It was a war unlike any others. It was fought on the water between crab holes. It was fought between the wharfs of the fishing towns lining the coast of Nova Scotia. But while the topic of this war was discussed from Port Hawkesbury to Glace Bay, the epicenter of this conflict was Petit-de-Grat, a small Acadian community in the county of Richmond, Cape Breton.
Petit-de-Grat had been founded in 1718 becoming a smuggling center for merchants who wanted to avoid Louisbourg and paying taxes to the French regime. Its true economic engine was however the cod fishery as fish was plentiful around the area. These glory days of this past were long gone and Petit-de-Grat had suffered greatly with many of its fishermen forced to immigrate to the States. Still life endured and hope was coming back to this town with the emergence of a new fishery. Many fishermen were now making a good living fishing snow crabs. The demand for boats and fishing gear was increasing. Fishing plants were operating again. Life was coming back to Petit-de-Grat.
Some people attributed the sudden increase in the snow crab population to the disappearance of the cod since it was not uncommon to find small crabs in their stomach. With the removal of one of their predators, snow crabs stock had mushroomed under this new opportunity. Others disagreed. It was the rise in the water temperature. The reason of the current abundance of snow crabs was a big subject of discussion around these parts but not as much as the subject of the war raging between John D’Entremont and Mike Yates.
Whether it was around mending fishing nets, repairing a crab cage or drinking beers, this topic would always come up. Someone would tell the latest incident in this conflict between D’Entremont and Yates recounting the tale like a rippling broadside fire of cannons. The account of this quarrel had taken such a dimension that it was now part of the Acadian mythology.
What was the initial event that had started this war? Some said it was about a girl. Others said it was about money. The conflict had been going on for so long that some people just gave up in trying to find some rational explanation. The cause of the hostilities was reduced to its most simple level. John was Acadian and Mike was Scottish. This was the way things are.
I was no different than others. I was curious. I wanted to know the cause of this conflict. In fact, I believed I had the right to know. Was I not possibly John’s only friend? John was considered a nasty grouch. He was a man of a very few words until he started to curse at you. Nothing was good enough. Your work always left something to be desired. Strangely while he was disliked by many folks, his crew was extremely loyal to him.
It was a wonder John and I were friends. We had nothing in common. Life sometimes likes to shake things up just to mystify us. This is what happened 10 years ago. I was a new fisheries observer and John was a new captain. In these two roles we were both virgins and I was assigned to John’s first trip out as a captain on a long line fishing trip on an old wooden boat. How our friendship was cemented is a tale for another day but let just say that a boat sinking can bring together the most unlikely people. As a result, we had a long history together. I was the only observer he would allow on his boat.
So on the day of the particular event of this war, I was on the bridge sitting at the kitchen table entering the day’s fishing data and measurement in my logs. I was tired. The day was done and we had hauled 60 crab pots from 5 am to 8 pm.
Having completed my work, I decided to tempt fate yet again. “John so what is the real story between you and Mike Yates”
He was sitting at the wheel smoking a cigarette while listening at the chatter taking place on the VHS radio between the different captains. They were all talking about their catch with some captains happy with the day’s work while others would comment on how bad fishing was. There would always be some captains who would feel persecuted by the hand of fate. The fact is there was not a captain in the crab fleet who had not filled his quota of crabs for many years.
Truly he was a man of a few words. “What do you mean you don’t know? This is bullshit. You must know. You two have been at each other’s throat for more than 20 years. You don’t put this much energy is such a fight for nothing.”
“I s’ppose he does not like me.”
With this response, I knew my next question on this subject would be met by dead silence. I still needed to put my two pennies worth. “It’s getting worst, you know. If Yates did not like you before now you can be certain he hates you.”
Yates had sworn revenge against John. He had been quite vocal about some future reprisals to make up for the humiliation he had suffered. The whole town of Petit-de-Grat was waiting for his next move.
Prior to the last incident, this war had been mostly conducted through insults and pranks .When the two vessels and their captains crossed each other in a channel, a few eggs would be exchanged. At sea, they were never far from each other since they were both good fishermen and knew and frequented the same crab holes. They would attach weird objects to each other’s buoys or leave insulting messages. Sometimes they would move each other’s traps by using their birds to catch the rope and move the trap of their adversary. (If you are not a fisherman birds are metal objects attached to chains that are secured to the fishing vessel, which are tossed over the port and starboard sides to stabilize and reduce the roll of the fishing vessel.)
At the beginning of the year, Yates had escalated this conflict to an unprecedented level. He would select one or two of John’s traps and haul them up. He would not take the crab as he was not a thief. He would simply release John’s catch back into the ocean and then he would put the trap at the same location. Yates used to say to his crew, laughing: “I am living this SOB my calling card.”
However, you simply don’t mess with someone’s catch. There is nothing more upsetting for a crab fisherman than to haul an empty trap. Yates had crossed a forbidden line and John had to teach him a lesson. As a result, John came up with a simple idea.
His crew looked at him funny when he came on board with a bag full of condom boxes and a container of pink indelible paint.
“I hope you are not planning something kinky,” said one of his most courageous crew.
John stopped, giving him a long silent look and then continued on his way. There were no more questions after this. The crew finally understood what John had in mind when upon hauling the traps closest to Yates, he got out with a few boxes of condoms.
“Fill these with paints and attach them to the line at about 30 feet below the buoy. Then put the trap back in the water,” he said simply before going back into wheelhouse.
John’s plan worked exactly as he had planned. Yates, upon seeing one of John’s pots close to his own trap decided to take this opportunity to leave his calling card and started to haul this pot without knowing it was booby trapped.
To haul a crab pot, one of the crew catches the buoy line which is then brought on board using a puller. When the buoys are on board, the line is then transferred to a pulley hanging from a davit. At this point, the line is hauled at a very high speed in the boat with one of the crew coiling the rope while the others prepare the bags of bait.
As they were all busy, nobody saw the condoms before it was too late. They hit the pulley at a very high speed bursting open and releasing their payload before any of the crew could react. The pink paint splashed everything and everywhere. It fell on the side of the boat and on the deck. The crew started to run away but it was too late. All around the deck you could hear curse words: “Jesus F… Christ, F… what is this?” – “Mother F….”
When it was all done, not only a large portion of the starboard deck was pink but the green rain gear of the crew was also blotchy pink. There was paint on their hat and for those who were not wearing any hat they now had hair with quite a funky color that would have created envy with the most hardcore punk.
Captain Yates upon hearing this entire racket had stopped the boat. Opening the door to have a better look, he stopped mid step, his mouth half open upon seeing the side of his boat which had been black before. Now there was a pink blotch as large as ten feet by ten. The crew was trying to wipe the paint on themselves and on the deck but the only noticeable result was to spread it around. Captain Yates did not say a word but a wailing sound was escaping from his lips. No sound such as this had ever been heard upon the high seas.
The humiliation of Captain Yates was not finished. His boat was his pride. He often boasted that it was the best crab boat in the fishing fleet. And you had to give him credit. He spent a lot of money on this boat. It had all the bells and whistles from a mechanical crane to water tanks. He was also extremely proud of its name which he had conveniently named MYpride. When he would show the name of his boat to someone new, he would repeat his own name until this person would understand the play on his initials.
Looking at the pink paint now smearing his beautiful boat, he felt total despair because he knew this paint could not be removed until the end of the year. His beloved boat was now a combination of black and pink until he had the opportunity to paint over this disaster and this was not probably going to happen until the crab season was closed. He could already hear the laughter and the funny comments he would be the subject of when he returned to port. However he had grossly underestimated the gravity of the situation and of his humiliation.
You see, usually when a boat hails in, a lot of people come to the wharf to welcome the crew. Some of these people are workers who would unload the boat of its cargo. Others were families and friends. But on this particular day, a strange rumor was going around Petit-de-Grat. It was rumored that something unusual and even terrible had happened to MYpride. It’s not like nothing happens in a small town but such a rumor could not be ignored. Curiosity compelled most of the town folks to congregate towards the government wharf to have a peek at MYpride as she came in. The atmosphere was in fact quite festive with many of the folks taking the opportunity to catch up with each other. The air was buzzing with the sound of chatters. This was the case until MYpride came in. Suddenly all the noise ceased in an eerie silence. Mouths were opened not knowing what to say until one mouth smarter than another shouted:
“She is Pretty in Pink!!!”
This is how MYpride acquired a new nickname at a considerable amount of distress to Yates. No amount of painting would ever erase that new nickname. For Yates it was total humiliation as he had to remain silent on what had happened. He could not offer any explanations unless he was willing to divulge he had been hauling John’s trap. He muttered something about a weird accident hoping the novelty of this affair would wear off and everybody would forget about this.
But there must still be a lot of buccaneer or privateer blood still flowing in the veins of the folks of Petit-de-Grat because they were merciless with their taunts. At every opportunity they would bring up the subject of Pretty in Pink. Yates even started to receive cds and tapes of the movie of that name. With each pink remark, Yates’ need for revenge increased. He was going to get even. This was not the end of it.
So on this fateful day, we were getting back into port. It had been good fishing despite a crew that had been sick most of the trip with stomach flu. I considered myself lucky because I did not feel sick and I had avoided catching this bug.
Upon hearing our hail in, Yates had gotten out on the deck of his house which had a view of the entry to the harbor. On his neck hanged a very powerful pair of binoculars. He waited there scanning the horizon with the binoculars in his search for our boat. He knew where to look and he quickly found us. At first we were but a point in the distance. But as we were getting nearer, Yates’ anger and his need for retribution were also increasing. He observed us wandering what he could do to make us pay until his eyes fell on an object lying at the back of our deck. For the first time he smiled. He had an idea. He slowly reached for the phone trying to contain his excitement while dialing the number of the nearest detachment of fisheries officer.
“Arichat, Department of fisheries, Officer Davies talking. “ The voice was young and full of vigor.
“Yes, good afternoon, I want to report an infraction,” said Yates.
Yates started to explain to Davies how it was known by everyone in Petit-de-Grat that D’Entremont was catching and cooking lobster on his boat. You have to understand that in the fisheries industry this was considered one of the great crimes. It was even a greater crime than overfishing. However D’Entremont was a slippery fellow and he always made certain not to leave any traces or proof of his crime. Not one lobster claw had ever been found on his boat.
“But today he has made an incredible mistake. He has forgotten on the deck the cooking pot he uses to cook these lobsters,” explained Yates. “If you get your hand on that pot before it disappears, you will have him.”
Yates was extremely lucky that day. Davies was a new fisheries officer who had just been posted to Arichat and who still was barely able to make the difference between a cod and a haddock. The senior officer in charge of supervising him was out of the office on a personal errant. If he had been there, the conclusion of this tale would have been entirely different. As he listened to this accusation, Davies tried to decide what to do. Did he lose precious time to get hold of his supervisor or did he act on his own showing everyone that he had what he takes to be a fisheries officer? The decision was easily made.
Davies jumped in his cruiser and with lights flashing; he drove at full speed toward the wharf shattering the peace of the little town of Arichat which was about 10 minutes from Petit-de-Grat. The town’s resident watched the cruiser go through the town muttering: “What up his ass!!!”
Davies barely made the turn leading to the government wharf his wheels sliding upon the gravel in the parking lot. He jumped out of his car and leaving his car running behind him, he made a last sprint towards the wharf.
The first feeling D’Entremont had that something was out of normal was as he steered the boat towards the wharf. He was about ten feet away when he saw a strange young man running towards them with a look of intense concentration on his face. I was besides the captain but had not noticed the young man in question until he said: “What is he doing? Is he going to jump?”
I looked up and this is when I saw him. He was running hard taking long deep breaths showing no indication he was going to stop. There was a few seconds of indecision from John and I believe he considered backing away from the wharf but he was committed to his approach. While he steered the boat to its nesting place, I continued observing the young man. I had noticed his uniform. This was a fisheries officer. I had never seen a fisheries officer run before. We were almost alongside the jetty and the young officer was almost upon us with no showing that he was going to stop. My jaw dropped upon seeing the young man taking a jump and flying over the railing to land on our deck showing incredible prowess. You only see such feat once in your lifetime.
Upon landing on the deck, he did not stop or fell. In one fluid movement, he continued on to the end of the deck to stop before a cooking pot which was resting by the port rail. Taking it, he plunged his head into the pot. I tried closing my jaw but the sight of this officer standing there with his head up a cooking pot made it impossible for me to even achieve this.
By then the boat was secured alongside the wharf and John left his post to see what all this commotion was about. This was the first time I saw John at a loss to utter curses. Like me he was stunned by what he was seeing and this is when the young officer removed his head from the cooking pot.
“I knew it!” he shouted pointing his finger at John, “I knew it! I smelled lobster. This pot has been used to cook lobster!”
You see cooking lobster leaves a very particular odor behind and there was no doubt in the mind of this young officer that what he smelled was the odor of cooked lobster.
John smiled a very innocent smile. “Young man let me explain something to you.”
“Don’t deny it you cooked lobster.” The officer was now waiving the pot at John. I wondered if he expected a confession.
John ignored his comment and continued with his explanation. “You see my men were very sick on this trip. Whynot here,” John was pointing at Thomas Whynot, the youngest of his crew, “felt he had to go urgently but the head (bathroom on a boat) was already occupied by Finlay here,” this time he was pointing at Rick Finlay who was trying hard not to laugh, “and who had no intention of surrendering his location until all danger had passed no matter how hard Whynot knocked on the door. So Whynot ran back out intent on using our emergency fallback solution but someone had beaten him to it and the bucket was already in play.” This time he was pointing at Rick Young the last crewman. “Rick here was too busy grunting to answer poor Whynot’s questions about when he was going to be finished. The torture and the suffering must have been too great for Whynot to handle. I am telling you his knees were making noise as they were shaking. Out of sheer desperation he came back into the wheelhouse. He gave me a look that I will remember to my dying day daring me to stop him as he reached for my best cooking pot. He took it and ran to the back of the deck .There he dropped his raining gear down and butt naked he sat upon the instrument of his salvation for more than an hour.”
You could see the comprehension of the situation starting to dawn on Davies because his face was starting to turn white. John approached Davies slowly examining his face left and right.
“I think I see a bit of brown upon your nose and a little bit in your hair.” He said innocently.
Davies looked around. We were all smiling trying not to burst out laughing. He did not say a word. He released the pot which fell on the deck and he left as quickly as he had come. This is when we started to laugh out loud. All except John
John remained extremely serious. He looked at all of us and then he said:
“If you come on board of a boat without the permission of a captain, don’t be surprised if shit hits you in the face. There are crabs to unload. Get back to work.”