Dana McIntyre is a smart man.

As I hung my arms high on the railing atop the stern of Island Lady, his lobster boat, leaning toward the expanse of Middle Bay in Harpswell as we sped from one string of traps to another, he said: “If I had your job as a high school teacher, talking and listening to students, parents, teachers and administrators nonstop for 10 months, I would not be starved for conversation in the summertime, either.”

Captain Dana had nailed it. I love the idea of not talking during summer vacation, although it never works out that way. Dana knew how to get me yapping while taking care of business at my first summer job on a lobster boat – 30 years after buying a house less than 2 miles from Potts Harbor, at the end of a skinny 13-mile peninsula we call home.

When I began teaching in my early 40s, my wife assumed I would find summer jobs every year. I mumbled, “Uh, OK, sweetheart,” and for the next 17 years found summer work (occasionally) as a freelance writer, adult education instructor, social worker, tour guide at the Desert of Maine, stipend-earning student and waiter. What do these jobs have in common? Required conversation. I think I’m wired to talk.

On a lobster boat, it seems like you have plenty of time to ignore your co-workers and all the time in the world to talk. Captain Dana and sternman Chuckie valued my contributions as we collaborated on solving many of the world’s problems. Dana took the lead on health care reform and the criminal justice system. I had the floor on public education and civility in political discourse. We all agreed that when the zombie apocalypse arrives, Chuckie is in charge (he says it’s just a matter of time).

On occasion I would be engaged in Dana’s social commentary, leading me to align a trap or two incorrectly – which often led to a nonverbal tutorial from Chuckie. Lesson learned the hard way: As a novice, nodding in silence beats working on a response while performing basic duties on a boat. Screwing up the mundane, repetitive, grunt jobs leads to tangled ropes, misdirected traps, and rehauling a string of seven to 10 traps. Not to mention that it makes you look like a dub.


“Dub” is a professional term. I didn’t know that when I first heard it on the boat, but there it is on Pages 52-53 in “The Lobster Gangs of Maine” by James M. Acheson, professor of anthropology and marine sciences at the University of Maine, published in 1988. The book was presented to me as a Father’s Day gift from my daughter when she heard about my strange summer job.

“Dubs have low prestige and are accorded little deference,” Acheson wrote. “In the lobster fishery, most of the dub fishermen are young and inexperienced individuals who are expected to become good fishermen in time.”

Because I am not young and there are no expectations for me to become a good fisherman, I am not a dub, by professor Acheson’s standards.

I prepared the bait by impaling pogies, herring and the severed heads of redfish with bait irons, also known as bait needles (they look like skewers). I would balance the rods across the top of a long bucket for easy access, so that Chuckie could grab them in succession and string up the bait to secure it inside the trap that he and Dana had just hauled out of the water. Seven rods for a set of seven traps, each rod holding four to eight dead fish. Occasionally I would string the bait as Dana pulled lobsters out, before Chuckie swung the traps. Stringing the bait requires more hand-eye coordination than I had two months ago, but which I developed to a primitive level.

Chuckie strings the bait with one hand (he may not even use all five fingers) in two seconds, no exaggeration, whereas I do the same job using two hands and 10 fingers; I worked my way down to 10 seconds, I think. My learning curve was much shorter when it came to ducking airborne bait irons tossed by Chuckie.

After pulling out lobsters and restocking the trap with bait, Chuckie shuts the door, whereupon I move from prepping bait to sliding the trap down the side of the boat and swinging it onto the stern. I remained convinced that the preferred, time-saving technique for swinging a 50-pound lobster trap (many of which are stocked with bricks), is guaranteed to inflict more damage to your back than a collision with a linebacker; it just takes more time.


I began the summer by lifting, stutter-stepping and heaving traps. The crew just shook their heads and looked away. Eventually I developed a half-swing before guiding the traps’ final descent onto the stern with my right thigh. Did it look awkward? You betcha. Does a 59-year-old man care? Not really. If my method hadn’t been effective, my shortcomings would have been the topic of multiple (one-way) conversations.

This may come as a surprise to bosses and supervisors I’ve had at countless jobs, but I know how to follow orders. And so when I found a “Maritime Manners” section on Page 257 of “The Eldridge Tide and Pilot Book,” 138th edition (my summer homework), I was not surprised to read the following: “Obey the captain. If you have a question, ask it. Most captains are happy to help you understand and appreciate the boating experience. Never question his/her authority.”

Asking questions is great, of course. I work hard at coaching students on developing clarifying and probing questions. I’m afraid, however, that some of my questions on the boat had the same non sequitur sound of an off-topic query from a teenager who I thought was on the same page as the teacher.

Veteran lobstermen know it’s in their best interest to maintain positive relationships with captains and boat owners who are at once competitors and comrades, setting their traps in the same waters and working within the same infrastructure of local cooperatives that supply bait and a myriad of services and equipment on the wharf. Everyone has to know everyone else’s business, up to a point.

Where that point is, I don’t know, and I’m not going to ask anytime soon. I’m just the grunt on a lobster boat. I worked 12-to-14-hour days this summer on Dana’s boat, two or three days per week. Initially I thought I wanted to work five days a week. I’m sure I would have lasted a week at that pace, perhaps two. But that would have been followed by a face-plant on the wharf, and that would be the end of that. After starting my workday at 4:30 a.m. and peeling off clothes in my garage at 6:30 p.m., few things sounded more exquisite than a day off.

The days were long and hard, and about 80 percent enjoyable (not fun – let’s be honest). It was pretty satisfying to know that you’ve already put in some serious physical labor on the water for seven hours before lunch. It felt even better to take a shower before my wife got home.

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