Maine was in a bit of a fog, literally, for much of June. As usual, I drove northeast along the coast (“Down East”) the third week for the annual Stonington sea kayaking get-together. I call the place “kayak heaven” because there are so many little islands we land on within an easy paddle. The weather was off and on rainy so a couple of us drove off the peninsula up to Acadia National Park for a day of hiking in the clouds. It was great.
Stonington is a terrific little town that embodies Maine history and culture. “Little” because its 40 square miles is 75% water. The harbor is packed with lobster boats. At early light, the chug of the boat motors drifts into our bedroom windows (the house we’ve rented for decades is right on the water). During a day’s paddle we watch hard-working lobstermen circle their colorful buoys (each is unique and registered) and “haul traps”. In a day, an ambitious lobstermen might pull 800 traps up onto his boat. For each one he and his sternman (who might be female) will yank out “keepers”, throw back ones too small or too big or “berried” (females with eggs), add new bait, and slide the trap off the stern into the water.
Lobstering has been part of Stonington’s fabric for a very long time, but recently it’s become the industry’s “sweet spot” partly because of coastal warming. Last year about 17 million pounds of lobster were hauled up onto its docks.
Readers might recall that last June three paddlers – I was one – were caught in a horrendous “gale”. The thing blew up in a instant and it took every bit of skill we had to stay in our boats. With five-foot plus waves close together and howling wind, rescue would’ve been impossible. Of course, we were wearing wetsuits which would have protected us from the frigid water if we did go over. Off Acadia, two other paddlers weren’t so lucky. Caught in the same gale, they flipped and died of hypothermia. They weren’t wearing wetsuits.
As I write this in July, the water has warmed up. I’ve even gone swimming off Little John Island in Yarmouth where I live. It’s, as they say, “bracing”. Tonight when its fully dark, John and I will paddle out a bit, splash the water, and be amazed by the bioluminescence. Tiny dinoflagellates light up when disturbed like that – and nobody really knows why. Truly amazing.