Skittles are a metaphor for all the colorful lobster pots that completely dominate Maine waters. Sailing is hard enough with watching elements of weather, the winds and the waves, and the working operations of the sails, the motor, and all the lines. Most of the helmsman‘s mind is absorbed with navigation and attuned to looking out for the regular navigation aids—buoys. For those unfamiliar with sea life, that means red nuns (often large red buoys that have a round bottom and pointed conical tops) and green cans (large green cylinders that should be able to be seen from afar) both of which warn of imminent dangers of rock ledges under the water, shallow waters, craggy rocks and other dangers that could damage a sailing vessels’ keel or bottom or simply trap a sailboat in too shallow water. If that is not enough, Maine adds another serious element—lobster pots in almost every niche and cranny in Maine waters, even in very deep water.
Basically, the sailor has to navigate long distances between lobster pots and the rocks. It’s not easy. Captains must have crew willing to help the helmsman spot and navigate between pots of all colors and designs, some with and some without flags that help bring attention to the lobster pot at the bottom of the sea. Sometimes two floats have an adjoining toggle line which can easily be snagged by a boat’s propeller. If this occurs, it means real trouble for both parties: the lobsterman may get a destroyed line and lose his catch in the rectangular basket on the ocean’s floor, and the sailboat, if tangled, may not be able to get untangled and thus becomes stranded on the water unless the line is cut. Or worse, blown onto the rocks. Nothing good comes of either result.
If traveling a full day of about 6 to 8 hours’ sail from one place to another, there is little rest for either captain or crew, whether sailing or motoring. The pots are numerous and are everywhere.
“There are no straight lines in Maine waters.” The automatic pilot cannot be used for but a few minutes at a time. Norma’s neck is tense as she tries to spot hundreds of colorful pot buoys ahead On all sides of the boat, they are aplenty as we try to get into a harbor or port. No respite here. Pots are everywhere, even in channels, the most used pathways for boaters. “There is no where to escape them,” Norma whines.
Constant are desired course interruptions by pink, orange, yellow and red and dark green or blue lobster buoys, the latter which can be very hard to see among small and especially large waves. There is no more than 5 minutes between clusters of pots. Usually 1, 2, or 3 minutes comprise a break if out on deep water a few hundred feet deep. Yes, pots are everywhere, in deep waters and in more shallow ones. Everywhere.
Intense is the word we use after a day’s sail in Maine. One cannot take their eyes off the water spotting pots and the captain also has to consider which route to take through them and the drift of the boat as the boat moves along. Many times we spot a shiny white lobster buoy ahead, and as we get closer, it flies away, but typically, it’s just in time for us to turn the boat at least 10 degrees this way and then 10 degrees back to avoid pots on both sides of the boat. Sometimes, it’s downright dangerous as the pot lines are crisscrossed and we have to turn completely off course in either direction rather than deftly maneuver between rows of many colored pots. Sailing becomes more of a scramble than a leisurely sport. It’s like someone sprinkled skittles across the part of the ocean attributed to Maine.
One would think the lobstermen would at least leave a path into a harbor for themselves. One day we were anchored in the inlet to Saco River, a spot that was particularly dense with pots and quite difficult to enter. We watch the lobster boats plowing through the field of post at speed. It turns out they have cages around their propellor and rudder so they do not get fouled. Yes, lobstermen need to have their livelihoods, but at such a price that discourages sailors from coming here more often to buy their lobsters at Maine’s wonderful restaurants.