The Summer of Stolen Lobsters

May 12th, 2011

Good news: INTO THE TRAP comes out on July 19. As with THE SEA SINGER and SEABORN, the book itself has become what an author dreams about: Its cover captures the true spirit of the book and its interior has been handled with care and artistry. I’m someone who loves books as artifacts—tactile works of art that are as pleasing to the touch as they are to the eye and imagination. I can’t wait to get a copy in my hands.

Kirkus Reviews calls the novel “An action-packed tale…that will appeal to reluctant readers.”

I hope you’re not reluctant to get your own hands on a copy or two, especially after you hear what it’s all about:

Summer has come to Fog Island, bringing warm weather, tourists—and an epidemic of lobster thefts. Twelve-year-old Eddie Atwell, whose lobsterman father nears financial ruin, discovers where the thieves are hiding their plunder: in a tidal pool on remote Greenhead Island.

But the thieves—Jake Daggett and Martin “Marty” Smith—recognize Eddie’s skiff when they arrive on the island to unload more lobsters. They tow it away, stranding Eddie, who fears for his life now that the thieves know he knows their secret. Enter Briggs Fairfield, becalmed in a small sailboat just off shore. Fleeing a bullying counselor from nearby Saggy Neck Sailing Camp, Briggs is a precocious, garrulous 13-year-old—the antithesis of Eddie. He agrees to sail Eddie back to shore to execute his plan to get the lobsters back. Briggs reveals his own plan to make the perilous passage to the mainland, and the two form a pact to help each other. But the thieves, the weather, and the treacherous waters have other plans as Eddie and Briggs test their bravery—and their patience with each other—in their quest to outfox Jake and Marty before they can sell the lobsters on the mainland to a ruthless middleman.

A Quick Course in Capsizing

August 20th, 2010

I tied in a reef, reducing the sail area so the boat would handle easier in the gusts, and got ready to step onto the foredeck to release the mooring line.  The weather conditions were spectacular: temperature in the mid seventies,  a rich blue sky, a procession of wampum-colored clumps of cloud moving along the northern horizon, the air clean and dry, the visibility vivid and unlimited. The only hitch was that the wind was gusting to fifteen, sixteen, eighteen knots. I thought I’d make a shortcut by cleating off the mainsheet before I let go the mooring so I could get past the rocks that lay close by. I waited for a lull and jumped onto the deck.

I was still untying the line when the gust hit.  I was crouched on the lee side, making the boat list, and the boat rounded into the wind. She heeled over harder and I jumped up to shift my weight to the windward side but because the sheet was cleated the sail stayed stiff, taking the full force of the wind. The boat tipped higher and I slid off the deck into the water.

When I surfaced I thought I’d lost my glasses, but my bleary eyesight was only the seawater sluicing off my lenses. At first I couldn’t believe I had put the boat on her side. The mast and sail lay flat in the water. What had happened?

Then I realized what I had to do—and it wasn’t to flog myself for making a greenhorn’s mistake even though I’d been sailing for five decades.  I swam around to the centerboard sticking out into the water and set my feet on it. Then I reached over the rail to heft backwards to try to lift the boat with the force of my weight. But a twelve-and-a-half-foot catboat has a cockpit as big as a jumbo hot tub, and it was already awash in water by the time I made my first attempt. That wasn’t going to work.

I retrieved the boom crutch and a cushion that were floating off  and stuffed them into the submerged compartment beneath the foredeck. I scanned underneath for my two bailers and my hand pump, but I couldn’t see them. Then I swam back around to the sail and fumbled to release the sheet, then tugged the sail through the water to pull it down from the mast.  I lashed the sail and swam around to try to right her again.

No go. I had to try to bail her out, but the water—clear and relatively warm for New England—was washing over the coaming and pouring in through the centerboard trunk. She was nearly sunk. But when I leaned my whole weight on the starboard side I could get the coaming—the wooden lip that runs around the perimeter of the cockpit—far enough out of the water so no more water sloshed in. If the wind had been blowing southwest, the way it usually does in the summer, waves would have been climbing in. The northerly wind, though the cause of my capsizing, broke up over the landmass, and the water was only scalloped with wavelets.

In the midst of all my attempts to right our boat, I noticed that the submerged cockpit was thick with translucent bell-shaped organisms that I believe are ctenophora, or comb jellies, organisms that don’t sting but glow phosphorescence at night.

I was heaving back on the rail again when Jay Smith, a fellow catboat sailor and a retired physician in tiptop shape, swam out and grabbed two bailers off his boat, which is moored next to ours.

With the two of us bailing, I finally succeeded in getting enough water out of the boat so the entire bay was no longer pouring in the centerboard trunk, through the rudder hole, and the mast hole in the foredeck. I liberated my hand pump, crawled into the cockpit, and finished off the job. At last Finn was bobbing like a gull.

Don’t ask me how many times I kicked myself for making such a blunder. But at least I never needed to use the brush and dustpan I’d brought down to clean the cockpit of accumulated sand. After her saltwater bath, our little boat was clean as she has ever been.

Coatue Conch

March 12th, 2010

My pulse still quickens when I think about approaching a remote island or shore I’ve never set foot on before.  Long ago my friend Chris and I would take his dad’s boat across Common Flats to Monomoy, a bone of dunes and beaches stretching between Nantucket Sound and the Atlantic. We’d drop the anchor and swim ashore and cross the swales and mount a hillock, pausing to absorb the immensity of the ocean opening before us.  In those days, the wreck of the Pendleton angled out of the water toward the southern end of the island as if it had been thrown from the sky. The island also featured an abandoned lighthouse and a pervading sense of loneliness and spookiness. Then we’d head to the beach to body surf in the combers.  The closest I’ve come to re-experiencing that feeling lately was when we were on Nantucket two years ago and my son, wife, and I rented a Bristol skiff to cruise out to the Head of the Harbor. (Our daughter had chosen to shop in town instead.) The day was brilliantly sunny and hot and breezy. We buzzed to the shallows off Coatue, a briar-thin peninsula, its inner edge serrated with sandy points. We dropped the anchor between Five Fingered Point and Bass Point to take a swim. Only the roof peak of one weathered cottage appeared in the scrub down the beach. The dune grass waved in the wind. My wife and son choosing to stay aboard the skiff, I waded toward shore, the sand soft underfoot, the water warm and sparkling around my calves. Crisscrosses of squiggly sunlight played through the clear water. I spotted a conch shell on the shore. When I picked it up, the conch meat was still inside it, though a gull or another seabird had been working it loose and it slid out of the shell to plop into the water. At least it saved me the trouble of prying it out.  Standing on the shore in the ankle-deep water, the sun hot on my salt-stained back, my swimming trunks soaked but not cold, I got that pull to explore what was beyond the beach and the small grass-fringed bluff. Was a view of the neck of land and Nantucket Sound just a few steps away? Would I see an abandoned fort or the wreck of a pirate ship? What was waiting for me beyond?  Now the shell sits beside me on my table. At first its pungent, salty-and-sweet scent, emanating from its pinkish-orange cochlea, remained for weeks. As the scent thinned over time, I’d put the shell to my nose, and inhaling I would return to the ankle-deep water, the whisper of the wavelets, the magnetic effect of the unknown.

Target Ship

March 5th, 2010

Years ago military planes practiced nighttime bombing raids on the hulk of the James Longstreet, a decommissioned Liberty ship grounded a few miles off the beach in Cape Cod Bay. You could hear the concatenations from our house in Harwich, on the other side of the Cape. We knew it was “the target ship” even though it sounded like thunder, and sometimes my mom or sister and I would jump in the car and race over to Brewster to watch. During the day if you trained binoculars on it you could see right through the metal that was filigreed by explosions. It was a fixture in the bay for years, a part of the view across the water as long as I could remember.  At low tide it could become distorted, an immense mirage seemingly sitting high and dry on the tidal flats. The planes would sweep in on their bombing runs in single file, unseen in the night till they switched on their angled incandescent spot beams to locate the hulk. Then they’d switch off their lights and drop their payloads, which exploded with a spearing flash and a submarine bombination. Bombing practice became a kind of serious fireworks display, and the show went on for years. The last time I saw it my friend Chris and I raced over in my baby blue Chevy Impala—or was it my VW Fastback?— to watch the ship take another pounding.  Eventually the ship was reduced to smithereens, only fangs of shattered rust standing above the water. The bombing runs stopped, and the remaining steel of the ship was salvaged or taken by the sea. Now the seascape no longer features that haunted sight of a stranded ship, and the nights no longer resound with the thunder of pounding bombs, a sound both thrilling and chilling.

Rowing to the Wreck

February 23rd, 2010

Along with sailing, rowing captivates me, and rowing in a small boat to an island is a recurring image in my waking and dream life. Mostly it’s a sensation: that of riding up a wave in a lightweight rowboat or dinghy, the lift and lightness of topping a wave tinged with the prospect of potential peril lying ahead. This is the kind of image that sometimes acts like a sand grain and allows layers to accrue around it to form the pearl of a story. I turn this image over and over, and as this rower rises over the crests and slides into the troughs, an island and the wreck of a ship come into view. It is the wreck of the Pendleton off Monomoy. Years ago I fished there with my friend Chris and his dad, Joe. I don’t remember what we caught, if anything, but I do remember seeing the monstrous canted hulk of rusted hull jutting out of the water as we idled closer. On one side of us stretched the desolate deserted beach of the island, the Atlantic rollers gasping ashore. On the other spread the open Atlantic itself, an immensity at once alluring and menacing. Closing in on the wreck, you could hear the swells gurgle and suck as they rose and fell around the hull or echoed from within. Cormorants lined the slanting rail like the souls of sailors lost at sea, their wings held outward in supplication. The closer we got, the more our small fishing boat seemed in danger of being drawn toward the hull and pulled downward in one of the eddies or whirlpools boiling by in the swirling tide and current. The effect of this wreck, abandoned to be haunted in this lonesome place, beset by heaves of gray-green seawater, was of ghostliness, menace, and spookiness, as if a wraith might begin wailing above the slosh of the waves, keening for the men who had perished in February 1952. Heaven help my imaginary rower should he near this now-vanished vessel.

Catboat Dreams

February 19th, 2010

The winter wears on, and our little catboat slumbers in her barn among the other catboats nestled away till spring. She must be stirring now that the days are holding more light, roused from the blankness of hibernation to dream of sailing out toward Scraggy Neck and Seal Rocks toward the open water where Cleveland Ledge light juts like a floating turret in Buzzards Bay. She can feel her sharp prow cleaving the waves and the wind tautening her sail so that she pushes harder, straining to go out, out farther, as far as the wind will take her. She throws spray off her cheeks, heeling hard, jubilant now in the wind and sun and saltwater, her lines thrumming, her rudder wagging. Onward she drives, exultant: Sail me away, she sings in her dream, sail me away.


July 9th, 2009

The smell of bacon frying on a rainy morning. The toastiness of a wood fire after skiing. The chill of salt spray on your skin on a hot summer afternoon. The scratch of a fountain pen’s nib on the paper of a new book contract.

Oh, I could name many sensations that buoy me, but the last one rises to the top of any list.

Was it Holden Caulfield who hated people who used the word “grand”? I have to risk his ire, then, because soon I will experience that grand sensation of signing the contract for Traps. Given the stumbling economy that has tripped up the publishing industry along with everything else, the contract has taken a while to come to fruition, but I’m not complaining. That’s the book biz as it is today.

So once the contract is behind us, I will set to work on revising the novel—work I relish. The date when the novel will make its way into the world isn’t clear yet, but no matter: Concrete work lies ahead, and deadlines, and the prospect of a trove of sentences to hold in my hands when the writing work is done.

Add this to the list: That joyful buoyancy of working with an agent and editors who care about your book.


A New Novel

March 19th, 2009
Publishers Lunch Deluxe: Lunch Weekly for Monday, March 2
author of SEABORN Craig Moodie’s TRAPS, an adventure novel in which a lobsterman’s son and a boy fleeing a bullying camp counselor join forces to foil a crime ring, to Roaring Brook Press. Publishers Lunch Deluxe –

Seaborn Recognition

January 9th, 2009

The Somerset (NJ) County Library System named Seaborn among its “Best of 2008 for Middle Schoolers,” listing it as the “Best Book About Survival at Sea.”

Here’s the link:



Passing Acquaintance

December 24th, 2008

This is the time of the year when people take stock of the year past. Wait: Don’t stop reading. I’m not going to subject you that kind of thing, to list various events and accomplishments that may have deep personal meaning but sound like small-minded crowing to someone else. Yes, our daughter did get off to a great start as a freshman in college, our son just passed his driving test, and Seaborn is getting good reviews, among many highlights of the past year. But I’ll stop there except to say that as the temperature plummets and the snow flies, my thoughts turn increasingly to sailing days past, future, and invented, as in the following story (which is one of the pieces I’m writing for my wife for Christmas):


Passing Acquaintance


You’re sitting in the cockpit, your arm draped over the coaming, as we sail toward Halftide Rock. You’re gazing past the moored boats toward the breakwater light and the beach and bluff beyond the channel. Our boat makes a cool sipping sound  as we slip through the water, the sail casting you in a half shadow. A tern flies by, peering down at the water, casually flapping its knife wings. Does it notice you dangling your hand in the water as you nod at the sky? The tern glances your way, feints toward the water in an acrobatic swoop, then flaps onward. We draw even with the rock and head into the open bay. I see you watching the tern on its course away from us. I ease the sheet. “Did you see it?” you say, settling lower on the warm cedar planks of the deck, the sun now full on you.  “That tern nodded at me as if it knew me.” “You think?” I say. “I know,” you say, closing your eyes and smiling.