I am a fortunate woman! Had breakfast recently with Dave MacVane, Maine lobsterman, at Becky’s Diner on Commercial Street in Portland. lt was an education!
Yes, he eats lobster. No, he doesn’t really have to get up at 4:00 am but old habits die hard!
Yes, he loves lobster stew and recommends evaporated milk over cream, and he’s fussy. No, the protective garb hasn’t changed much over the years.
Yes, his wife wanted to name his most recent lobster boat but he didn’t let her. No, he didn’t protect his skin and is now paying the price, but the younger lobstermen still don’t.
Yes, that’s his boat, the Empty Pockets. No, he doesn’t go out lobstering in winter anymore, since he turned 70.
Yes, that lobster you’re eating at Friday night lobster bake was in the ocean that very Friday morning. No, his children haven’t gone out with him.
Yes, it’s true of many fishermen that they don’t learn to swim. No, he didn’t either, in that cold water off Cliff Island.
Dave MacVane has been delivering lobster to Migis Lodge for many years. How many? He’s not quite sure, but maybe fifty? Certainly he’s been here through Tim and Joan Porta’s tenure, and Gene and Grace Porta before them, and the Crocketts before them and that goes back to the fifties and sixties. (He relates that Tim’s dad was much more of a worrier than Tim, calling nervously to make sure he’d appear with the goods.) He grew up on Cliff Island and didn’t set out to be a lobsterman, though he’s been boating since childhood. He was, in fact, accepted at Tufts Dental School and was on his way when Uncle Sam called and changed his plans.
He and wife Pat stayed on Cliff Island until their last child was born, then moved to Windham. He and Pat were fishing for suckers on Raymond Cape one day and Pat saw that the historic Manning House was up for sale and she ‘just had to have it’. They bought it and lived there for 5o-odd years, building a little market on Route 302 close to home and around the corner from Migis. “We worked ourselves to death, she tending the store and me hauling then delivering, as far as Bridgton and Lovell. Used to haul lobster and buy fish off the boat too, come home and filet it to sell, then up the next morning to go back out to lobster.” Hard work it is, on the waves and on the dock, and sometimes dangerous, too; he lost part of a finger out there on the gear. They moved just this fall to a smaller, more manageable home back in Windham, close to children, grandchildren and yes, great-grandchildren.
These days he still hauls traps and during our season drives directly to Migis with his catch. He always has a helper on the water now, in his later years. Does some fishing, too, and once caught a 246 pound halibut. Come this time of year, you’ll find him trading stories with his pals at Becky’s early in the morning, and building and repairing some of his 700 traps at home later in the day. Enjoys himself out on Sebago Lake, too. He thinks it’s not as cold as it used to be, hasn’t quite frozen up in front of the lodge like the old days when he used to drive his jeep around out there.
Think of Dave when you’re enjoying your lobster next time you’re at Migis, and say hello if you see him back of the kitchen with his little truck and its precious load. And if you’re out on the Atlantic, look for his markers sprinkling the ocean; they’re the white ones with black polka dots. So is his shack, on Portland’s Widgery Wharf!