Sailing snuck up on me.
You move far more than you feel in those boats, really, albeit it at an oftentimes much lower speed than their hotheaded motored counterparts.
You cruise constantly, like those low-hanging clouds that I can’t remember the scientific terms for.
My friend Brian, his old man and I went out one late-summer day.
Brian’s father repeated an old rumor, that some Alaskan King Crab could be found at Lucky Point, under what auspices I’ll never know.
“Pass me the bumper,” said Brian, half in the sailboat, half still in the dinghy.
“This thing on the white rope,” I asked him, hoisting up the loose knot, it yellowed with age and was covered in scuff marks.
“Ropes are called ‘lines’ on boats,” said the old man.
“Yes please,” he said.
I handed him the white line in my right hand, he thanked me immediately and looped it around a cleat, safely connecting the two vessels.
I climbed in next.
“Are you sure about this,” asked Brian as he grabbed his father by the forearm and hoisted him in.
“Things don’t always turn out the way they’re s’posed to,” said the old man while tying the dinghy to a nearby buoy, “but you won’t know that until they happen.”
“Dad,” he said a little indignant, “we’re in New Jersey.”
“Just trust me, pal.”
He acquiesced, and began preparing the two lines.
The old man was above untying the row boat from the side, then steered toward the destination
I sat on a cushion in the galley, not sure what to do as this was my first time crabbing.
Brian poked a hook through the poultry.
“Stick it in between the two thigh bones bones so it stays connected to the trap,” he said, handing me the other hook. “Otherwise, they can pull it off. Give it a try.”
I grabbed a piece of fairly foul chicken.
“They like this stuff?”
“Love it,” said Brian with confidence, “that or they’re just too dumb not to eat it.”
“Aren’t they supposed to eat fish or something?”
“We like to treat them,” said the old man from above, overhearing us.
Brian smiled, “yeah, but chicken is good bait because its hard for them to break apart.”
I pierced the drumstick where I was told, and after a brief inspection, Brian grabbed his line and stood.
“We’re here,” said the old man.
The sea glistened and rippled, aside from the flattened, winding path the currents left. This point seemed no different than any other in the bay, to be honest.
We brought the lines up, tied them to the cleats of the ship and dropped them into the water. Mine was on the left, next to a current. Brian’s, on the right, faced the shore.
The old man rested a net on top of the galley, we went inside, washed our hands with sanitizer, cracked open a few beers, and called a toast to a day in the bay.
“I hope this King Crab thing is true,” said Brian.
The old man sipped calmly, tired of trying to convince his son with words alone.
“How many crabs do you usually catch,” I asked.
“Depends,” said the old man, finishing his swig. “I’ve gotten 32 nice-sized catches on one trip, and I’ve had some go by without anything biting.”
I nodded. Guess it just depends on the day, I thought.
“You need three things to go crabbing,” said the old man, holding up three fingers. “Beer, friends and crabbing supplies.”
Brian finished his beer, he seemed less antsy after his father said that.
Mine was still half-full.
“Let’s go out on the deck,” the old man said.
Brian and his father went to the line that he set up, they asked me to come and watch as they demonstrated.
“You can feel them tugging at the line,” said Brian, slowly pulling it up. A faint, star-shaped outline appeared attached to the very end of it.
Without a word, his father grabbed the net and stood in front of his son, who slowly pulled the catch up within range.
Deftly, the old man sunk the net in and retrieved the iridescent blue crab.
“We got a keeper,” he yelled while high-fiving his son, “looks just shy of 6 inches.”
“Is it a king,” I asked.
“No, kings aren’t blue, and are much bigger than this,” said Brian’s dad.
They gently lowered the catch into the bucket while I finished my beer.
“Check the port side,” said the old man.
I went over and pulled my line up slowly, another star-shape emerged, the same color, but it was noticeably smaller than the last.
“Gotta throw that sucker back,” he said.
I tried pulling it up more, but it let go of the bait.
The old man offered me another beer, “let it soak for a while.”
I plopped the line back near where it was, turned, sat.
“How do you like crabbing, buddy,” the old man asked me.
“So far, so good,” I said, “I think I’m already getting the hang of it.”
Brian rested his arms by the sides of the ship, the two seemed glad that I was having a good time.
“I think you’ll get a keeper,” they said simultaneously, “I can tell,” said only Brian.
A few minutes passed, we decided to check the lines once more.
Brian raised his line, another star-shape emerged from the murk.
His father grabbed the net again.
“Looks like a keeper too, may be a little smaller than the last.”
They retrieved the crustacean, and lowered him into the bucket, a small scuffle ensued between the two catches, which died down once they pinned each other into submission with their claws.
“I’ll check the port side,” I said to nods from the crew.
I felt a few tugs on the line as soon as I grabbed hold.
Taking great care, I pulled the line up until a faint outline again emerged.
“Looks like a keeper to me,” the old man said, directing Brian to get the net.
It was definitely big enough, but it looked a little off.
Brian pulled it out of the water, and it became clear what was different about it, it was missing it’s left claw.
“Good job,” said the old man with great gusto.
He plopped it in the bucket, it immediately grabbed the second claw of the first crab, the second crab squeezed the new catch on its declawed shoulder, resulting in a Mexican standoff of sorts.
I dropped the chicken back into the water.
We put the bucket in the galley to keep the catches out of direct sunlight.
“Nice work, boys,” said the old man, holding his beer in front of him, “to catching keepers,” he said.
We clinked our bottles and all took hearty gulps.
The sun hung a little lower now, the light cast through the wispy clouds.
“Let’s see what we got,” said Brian.
“Want to try netting,” the old man asked me.
“Sure,” I said.
I stood in front of Brian as he gently pulled the line up.
Two small outlines emerged, two tiny crabs locked in combat over the drumstick.
The old man laughed infectiously.
“Pull it up anyway, it may scare them off,” said the old man, “sorry pal, maybe next round you’ll get to try out the net,” he told me.
“No problem,” I said, “I’ll check mine out.”
I leaned over the side, and felt some stiff tugs on my line.
“Feels like a keeper,” I said.
I pulled up a little ways.
Brian got into position, his father retrieved the bucket and put it in the middle of the deck, just as before.
A massive, red star emerged, firmly attached to the poultry.
Brian and I spouted some expletives, his father laughed at us, then at the massive, Alaskan King Crab, which had no business being in New Jersey.
“Hold on,” he said, switching the other container with a spare that he added some water to.
“Go ahead,” he said. We proceeded as usual, Brian put the net behind the crab this time, it detached from the bait in a bid to escape, but still found itself ensnared.
We stood in awe of the creature and gently put it in the container.
“Now that’s a keeper, my friend,” said the old man, high-fiving me.
In no time, we polished off the rest of the beer.
I got to try netting, and really refined my technique by the end of the trip.
Brian ended up with five good catches, all blue. I caught two more blue keepers, all respectable by their own standards, but still dwarfed by the King.
I don’t think that was what was supposed to happen, but I’m glad it turned out that way.