The Dungeness crab season begins each year with between three and four weeks of gear work before the boat is ready to go. The first part of gear work usually begins with buoy painting.
George has about 600 buoys to paint. Some buoys are new and need to be painted for the first time, while others are older and have peeling paint that needs to be touched up.
Buoys must be painted so that the gear of each boat is distinguished and recognized from that of the other 220-plus boats in our Dungeness crab fleet. If each boat did not have its own original buoy-paint scheme, the buoys would all look the same and nobody would know whose were whose. A picture is also taken of each boat’s uniquely painted buoy and sent to the State for filing.
It takes George and the crew about five full days to paint and tie (attaching the line that will secure the buoy to the crab pot) all of the buoys.
One year, George and I were taking an easy drive through Oysterville when, to George’s surprise, he spotted one of his crab buoys attached to the buoy-decorated fence surrounding the home of a coastal resident. Apparently, the buoy had broken free from its accompanying crab pot out on the open ocean and washed ashore. (About a month later, we got a phone call that one of his crab pots was sitting upon the dock in Ilwaco, just a little further south. Coincidence?)
Fishing wives and other family are not exempt from buoy painting.
I’ve painted buoys at the beginning of more than one season. My dad has helped at times, and so has George’s dad when he’s visited from Florida. It’s not an easy job: The weather is freezing and the work is long. It didn’t take long during my first year of buoy-painting before I marched down to the fisheries supply store and purchased a full Carhartt insulated suit to wear to keep out the chill.
I’m not painting much these days (at all, actually). Brett and I recently offered to trade places for a day (he’d take care of the kids for an afternoon, and I’d show up to the harbor in my painting gear) but G wasn’t having it. Hey—don’t say I never offered.