A Sternman from Away [Reprinted with permission from author]
By Ashley Mobbs
My first year out on Vinalhaven I worked for a Captain named Richie Carlson on the Valhalla. The following year I sterned with another captain, named Albert Osgood, on the Ocean Belle.
It wouldn't be to hard to hop on aboard with someone in Vinalhaven, I did a tucker run with Richie and pirated his current sternman's job. All you need to start with is to buy or borrow someone's Grundens -captains often have spares and there be hundreds of unwanted ones in closets and workshops with holes in 'em. You'll buy your own of course when you have a job, in fact you'll buy a small fortune of rubber from Hamilton Marine in Rockland.
With your Grundens on, a pair of blue rubber gloves and with your Igloo lunch box; you'll find yourself hanging out down at the Co-op, the Ferry or at the lobster buyers' wharfs or floats and asking the workers, fisherman and sternmen if there are any jobs available. It will probably play out like this way or another. A well seasoned captain will always take delight in your determined "greenhorness" and say, "Sure! I'll take ya out, you don't get sea sick do ya? I won't come back to take you in if ya do! Ha ha ha! After that we'll talk later to see how dependable you are! (Note: one of the most important qualities in a up and rising sternman, that's you.)
A lot of people may be second guessing themselves at this point. You know better! You know he's just testing to see how tough your skin is, because Captain knows his high liner brother is looking for a sternman and so is that idiot Casey down to Indian Creek; as well as that shark Frankie T in Old Harbor lookin' for a third man, and so on and so on. You get the picture - small town. Another thing a Captain form the island asks is who do you know-no problem if you don't no anyone he's just curious, and two where are you living? Best have a good answer, if your not sticking to the island full time, best not to waste his time on you.
So he going to take you out, eh? Don't be ashamed to ask to borrow some gear on your trail run. Remember this is borrowing, meaning paying back what you ruin and nothing is for keeps so get your own soon! You and the captain are on the mooring, maybe it's just you and him or there maybe a sternman in there with ya, if so remember, Captain always right and sternman is next that leaves you in last, that's the way it is and don't forget it! I've known people who get choked who did forget.
Jump and stand back when told. NEVER put your foot in the ropes! NEVER! Think of them as poisonous snakes moving lightning fast and they would love to drag you down to the brink with a hundred pounds of trap on top. Band those lobsters, they had better not pile up to crunch on themselves and others, a dead lobster is worthless!
When you get sea sick (note I said when not if), work through it. I've heaved traps off the boat while vomiting at the same time. I'm not the first person to do that and it's not a big deal. Second season came for me and I think to myself, Ha! I've done this before noo problamo! Fifteenth vomit and 11 hours later, I was a sore but still working! There be two stages to sea sickness: One. Ohhhhh! I think I'm going to die! Ohhhh! Two. Some time has past now and the green says, I wish I would die! I wish I would die!! Funny you always think you fell better after a hurl, a kind of false euphoria.
I can go on and on. The thing with fishing is, the stern is yours. All you need to do is get the job done right and fast, with no assistance from the Captain. Always rotate your bait know how much you have left. You'll build good ties with the other sterman who go through the same hell as you do out in the blue office. You'll find yourself in two situations, your either out hauling, or out at the bar/dinner parties/IGA/on sidewalks with other sternman talking about hauling. You can never talk about it enough, there is always something to be said about fishing.
Even while traveling the world with my husband, David, I still miss sterning.
Her second post aboard the Ocean Belle
Even Christmas in Australia cannot stop Ashley from missing the sternman life
"The Land Rover is not a vehicle, it's a way of life."