Two of the most popular attractions for summer visitors to Maine are a chance to eat freshly caught lobsters in a beautiful shoreside location spot and the opportunity to get out on a boat with a real Maine lobsterman to see how those lobsters are caught.
Though beauty is subjective, it’s hard to imagine a better spot to eat lobsters and enjoy the view than Perry’s Lobster Shack. On the eastern shore of Newbury Neck in Surry, diners seated at picnic tables lining the long pier stretching out into Union River Bay overlook an anchorage filled with recreational boats and working lobster boats — many of which land their catch at Perry’s — and the vista of Mount Desert Island in the distance.
Among the lobster boats moored off Perry’s is Earnest, built of wood some 20 years ago by a Chebeague Island lobsterman, and available for custom charters that include what Seth Cote, Perry’s owner, describes as a “Lobster 101” experience. Two hours long, the trip gives up to six people the opportunity to go aboard and watch a real Maine lobsterman bait, set and haul traps set in the waters around Newbury Neck and upper Blue Hill Bay. If the catch is good, they can have their lobsters cooked at Perry’s after they come ashore.
A lobster learning expedition wouldn’t necessarily be unique — similar cruises on similar boats are offered in other Maine harbors — but none of them have a captain who is a best-selling author, media star and dyed-in-the-wool fisherman.
On Earnest, the captain is Linda Greenlaw — the prize-winning author of nearly a dozen books and a swordfish-boat captain who has been featured in the hit Discovery Channel series “Swords: Life on the Line” and portrayed by actress Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio in the film version of Sebastian Junger’s book “The Perfect Storm.”
Greenlaw started fishing during summers while she was still in college and that summer job evolved into a career captaining swordfish boats on Georges Bank, lobster fishing in the waters around her home on Isle au Haut and writing.
This summer, though, things have slowed down, by Greenlaw’s standards anyway, and with Perry’s she is offering a program of charters aboard her lobster boat.
“I’ve always thought about it but I never had time,” Greenlaw said during a recent visit with her at Perry’s. “This is my first time in 18 years with no book deadline.”
Despite her media credentials, there can be no doubt that fishing is still Greenlaw’s first love. During a recent visit, she was getting ready to spend the next day on board Earnest, hauling some of the hundreds of traps she fishes in nearby waters, “all over the place, that’s the way I like to do it.” She was also organizing a drive to Southwest Harbor to fill some big fish totes with lobster bait.
“I hope I can persuade my husband,” boatbuilder Steve Wessel, “to come with me,” Greenlaw said, grinning. “A bait date!”
Greenlaw operates her new charter business from the floating dock at Perry’s Lobster Shack, where, she said, “part of the charm is that people can watch the lobsters coming in and bait come down the dock,” as lobstermen bring their catch ashore to sell.
Perry’s got its start more than 20 years ago when Cote’s grandfather, Perry Long, bought the property and eventually opened a wholesale lobster buying business. Soon after, he began cooking lobsters to order for people to eat sitting on his dock using old lobster crates for chairs.
Cote started working with his grandfather at the age of 15. After Long died in 2105, his wife ran the business for one season before Cote bought the business and began some improvements, a more expansive menu still focused on freshly landed lobster and, this year, a new pier.
“I just saw the potential,” he said.
Cote and Greenlaw also teamed up to start their charter business — The Perfect Tour.
While Greenlaw will tailor a charter to meet the interests of her customers — within in the limits of a “pokey” 10-knot boat and a capacity of six passengers—she offers several suggested packages. Among them, in addition to Lobster Fishing 101, are a sunset cruise, a cocktail cruise and a floating picnic. Charterers may bring their own food or have Perry’s Lobster Shack do the catering.
The Lobster 101 cruise lasts two hours and, Greenlaw said, “two hours of hauling is enough” for most people to get a feel for the work, though maybe not all.
“I’ve got plenty of gloves, and the kids dig right in,” she said.
A two-hour cruise for up to six people costs $500, the three-hour sunset cruise $600 and a four-hour cruise $800. Catering by Perry’s is extra, or guests may bring their own.
Cote and Greenlaw said the charter business has been active so far this season and they expect it to grow. They are already booked to take part in a pre-wedding lobster bake on nearby Morgan Bay.
The boat Greenlaw uses next season will almost certainly be larger.
She has a 46-foot lobster boat under construction at Wesmac Custom Boats that will be much faster than Earnest and certified to carry up to 49 passengers but she has no plans to fill it up.
“That’s not how I want to do it,” Greenlaw said. “I don’t want a head boat. I want the cruises to be intimate so people talk to one another.”
If she doesn’t intend to use the size of her new boat to carry more charter guests, Greenlaw certainly has plans for how she will use a boat with twice the speed of Earnest.
“When I have a faster boat,” she said, “I’ll fish more — or maybe I won’t.”