September 7th, 2009 Henery' Creek, VA
Mike and his dad, also a Mike, picked me up at 6:30 am and we headed out into the mouth of Indian River. The boat was made of fiberglass and was completely open. It had an awning over the aft half where the work and the sorting happens. The engine was a 250 Honda and the steering consisted of a stainless steel bar about two inches in diameter and four feet long situated along the starboard quarter where Mike Sr.'s workstation was located. Mike Jr. stood directly forward of him. In the center of the boat was a sorting area, a box of bait (assorted fish about 8 inches long), and four different areas for the sorted crabs. There were bushel baskets raised to about table height by setting one on another inverted basket. They were for Number 1 Jimmys, Number 2's and number 3's. Jimmys are male crabs and generally run a little larger. There was a much larger plastic barrel into which the female crabs were tossed.
The system was much as one would expect. Mike Sr. drove up to a float and Mike Jr. snagged the line with a hook mounted on a 5-foot length of PVC pipe. He handed the line to his dad who wound it around the puller and stepped on the motor switch, which hauled the crap trap to the surface. He would lift the trap to the wide gunwale, handing it to his son. Mike then knocked the trap on the gunwale to get rid of the old bait still left in the trap, unlocked the opening side and shook the crabs into the sorting tray. While he closed the trap and reloaded it with bait his dad started sorting and drove to the next float. They sorted as they approached the next trap and when they got close Mike Sr. rolled the newly baited trap off the gunwale as Mike Jr. snagged the next float to start the process again.
They watched the point for boats that had been out all night netting fish and finally called one that they knew to purchase 5 totes of bait fish. The fishermen pulled into a sheltered area and transferred the bait over to our boat. The netters sort out the fish that have a market value but end up with lots of baitfish and love the chance to a get a little money for them. The crabbers pay about 1/3 price if they buy directly off the fishing boats.
Then it was back to hauling pots. Without the knowledge to sort crabs there was little I could do to help. I hung on to one of the awning supports and watched. I have always prided myself in having good balance on a boat, but I spent the morning hanging on while the boat pitched and rolled. Mike and his dad never hung on and somehow never lost their balance while working. I said something to Mike and his response was, "You need both hands to work."
After about four hours we finished the strings of pots in the mouth of the river and worked our way up stream where the water was much more settled. We drove most of the way up the Indian River and worked our way back to Henry's Creek past very nice new homes and docks. The crabs in the river were mostly male as opposed to the river mouth area where the majority of the crabs were female.
We returned a little after noon and I jumped in the dinghy and followed them to their dock. The crabs were off loaded and weighed. Tammy had just sold one bushel as we arrived and another was spoken for. Their dock and cooler act somewhat as a transfer station, with watermen driving up all afternoon dropping off their sorted crabs for market. They are weighed and then taken to market. The females all go to Reedville, about 12 miles away to a picking plant where they are steamed, picked and canned.
The Jimmys are driven to Laural, Maryland and sold there.
Another aspect of the business is "Peelers." Peelers are male crabs that are going to molt shortly. At this time of your there aren't very many of them, but we got about 10 during the trip. The Croxton family purchases "peelers" from other crabbers ,which are then placed in salt water tanks and monitored. There are signs as these crabs get closer to molting and are moved from tank to tank as they appear. Finally, they molt and are sold as soft shell crabs. They also sell soft shell crabs that have had their legs and shell removed and are called "clusters." Tammy had given us a few for supper when we met them in Deltaville and we wanted to buy a box to keep in our freezer.
I went back to the boat and picked up Kathy and we returned to shore to hang out with the family. We brought a pint of maple syrup to each Mike, for which they were very grateful. One thing that I didn't mention was that in the process of crabbing you also catch fish...blues, spot, small flounder some of which a large enough to be legal. They are usually saved unless the freezers are already loaded. Mike Sr. cleaned today's fish for our dinner and put them on ice. Meanwhile Mike Jr. drove home to pick us a bag of green peppers and cherry tomatoes.
At about 3pm we bid our farewells and headed back to "Sapphire" loaded with crabs, fish, peppers, tomatoes, and a few peaches and apples that were thrown in as well.
We read for the remainder of the afternoon. The weather looks bad here for most of the week. Rain, winds from the north at 20-25 knots with gusts to 30. There are small craft warnings out for the next two days. We've learned the hard way that going with or across 25 knot winds in the Bay is ok, but going into them is stupid. We may be here a few more days than expected.
We had flounder and soft shell crab for dinner... which was excellent, and then I went to bed.
The crab shed
Mike 09/07/2009, Heny's Creek, Kilmarnock, VA
September 6th, 2009 Henry's Creek, Kilmarnock, Va
I had coffee in the cockpit and listened to the birds, a little less depressed than I was when I went to bed. I hate it when things don't work. I got out the multimeter to check voltages on the plug going into the back of the GPS. I found that the unit was getting power as well as the proper signal from the antenna...another lightning fatality. There's not much to be done but picking out a new one.
After wasting more time than I have in weeks, I removed the carburetor from the out board and cleaned out the tiny ports with carb cleaner and the end of an E-string. Mike went by on the Tammy C. and waved saying that he'd be back later for a visit. Kathy finished polishing the stainless.
I got the outboard idling and had some lunch before they returned and had us come tie up at their business. We had checked out the place yesterday while exploring...it was a little ramshackle looking building on the water with shallow fiberglass tanks everywhere outside. Inside there were more tanks some with crabs in various stages of molting. Their business is selling soft shelled crabs and clusters which is a soft shelled crab without the shell or legs.
We drove out to their home a mile away and spent a comfortable afternoon just talking and checking out their property.
Returning to the dinghy, with the promise that he would pick me up at 6:30 for a day of crabbing, (They take off Sundays to do their own things, and Chirstmas, but don't go in much for other holidays.) We said thanks and headed back to the boat. (He's happy now-always wanted to go out with a crab fisherman, forget about the lightning damage $$.)
Nothing was thawed so I made some sauce and we had penne with marinara sauce for a much better meal than last night.
Mike 09/07/2009, Heny's Creek, Kilmarnock, VA
September 5th, 2009 Jackson Creek to Henry's Creek, VA
Today was disaster. I was ready to leave early... but had to wait for Kathy to finish her coffee. Our plan was to stop at the fuel dock on our way out of Jackson Creek and then head around the point and into Indian Creek and then Henry's Creek. We finally got around to weighing anchor only to find that our washdown pump was not working. Kathy got out the bucket and I did my best to get the mud off our chain as it came up... my best not being very good. With the anchor in place we headed over fuel up. I was easing in with Sapphire about 6 inches when I threw it in reverse to stop us. We stopped perfectly and I was preparing to jump off with the stern line when I noticed that Kathy had failed to get a line on the post. As we drifted away from the dock there was nothing to do but make a circle and head back to try it again. Luckily there weren't too many people around to see us.
We fueled up without incident. Kathy topped off the water tank and cleaned as much mud off the bowsprit as possible.
There was a big sailboat race happening this morning so we just got in line to snake our way out of the narrow channel.
Once in deep water I turned on the GPS but couldn't lock on to any satellites. Kathy brought out the old handheld which gave us our position in about 10 seconds. I turned the GPS off and then on again to see if anything would reset... but it wouldn't turn back on.
There was a nice breeze, so I put up the main and we rolled out the jib, headed the boat for the Eastern shore and left Kathy to sail while I went below for a couple of hours tracing wire. I found nothing amiss and quit. We swung Sapphire around and plotted a course for Indian Creek....the old way. After an hour of nice sailing we started the engine and lowered the sails and eased our way around the shoals into Henry's Creek, followed a side creek a about 110 yards and dropped the hook in front of Mike's (Tammy C.) dad's place. Mike is the waterman that we met in Deltaville working on his boat.
I spent the remainder of the afternoon installing our spare wash down pump and running down more potential GPS problems. Before dinner we lowered the outboard and explored Henry's creek and Barnes Creek. The area is mostly residential but there are still some older homes between the new starter mansions that folks seem to like.
We had a very mediocre dinner of kielbasa and sauerkraut and watched video before going to bed rather dejected.