Monday, February 8, 2010

I Love It Out Here This Time Of Year



I have never been out on Long Island Sound in February. To the best of my memory, I don't think I have ever been aboard a boat here during the 90-plus days we call winter. I have ventured out in early December and late March, but never in between. Not everyone however, spends their winter months ashore. While boats such as mine sit idle under tarps and shrink wrap, oyster boats along with ferries, tugs, and lobster boats continue their daily routine.
Winter is a busy time of year for oystering. The colder water makes harvesting ideal compared to the warmer months when the shellfish spawn. The winter holidays also create a high demand, which had never occured to me. Another benefit of winter harvesting is the absence of recreational boats. There are few things as frustrating for a crew as trying to do a job, while keeping an eye on a jet-ski that is drawing circles around the boat . " I love it out here this time of year", Norm told me.

After passing Pecks Ledge Lighthouse, the fleet of boats came into view. Our first stop was alongside a larger and more utilitarian looking boat than the traditional  wooden dredgers in the fleet. The Kristen Laura is a suction boat whose  purpose is to clean the oyster beds of silt, barnacles, etc, and to transport them from one location to another. "This boat makes no money", Norm said. This meant that the Kristen Laura was a maintenance boat and was not used for actual harvesting. Just as a farmer needs to own lots of machinery and equipment that does not gather a crop, so too does an oysterman. In many ways, oystering is more similar to farming than commercial fishing. There are seeds that need planting, fields that need plowing, and weeds that need pulling. Oystering is aquatic farming
The Kristen Laura held her course and maintained a speed of about 5 knots. A crewmember saw us and immediately waved as we approached her port side. I grabbed the envelope full of payroll checks, left the cozy protection of the small cabin, and headed aft. "When I get right up alongside her, you hand those to him", Norm said. "Make sure he has them before you let go. Don't drop them!"
I braced my legs against the gunwale of our small boat, reached out with my left hand to grab the black metal rail of the Kristen Laura, and handed the envelope off with my right hand. "He's got 'em!" I yelled.

(More To Follow)

Soundbounder: The Fruits Of Winter (part one)
Soundbounder: Mary Colman (part three) 
Soundbounder: Lifting The Dredge (part four)

10 comments:

Ocean Girl said...

I like this post. It tells the story of life and of those making a living. And of the one making the most dangerous give of the day.

Whitemist said...

We go out and take water samples for the clam beds even at this time of year! It is not nice....

Erica Houskeeper said...

What a great experience to share with everyone. Can't wait to read more!

PeregrineSea said...

This open a new world for me - I know oystering and oysters from growing up in the Pacific Northwest - I even harvested some from the islands in Puget Sound. Commercial oystering in Long Island Sound is a complete surprise - Keep on going!

Mark Kreider said...

Ready for chapter two!

Bethany said...

love the farming comparison.
glad you didn't drop those checks.
thanks for taking us out on the boat with you mid winter!
such a treat.

matthew houskeeper said...

Thanks everyone!

bowsprite said...

whoa! I love coming along, too! wish it were in real life. more, more!

Anonymous said...

you really should check out Hillard Bloom Shellfish. They are the descendants of the original family who started oystering in CT. They are the ones responsible for Norman Bloom even being in business. Hillard E Bloom Sr., was the man who pioneered oystering in Norwalk and acquired and rebuilt all of the boats you see on the sound today. He also was the one who taught his nephew, Norman Bloom everything he knows. Too bad the people who deserve the credit aren't the ones who get it. I would imagine the person who runs this website has a personal connection to Norman Bloom. CHECK YOUR SOURCES!!!!!!!

matthew houskeeper said...

Anonymous,
I have been over to Hillard Blooms in South Norwalk. If you follow the link that says "working sound", you will seee a post about it sometime around January 2009.

As for me being "connected" to Norm Bloom,...you are dead wrong. I didn't know him until I stopped by there in February.