Where are they? Its the time of the mid-season molt when the lobsters shed their shells for new ones.

Temporarily vulnerable on the seabottom they spend their time hiding in the rocks, not moving about.

But for the lobstermen of Cape Cod Bay its a time of theorizing as they methodically work the lines

of traps in their favored areas. El Nino? Overfishing? Should the legal size limit be raised again? The

last couple years hasn't had a spring season to speak of, and early August is a long time for a captain

with expensive boat, fuel and gear to wait.

It is a calm day, but mostly gray and moody, and we are riding the swells

not beating a chop. Capt. Jack and Westley begin with optimism. They have

just four hundred traps out now, the old wooden style.



A
line is ten traps, a hundred feet of rope between each, begins with a single

buoy and ends with a double. After a half dozen lines, the best yields just a

dozen legals, and its obvious that the answer here is "not yet".

The evidence from the bottom is closely scrutinized - many shorts, some, darkening under the tail
will shed soon, one is softshell, and a few have new shells with bright, sharp
spines. Those with black dots of eggs under their tails are quickly returned.
Maybe the men will just have to wait for the next "crop" to come of age.
Individual lobsters have been tagged and shown to range about three miles. There's
deeper water,
shallower water,
sandier bottoms,
and rockier bottoms.
There's mud,
there's weeds.
Jack prefers sand near rocks, and his shallowest is forty feet.
More importantly, there's changes in temperature.
It was not that cold a winter.Its been hot. The
bay's not that deep and can warm quickly.
Most unfathomable are the currents. Jack looksfor a few
days of strong nor'east wind to bring in the southern flowing
arctic waters offshore beyond the long arm of the cape.
An unusual bit of flotsam appears to break the routine. I can't see a
thing but Jack speeds off to investigate. What we see as we get closer
is a large bright yellow, red, and blue beach ball rolling on a dark sea a
mile from shore. Jack beats a line back exactly to his next single buoy.

We're moving down that final line when Westley says

from aft, "Look-it that." I hear Jack, steering

ahead, say, "Hey Westley, ever see water look like

that?" Long dark lines crisscross the silvery sea.

Westley repeats, "Look-it here." Jack calls again.

Then Westley, "Hey Jack, there's a hole in the sky...

and you can see it turnin'."

Almost directly overhead, a thin triangular cloud is apparent. Its hard to tell which way the white tip

at the lower point is traveling. "Keep an eye on it," Jack commands and remembers the radio with a

click. There's quite a chatter as they pull the last trap. The white tip grows a pencil line that draws to

the sea's surface and explodes into a wide funnel. The radio's full of emotion. Jack throttles the

Rocket 88 in his immaculate '68 Beal's Island boat.

In a moment, the pencil line breaks. The water slowly falls back to the sea. The line dissipates. Its over.

We're left with the adrenalin, a beautiful sky, and continuing excitement on the radio. Things like,

"Whew, did you see that," reports, wondering which way to go. Finally, Jack cuts in, "How do you

think we felt?" Possibly only one boat was closer. Westley is gesticulating off the stern with some

sort of oath for the sky gods. They estimate from the known height of Manomet Cliffs that the

spout of water was about three hundred feet high, and within a half mile.

There's cleanup to be done on the way in. The new sail is re-furled. There are occasional

glances skyward - anticipation, or regret it was over so quickly? As the Peasant's Way turns

outside the beacon light at the entrance to the Cape Cod Canal, Jack's proudly and calmly at her

helm. At least there'll be stories of something other than another poor day of fishing.

Paul Eric Johnson

© May, 1998