‘Mushroom,’ and Prudie the peapod

May is prime construction season at Star Island as we work to catch up on years of deferred maintenance. Much of our material is loaded by hand, but for the bigger loads we use a truck-mounted boom lift. The temperature approached summertime readings early in the month as we docked at the state fish pier in Portsmouth where there is room for a truck to come alongside the float close enough to reach the boat. The wharf was alive with fishermen loading lobster gear, converting from one fishery to another, and taking advantage of the long-awaited good weather to work on the boats.

We are guests in the fishermen’s domain. I am always aware that the pier is for fishermen, and that their work down there comes first. Mark Nash, a life-long Star Island man, and I waited for the lumber truck to arrive, with the Hurricane tucked as far out of the way as possible. It’s pretty tough to hide a 50-foot trawler along a 100-foot wharf at low tide, but we did what we could to keep her out of the way.

My friend Geordie King, a fisherman and a marine surveyor, was down at the pier working on extending the house over the working deck on his Canadian dragger. Geordie went all the way to Newfoundland to buy the Brittany Lynn and brought her back home one cold recent January. She is a unique boat in these waters with a ship-like bulbous bow (a design taken by nautical engineers from traditional Aleutian kayaks). With a fresh coat of blue gelcoat and white trim, Brittany Lynn looks ready for a good season.

Mark and I watched as the crew on one particularly hard case of a fish boat struggled to loosen the rusted bolts and shackles of their scallop gear. Finally, the captain got in his truck and drove away in search of some better tools and more coffee. A wiry man with a thin grey beard that reached nearly to his chest climbed up out of her to join us on the wharf. His Dickie’s and flannel shirt were amply coated with a combination of grease and gurry. He had seen us come in on the Hurricane. He looked us over, and then looked back down at the old boat. Hurricane sat in the shallow brown water of the basin among the lobster boats and bait barrels, listing slightly to port as she does, and in serious need of a good paint job.

“You two sure look like tourists, but that old girl ain’t no kind of yacht,” chortled the man in his finest coastal twang, stopping, it seemed to me, just shy of affectation. He drew out the last word in mock derision, until it sounded more like “yaw-ought.” “You boys just out joy-riding, or what?” We explained that Hurricane was still a workboat, making regular supply runs to the Isles of Shoals, and he began to warm up – just a little.

“Name’s Mushroom,” said the man, holding out a grease-covered hand in introduction. He asked all about the boat, the engine, what we did with her, who built her and where – all the usual questions – followed by a little praise for the virtues of wooden boats in general. A wide ranging back and forth about boats and the waterfront ensued – with more than a little verbal provocation from both sides. We had gained a little credibility, but we were still not at the level of the regulars on the pier: scallopers, bottom-trawlers, gill-netters, lobstermen. “We’re all fishermen down here,” Mushroom reminded us. When I asked him where all the scallops were this season, he answered with a question: “Now let me ask you somethin’. If you had yourself a nice little gold mine out there on those islands, do you think you’d want to tell me where it was?”

The lumber truck arrived about then, and got us loaded down with two lifts of plywood and a pile of framing lumber. We strapped it all in, spun her around in the tight basin without hitting a single thing, and headed back to the Shoals in a thunderstorm – feeling not at all like tourists, in spite of Mark’s brand new rain gear.

Back out at Star Island, the unofficial capital of the Isles of Shoals, we could see the R/V John M. Kingsbury from the Shoals Marine Lab over on Appledore Island making their first trip out to train the new captains and get their moorings in.

Dick Case arrived in Gosport Harbor aboard his lovely Alberg 37, Thisbe, another Shoals icon of well over 30 years – the boat, that is. Dick himself has been coming out here a lot longer than that. Dick has played major roles in the running of Star, Appledore and Smuttynose. He was a driving force behind the establishment of Star’s solar power system. A retired electrical engineer who has installed radars on destroyers at Bath Iron Works among other things, he has led the volunteer facilities committee on the Star Island for as long as most can remember. Dick is a true Yankee with a positive, matter-of-fact approach to things that I really admire. One year I related to him my worry about a serious budget overrun on a major capital project. Dick replied with characteristic reassurance. “Of course you’re over budget. We’re on an island. Don’t worry about it. Worry is a young man’s game, anyway.”

Ray Randall, retired electrical lineman and owner of Lunging Island, came out with us the other day with a boatload of tools and household items. Ray has spent nearly all of his 60-something summers at Lunging Island – home of the famous honeymoon cottage, and once a trading post for the colonizing London Company. The pier in the tiny cove at Lunging was badly damaged during the past winter and was out of service. We had Ray’s old peapod and we towed it over to Lunging so Ray could get his stuff ashore on the beach. The ’pod is named Prudie after Ray’s deceased mother, who was known to enjoy a good row. I’ve heard that Prudie was famous for swimming from island to island in the summer months on a regular basis.

There was a pretty strong surge rolling at the Lunging mooring where we stopped to transfer Ray’s gear to the peapod. Against our advice, Ray loaded her to the rails and beyond with a file cabinet, a five-foot tall leafy houseplant, a box of light bulbs, a lawnmower, a bunch of garden tools, and cartons of food and other supplies. Ray left a spot open on the thwart so he could sit down and row over to the beach. But as he reached for the oars, an unexpected roll tipped the ’pod on its side. The boat filled to the gunwales, after releasing Ray and all his gear into the 50-degree water.

One of our guys caught the lawnmower by the handle just before it sank. Ray soon surfaced nearby, reaching for the boat with one hand and treading water with a long-handled shovel in the other. Two of us hauled him aboard with surprisingly little difficulty, considering all the clothes he was wearing. He was still clutching his shovel as we rolled him over the rail.

In the sparkling light of a lovely spring morning, the peapod’s oars, the file cabinet and the capsized houseplant drifted off toward the beach amid a bobbing flotilla of lightbulbs. We righted the ’pod, and bailed her out. Ray decided to shuttle what was left of his gear in two trips, paddling off toward the beach with his rescued shovel.

Jack is a USCG 100-ton master and the facilities director at Star Island at the Isles of Shoals, where Aloft, his Ted Hood-designed wooden sloop, lives most of the summer. Formerly island manager, Jack now focuses on running freight boats and tours during the summer season and managing the waterfront.

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