In the dark before dawn in Port Clyde, Maine, the sounds of slamming truck doors, revving motors, boat radios, cursing and shouting float across the dark water. These are the lobster men, fortified with coffee and bacon, getting ready to haul their traps.
At the edge of the dock a small group of men forms a semi-circle, their heads bowed, their arms resting on each other’s shoulders. These are the Christian lobster men, praying in whispers that a passerby would not be able to hear. No one tries to listen. But no one treats them with contempt the way they might have years ago. The other men are used to the hurried thanks and praise, the prayers for a safe day on the choppy waters of the Atlantic. Prayers that the other fishermen will come to Jesus are pretty much ignored. About fifty-three boats fish for lobster out of Port Clyde.
Like any group of men making their own rules, setting their own priorities and hours, lobster men are a tough lot. They fight among themselves over territory, lost traps, imagined or real slights, or from being part of the wrong family. Feuds can hold over for generations, and can lead to cutting of trap lines, ramming of boats or even threatening with a firearm. Lobster boats keep their radios on all day, set to their local channel, 7 for Tenants Harbor and 80 for Port Clyde. They listen at all hours for weather reports, distress calls, and reports of lost or found traps. “There’s a lot of useless talk on the radio,” I am told by an old-timer, “a lot that’s vulgar, a lot that would not make the Lord happy.” Sometimes the Christian men turn off their radios, and sometimes they sing hymns. The men who are not Christians get sick of all the preaching and some go out of their way to make the praying Christians shut up.
“For some lobster men, Christianity really irritates ‘em,” a Christian lobster man told me, “They’ve determined that God isn’t real and it’s all made up. ‘That foolishness, that religious stuff’,” they say, “But the reason they’re annoyed is ‘cuz it’s convictin’ ‘em. When we express our faith, for some it brings ‘em to a point of curiosity, makes ‘em stop and take a look and be sittin’ on the fence. Sometimes they take a look at their life, some of ‘em, cuz of the openness of the Christian men, and sometimes it changes their outlook . . . They start to think, ‘Where do I go from here?’ At some point they might even wonder, ‘Is this the Truth?’” Then they might come to visit the little church at the end of the peninsula for Men’s Meeting on Thursday nights. Rough hewn and unruly, they find a new understanding of days and years spent making a living on the uneven surface of the sea. And the little band of praying men at the water’s edge just before dawn gets larger. © 2010 Kathleen A. Fox