Having launched my first powerboat last summer at age 48 (growing up is overrated) I have been lured to the magic of the North Shore coastline, its seas and all its wonders. I sat in my home on the North Shore much of the winter, pouting, and pacing, not knowing what to do with my free time, the free time that, during the summer, was completely absorbed by boating.
Something very special happened this past January 6, however. The temperature hit a record high of 60 degrees. In a desperate need to return to the solitude and comfort of the sea, I ran to the phone to call one of my fellow boaters. His 15-foot Boston Whaler would be enough to get us out on the water.
We started cruising along the marshes on the backside of Plum Island into Ipswich Bay and down to Crane’s Beach. We filled our lungs with the comfort of the salt air that we treasured and missed so much. We braved the headwinds as we moved up the ocean coast, in anticipation of the rough waters that would face us at the mouth of the Merrimack River. Our hearts started to pound. Waves splashed over our bow. The cold water stung our faces and gave us the salty taste of the sea.
We looked at each other and smiled with pleasure. We were making our first journey of the year, and it felt good.
The crew of a Coast Guard vessel nearby peered through their binoculars at us as we entered the river’s mouth. I was sure they disapproved of our venture, but we were cautious, prepared, and respectful of the power of the ocean. We are both experienced boaters. I have enjoyed sailing in Annapolis, and my boating buddy has been on the water most of his life. The winter seas are not made for recreational boating, but on that day, more than any other, I regained my respect for the lobstermen and fishermen of the North Shore.
The sea is their office space and the weather a fierce competitor, as they fish and lobster through the overburdening regulations of the job and the unpredictable migrations of the lobster.
As we slowly and safely made it back to the dock, our desire to experience the life of a lobsterman grew. We concluded that we were going to spend the rest of our winter preparing to become recreational lobstermen. Noncommercial (recreational) lobstering was going to be our new venture this summer.
We first headed to the Internet and purchased our 10 pot licenses, and then visited the legendary Dick Winchester, of the Winchester Fishing Company in Gloucester (978-281-1691). Here we purchased our traps and supplies and received a brief but informative lesson on lobstering, how to bait traps, how to measure lobsters to identify the keepers, and much more. We were ready to go! Or were we?
Peter K. Prybot has been a lobsterman for 46 years. Last year he published a book “Lobstering off Cape Ann: A Lifetime Lobsterman Remembers” (History Press ISBN 1-59629-085-4) I had the fortune of reading this book this winter and capturing the knowledge of a professional lobsterman. He has lobstered in the Cape Ann waters of Rockport and Gloucester for almost as many years as I have been alive. At age eleven, Peter would tie a wooden lobster trap to his bicycle and carefully transport his trap while balancing himself on the other side to coast a mile downhill to Lanes Cove in Gloucester.
He was hooked on lobstering and began a career that would take him on to a degree in marine fisheries biology from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and a journalism and photojournalism career in fisheries. But his first career and love has been lobstering.
Peter brings his experience to life in his book. His passion for these crustaceans we call lobsters is evident through out his book and his career. His book not only captures what it is like to be a lobsterman, but also brings us the history and life of lobsters from the bottom of the sea to the plate at our table.
What my partner and I received from this book is a respect for the lobsterman and fisherman who brave the seas and truly risk their lives to bring us the fresh lobsters and fish that have become the icons of New England and the North Shore.
It’s a must-read book for anyone who appreciates the coastal waters of the North Shore and the New England lobster, the filet mignon of seafood. I am now ready to start my new life as lobsterman; at least as a recreational lobsterman.