Andy Gove has figured out a surefire solution to staying warm while lobstering in the icy waters of Penobscot Bay.
“I take my long johns off on the Fourth of July,” Gove says, “and put ’em back on on the fifth.”
That’s advice from a man who knows what he’s talking about. Gove got his first lobster license in 1937.
“I haven’t missed a year since,” he says.
When he was young boy, his grandfather wouldn’t let him out on the water until he was strong enough to row a boat by himself. So, at age 6 …
“My grandfather tied me to a piece of pipe,” he says, “I remember it being 6, 8 feet long, … and when I got good enough so I could drag it down the beach a little, he let me go.”
On a calm, sunny morning in June, Gove, 84, stands on the spotless deck of Uncle’s UFO – his 36-foot lobster boat.
Gove was nicknamed “uncle” years ago by some of the younger fishermen. UFO stands for unidentified floating object.
He counts the other boats bobbing in the water nearby.
“One, two, three, four, five, six, seven,” he says. “Seven boats ahead of us.”
He sighs – and resigns himself to an hour wait to pick up bait before he can head back to Stonington to set his traps. But it’s a good bet he’ll still be ahead of the game.
“He doesn’t fish like most guys,” says Tina Limeburner, who, along with her husband, Justin, make up Gove’s two-person crew. “He knows that bottom (of the bay) like no other. He’ll go places other boats won’t go.”
They started the day at 6 a.m. They’ll finish up 10 hours later and be right back at it again the next day.
“As I say,” says Gove, “you can’t think, just ’cause you own (a boat), that you can sit there and look at it and it will make you some money. … You got to work it.”
He’s been working it – almost nonstop – for 77 years.
“I sometimes get jealous,” says his wife, Rose, laughing. “He’s a go-getter. Always has been.”
Rose Gove, 85, sits at her kitchen table in front of a big picture window with a panoramic view of Stonington Harbor. Her husband stores his traps on their wharf just a few feet from the back door – and moors his boat within sight of the house.
“Every night I sit here with these glasses,” Rose says, pointing to a pair of binoculars, to “see if he’s coming.”
“I can usually tell Andrew’s boat coming up the bay. It kind of just sits on top of the water.”
The couple celebrated their 67th anniversary last month.
“I wanted to keep myself for the right one,” Rose says, “and that was you,” she says as she reaches over to gently touch his arm. He smiles.
When they were first married they lived on nearby Eagle Island. Population? About 30.
Rose remembers those days well. The days before cellphones – before most lobster boats even had reliable radios.
“I could hear him but not talk to him,” she says. “I just worried and wondered. He’d fish two, three days, then come home. I’d be there with a little baby.”
By the time that little baby was 5 years old, they decided it was time to move back to Stonington so she could start school.
Andy Gove’s hard work lobstering and fishing for halibut and herring paid off. In 1977 he bought an airplane – a brand-new Cessna 150 – which he used to spot fish.
And, on far too many occasions, search for those lost at sea.
He remembers the terrible night in the spring of 1983 when five young people from Isle au Haut took a skiff to Stonington to go the movies. They never returned.
“We hunted half the night (by boat),” he says. By dawn, he decided to take his plane up to have a look – and spotted the only two survivors on the beach on Sheep Island.
“That was a bad night,” Gove says.
He’s had his own share of close calls in bad weather.
“I always thought I was gonna make it, but some days I wondered if I would. It gets nasty out there.”
If you’re going to be caught in a storm, you want Andy Gove at the helm, say those who know him.
But beneath his calm, easygoing exterior lies the heart of a fierce competitor. Gove has won more lobster boat races – up and down the coast of Maine – than he can count, including two first-place finishes last weekend.
He usually starts a little slow.
“I see the rest of ’em tearing up past me,” he says, “and it looks like they’re gonna leave me in the foam. But when that old dog (his boat, Uncle’s UFO) gets ready and she gets her boost pressure up, I tear right by them fellas and it’s a thrill.”
Racing is his hobby. Fishing, his passion.
Gove always has his eye on the horizon.
“I want to go (lobstering) again this winter, but I’m going to have trouble with my wife,” he says. “I gotta keep quiet. I don’t want to argue about it for six months before it happens. Now, don’t tell her that,” he says with a grin.