The Lily of the Harpoon

Notes on “Making the Rip”

What started out as the senior class of the school reading their project essays, turned into one of the most remarkable afternoons for the students, the parents and the fishermen who were reeled in to listen, comment, and answer questions. The fishermen were arrayed in the front of the community center, below the stage, and their good humor never waned. They smiled at the statistics and precautions in the student’s presentations. They nodded at the dangers.

But when the students began asking questions, the gathering hit its stride. Slowly, haltingly at first, one fisherman would answer, there would be a pause. The same fisherman would answer the next question. Then another fisherman remembered it another way. Then they disputed poundage. Then they remembered other fishermen, even one who had to be pulled out of the water more than twice. Lots of laughs. And who was the best harpooner.

Then out of nowhere, Greg Mayhew went up on the stage, put on his red hat with the long brim and showed everyone the parts of a harpoon, with a rope, the line, trailing behind. He was captain of the Unicorn and his demonstration put us all out there on his boat. And then the afternoon became bluefish jumping out of the water.

Fishermen were swapping stories right in front of us. They loved their work, they loved the rip and the tides, they were enamored of tuna and swordfish. I watched their faces, such satisfaction in their work, and now they were sharing it with the town, parents and their children on a cold afternoon.

And then Eric Cottle, who hadn’t said much, but had laughed along, said, “There was nothing else I ever wanted to do.” And right then and there, I realized there was something I had to do. Making the Rip is a series of quotations and memories and words familiar to fishermen.