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One Famous Sea Star ⭐️

One Famous Sea Star ⭐️

The post below was sent as an issue of my newsletter, Ready for Rain.

It started on what seemed like a typical autumn day. The weather was calm and Sachi was feeling the pull of crab traps. That feeling, which I feel too, is similar to the feeling of gambling; a rush that comes from the chance to win. Every fisher feels it, I assume, and many know that as long as you’re on the water, there’s no way to lose. 

dungeness crabs in a trap

We boarded Short Story and headed out to Deer Harbor with our supplies in a small bucket, a cooler, and a dry bag. The whole process happens by rote at this point, having gone to check the traps on most days of every week since mid-July. 

This day would be different, but not that remarkable in isolation. As one of the traps came to the surface, I heard Sachi say, “Whoa!” in a tone that was part surprise and part anxiety. It looked as though an alien had entered the trap. It was a bright orange sunflower sea star with 19 arms and we weren’t sure what to do.

sunflower sea star lee lefever

We both were flummoxed for a moment. We knew sea stars are harmless to people, but this 19-armed creature looked like it evolved to be a warning to humans, like a brightly colored spider or snake. Some scientists now believe that our reaction to spiders and snakes is innate and not learned. Perhaps, somewhere in the backs of our minds, an ancient voice was telling us that the bright orange creature in our trap could be dangerous.

In reality, we humans are far more dangerous to it.

Sea stars on the pacific coast of the US have had it rough recently. Starting in 2013, over 90% of them died due to sea star wasting disease. No one is certain what caused it, but many think the culprit was a sudden change in ocean temperatures. Sea stars that used to be incredibly common in our area simply vanished over a few years. Since then, the ocean ecology seems to have been out of balance. 

From this article.

The widespread collapse of sea stars, a top predator and keystone species, has had dire consequences for many of the West Coast’s marine ecosystems. For example, the local extinction of sunflower sea stars, which can live for up to 65 years, has led to an explosion of their primary prey, the Pacific purple sea urchin. On a single reef in Oregon, the population of these animals increased 10,000-fold between 2014 and 2019, to more than 350 million individuals.

Sunflower sea stars, like the one we had in the trap, were recently certified as critically endangered by the IUCN

I was aware of their plight and we brainstormed how to get the sea star out of the trap unharmed and back into the water without touching it. But first, I needed to take some photos. With that out of the way, we dipped the trap back in the water and turned it on its side, and with a little shake, it fell out gently and drifted back down to the shadowy depths. 

sea star in water

My first thought was our friends on the island who work for a non-profit organization funded by UC Davis called SeaDoc Society. Their work focuses on ocean science and the rehabilitation of the Salish Sea and its inhabitants. I looked forward to sharing what I thought was a good sign for sea star recovery. I put the photo on Instagram first.

A week or so passed and an idea struck. I enjoy browsing Reddit and occasionally post photos. One of the communities that seemed perfect and has over 19 million members is called, “Mildly Interesting“. I thought the sea star fit that description, so I shared the photo on Reddit with a short note about it being endangered. This is where things started to hit high gear.

Reddit is designed to be a democratic system. Once something new is posted, the members of the community can each give it one vote: up or down. When something gets traction, the upvotes outnumber the downs, and the post has the potential to ascend to the top of the community page and possibly reach the front page of Reddit itself. 

When I went to bed that night, it was obvious the photo struck a chord. It had thousands of upvotes, with new votes coming by the second. I couldn’t wait to check my phone in the morning to see what developed as I slept. 

To my surprise, the post received over 30k upvotes overnight and reached the Reddit front page at position #10. I was so excited and read almost every comment, including 100+ versions of the question, “how did it taste?” Such is Reddit.  

reddit data
reddit data

That day, I received a succinct message from someone who asked if I was interested in licensing the photo to news organizations. I agreed. He sent over an agreement and questionnaire that gave me a chance to tell the story. I was careful to promote the photo as possible evidence of a sea star comeback and its connection to ocean ecology.

These kinds of relationships are unpredictable. I figured there was no harm in licensing the photo and I might earn a few bucks. More than anything, I expected nothing to happen.

A few days later, a friend on the island shared a link that was a surprise. Fox News had picked up the story and used the photo on their website along with quotes from me, the “fisherman”. I found it hilarious.

fox news story about sea star

Then, the article also appeared on the New York Post website.

new york post sea star

Messages poured in from friends and family calling me, “The Fisherman”. If only they knew that Sachi is the real fisher in the family.  One of my favorite parts of the article is this quote at the end:

“LeFever did not immediately respond to Fox News’ request for comment.”

At a personal level, this was a fun and exciting event to watch unfold. But it’s also a reminder about how little this kind of media exposure matters. It had nearly zero impact on my career or livelihood. I did earn a $75 licensing fee for the photo, which is nice. 

The real outcome, I hope, is building awareness about the sea stars of the Salish Sea and sea star wasting disease. Every person who learns about it is one more potential advocate for taking care of the ocean.

According to Reddit, my post has been viewed over 3 million times and shared over 1,000 times in the past two weeks. The Fox news article has been widely viewed and shared as well. It was not my intention, but I count the few minutes it took to share the photo as a small part I could play in helping the sea stars get more attention and hopefully rebound. 

reddit stats

Since that first catch, we’ve seen three more sunflower sea stars in our traps, so there is growing evidence, at least from our boat, that they are coming back. Here is one escaping just as we pulled up the trap:

sea star escaping crab trap
sunflower sea star
Catching Spot Prawns ?

Catching Spot Prawns ?

The post below was sent as an issue of my newsletter, Ready for Rain.

When I was a kid, we’d load up the family RV and head to Emerald Isle, North Carolina, about four hours away. Often these trips were quick getaways that were less about sand castles and more about fishing. 

We sometimes fished from the beach, but our main fishing happened from piers that stretched up to 1000 feet into the Atlantic. I have fond memories of parking the RV at the Indian Beach pier, which also served as a campground. If the fish were biting, we’d be out on the pier for hours at a time, casting lines with two hooks and a sinker as far as we could. Sadly, Indian Beach pier eventually crumbled in the wave of hurricanes in the late 90s.

A pier similar to Indian Beach via BlueWaterNC.com

Our bait was usually limited to bloodworms and raw shrimp. I thought little of it at the time, but bloodworms are frightful little creatures that bleed profusely when you cut into them. They are venomous carnivores that are capable of biting humans. I have been bitten by a bloodworm and it’s not fun. But, the fish love them. We mostly caught spot, and occasionally pompano, sheepshead, puffers, and more. I also set basket traps for blue crab.

Those days and nights on fishing piers were fun for a kid like me, and exposed me to a lifestyle of sport and self-sufficiency. On a good trip, we’d be able to fill the freezer with fish and give them to friends and family. My mom was the most gifted fisher and always seemed to catch fish when no one else could. Over the course of an afternoon, you’d notice other fishers sidle up to try to get in on the action. Those salty characters who now live in my memory as the shark hunting character, Quint, in the movie Jaws.

One of my clearest memories is fishing with raw shrimp as bait when I was about ten years old. Over the course of the evening, my face seemed to explode with a reaction to something. My eyes got red, puffy, and itchy. I sneezed and wheezed and tried to contain what felt like a bad cold. I washed my face and hands and it passed, but remained a mystery. 

As an adult, I became a fan of sushi and noticed something odd. When I ate raw shrimp, my mouth would feel anesthetized and my throat would feel swollen. Sometimes my lips would puff. It didn’t take long to realize that I was allergic to raw shrimp. Thinking back to those childhood fishing trips, I remembered that I was baiting hooks with shrimp and then touching my face. Thankfully, the reaction only occurs from raw shrimp and I have no problems with cooked shrimp or any other shellfish. 

And that’s a good thing because shrimp, or “spot prawns” to be precise, are a recent entrant on our list of foods we pull from the Salish Sea around Orcas Island.  

Despite living in the area for so long, I never knew much about spot prawns. Our Canadian friends to the north always raved about them and got excited for spot prawn season. On visits to Vancouver we would pick up spot prawns for dinner. It seemed odd to me that this prized seafood was not well-known in Seattle, which shares the same waters. I still can’t explain why this is the case, but we now count ourselves as spot prawn enthusiasts. 

It didn’t take long to hear about spot prawns after moving to Orcas Island. Like the fishers at Emerald Isle, islanders here are always aware of what’s in season and how to catch them. Our contractor, Drew, took us out for our first spot prawn experience, which involved dropping a few hockey puck-shaped pots in 400 feet of water, waiting an hour, and then pulling them up with a battery powered pulley. It was like magic and we wanted to do it ourselves. 

Unfortunately, our little boat didn’t seem like a candidate for an automatic “puller” and the idea of pulling shrimp pots by hand from 400 ft deep seemed daunting. That all changed when we met a neighbor at our marina who hand-pulled small pots at a depth of 250 feet with great success. His bounty influenced our decision to invest in a single shrimp pot, 400 feet of line, two buoys, and shrimp bait. We were set for the 2021 shrimping season.

Perhaps the reason spot prawns are not well known in Seattle is that they are a protected resource. This year’s season lasts a total of twelve days, split between three long weekends. During these times, each licensed shrimper can use two pots and bring home 80 prawns per day. A productive and law abiding shrimper could bring home a maximum of 1,280 prawns in a year. A couple like us could keep over 2,500. The lesson: get while the getting is good.

Last week was our inaugural shrimping trip and our friend graciously allowed us to follow him to his coveted shrimping spot. Spot prawns, conventional wisdom tells us, like to feed in the short period of time when the tides change known as the “slack tide”. This means that within a limited number of days in a season, there are only a few hours a day when the shrimp feed. For our first trip, that meant leaving the marina at 6:30 am. 

By 7:00 am our little shrimp pot was baited with cat food, shrimp pellets, and sardines and lowered to the bottom. To wait out the trapping, we tied our boat to our friend’s boat and hoped for Camelot. He bottom fished for lingcod until his giant hook snagged something on the bottom and had to be cut free. We drank coffee and talked story. 

On our first pull, we got about 40 spot prawns, which felt like a victory. Because the slack tide was longer than usual, we stayed for another round and came home with just over 80 prawns. The next day we went out twice and came home with a similar amount.

After that, the weather turned and made shrimping more difficult. We stayed home and filled our bellies with those sweet buttery little crustaceans. They are the best-tasting shrimp I’ve ever had. The Canadians are onto something. 

The final opening of the season is in the middle of June and we plan to take advantage. Like every shrimper, our goal is to “limit out” which means catching the legal limit in a day. With two people and a second pot, we may be able to do it. Maybe next year we’ll get an electric puller. 

For now, pulling one small pot and 400 feet of line is part of the fun and a reliable form of exercise. Instead of using teamwork, we challenge each other to pull the entire thing in one shot. It’s harder than it sounds and highlights why everyone thinks we’re crazy for not using a machine. 

Sachi, of course, is our head shrimper and I’m the navigator and alternate puller. She baits the pots, removes the prawns from the trap and de-heads them on the way home.

If the prawns die with their head on, they release an enzyme that softens the meat. Once we’re home, she prepares them for the BBQ or a boil. I supervise, as I’ve learned my lesson with raw shrimp. No one wants my face to explode again. 

Related:

This Was 2020

This Was 2020

2020 will be a year students read about in history books for generations. The COVID-19 pandemic, the end of the Trump presidency and a long list of mostly terrible news will add up to a year that people will remember as being particularly bad. And it was bad. As of today, 338,000 Americans have died of the virus. But even within the scary headlines, there has been joy and hope.

I don’t usually publish year-in-review posts, but I feel the need to assess my own 2020 and try to extricate it from the macro version that we see on the news. Like many people, my 2020 has been mixed and yesterday (Christmas Day, 2020) provides a handy backdrop for thinking the year through.

A Look Back

Long before the virus became an issue, 2020 got off to a terrible start for my family. My mother, after years of poor health, passed away on January 5th at the age of 80. The last time I saw her was Christmas Day 2019. When I left home that afternoon for the airport, I had no idea she would be gone so soon. But yesterday, and probably on Christmas Days going forward, I will think of her and feel grateful that I was able to be there for her last Christmas along with the rest of my family. We had no idea how special it was to be safe in the same room together.

A few weeks after I returned to Orcas Island, the first case of COVID-19 was reported in Washington State. We were concerned, but it wasn’t yet a public health issue. Our friend, Tony, was leaving Seattle and had a going-away party we attended at the end of February. The next day, the first death in the US occurred, again in Washington, and we found ourselves in Costco, fighting huge crowds for toilet paper among other things. That afternoon, Sachi left for Hawaii for about a week and I returned to Orcas. It was the last time either of us stepped foot in Seattle in 2020 or attended an indoor event of any size.

By the time Sachi returned to Orcas Island, lockdowns were going into place around the country. Within a week, we were ordered to stay at home by the governor. Businesses closed, events were cancelled, and uncertainty reigned.

From the beginning, Sachi and I became dedicated to treating the virus with great care, as we do today. Starting in March, we assumed we’d spend most of 2020 alone and in the guesthouse with our two dogs, Maybe and Piper, and try to make the best of it.

Our temporary home (second floor, over a garage)

In the spring, watching the virus provided a slightly macabre form of entertainment. We were both fascinated with the science of it, how it spreads, and how governments react. It felt like every day history was being written, both good and bad.

Sachi and I both welcomed the lockdown and felt a real sense of security being holed-up in the little guesthouse on an island. Having worked together from home for so many years, it wasn’t a big change. Our spending went down and we adjusted to a low-intensity lifestyle with fewer interactions. We felt a sense of relief in not having engagements or travel.

I might even say that, outside of the public health issues at large, we were happier being stuck at home and I don’t think we were alone. Sometimes mandated change has a way of revealing new opportunities and perspectives.

The Book

Big Enough Final Cover

As the economic reality of the virus became clear, I started to see a direct line between that uncertainty and a big project: writing and publishing my second book: BIG ENOUGH. The book was scheduled to publish on May 5, 2020. That spring, the projections of COVID deaths were expected to peak at that time and we decided to move the publish date to September. I had to adjust my expectations for the reality of publishing and promoting a book during a pandemic and near a presidential election. What happens to the book market when bookstores are closed?

The House Project

The defining factor of our personal 2020 was a house project, which started in the summer of 2019. We’re building our forever home on Orcas Island. It is, by far, our largest and most complex project.

The House Project, Christmas, 2020

I often say that happiness lives in anticipation and that sense of anticipation has grown stronger as the house has come together. Big projects like this are stressful and time consuming, and that’s expected. In fact, it now feels normal and makes me wonder how it will feel not to have the stress or anticipation in my life. 

Along with other minor duties, we have been the painters and stainers and that is a much bigger job than I imagined. We stained over 3000 sq/ft of cedar ceiling boards that required three coats each. We sanded and painted the fascia around the roof multiple times, and we dusted, masked, painted, sanded, repaired, and cleaned the entire interior of the house. We saved money, learned a lot, and became a small part of the construction crew.

Third coat of paint
Sachi Painting the Fascia

There have been minor hiccups and delays, like any large project, but overall it has gone smoothly. We visited the site on most days in 2020 and continue to be constantly engaged with decision-making. We are thankful to have great relationships with both our contractor, Drew Reed, and architect, John Stoeck. We feel like we’re working with the best people possible.

As summer arrived, it became crabbing season and we found that boating was the perfect pandemic activity. Our old 90s boat motor started to fail and we invested in a little 60hp Honda that made being on the water quieter, cleaner, and more worry-free. We crabbed almost every day we could and brought home over 150 Dungeness crab. On a few occasions we met friends with boats on the water and tied up on-anchor for across-the-bow socializing. 

A Big 'Un

BIG ENOUGH launched on September 15th. It’s hard to know if the change of publish date made any difference, but it was a relief to get it behind me. I love seeing it out in the world and hearing from readers for whom it was helpful. 

In 2019 I started a newsletter called Ready for Rain that has become one of my favorite personal projects through 2020. I usually publish every Tuesday and share a story along with recommendations for media and products I like. It takes time, but has become a way for me to practice writing and connect with people.

The year ended much like it began, with a new round of lock-downs and restrictions. We knew it was coming and met it with mostly open arms. 

Christmas Day 2020

On Christmas Day 2020, we saw no friends or family in person and that is perhaps the perfect encapsulation of the year. Instead, we made delicious food and connected with our loved ones via the internet.

The pandemic news was all about the winter wave of infections, hospitals being overrun, and the huge (and disappointing) number of people traveling for the holidays. I believe that history will show that America failed this test by not listening to the guidelines of scientists and turning away from facts. I hope that’s the real lesson from all of this. It didn’t have to be this way.

But there is also hope in the news. Two vaccines have been approved and are currently being administered to those most in need. Our friend, Nicole, a nurse in Seattle, is the first person I know who received a dose. Being in good health, working from home, and living in an isolated location means we’re likely to be near the back of the line and that’s fine. After a year, we know how to stay safe and can certainly do it for a few more months.

BIG ENOUGH is available in paperback, ebook, and audiobook and has 4.9 stars with nearly 50 ratings. Given the circumstances, I’m proud of the book and where it is right now. It’s not a bestseller, but it was never destined to be one. I’ve spoken on dozens of podcasts and put untold hours into promoting it. As hope returns to our collective psyche, I believe the book will be even more relevant. It gives me joy to imagine people opening gifts this morning and finding my book.

The house is very close to completion. It has heat, electricity and running water. The roof and 95% of the exterior is complete. Tile is being installed and along with wood floors, the countertops will go in within a week. Next month, the fiber internet connection will be in place and appliances will be delivered. There’s a chance we’ll be sleeping there by the Superbowl.

We spent a couple of hours on Christmas Day doing something that has become normal for us: working on the house project. Like so many others, our work is impacted by the pandemic. We prefer to work on the house while others are not there, which means working on weekends and holidays. On Christmas Day, Sachi rolled the first coat of paint on a bedroom accent wall and I cleaned overspray off of window sills. 

Sachi and I don’t often exchange gifts and this year was no different. Our work and dedication to the house is plenty. But there will be a moment when a gift arrives that means we’ve actually moved in. That gift is a steel container full of furniture, garden tools, boxes and more that has been in a warehouse for nearly two years. Someday in late January or early February, the container will arrive and it will feel like Christmas.

Looking back, I feel grateful and fortunate for the people and events of 2020. We stayed healthy, our big projects went well and above all, our relationship remains strong. I feel so fortunate to be stuck in our tiny home with Sachi, who makes everything better.

Looking forward, I’m feeling hopeful that we’ll all start to see the path to recovery more clearly. Surely 2021 will be better than 2020, right?

The Smell of Crabbing in the Salish Sea ??

The Smell of Crabbing in the Salish Sea ??

The post below was sent as an issue of my newsletter, Ready for Rain.


This time of year is known for warm weather, being outside, backyard fire pits, and for the last few years at our place, the smell of rotting flesh. Let me explain.

In the Salish Sea waters off Orcas Island there are Dungeness crabs and each summer crab season begins in July, offering a source of fun and delicious protein. We both enjoy the crabbing, but Sachi is the driving force behind it all.

A Big ‘Un

It is said that the challenge of crabbing for some people isn’t the crabs, but the bait. The crustaceans will eat almost anything and most people use raw chicken, turkey, fish and sometimes cans of cat food that serves as an attractant. For us, it comes down to cost-effectiveness. Our local grocery store has a “crab bait” freezer this time of year, often filled with deeply discounted packs of expired meat. When that’s not available, we opt for drumsticks from Costco.

Recently, our contractor, Drew, said that he had a big pack of frozen crab bait on his boat in the form of herring, a bait fish. All we had to do was grab it from his freezer, thaw it, and use it as our crab bait. It’s rare to have fish as bait because of the expense, so this was a treat.

I was out of town for a couple of days, so Sachi left a gift bottle for Drew, grabbed the bait, and came home with a 35lb pack of frozen herring. As she discovered, thawing the herring created a problem. Where do you thaw a huge block of dead fish? If placed outside it would attract critters, so she opted for a spot just inside our front door, which is downstairs from our main living area. It was a solid plan, given the circumstances.

Sachi and the dogs went to bed that evening with dreams of crab dipped in butter. The next morning, Sachi was awakened by the dogs licking her in the face, which isn’t odd. But this time it was different. They had a wild look in their eyes, like it was Christmas morning for dogs. Then she realized that those licks were infused with the unmistakeable stench of dead fish. Within seconds, it all became clear.

Sometime in the early morning, the dogs had discovered the pack of herring by the front door and decided that it was breakfast, nicely laid out for them. Thankfully, it was still frozen, so the bulk of the bait was safe. But they got to lick it for as long as they wanted. And the smell, despite multiple washes, lingered on their muzzles for days. I suppose that smell is what the crabs like, too.

It seems logical that smelly bait would attract crab and this is a strategy we’ve taken to heart in the form of “ripening” the bait. This means leaving it out so that it can get a little funky. While we don’t have empirical proof that it works, we have taken notes from many old timers on the island.

A few days ago, Sachi filled a ziploc bag with 12 frozen drumsticks and placed them on a table in our main living area in a glass container. They were not yet ripe, but on their way. Before leaving home that day, we placed the container on the back corner of the table, surrounded by other containers, to prevent the dogs from getting it. The guest house is essentially one room, so there are few options for hiding anything.

When we arrive home it’s always the same. The dogs come to the door, bark and wag, and run up the stairs before us. When we returned this time, it was obvious that something was amiss and we both noticed. The dogs stayed at the bottom of the stairs as we ascended. We shot a knowing glance at one another. What would we find?

I was the first into the room and was relieved to find a ziploc bag torn to shreds. This happens sometimes. No big deal. Then Sachi arrived in the room and looked closer. What we thought were small pieces of wood from outside were actually shards of bone. Chicken bone. Sachi said, “oh my god” as she turned toward the table where we so carefully placed the chicken. The glass dish was on the floor and the chicken was nowhere to be found. The damn dogs had deftly removed the chicken from the table and devoured a dozen drumsticks between them. That’s why they were at the bottom of the stairs: consciousness of guilt.

happy, bad dogs
happy, bad dogs

After some scolding, I looked up the potential health issues. Raw chicken, I learned, is not often harmful to dogs and reflects what they evolved to eat. It’s the cooked version of chicken bones that can cause problems because the bones can splinter more easily. We were relieved and reminded ourselves not to feed them for the rest of the day. They were fine. We, however, were out of drumsticks.

Thankfully we still had 30lbs of herring, in a sealed box, ripening by our front door. It smells terrible, but it’s a small price to pay for pulling crab out of the Salish Sea. So far, we’ve brought home and shared over 30 of them.

Links from the Blog

I’ve continued to write consistently on the blog at leelefever.com. As you’ll see, I’m focused on the process of publishing Big Enough and all that goes with it.

? Pre-order the Big Enough eBook – The paperback and ebook versions of the book are now available for pre-orders. If you’re interested, pre-ordering the book is helpful.

? Watching the Book Data – I get a little obsessed with data.

? Should Authors Buy Their Own Books? – A guy in the UK bought 400 copies of his own book and got punished for it.

? The Podcast Book Promotion Strategy – In the COVID era, there is probably no better way to do book promotion than being a guest on podcasts. How does one promote themselves as a guest?

Crabbing in the Salish Sea ?

Crabbing in the Salish Sea ?

The post below was sent as an issue of my newsletter, Ready for Rain.


Just outside the guest house where we live, Short Story, our little boat, sits all buttoned up for the winter. Pulling her out of the water was a momentous occasion because it marked a seasonal transition in our lives from the warm fun of summer to the chill and rain of fall.

Short Story
Short Story

The transition also means that we lose an amazing source of protein and a hobby that adds excitement to summer days. You see, Short Story, for us, is a working boat. Its hard fiberglass deck can take a beating and throughout the last two summers, it performed admirably as we became dedicated to catching as many Dungeness crabs as possible.  

How this works is best told through a couple of summer days. 

The process starts at Costco, where it’s possible to find chicken at the lowest price per pound. We load pounds and pounds of drumsticks into our cart to use as bait for the crab. Upon returning home, some of it goes in the freezer, some the fridge and some into a cooler without ice. This is where our dedication to crabbing is tested.

We’ve heard that crab may be more attracted to smelly meat, so Sachi started her own chicken spoiling project. The basic idea is to throw raw chicken into a cooler and let sit for a few days. Once it’s nice and ripe, it becomes the bait. This process is a reflection of Sachi’s personal dedication to crabbing. I am willing to take my chances on fresh chicken.

This year crab season started on July 12th in our area and we put traps out the first morning we could. That morning we got up and gathered all our boat things, like a dry bag, a bucket with crab tools and our four crab traps. It all barely fits in our car, which quickly becomes filled with the smell of rotting chicken. The crabs better love that stuff, I think to myself.

The marina is only a couple of minutes away and it’s a minor trial to get everything to the boat because the traps, which are metal cages shaped like big hockey pucks, are heavy and unwieldy.

The crab traps, or “crab pots”, are designed to sit on the bottom in 50-70 feet of water and we’ve weighted them with rebar to keep them in place. Leading up from the trap is a line attached to a buoy that has our name and address on it. As long as we’re in regulation, we can throw the traps into the sea almost anywhere we want. And that is the real challenge in crabbing: location.

Sitting inside the metal cage is a box that contains, in our case, radioactive chicken that acts as a beacon, inviting crab to enter the trap via little ramps which lead to trap doors. The traps are designed to catch not just crab, but the right crab. Small ones should be able to get in and out with ease. We want those little guys to grow big and strong and feeding them is a cost of doing business.

metal cage

Once we have everything loaded onto the boat, we putter out of the marina and into Deer Harbor, which is well known for crabbing and only a few minutes away from the dock.

On the way, Sachi stands at the front of the boat with a stack of crab pots. Each one needs to be inspected and baited. Being downwind at the helm of the boat, I get assaulted by chicken smell, which you can almost see in the air. Sachi is undeterred. Using tongs, she loads the off-color flesh into the traps one-by-one and arranges the lines on the deck to reduce tangles.

stack of crab pots

Then the challenge begins. Where do we drop the pots? Dungeness crab live in eelgrass and usually, the best crabbing is in areas where it grows. The problem, as with a lot of fishing, is the well known places see a lot of competition. Over time, we’ve tried to forge our own way and have seen success off the beaten path. By the end of the season, I’m willing to try just about anywhere.

I read once that you should hold the line as the pot sinks so you can be sure it lands on the bottom correctly, which is right side up. Once it hits, you can feel the tension lax, and I give it two or three tugs to stir up the detritus on the bottom. This practice is another bit of tribal crab knowledge with unknown benefits. Why not? We are learning and always open to new tactics.

With the crab pots in the water and locations marked with GPS, we putter back to the marina and drive home. It usually takes about 45 minutes, door-to-door, and our anticipation can begin. We both hope the crabs are appreciating the effort we put into the chicken. It’s surely a delicacy.

Our crab pot buoy floats in Deer Harbor
Our crab pot buoy floats in Deer Harbor

On this day, we return to the boat in the afternoon once work is done. The pots have been in the water or “soaking” for about 8 hours and this trip is different. Our goal is to remove crab from the pots, refill the bait and put them right back into the water. This is a cycle we repeat every day, five days a week. Crabbing is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

Usually, the buoys are easy to find and I’ve learned to approach them at just the right angle for Sachi to grab the line with a paddle handle. This is when I get to work. The line is 100 feet long and that works out to about 55 hand-over-hand pulls to get the trap to the surface. If you’re wondering, that’s 220 pulls, often twice a day. Over the summer, I become stronger in very specific ways.

As the crab pot approaches the surface, it feels a little like Christmas. What is the gift that nature bestowed on us today? I’ve become quite good, on the 53rd or 54th pull, at peering into the water and judging the catch. Some days, it’s possible to tell from weight alone.

Not a big day
Not a big day

I pull the trap into the boat and slide it across the metal rail to Sachi, who opens the trap from the top. Because I already have gloves on, I am usually the one who removes the crab, which can do damage to your fingers if they get ahold of one. So far my fingers remain intact.

Two Dungeness Crabs
Two Dungeness Crabs

Across the four traps on this day, we caught 10 Dungeness crabs and could keep four. That’s because females and small crabs must be returned to the water. We measure male crabs to be sure they meet regulations. The traps also catch many red rock crabs, which are smaller and less meaty, but still delicious. They can grow huge claws and we often keep them when they’re big enough.

A red rock crab sporting a big claw
A red rock crab sporting a big claw

Each pot is emptied, restocked with chicken and placed back into the water with intention and hope. We putter back to the marina and tie Short Story to the dock.

These days, I clean the crab on the pier beside our boat. The process is simple and quick. I hold the legs of the crab to the deck and use my other hand to rip off the shell. Then I split the crab down the middle with my hands or a cleat and shake out the innards. Most of the waste ends up back in the water, where it would end up anyway. This has been a huge improvement in our crab process.

When the crabbing is good, we have fresh crab for weeks at a time and it becomes a substantial and delicious source of protein. Once we get home, Sachi boils them in a big pot and places them in the fridge to cool.

fresh crab

Then, she sits at our dining room table and shells them in what I consider a state of zen. The product is a big bowl of delicious crabmeat that, in a restaurant, would cost at least $40 per serving, and a big bowl of shells to dump into the water on the next trip.

The results from multiple crab

When the crabbing is fruitful, we share cooked crab with friends and neighbors. It feels like we’re living off the land, or water. It can be frozen, but there is no replacement for fresh crab.

This summer, we brought home 86 keepers and a few dozen red rocks. That beat last year’s total by about 20. I’m sure that next year, we’ll continue to hone our skills and strategies a bit further and shoot for 100.

Seafaring with Our Boat, “Short Story” ??

Seafaring with Our Boat, “Short Story” ??

The post below was sent as an issue of my newsletter, Ready for Rain.


Seafaring with

It seemed like everywhere we went on Orcas Island, people who learned we were new residents asked the same question: Do you have a boat yet? For a while we just smiled and said that we hoped to someday. With so many plans for the house project, a boat seemed out of reach. 

These questions mostly came from long time residents who saw, in us, an opportunity to share something they valued about living on Orcas. Not having a boat in the San Juans was akin to living at a ski resort and not having skis, they seemed to say. People come from all over to boat and sail the San Juans in the summer, why not us?

Like so many experiences we’ve had here, boating found us. Our neighbor, Grant, (of potluck fame) texted me during our first summer on the island with an idea. He had recently purchased two boats, an older, smaller one and a larger, newer one and didn’t want both. He said that if we were interested, he’d sell us the smaller one, a 25 year old Boston Whaler, for what he paid. 

It seemed like an amazing offer, but at first, it didn’t seem possible. We had other priorities. But the more we talked about it, the more it seemed like a gift. We didn’t have to shop, or haggle. We could work with a person we trusted and it seemed the kind of opportunity that doesn’t come along very often. Our minds opened, just a bit more.

The idea of having a boat reminded me of a sign that used to hang at our family lake house in North Carolina. It said “A boat is a hole in the water into which you pour money.” The expense of having a boat doesn’t stop when you acquire it. It requires gas, moorage, maintenance and more. Did we really want to take on that expense? 

Within a couple of days we met Grant and took our first look at the boat. The first thing we noticed was the name. Emblazoned on both sides of the boat, in a design we’d never choose, were the words “Short Story”, and we both couldn’t believe how apt it was. For over a decade, short stories, in the form of educational videos, have been how we supported ourselves. It was kismet.

Short Story

Short Story was 15 feet long, with a center console, bench seat for two and enough room for two additional people. It had an older 55hp Suzuki outboard engine and a gas tank that held 12 gallons of gas. It wore it’s age with grace and seemed to be in working order, unless you needed a working gas gauge, horn, running lights, etc.

Grant, always a helpful soul, took it upon himself to install a new battery and do some other maintenance before handing it over. For us, it was perfect and easy to get up to coast guard standards. Within a couple of weeks, it was ours.

maintenance before handing

What made the idea work was our proximity to two marinas, only minutes away, in Deer Harbor. Most people moor boats in the summer and store them in the winter and that was our plan. By the end of July in our first summer, Short Story had a spot in a marina and we became slightly more seafaring people.

Our marina in Deer Harbor
Our marina in Deer Harbor

Having grown up around ski boats, I was comfortable on Short Story and ready for exploration. It was small and easy to drive. What I discovered is that Sachi and I were not on the same page when it came to where we could go and what we could do on the boat. Having grown up in Hawaii, a respect for the ocean was drilled into her from a young age. Her love of being on the water and exploring with Short Story was balanced with a consciousness of the very real risks.

Boating in the San Juans is notoriously dangerous. While it may sometimes look like a lake from the surface, danger lurks below in the form of reefs and sea mounts that come out of nowhere. Without proper equipment and/or tide charts, it’s easy to run aground. Further, the water is cold enough to cause hypothermia any time of year and the currents can be strong enough to overcome small engines. Boating in the San Juans is not to be taken lightly.

On one of our first trips out on the boat, we were with our friends, Darren and Julie. Prior to striking out, we didn’t discuss where we’d go. I figured we’d just explore and make it up as we went along; I was in lake mode.

After leaving the harbor, we entered the wide and rough channel to get a water view of the Yurt before crossing the channel to get a closer look at Waldron Island. I didn’t know it at the time, but this was a formative experience for Sachi. From her perspective, I was being reckless. She saw risk in my careless attitude and looking back, I can see why. We didn’t have a plan. We didn’t know the area. The waves tossed Short Story around more than expected.

We made it back across the channel safely, but that trip set the tone for the rest of our boating and specifically, my perspective. For us to be a team, I needed to show more respect for the situation and surroundings. I needed to account for weather and tides and charts. I needed to listen more and work with Sachi to understand how our seafaring adventures could be more fun and less stressful.

The biggest risk is not knowing what’s happening below the surface. In the best scenario, boaters use radar/GPS in combination with a map of the seafloor to navigate around reefs, rocks, and obstacles. These systems can be very expensive and we figured there must be a more affordable way to solve the problem. Surely, I thought, there’s an app for that.

I eventually found a $15 app called Navionics that worked on a used iPad. For very little money, we had a way to navigate, via GPS, anywhere that 12 gallons of gas could take us and more than that, have confidence that we weren’t going to run aground. The iPad and app became essential parts of our boating experience.

Navionics that worked

By the end of the summer, I was feeling more comfortable and itching to explore. The San Juans have 128 named islands and a number of them are preserves or parks. There are countless bays and harbors to visit. Our little boat could only take us on a limited radius, but from my perspective, we were missing out by not exploring more. My FOMO was in full effect.

end of the summer

In talking through it one evening, I learned more about Sachi’s perspective. Short Story is not a boat that can handle bigger waves and Sachi kept referring to swells and the fear of waves swamping the boat.

This is obviously a legitimate fear, but the reality of the Salish Sea is that it’s an inland sea and unlike the open ocean surrounding Hawaii, there are no swells. The waves we encounter are mostly from large boats. They can be treacherous for boats like Short Story, but they come and go. The other factor is the weather, as wind can create dangerous conditions. 

Where is the Salish Sea?
Where is the Salish Sea?

At the end of the conversation, we came to an agreement that set the stage for our seafaring future. We agreed to make fair weather a priority and always have a plan for our exploration. Further, we agreed that waves are a part of the experience.

Slowly but surely, we both became more confident and started to understand why people on the island feel so strongly about boating in the San Juans. It’s not simply a mode of transport, but means of self-sufficiency, autonomy, and exploration. It’s a chance to catch dinner, visit neighboring towns, hang out with harbor seals and see whales in the wild. As much as Orcas Island has to offer, there’s a whole other world just off shore.

Seals are just aquatic dogs
Seals are just aquatic dogs

The story of Short Story is still being written. We have a lot to learn and explore. But one thing is probably settled. Some day, we hope to have a bigger boat, with GPS and radar, that we can take out for weekends and cruise to more distant locations. That boat will need a name and naming it anything other than Long Story seems like a missed opportunity.