Captain Marcel and his crew are fishermen by trade. They earn their livelihood and reputations by pulling their catch from the sea bare handed. I had been photographing fishermen on the dock over the period of a year, during which Marcel offered me to join him and his crew for a journey out to sea, so that I could experience what it was really like. Sometime had passed and I had not taken Marcel up on his offer, until one early morning I showed up in the fishing complex looking for him, with camera in hand. I stepped amongst the haphazard collection of essential fishing equipment. “Do you mind if I come fishing with you today Marcel?” my tone was unsure but hopeful. Marcel peaked his head out of his storage unit “Yeah man, lets go” he replied.
Marcel continued along as if nothing had changed despite having now having me along for the trip. He continued prepping himself for the day as usual, where as I now began to conceptualize what I was really in for. With just a few minutes before we set off, I all I could do was hope I prepared properly with no real experience. I stood on the dock staring at him for any cue to indicate what was happening but it was difficult. See, now Marcel is a soft-spoken man, whose expressions are mostly hidden by his big orange beard. This left me scanning around the dock to see what everyone else was doing, so that I could begin to understand what was happening. Then I then spotted our crew. Cig is the first crew member I recognized, the first time I saw him he was in total concentration of carefully stowing his cigarettes and lighter in a make-shift waterproof container. Once those were secured he buckled his fishing outfit and stepped into the boat, a man of few needs. Point man, our second and only other crew member is more expressive, with a permanent smirk on his face. He walked along the dock loading an assortment of items which only few I could really guess what they were for. I saw Marlon pass several carpets into the boat which I now couldn’t resist and had to ask “What are those for?”. “It’s to cover the catch” they replied. This makes a lot of sense when you realize how much these guys re-purpose or invent so many things. While I had that thought they were now all looking at me from inside of the boat. This I understood, and danced my way across floating boats to get to ours. Each of them firmly sat in their positions, and I fell into one that became mine. And just like that, we set off to sea without any real ceremony.
We sped along the shoreline headed north and I became excited for the adventure. There’s something very thrilling about being out at sea. Only a short time had passed and we already met another boat, who were apparently dropping their lobster pots on ours. This prompted a good old fisherman’s banter one of which you get used to hearing, but surely couldn’t replicate without real practice. “Show me the deed” one of them said when asked about who owns the fishing spot. As Marcel was arguing with the opposing crew, Cig lit up his first smoke and hunkered over it to keep it from getting wet. With no real harm, other than intimidation we set off for the north eastern end of the island alongside the sunrise which aimed itself under our hats.
We peeled away from the coastline and moved further into the Atlantic. It began to feel less comfortable once we moved away from the familiar shores. I couldn’t imagine how we would find a lobster pot where we now were. I asked Cig beside me “How deep is it here?”. “About 15-20 fathoms” he said with his head tilted towards me from the sun. I must have looked at him a little too long to indicate my ignorance to what a fathom was, because he then stretched out his hands and said “a fathom is about this big” as he smiled.
Marlon called out to me “You better move up here”. With no real idea of what was going on, I moved out of the way as much as I could in our small craft. An orange buoy appeared right in-front of us as Marcel turned off the engine. As quick as it came, they were now pulling up the rope to hoist a lobster pot from the sea floor 20 lengths of rope about the height of Cig.
They always told jokes, or something unrelated to fishing while pulling the rope. I imagine this was to either cope with the physical stress, or that they were terribly used to the routine.
“It’s the moon” our point man yelled “. "They don’t crawl in the bright moonlight”. “Or someone else pulled our pot” our Cap’n Mac responded. “How can you tell?” I asked. He paused for a moment and smiled “If you catch them” I couldn’t tell if this was either a clever pun on lobster fishing or if he was talking about catching a fishermen redhanded. Either way the crew let out a soft round of laughter.
They continued to pulled each pot without any sign of fatigue, and the sun was only getting hotter, glaring off the inside of the boat. At first I was squinting, and then eventually I had my eyes entirely shut to cope with light. Everyone else’s eyes were also now squinting tightly towards the sea to spot the orange buoys.
I took this picture specifically to remind me about how I felt at the time. The motion of the boat rocking on the sea would churn my stomach in all different directions, until it churned outward. Cig said “Let it out… don’t worry yoself, let it out.” as I leaned over the side. They handed me my water, which was to become a part of a ritual every few pots or so. I would soon get into the routine of feeling nauseous as I stared into my camera and kept taking photos. The whole crew chuckled as they handed me my water again. I eventually asked Point Man who was closest to me “Have you ever been sea sick?” Which then turned his smile turned from pity into one more bashful, as he quaintly replied “Of course”….”Especially when yo had too much to drink” which made the crew for the first time to laugh louder than a chuckle.
Breaks at sea were took standing up, and in-between driving to another lobster pot, it was hardly anytime for them to rest. We had gone through so many pots I couldn’t keep count, Their routine quickly became monotonous despite so many things constantly changing, like the sea, wind and sun. No matter if the boat would dip well over towards the water or if the wind would pick up in a gust, they never seemed disturbed by the elements.
After pulling the last pot, we finally started heading back towards the docks. After the sickness and sun, I was very enthusiastic to be back driving in a straight line towards home. The whole ordeal was one of endurance and skill for the fishermen. The skill to prevent any mishaps in an unforgiving environment where one little mistake could leave one with some very grave problems. The endurance is to remain capable and concentrated against the harsh elements with physical challenges.
I’ve seen fishing boats arrive onto the docks with their catch. This was the first time I was in one as it arrived. It was interesting seeing all the different people spot us from hundreds of meters out, moving to our boat first in favor of calling their price. It’s the only real ceremonial part of the trip, to show off one’s catch.
Back on shore, they take their catch to the fisheries department to meet with regulations for lobster fishing as soon as they arrive. More of a formality considering the fishermen are very familiar with these regulations and they set back into their land legs quite quickly. Once I hit the docks the solid ground was more than familiar, but being very welcomed.
Big thanks to Cap’n Marcel and his crew for taking me out and showing me their lifestyles at sea.
Also to the Bradshaw family for their support in my interests in Vincentian Fishing, and their general advice.