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Swimming in Icy Waters

So you see these cold days when the northerly cold fronts descend upon us? They are pretty cold, aren’t they? Who would think of going swimming at five in the morning during these cold days of November and December? Nobody does today, but we all did in the 1950’s and 60’s, or twenty five years ago as we like to say.

Why did fishermen and their children go swimming in these challenging icy cold waters at five in the morning? During these cold fronts of November there was lobster in abundance. I mean in abundance! Fishermen used to say, “La langosta esta corriendo” meaning that the lobsters were literally running. Lobsters would be seen in bunches or in lines along the sea grass only 100 yards from the seashore. Lobsters would be bunched up around the posts of the few piers along the beach. If you went to your fish trap along the coast, the lobsters would be lined along the tail of the trap running all the way to the beach. And if you entered the trap, you would see more lobster than fish. I mean these lobsters got in your way if you wanted to pull a net to catch the fish. There was a time when lobster had no value for there was no market for it; fishermen considered them pests and literally entered the fish trap and started throwing the lobsters out.

However, in the 1950’s lobster already had a value of about six cents per pound of whole lobster. Then in the 1960’s the Caribeña Fishing Cooperative was already purchasing lobsters, processing them and exporting to the United States. Therefore, when the “lobster were running” during these cold days, we used to get up as early as five in the morning to catch them. This required diving and using the hook stick to capture them. Ohhhhhh, it was bitterly cold, but at 20 cents per pound, it was worth the effort. By sunrise one could have filled his dory with some 300 or 400 lobsters.

I am talking about catching them right in front of the village from around Boca del Rio area to the primary school. This was the closest area for the early morning catch. Afterwards, the fishermen went to the fish trap, and after that to the lobster traps, which were boiling over with lobster. It was very easy and common for a fisherman to catch up to 1000 lobsters on those cold northerly mornings. And if the north winds persisted for some four days, every day was the same story. Sometimes the cold north would blow on Christmas Day, and even then the fishermen went out to sea to labor. And because it was in abundance, it was fun and every son of a fisherman who was about 10 years or over went along with dad to catch spiny lobsters. When you got into the dory and the wind hit you, that was when you realized it was “coooooold”. No dive suit, no scuba tank, no shirt – only your underwear and a diving mask, a hook stick and a lot of guts and gusto to make the best during the best of times. Today, when I see these cold windy November and December mornings, and with the price of lobster at $20 a pound, I only wish we had lobster in abundance as we had them twenty five years ago.

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