days was very cold, and finally succeeded in untangling the mess. I was nearly hypothermic when I crawled back aboard my boat.

I re-anchored in a clear spot and spent the day hiking the island, after which I was roused at dawn the next morning by the deep rumble of a lobster boat’s dry exhaust quite close by. Peering out a portlight, I saw the man working the boat drop a pot—same colors as the one I’d saved the morning before—right where any sapient mariner would assume my anchor must have been. I returned to my berth to sleep some more, and sure enough, when I woke again found the pot warp twisted round my ground tackle. This time, rather than swim to save it, I cut it free with a knife.

This episode taught me two things about cruising the Maine coast. You should only respect fishermen as far as they are willing to respect you, and you should always carry a wetsuit, just in case.

I have quarreled with many a pot warp in the 20 years since. I caught them often on the bilge keels of my old Golden Hind 31. I caught them sometimes on the rudder skeg of my Tanton 39. However, I never caught one on a propeller—until this past summer, that is, when I was cruising the coast on my Boréal 47. The prop on this boat is behind a long shallow keel and has a line-cutter on it, so I thought I was safe. I did hear an urgent tapping sound under the boat, then saw a pot buoy come clear with a short length of severed warp on it. The boat kept moving forward, and I assumed the line-cutter had done its job. An hour later, though, when I put the engine in reverse to stop at the mooring I was picking up, the shaft seized up and the engine stalled.

02-Possible-small-photo

One thing that has changed in the past 20 years is that the water in the Gulf of Maine is now much warmer. When I was young, water temperatures in the summer never rose much above the mid-50s. But that day I tangled my prop last summer my instruments told me it was 68 degrees F. I actually had a debate with myself: did I really need my wetsuit to dive on the prop? In the end I elected to use it simply because I had it. But it didn’t take long to cut the line free, and I would have been fine without it.

The lobster population in Maine has been booming the last few years, primarily because the water farther south is too warm to support lobsters anymore. They’ve all crawled north to stay alive, and the question now is how long will it be before they need to crawl even farther north. According to several reports I’ve seen, the Gulf of Maine is warming faster than any other body of water on the planet, so the answer may well be not very long.

I will confess that for a while after that incident at Burnt Island I saw fishermen as the nemeses of cruising sailors. But attitudes like this are hard to sustain. Part of me will not be sad when there are no more pots to dodge while sailing the coast. But a larger part will mourn their disappearance. Lobstering has been the life-blood of this place, and Maine lobstermen have always fished responsibly. They do not deserve the fate that awaits them. 

November 2018

Related

grenadapromo_0

A Grand Grenada Charter

I have often sailed in the swath of more accessible West Indian islands that lie between Antigua and Puerto Rico. But I had never before cruised around any of the islands south of Antigua, so I jumped at the chance last April to step aboard a Lagoon 380 catamaran from Horizon ...read more

SunFast-600x

Video tour: Jeanneau Sun Fast 3300

Jeanneau America's Mike Coe takes SAIL aboard the brand new Sun Fast 3300 for an exclusive tour. This mid-sized stripped-down racing boat has a perfect balance of amenities and weight-saving simplicity to make it a blast to sail. Though it boasts sleeping space for up to six, ...read more

furlex2

Know-how: Installing an Electric Furler

Push-Button Reefing Boats have never been easier to sail, and yet, designers and builders still strive for that extra iota or two of convenience. A case in point is the growing acceptance of powered headsail furlers. Roller-furling headsails are ubiquitous not only on cruising ...read more

New-Lead

Know-how: Modify a Blackwater System

My dissatisfaction with the head and holding tank plumbing arrangement on our 1987 Sabre 38 had grown as we cruised the boat away from the comforts of a marina for longer periods of time. When we are tied up at a marina, the use of regular bathrooms generally trumps the ...read more

01-LEAD-Suzuki-55f19d31e297c

Choosing the Right Outboard

Two of the most indispensable items on board a cruising yacht are a dinghy and an outboard motor. At anchor or on a buoy, of course, they are your only means of getting ashore. They also have a thousand other uses. For example, they can allow you to motor across to friends’ ...read more

2019-giftGuide

2019 Holiday Gift Guide

Sailing America Rizzoli International Publications has released this striking portrait of American sailing by nautical photography legend Onne van der Wal just in time for the holidays. Featuring 200 stunning photographs spanning the length and breadth of the sailing scene—from ...read more

01-Sailing-La-Vagabonde,-Outremer-48

Cruising: the Vagabonde Life

Once upon a time conquering your dream of sailing off into the sunset was enough, but these days it seems like you have to be popular on social media too. Balancing the stresses of sailing around the world while keeping a successful—not to mention financially lucrative—social ...read more

191114

Video: 11th Hour Racing Arrives in Brazil

Team 11th Hour Racing finished in fourth place this past week among the 29 IMOCA 60s competing in the 4,335-mile doublehanded Transat Jacques Vabre race from Le Havre, France, to Salvador de Bahia, Brazil. Aboard were American Charlie Enright and French sailor Pascal Bidégorry, ...read more