ice on the guzzle

At the start of this project, I decided it would make sense to move into the office towards the end of my year in order to better understand how the company runs as a whole. Last week was my last official week outside on the farm — and my last week on the tide.

For now, anyway.

We spent some time getting back up to speed after Christmas weekend. The company had sold a ton of oysters over the holiday and needed bags from our crew ASAP, especially in time for New Years. But we also had our eyes on the tide: There were just 60 or so cages left to bring in and Berg wanted to get all those bags that we’d laid out flipped so they weren’t drowning in the mud.

But despite good timing, the weather was a factor, as always. Monday afternoon’s tide was rained out. Tuesday’s was risky because it was well below freezing and the windchill put us down into the single digits. But Chris, Will and Berg hustled before it got too low and pulled all but 9 cages out with a few bitter-cold runs on their own. By Wednesday, we were looking at a somewhat milder day (in the teens!) and a tide that coincided with sundown. After spending the day culling, we headed out with some fresh gloves and a couple extra layers under our waders. It was a minus .9, which meant we’d have plenty of time on the flats to get the bags flipped. We started with the bags we’d tied together with a system line, flipping them out of their pockets of mud to give the oysters on the bottom some breathing room. We’d put about 600 bags out there, all full of oysters that had repaired themselves in the warmer weather and were now laying dormant for the winter. The system lines are there to help us if the bay ices over — we’ll be able to pull up 50 bags at a time with the hauler. So it’s our safeguard as well as a contingency plan. We’ll be able to harvest, even in the bitter cold, plus it gives us a couple thousand oysters to pull up if we need them in a pinch.

We still had about 400 bags to tie together: A tricky feat when your gloves are the size of an astronaut’s and the air is biting cold. Chris and I laid the lines down on the bags while Will went at the zip ties bare-handed. But as the sun started to set, the temps dropped and the winds picked up. We were racing the cold, pulling our gloves off to get each tiny plastic tie zipped shut, and wincing at the air exposure. I could get about five bags tied before my hands went numb. As we kept moving, it got down to two bags. Pretty soon, I was leaving the gloves on and doing my best with the big, bulky fingers. (The guys did a much better job fighting the cold.) We got about halfway through the bags before the water came back up. By about 5:30, with a massive full moon rising above us, we were back on land — dry but not nearly warm. As I drove back to the office for a round of shop beers, the thermometer in the car read 19 degrees. Ouch.

The oysters can stand tremendous cold bouts like this. But whenever we leave oysters on the float overnight, we keep them off the ground on a palette (sorry, Cory) and keep a tiny electric heater going.

During the day, we use Mr. Heater, a propane-run space heater. And yes, I’m the one who begged to use it most. So much so that the guys called me pro-Pain for most of the winter.

Mr. Heater

Keeping us warm along with the heater was our trusty new coffee maker, donated by my Mom and Dad. Handy on the days when it’s too cold to make a run to Frenchie’s.

Thursday was New Year’s Eve day and my final day on the float. We culled in the morning, then washed and bagged after a long lunch at Tsang’s. The snow started around 10 that morning — by lunchtime, we were looking at a few inches. But that didn’t stop Berg and Chris from running out to pick up those last 9 cages. Believe it or not, we got all of them out of the water on the last day of the year. I can’t think of a more fitting end to the season. Or a better occasion to celebrate.

loading up in the snow

I ended up spending New Year’s with my crew at a party thrown by Eastern Standard (where we shucked) and later at the Publick House where I brought the guys up to visit Dave, who was working. It was quite the party and a damn fine way to wind down my final week on the farm.

Skip, Nicole, Erin, Shore & Chef Jeremy

a very fuzzy Chris, Berg, and Will

Nicole and Erin behind the boat

So now what? I’m onto a new adventure as Office Girl. I’ll still be blogging (from what I hear, things can get pretty exciting up at the office…sometimes). I got through Day One (not nearly as challenging as my first Day One) and am happy to be holed up inside a warm office while there’s still snow on the ground.

But… I already find myself missing my crew, the float, the water. And oddly enough, the smell of oysters.

I must be hooked.

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