Nantucket Island Squid

When you get an opportunity to fish squid, you take it. I once again got a chance to head out on the F/V Rimrack with Captain Mike Anderson, his wonderful daughter Kelsea, and hammer-beard deckhand Brian Flood. As you may know, I also went out with them in April to shoot and write an article on scallop fishing for Hearth Magazine which will be published in print this fall - but will be on this blog July 1 (stay tuned - as that article mostly features Mike - while this one is more about Kelsea and Brian). This time, the trip was purely for pleasure.

As we were scheduled to steam out at 2:30am, I arrived the night before to sleep on the boat.  I rolled into Hyannis on Cape Cod around 9:00pm that night. It was interesting to stand on the docks among the commercial boats. Looking out at them, they stood like silent sentinels to the sea. Every boat was dark, quiet and majestic. Captains and crews long asleep. Behind me, along the main strip of town, the bars were alive and hopping with the younger crowd enjoying the Memorial Day weekend. None of them with the worry of having to head out to the squid fishing grounds in a few hours.

Kelsea met up with me and we headed aboard where Mike was already fast asleep and Brian was hauling supplies into the wheelhouse. I was directed to the berth where I would spend a few restless hours before the engines fired up. The rack was like a makeshift five-sided coffin - about six feet long following the curve of the bow. It was about two feet deep and the clearance to the rack above was also a mere two feet. Each time I tossed, I'd catch myself about to roll out onto the floor, start to sit up, and whack my head on Brian's bunk above, pausing his deep snore for just a brief moment. But believe it or not, I loved it. I felt a part of a romantic history of living on the sea (albeit a short stay) and my mind drifted to the gentle sway of the sea as the harbor waves gently licked the side of the Rimrack. The sound of waves, gulls, and the boat rocking me to sleep was pure zen.

As I began to drift off into neverland, the engines fired up and Brian popped out of his bunk to help Mike get us out of the harbor. I stayed put in my foggy daze and drifted off again as we crashed through the choppy waters to the fishing grounds.

Around 5:00am, the lights of the berth came on as Mike gave the rack a kick, signaling we were at the grounds and it was time to set out the nets. The sun was just kissing the horizon with wonderful fire-red skies behind Martha's Vineyard. Now, a little aside. Those that know me know that Jaws is my all-time favorite film. And this is the place where the majority of the film was shot. You could say, this was my Graceland.

I digress. Up on deck, Mike was manning the hydraulics as Kelsea and Brian guided the squid net into the ocean for the first 45-minute tow. Like remote controlled zombies, they return to their racks to catch an extra 45 minutes of sleep. I returned with Mike to the wheel house to properly greet him 'good morning' as we discuss the plan for the day - and as I realize I forgot to bring coffee.

He explained the process of catching squid and the success over the last month on these grounds. The season for them is short - basically the month of May. And they can be elusive, shifting to different parts of these waters with the wind and tides - and also shifting closer to land as the season draws to a close.

With the unseasonably good weather, they've been grinding out here for a month already, with only a couple days off to tune up the engine. Like with scalloping, the days start early (2:30am on average) and end late (7:00pm) and they only take time off for stormy waters. Weekends don't exist. After pointing to maps and charts to help me get my bearings, the first tow ended and he woke Kelsea and Brian to suit up.

As the engine moaned into an idle position, the seagulls took the queue and began to circle. Kelsea slipped into her traffic cone inspired foul weather overalls and squid ink stained jacket in preparation to hoist the net back onto the giant wheel.  I soon realized the reason for her hood as she stands below the giant rotating wheel to guide the buoys and the net squeezes out water, squid ink, and jellyfish onto her head.

Mike, Brian and Kelsea work in unison to guide the catch onto the sorting block. The net releases from the bottom and a variety of sea life bursts onto the deck; mostly squid, but also a fair mix of jellyfish, sharks, bluefish, fluke, sea bass and crabs. Once sorted, the squid - shooting ink across the deck like a childhood squirt gun fight - are shoveled into baskets to be transferred to ice below deck.

As Mike resets the net into Nantucket Sound with the winch, Brian hops below and Kelsea hands down a processing tray which Brian layers with ice then squid. Each tray holds about 100 pounds of squid - a little math tells you that at about 0.5 pounds each there are ~200 squid per tray. The goal today is 30-40 trays - close to 2 tons and 8,000 of these big-eyed buggers. Once the first catch is iced, the deck is washed of the ink, seaweed and jellies and the next tow begins.

This cycle repeats until evening when the days catch of squid is brought to the docks for the fish processor to offload. Mike winches the trays out of the hold as Brian guides them into the processors waiting truck to prepare for market. People gather at the dock to ask questions about what they've caught, how it's done and so on. I hear mumbles of people suddenly craving calamari.  Once offloaded, Mike refills ice and fuel and returns to the slip to grab a quick bite before dozing off, ready to repeat when the alarm chimes at 2:30am.