This business of lobstering—or any kind of fishing—under sail in a catboat keeps sticking in my mind.
One morning when we were steaming out to haul gear, I asked Dad about it.
The water was smooth, and I stood on the port side of the pilothouse, leaning against the bulkhead and looking out the windows at the easy gray-blue swell stretching toward Thrumcap Island. Dad was at the helm, reaching up to fiddle with the knobs of the radio.
Dad: Thing’s out of whack. Salt must be getting to it.
Me: Did you ever see anyone fishing under sail?
Dad (one hand on the wheel and squinting at the radio): You mean like a yachty?
Me: No. A real fishing boat. Like a catboat.
Dad (glancing at me): Around here?
Me: Yeah. Where we fish.
I nodded out at the water.
Dad (arching an eyebrow): I may go way back, but I’d have to be about a hundred years old to have seen that.
Me: I was just thinking how hard it must have been. Sailing that catboat for Jimmy the other day got me thinking about it. How you’d have to handle the sails at the same time you’re handling gear.
Dad (checking out the windows): We do the same. We just don’t have a sail.
Me: But I mean raising the sail, tacking, holding the boat into the wind when you hauled a trap. That would take some kind of skill.
Dad: That’s true. Now, this was way before my time, but your great-great-grandfather—my grandfather’s dad—used to fish under sail. That was in the early 1900s. He didn’t want to have anything to do with engines, so he kept on fishing the way he knew. My grandfather said his dad fished on that boat with his dad—and that would have made him about the same age as you.
I tried to picture my dad, and then my grandfather (who died long ago), and then his dad, and then his dad, but somewhere in all that picturing I got my own face mixed up with all the old ones, and the only picture I could see was me sailing an old catboat up to a buoy, me holding a gaff ready to haul gear.
Me: What kind of boat was it?
Dad: A catboat. He rigged it for lobstering and scalloping in the scallop season. You used to see those old workboats beached here and there in back coves and creeks, their old hulks rotting away, but most of them have vanished. I’ve got a book back home you might want to read. It’s by Stan Grayson, all about catboats. Shows you some of the old catboats at work.
Me: I wish we could fish in a catboat.
Dad: Same here. Wouldn’t have to yell over the diesel all the time when we’re steaming. I’ve read that some modern shipbuilders have experimented with sails for freighters, but I can’t say I’ve heard of anyone going back to fishing under sail around here.
Me: That’s okay. Marie A’s fine by me.
Dad: One thing’s for sure. Fuel costs keep heading the way they’ve been, sail power might be the only way to go.
He unclipped the handset from the radio and switched the channel.
Dad (talking into the handset): Hey Phil. You read me?
He looked back at me.
Dad: I think this thing’s toast. May have to invest in a new one when we get home. That and a catboat.
I looked at him, wondering if he meant it.
He winked at me and hung up the handset.
Dad (turning back to the wheel): Okay. Time to make some money.