Tuesday, November 11, 2008

First Experiences

I have made it safely home from another oyster farming expedition as I like to refer to my fall/winter jaunts up to the island. The four days we spent working on the oysters provided some of the usual hard physical work, really horrible November weather , and new moments of incredible beauty. But I digress. I would like to begin the tale of my oyster farming adventures at the beginning. This would be during the spring of 2007. April to be exact.

Bob and I had just spent the entire month of March travelling around Australia visiting with wonderful old friends of Bob's and enjoying all that Australia has to offer. I had never visited this amazing country and was truly knocked out by all I saw. As we moved from place to place and met up with Bob's Aussie friends we inevitably found ourselves mentioning our new purchase of the oyster farm. Our Aussie pals found this fascinating as there are plenty of oysters grown in Australian waters. This is a phenomenon I have noticed often. That being anybody we tell of our owning and working an oyster farm is simply wide-eyed and all ears for more information. As we would launch into our story of the purchase and the coming work as we envisioned it all, we would see the facial expressions change to a look of perhaps thinking we had become slightly unhinged. I have become quite used to this look from friends and anyone else we talk to about oyster farming. I mean really, why would any couple at our age that has never worked at anything that closely resembles growing seafood do this?! Its' one thing to talk the talk but to actually walk the oyster rafts requires a certain type person or personality. I think perhaps we are born risk-takers, love what we percieve as intriguing new adventure and definitely a little mad. I am not sure this is all bad but there are times when I wish I was married to a stodgy lawyer that would risk nothing and I was not so willing to walk on the edge. Trust me as I get older and older I am reigning in this part of me.

We returned from the heat and beauty of Australia and two weeks later travelled to Nelson Island to spend our first days working and learning with the fellow we had bought the oyster farm or oyster farm lease from to be more accurate. We had bought new all-weather gear and were outfitted head to toe in rubber. I thought we looked hilarious. I was not laughing for long. Turned out my really unattractive rubber outfit was necessary to keep me from being totally covered with seawater, every imaginable form of slimy sea-life, and really smelly oyster muck which I now think is oyster pooh. We stood out on the rafts in a cold spring wind with driving rain all around us and watched as Rick, the soon to be smart former owner, demonstrated the many work tasks we needed to know. Rick is a little younger than Bob and I, a small compact kind of guy , and definitely in top physical shape. Rick LOVES to work at a frenetic pace and prides himself on being able to do the job of ten men just like him. Not that we are fat and lazy but watching Rick literally run from one end of the chain of rafts to the other while carrying a heavy half stack of oyster growing trays was a bit intimidating. This particular day Rick was determined we were going to "sort" and "re-tray" about one quarter of the 2006 oyster stock growing on the rafts. I now know that means approximately 12,000 frigging oysters.

It might be time to describe the how the oysters grow process . The oysters we grow start out as "oyster seed". The size we buy are as big as your thumbnail and come in sacks of 10,000 or so. These iddy biddy oysters are placed in small plastic trays and then lowered into the water to a depth of five to ten feet to start slurping up all the yummy ocean nutrients flowing by them. From here they simply grow and grow and grow and need to be re-trayed and re-trayed and re-trayed until we harvest and sell them. All of this growing and retraying makes for hours and days of work. Anyways, back to the first "oh my God, what have we done" work day.

I think we started the day at nine in the morning and Rick worked us like slaves until the job was finally done at seven that evening. There was no lifting the head and stopping to enjoy the scenery, no idle chit-chat, no lunch , only a couple of drinks of water and only time for me to take two pees. I kept thinking surely Rick would want to leave for home in Powell River but no, he just kept flying around us determined we were going to work as hard as him. I think he delighted in seeing if we could keep up the pace. It got to the point where I was thinking he was a really irritating little shit and wishing he would fall into the fridgid water and have to leave. This was turning out to be a nightmare. Just as we were wrapping up lesson one, two of our dear friends dropped by the rafts on their yacht. They both looked fresh and relaxed and had come from a wonderful day of poking around the very pretty Sunshine Coast , lunching on freshly caught prawns and chilled white wine and were wondering if we might want to join them for dinner. I am not exaggerating when I say I have NEVER been so dog-tired, so beaten-up, had the worst head-ache of my life and looked like a wild-eyed witch covered in stinky goo. Not too mention I was having a really bad hair day!

We said good-bye to Rick, staggered off the rafts into our little boat and headed for our dock. Our friends Peter and Judy would have normally laughed at us until they ached but instead they were so blown away with how we looked and our story of the day's events they actually felt sorry for us. Once we had cleaned up a bit we were allowed on to their pristine, warm and cozy boat. They poured us both a monster scotch and we relaxed like never before in our lives. I think I was fast asleep at ten that night, did not move until the next morning and when I did it felt like I had run a marathon.

Well you know the rest. We went back for more. I will tell all in time.

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