Volume 17
An Online Literary Magazine
April 14, 2023


Once a Shipmate


Craig Moodie


I see him on the afterdeck, muscling in brawny bass as the boat bashes stern-first into toppling breakers.
for Chris Green 1956-2022



y old shipmate Chris and I probably spent more time in watery pursuits than in the classroom when we attended Harwich High School on Cape Cod back in the early seventies. We were either on, by, or in the water. Fishing, hunting, trapping, swimming together, we forged a brotherhood of two.


Ashore, we worked on boat projects with his dad, Joe, a stocky ex-Marine with a brush cut who had fought at Iwo Jima and elsewhere. First, we built a clam scow out of plywood and two-by-fours, the resulting ungainly craft looking like a mini World War II Higgins boat. Then we took on the multiyear task of resurrecting a wooden 42-foot Novi lobster boat. (Joe christened her Jugo, a Lithuanian slur, which Joe, being from a Lithuanian family, considered an inside joke).


We parlayed the Jugo project into a work-study program, meaning that after lunch on school days (and all day on weekends except during duck season), we clambered around the boat that sat on blocks and jack stands in the backyard, learning the boat-building ropes from Joe. The reality was that Chris and Joe worked out solutions to mechanical and carpentry problems while I stood by until called upon to provide limited physical assistance (and at times added some unsolicited comic relief). Most of my contribution to the project involved spending hours squeezed wormlike beneath the hull, shivering in the arctic shadows as I scraped off sedimentary layers of scabby bottom paint. I realized why I held the term “sacrificial anode” close to my heart. I was one myself.


The fruits of our indentured servitude were the boats themselves and where they took us. In the scow, (“The Clamboat”), we made our first foray into commercial fishing by bull raking quahogs in Pleasant Bay.


We ranged farther afield in Jugo, long-lining and jigging for tautog and sea bass in Nantucket Sound and venturing around Monomoy Point into the open Atlantic for codfish.


We also tooled around in his dad’s 20-odd-foot Grady White runabout, notably on excursions from Saquatucket Harbor across the flats to anchor off Monomoy. We swam ashore and trotted over the dunes of the bone-shaped island to the Atlantic side to body surf on the big combers finishing their oceanic journeys on the beaches that stretched deserted in either direction. Once, a brute of a wave jackhammered Chris into the sand and stones, bloodying his face and filling his trunks with sand. He shrugged and waded back in to catch the next one.


We took the same boat out to the open ocean side—“the backside”—of Monomoy to fish off the wreck of the Pendleton (the T2 tanker of The Finest Hours fame) on Pollock Rip. Its immense gaping stern section jutted out of the water at a low angle and loomed high above our little vessel. Swells gulped and boomed, echoing within the vessel as they swept against the guano-streaked sides, the hull casting a shadow on the gray-green waters whirlpooling past. Gulls gyrated above us. Cormorants lined the rails, lifting their wings to dry. Gannets dive-bombed for sand eels beside us. The tides could run so fast, your line might never reach bottom.


One winter years later, he opened his doors to me, just as his family had during high school, when I returned from New York City to the Cape to look for a slot on a boat. He got a call about us filling in as crew aboard a gillnetter one night as a snowstorm pounded us. The next afternoon, we shoved off from a Wychmere Harbor that looked more like Greenland in the cold sunshine flaring on the snow-blanketed docks and pilings. We set our gear and anchored up for the night. I got seasick for the first time in my life courtesy of a toxic combination of near-asphyxiation by diesel fumes, confused post-storm seas, and a royal hangover. Later on, our anchor line parted and we ran aground under the bluffs of Truro, somehow managing to catch a wave to run back through the surf into deeper water. The second day, another storm hit us with near-gale winds and lashing rain. But we caught five thousand pounds of scrod—respectable compensation under the circumstances and enough so that I could chip in on another batch of the Crock-Pot potatoes au gratin we subsisted on.


As we aged, we drifted apart. I left commercial fishing in the mid-eighties while Chris pressed on. He crewed for various skippers including the renowned Harry Hunt, and eventually pursued striped bass and tuna in Milkweed, his own open skiff, many times going solo to Nantucket Shoals and as far as Georges Bank. For a time, he shipped out on a Woods Hole research vessel, sailing to the Azores, and once called me via sat phone to describe the mid-Atlantic and the duty.


But the allure of independence and his restless intelligence called him back to the fishing life. He could rebuild a diesel, weld, wing shoot waterfowl, fashion lures, brew beer, rig a scallop dredge, fingerpick a guitar, fix a furnace, tune a radar, and regale you with more facts about the coconut crab than you might have thought one taciturn agnostic Buddhist might know. He read omnivorously, and our early book passions ran from Kesey’s Sometimes a Great Notion, Robert F. Jones’s Blood Sport, and Steinbeck’s Cannery Row to Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man (“The Veldt” in particular), Camus’s Lyrical and Critical Essays, Jack London (“To Build a Fire” was a touchstone), Harsanyi’s The Star-Gazer, and Kerouac’s On the Road, which prompted us to hitch across the country.


We saw each other only twice over the last decade when he made time during the thick of fishing seasons to take my wife, our son and daughter, and me on trips, once to catch bluefish in fogbound Nantucket Sound and again when the kids were old enough to handle boat rods out to his favorite grounds off Monomoy. There we caught big bass in booming rips—and our son caught a fishing fever that has only intensified over time. Those waters beguiled Chris as they did so many of us fortunate enough to work out there as commercial fisherman, especially during bass season.


Snippets about his life—the selling of his fishing boat several years ago the most momentous—I got through sporadic contact with his mom, Gloria.


Still, news of his recent death gutted me—so random, so unexpected. I dwell on what could have been. I dwell on what he meant to his family, especially his daughter, sisters, mother. I dwell on what he meant to his friends. I feel a stab of guilt for losing touch, for not rescuing him—and for the selfish thought that now we wouldn’t have the chance to grow old together as graybeard seadogs, even from afar.


“This is the end of an era,” his elder sister, Vicki, told me.


Pollock Rip off Monomoy—the spot we used to fish near the Pendleton—is where I will always picture him. I see him on the afterdeck, muscling in brawny bass as the boat bashes stern-first into toppling breakers. He stands steady, work boots akimbo, reeling in fast as the boat yaws and surges and plunges.


We might not have been shipmates for many, many moons, but I trust he would agree: Once a shipmate, always a shipmate.



Craig Moodie's published work includes A Sailor’s Valentine and Other Stories, the novel Salt Luck, and, under the name John Macfarlane, the middle-grade novel Stormstruck!, a Kirkus Best Book. His fiction, prose poems, and essays have appeared in On the Seawall, Northeast, Quick Fiction, Sentence, SAIL, and other publications. www.moodiebooks.com.







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