Denny Rigged Our Gear

Denny was born up Pubnico way in eighteen and ninety two,
In nineteen eleven to Boston he came, a dory man tried and true.
He fished from a dory for thirty two years till the war put an end to the trade
Moved to Chatham and fished alongshore in good weather, not much, but a living he made,
When seventy-two he fetched up on the beach in a shack in the woods by the Bay,
Rigged gear for the fleet and cleared our bad snarls, recoiled in a tight perfect lay.
A master, was Denny, rerigging our gear, each bundle a near work of art,
With his help all that summer we landed huge trips and a half share we left in his cart.
Denny was tiny, a lone quiet man, no family he had of we knew,
We’d leave him some beer and groceries to hand in the winter when gear work was few.
The following winter Denny fell sick, in his shack stone cold and in pain,
To a hospital bed in Hyannis he went not far from our boat on the bay.
We’d travel to see him, kids twenty five years, he’s lost in the bed, thin and pale,
Hated that hospital food, he did, wouldn’t eat and was wasting away.
So we went to the fish store and bought us some haddock which we cooked on our boat at the dock,
Wrapped it in foil and raced to the hospital, still hot when he reached for his fork.
Oh that fish he did eat, every bit, every bite, and a smile we’d see in his eyes,
So each day we’d cook and bring him his lunch, hear his stories which Denny called lies.
Later he moved to an old people’s home in South Chatham for hospice care,
The food there was better, but Denny was failing, companionship all he could share.
And always with Denny, those last weeks he had, three men sat with him for hours,
Old dory mates all, telling tales of days they all shared in their youth and their power,
Harold and Peter and Edward their names, first sailing then steaming offshore,
From their dories through years of weather and waves, saw men lost in the fog evermore.
I can hear those four men, all old, one quite ill, in that pale late afternoon light,
Their memories and laughter of days now long gone when from dories they worked with such pride.
Denny came to Boston a century ago, a dory man he and his mates,
I was lucky to know him, see his art working gear, he was small but to us he was great.
His lies now all lost, the memories too, but I hold in my heart that rare sight,
Four dory men true, gathered together, keeping real their lost way of life.
Now Denny’s long gone, it’s nigh fifty years since we kids brought gear to his shack,
And just as his memories are lost now forever our soon will fade in the black.
When you see an old fisherman, hands like burled wood, skin pale and eyes watery and dim,
Unshaven, clothes rumpled, slumped deep in a chair, never judge there’s no glory in him,
His story not written, his memories mist, his whole way of life but a dream,
Whaler, salt banker, dory man he, now one with the unchanging sea.

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Screamers (Humility # 2) on fishboats

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When I was fishing on the East and Gulf Coasts a long time ago – actually a damn long time ago – there was a saying that wandered the docks. When boats tied up together in a port the guys working on the boats would talk to each other, on the dock or aboard boats or in the nearby barroom, catch up on scuttlebutt and gossip, tell lies. There was a phrase that floated around about some captains – actually at times more than some captains – and that phrase was, “He’s a screamer.” This meant that this person could not give an order without screaming the words, shouting, and often it seemed the case that no order was properly given unless it included at least two graphic insults.

There were of course more captains, usually many more captains, who were not screamers, they were level-headed men (and these days they include many women too) who had the crew’s respect, who rarely had to give orders because the crew knew what was expected and jumped to.

If you were lucky enough to be on a boat with a “good captain, meaning, someone who was all right to work for, this usually meant you were also on a boat that was well maintained, that carried the proper survival gear, where things usually worked, and where you made money. The crew members often became friends. I can name many boats which were based in New Bedford which had the same crew for two or three decades, they fished together, hunted deer together, and their captains, I am almost sure, were never screamers.

I worked for both types, and let me tell you, working for a screamer was dangerous, difficult, and downright scary at timers. The biggest issue was that screamers could not keep crew, they either fired those they did not like or drove the crew away, which meant that those of us who remained had to work twice as hard training the new guys every trip as well as doing the work. Boats with screamers in the wheelhouse gathered foc’sle lawyers down below, and disgruntled complainers, and laggards and bums.

I always figured the good captains remembered where they came from, how hard it was to learn the ropes, and had the good sense to admit when they didn’t know something, and were unafraid to ask. The good captains explained what was needed and gave others the respect to get it done, and in my experience if you treat someone as if they will do the job well, they usually do, whereas if you hover and pester the result is terrible.

The good captains were humble. They knew they did not know everything. They honored the weather and the force of the ocean. They supported the others around them and the others around them supported them. They went to work and brought back fish and an income, and they did it without breaking the crew.

Screamers? Never humble. Always trying to be on top, and better than. Never listen. Shout and scream and get angry easily. Have these ideas they have come up with which they declare must be true and refuse to admit they make no sense.

“Watch out for him, he’s a screamer.”

It feels, these days, the screamers gave taken over damn near everything, shouting their point of view and beliefs everywhere, insulting others, not listening, and most of all not learning or facing facts. Wouldn’t it be nice to have someone in the wheelhouse who assumed everyone on the boat was equally intent on making an income and coming home safe. That’s the case, or was, in the fishing industry, anyway.

It seems to me that the reason it feels like we have screamers everywhere – in politics, in the media, on school playgrounds – must have something to do with forgetting that we cannot have a community unless people listen and speak carefully, meaning, are humble with themselves and others. At sea, in the microcosm world that was limited to the boat, a screamer was toxic, dangerous, and inflected the entire world. In ancient times such a person was driven from the tribe, shunned, left to wander alone. Maybe we could use a little more of that now, because with all the screaming going on, people lose sight of what they don’t know, what they need too learn, and what they should be doing to keep the community strong.

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More on the stuck ship as of Sunday 3/28

I came upon this absolutely terrific video about the stuck ship in the Suez Canal. It really covers all the elements and in a very informal but informative style. The guy even uses his son as the aviation expert discussing the use of helicopters to lift containers off the ship. To my utter astonishment and delight, the helicopter discussed is the exact same model found in the story Totem I just finished – the Russian MI25. It turns out the ship ran aground near the southern end where the canal is very narrow, 300 meters wide. They had hoped to drag it free today and failed. Tomorrow the tide is highest yet (the tides there are about 6-7 feet it seems) so their best chances will be in the next couple days. I hope you enjoy this video.

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Picking up the pilot…..


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