Lobster Traps

We’re headed back to Thomaston as I write this, nearly done with the Maine portion of our trip. The plan is to have a few things fixed at Lyman-Morse and then continue south to Boston. We almost made it to Canada, turning around just 22 nautical miles south of the border. Soren was lobbying hard to head up there so we could hoist a Canadian courtesy flag and sing “O, Canada” and then turn around, but in the end we decided to skip that bit and take advantage of the good weather. We had a fabulous sail yesterday — flat seas, 15-knot winds, close-hauled on one tack for 3 hours.

Anyway, we can’t leave Maine without telling you about lobster traps. I am really ready to be rid of lobster traps. Thickets of them spread across the water here — in rivers, wide open bays, even in deeper water on the Atlantic coast (when you think you might finally be rid of them).

What you see, I should clarify, aren’t the traps themseves, but the buoys attached to them:


The lobster trap sits on the bottom, held down by a brick, and a rope ties it to a buoy that floats on the surface. Each fisherman paints his buoys with a unique color scheme so he can tell them apart. Mostly they’re neon, in stripes or solids.

Every day lobster boats zoom around with their crew (including kids sometimes), pulling up traps to check them. The boats are incredibly nimble, making sharp S-turns at high speeds. Somehow they know exactly where their traps are.

Sailboats, on the other hand, are not so nimble. We don’t know where the traps are. And if we hit a buoy the rope can get fouled up in the propeller, which is bad news. It’s a problem for the fisherman, too, who’s now lost his trap. The lobster down below will eventually be able to crawl out since the hinges on the trap are designed to disintegrate if left in water for a long time. (The traps are sort of like roach motels for lobsters. They can crawl in but they can’t crawl out.)

At any rate, it means that helming the boat demands a lot of attention. You can’t just point in the right direction and make sure your sails are trimmed correctly. Instead you’re constantly scanning the water for buoys and swerving around them, sometimes at the last minute.

The further north (well, east) we headed, the deeper the traps were seated. Which presented an even bigger challenge. In deep water the fishermen tie two buoys to each trap: one is attached like normal, and the second one floats 10 or 15 feet away, connected to the first by a rope that floats just under the surface. So you might think that you’re heading your boat capably between two separate buoys when in fact you’re driving right over a shallow rope that is primed to grab onto whatever it can under your boat.

Thankfully that’s only happened to us a couple of times, and neither time did we end up with tangled rope underneath. This, no doubt, is because Gene had a prop cutter installed on EXIT some years ago for precisely this hazard. But it’s not foolproof, and I still feel bad for ruining a trap. In fact I have visions of a crazed lobsterman (or woman) climbing up onto EXIT’s transom, dripping wet in his rubbery bibs, brandishing a buoy and threatening to beat us with it.

I’m sure we’ll have other hazards to look out for later on. But I’ll be glad to be rid of this one. I don’t even like lobster.

PS: Totally jinxed us by writing the above this morning. Later in the day, as we exited Deer Island Thoroughfare, I was sailing while Drew was down below cleaning out the raw-water filters for the engine and generator. The wind was picking up and blowing in a great direction for where we were headed, so I got the sails all trimmed and waited for the boat to lean over and pick up speed and …. nothing. We slowed down. We slowed further. By the time Drew emerged we were stopped in the water, and it was obvious: We’d gone over a lobster buoy line and were now essentially anchored in the middle of a huge bay. Drew ended up tugging on his wetsuit and swimming under the boat to disentagle a rope from our propeller. Oy. The good news is we didn’t damage the prop or sever the rope, and the whole process only took about an hour. I spent the rest of the afternoon certain that we would run over another one, but we’re anchored safely now (and intentionally).


  1. Linda, thank you for that story about the “lobster trap/buoy” risks. It just illustrates to me that the more people there are installing lobster, gill nets and other paraphernalia in the ocean, the more dangerous it is for those who are navigating in and under the water…humans and ocean mammals alike! Glad you had some real smooth-saling experience, too. What a life! xox

  2. Linda..I remember dodging those pesky buoys too, wishing you had X-ray vision. And I still like lobster. Glad this part of Maine is behind you. xxoo Janie

  3. I was always so happy to reach New Brunswick or Nova Scotia because there were NO lobster buoys to dodge. i’m so impressed that you trim the sails. i never did that during my days on Exit. I hear you are a very good sailor

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