“Anybody want to drive the boat?” Captain Dan Lunt calls out to the passengers aboard the Elizabeth T.
All’s quiet aboard the 21-passenger lobster boat until 10-year-old Anicka Groff volunteers and steps forward to take the helm. The captain carefully explains what she needs to do as the 33-foot-long wooden vessel plies Somes Sound. The late afternoon sun sparkles on the waters of the fjord bisecting Mount Desert Island.
Not too long after, Lunt takes charge of the Elizabeth T and takes his party toward Bear Island where a lighthouse perches on a craggy bluff. Colorful buoys bob like Lifesavers on the water’s surface to mark roughly where the lobster traps sit on the ocean floor.
Lunt and his wife, Linda (who also is his deckhand), have been working for Sail Acadia giving boat cruises for five years. Dan, who was born and raised on Frenchboro (an island located about seven miles off Mount Desert Island) is no stranger to the sea.
“I’ve been on a boat since I could walk,” Dan said.
At a young age, Dan’s father would stand him up on an old sauerkraut barrel and let him steer the boat. By the age of 9, he was driving his own boat. At 17, he was a lobster fisherman.
Originally from Norwich, Conn., Linda met Dan when she was working as a social worker on Frenchboro. Eventually the pair began to lobster fish together, something they did for eight years. Married for 10 years, the Lunts now live on the mainland in the Mount Desert village of Otter Creek.
“We found Frenchboro very isolated and ourselves naturally drawn to families and children and wanting to share the experience of lobster fishing,” Linda said. “We were inviting people onto the boat [in Frenchboro] even when we were working.”
However, the duo no longer lobster fish professionally. Dan now works for Beal & Bunker Mail Boat and Ferry Service shuttling children back and forth from Great Cranberry Island to Little Cranberry for school from September until June. He also works with Quietside Cruises and its parent company, Sail Acadia.
The Lunts take up to 19 passengers on a lobster cruise, showing them how the crustacean is caught as well as local sights such as Man O’ War Brook, freshwater falls, which cascade into Somes Sound.
Back on the Elizabeth T, Dan stops and once again solicits a volunteer to help him haul the trap up from the sea floor. Groff, who is on vacation in Maine from Atlanta with her parents, Kirsten and Vince, steps forward again. Grabbing the gaff (a pole with a hook at the end), she hooks the buoy on the first try. Hauling the buoy inside the boat, the 4-foot-wide lobster trap (with bricks weighting it down) eventually emerges from the water. The crustaceans move around as Linda shows Groff how to open the cage.
Holding up the shellfish, the Lunts explain how to decide whether a lobster can be kept or must be thrown back into the ocean. First, it is measured. The lobster must measure between 3¼ and 5 inches from its rear eye socket to the top of its tail. If it is under or above these measurements it has to be tossed to the sea.
Second, if it is an egg-bearing female, or if the lobster has a small triangular notch on its tail, the creature must be returned to the ocean. Determining whether it is a hard-shell or soft-shell lobster is another step.
After all these things have been done, the remaining lobsters must have their claws banded, so they don’t pinch. Finally, the bait of wild herring is replenished in the trap and the trap, buoy and line sent overboard.
“I like to see the excitement in the kids and awakening them to [lobster fishing],” Dan said.
After the Lunts have demonstrated with two traps how to lobster, Dan heads out to East Bunker’s Ledge, roughly 4 miles from Dysart’s Marina in Southwest Harbor, where the Elizabeth T set off on its voyage.
On the ledge, seals bask and gaze impassively as the boat approaches. Soon, they slide off into the water, bobbing as onlookers photograph them.
Eventually the trip is over and Dan returns the cruise-goers to the marina, wishing them well as they exit the boat.
“I like sharing what we know…” Dan begins.
“Kids get to see an old, classic form of making a living and a tradition,” Linda says. “…We get to meet a lot of interesting people from all over doing this.”