Today I celebrated the United States Coast Guard’s 222nd birthday with a cruise on the Hood Canal, a bottle of homebrewed Mountain Woman Red, and some of the best Dungeness crab ever eaten. It was on this date in 1790 that President George Washington commissioned the Revenue Cutter Service. The Revenue Cutter Service grew into the Coast Guard that we know today. The Coast Guard is unlike the other defense oriented services. Besides the mission of defense readiness, the USCG operates under another 10 demanding missions: ports, waterways, and coastal security, drug interdiction, aids to navigation, search and rescue, living marine resources, marine safety, law enforcement, migrant interdiction, marine environmental protection, and ice operations. There is seldom a dull moment.
I retired from the Coast Guard in December of 2009. One would assume that a woman retired from the USCG would have a decent amount of boating experience. This is a logical assumption, but a false one in my case. I spent my first 20 years high and dry serving in the Army and Army Reserve. I was lucky enough to jump the fence and become a Coast Guard officer in 2005. My only regret is that I hadn’t jumped twenty years earlier. I loved the Coast Guard, and wish my health would have allowed me to serve longer and learn more about going to sea.
My lack of boating skill and knowledge on the water is a source of personal embarrassment. I love being on the Hood Canal, but the learning curve without my old crew is steep. To make matters worse, I married a landlubber with almost zero interest in the sea. He doesn’t even care much for seafood. What is a wanna-be mermaid supposed to do?
I suppose learning to boat is a lot like learning anything else, but more expensive and dangerous if you are stupid. I try hard not to be stupid, but sometimes you just don’t know what you don’t know. There is so much to learn. I attack the knowledge acquisition like I attack most new quests. I research and then do it. This usually works out for the best.
I own a 1965 Boston Whaler. She’s just a little 13-footer and not much to look at, but she is a classic. The toughest part so far has been dropping her in the water and pulling her back out on the trailer without getting into a fist-fight with my husband. We don’t work well together – evidently. It looks easy when we watch other folks unload and load boats at the boat launch. We tried a few years ago, but the fighting ruined the trip and damaged my boat. I was so pissed off. I swore never to do it again. But time eases drama, and I was hungry for crab. So, we gave it another go. Not only did we not fight, we actually had a great time. Whew…
The Hood Canal is full of amazing foods, and Dungeness crab is my favorite. I’ve tried crabbing on the canal before, but without a boat I didn’t have much luck. Today was different. I baited the pot with nasty smelling herring I let bake in the sun for a few hours. We dropped the pot with about 150 feet of line just outside of the traffic lane entering the boat launch. The idea was to drop the pot, cross over to a peninsula and state beach park, have a picnic, and pick up the pot on our way home.
It takes a decent amount of time and forearm strength to pull up a pot with 150 feet of line. I worked arm over arm, while chanting, “Please be crab. Please be crab.” I hoped for a couple Red Rock crabs for dinner. I had always understood that the best crab, the Dungeness, where out a lot further.
The pot felt heavier than I remembered, but I wasn’t sure if it was just wishful thinking. About halfway through the hoisting, we started speculating.
“Betcha got a pot full,” said Jim.
“Nah, probably pesky spider crabs, maybe a Red Rock.”
I need to be more optimistic. When the pot broke the surface of the water, I squealed. It was a long, shrill, girly squeal. Five lovely Dungeness crabs tussled with the wire mesh in hopes of freedom. The purplish hue of the shells and white tipped claws gave away their identity.
Current regulations on the Hood prevent the taking of female Dungeness or males that are under 6 ¼ inches wide. The five crabs were on the small side. It was going to be close. I pulled out the first crab, a real fighter. It was a male and measured 6 ½ inches across the widest part of his shell. He was a keeper. The next crab took forever to get out of my trap. I flipped it over to examine his private parts, and he was a she. Male crabs have pointy appendages. Go figure. Female crabs have rounded girl-parts. Identification of sex couldn’t be more intuitive. My catch yielded 3 male keepers and two females to release. I was thrilled.
I checked on fresh crab prices the day before in an attempt to fuel my desire to get out on the water. A local grocery store advertised at $8.99 per pound. It seems like a ridiculous price, but one that is readily paid by non-boaters all over Kitsap County. Each of my keepers weighed about 2 lbs. That’s over $50 for dinner, if I had purchased from the grocery.
Crab season is short on the Hood Canal. It runs from July through the first week of September. With a drama-free crabbing trip under our belts and bellies full of fresh crab, we intend to hit the water again during this upcoming week. I pray for a drama-free launch and a full pot.