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Saturday, November 12, 2011

No. 85 "kickin' for clams"

My older brothers, by the time they were teenagers, had assumed responsibility for helping to support our family. Usually this involved working in the water beside Daddy, but sometimes they were on their own or just with each other. Especially Tommy and Bill, only two years apart, were most often together as they set nets, picked up oysters, dredged for scallops, or kicked for claims.

Set-netting and oystering were fairly routine and mundane. But dredging for bay scallops was something that many watermen dreaded. In and of itself it was not that hard; pulling a metal dredge behind the boat and then culling the catch on the stern. It was the conditions for doing it that could break your heart as well as chill you soul.

Scalloping was done in the dead of winter, and the cold water and high winds combined to make a “drudgery” out of “dredging.” Working in the open, on the aft of a boat, facing the wind, with the sea (waves) often breaking against the stern and splashing into your face, with hands aching from the cold and muscles aching from the strain; all this combined to cause one waterman to assert that “a scalloper was a fisherman with his brains knocked out.”
Tommy & Bill, not long after their venture to Banks Bay

Kicking for clams could be almost as strenuous, but since it required some clarity in the water, it was not so tied to “bad weather” as scalloping was considered to be. To set up for kicking, a stake or anchor was positioned on top of a shoal and lashed to the transom. The motor would then be revved-up to create a wash that “kicked-out” the clams from beneath the surface. Once the propulsions had stopped and the water cleared, you could see and then scoop up the clams. When the process worked it was much less tedious than pulling a hand rake along the bottom all day long for a very similar harvest.

One clear and calm February morning, Tommy and Bill started out in my father’s seventeen foot long open boat called “The Waterspout.” They headed towards Banks Bay off of Diamond City on the Banks. They planned to kick enough claims to help Mama buy groceries that Saturday. As told by Tommy, they skipped school since it was rare to have such a nice day in mid-Winter, and could not be sure when they might get another chance.

Tommy, who was the older of the two, took charge of running the engine and once they were there, setting the stake and lashing the boat. By the time they got to the Bay the wind had breezed up – sudden changes in conditions being one of the hazards of winter fishing. According to Tommy, Bill was less enthusiastic than he had been about the whole venture, and when it started blowing Bill found shelter under the bow of the boat where he was protected from the chilly breeze.

As the engine started-up and began to roar everything seemed normal at first. But after just a few minutes and a loud clang from the motor the roaring stopped and within a moment silence settled on the boat, the crew, and the water that surrounded them.

Tommy was the “mechanic” and so he immediately began trying to determine what had happened. Taking the lid off the engine box he couldn’t see a problem, so he next removed the whole wooden frame from around the motor for a more thorough inspection. While Bill looked on from his perch under the bow, Tommy bent over from on his knees to see under the block of the engine. What he found was that a piston rod had broken through, effectively rendering the motor as a total loss. As he returned erect, with exasperation showing in both his expression and his movements, Bill spoke up to find out what was going on.

“What is it?” he asked as Tommy went about pulling the boat back to the stake to unlash it. “What’s the matter with the engine?”

“It’s throwed a rod,” Tommy responded curtly and then continued about the business at hand.

Unaware or uncertain of the exact meaning of what his brother had announced, Bill continued his question by demanding, “Just what does that mean?”

“I’ll tell you what it means,” Tommy said with more than a little frustration. “It means that if you get home today, you’re gonna have to shove!”

1 comment:

  1. This is definitely one that needs a video recording of Uncle Tommy telling the story. :) Let's make it happen. Love it!