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)