A Picasso Moment

Mal de mer
The blackfish Ed Rennar caught on the south side of Montauk Point last week missed the record blackfish by only a few ounces, weighing in at 10.65 pounds after two days in a pen. Had it been weighed when caught, it probably would have set a new record. Dawn Rennar

    Last week I got a call from Orla Reveille, who holds sway over at the Viking Dock in Montauk. She told me to slide by and pick up a book, “The Forsberg Empire,” a memoir by Capt. Paul G. Forsberg “as told to Manny Luftglass.”

    It tells the story of what has indeed become an empire, not the Roman or robber baron kinds, but a fleet of fishing boats that since 1936 have ferried fishermen offshore to the empire of the sea with its mammals, birds, fish of a thousand varieties, and its reefs, canyons, and dozens of moldering wrecks where fish tend to congregate, many of them identified and explored by Captain Forsberg, his father, his sons, and his grandsons. The Viking Fleet celebrated its 75th year in 2011.

    I have fished on Viking boats many times over the years in spring, summer, and winter, when the heated hand railings Captain Forsberg invented by sending hot engine exhaust through pipe handholds made hunting cod bearable. The book, available at the Viking Dock and via Amazon.com, is a fascinating portrait of a pioneering family. When I think Viking, I think of the day I was so cold and seasick that I saw through Pablo Picasso’s eyes. Let me explain:

    The misery did not take place on the Viking Starship, the boat I had intended to take offshore after cod in the depths of winter. I went aboard early to stow my gear, then left the boat to grab coffee and sandwiches at Gaviola’s Market across the street. I got talking, didn’t hear the all-aboard horn, and missed the boat. I watched the Starship turn past the Coast Guard station and disappear along with my heavy coat, extra sweaters, and gloves. Oh well.

    So, I’m getting into my car to head home when Dennis Gaviola suggested I join him on the King Wayne. Capt. Wayne King said he was going to be fishing near the Starship. He’d bring the boat alongside and put me aboard with my gear. Okay, great.

    Not great. The weather deteriorated. The swell had built offshore. There was no way the King Wayne was going to go alongside the Starship. It was freezing. I had no coat, no gloves, no heavy sweater, and was therefore consigned to a bunk below deck with no blanket and no horizon to justify the boat’s movement to my inner ear in the ever-growing seas. Mal de mer, the bane of a seaman’s existence, set in. And not just seasickness, but cold seasickness, with hours to go before we returned to Montauk, and with intermittent puffs of the King Wayne’s diesel exhaust flowing down the open companionway.

    Now, I have spent a good deal of time offshore, sometimes queasy, but mostly fine, even in heavy seas. There are people who never get seasick, but they are relatively few. My theory is that each of the others of us falls victim to different types of movement. Some get sick by a boat’s side-to-side roll, others the stem-to-stern rise and fall. On that day, the sea brought both movements to bear on my stomach, to my very being.

    There were a couple of mad dashes up the companionway to the cold railing where, while “chumming,” I could see the Viking Starship with my warm coat below, so near and yet so far off our starboard beam, a mirage of comfort. Then, it was back down to cold hell where I shivered and listened to warmly dressed anglers topside hooting and laughing as they brought cod after cod over the Wayne’s railing.

    The Picasso moment occurred after about three hours as I lay on my back watching square panes of sunlight cast down the hatchway move about the bulkheads and ceiling as the boat rolled. By this time, I’d gone beyond nausea. I was hallucinating.

    In a flash, I understood Cubism, the freezing of movement and light into shards of color, emphasis on freezing. Pure genius. The thought elicited a grim chuckle, caused me to transcend my predicament — well, for a minute or two. Who says a liberal arts education is useless?

    I wonder, could Pablo have had a bad experience at sea? Did it drive him to abstraction? My fellow gazetteer, an art historian and critic, the late Robert Long, would have known.

    I have not missed the boat since.

    The cold and howling winds kept boats at bay for the most part, but early last week, Ed Rennar was fishing off the south side of Montauk and caught what might have been a record blackfish. The fish lost some of its weight living in a live tank for a day before being weighed at the West Lake Marina, but the monster tautog tipped the scales at 10.65 pounds nonetheless. Captain Rennar said it probably weighed closer to 12 pounds when it was first brought aboard.

    The Montauk SurfMasters Tournament for striped bass ends on Sunday morning, still time to adjust the leader board.

    As it stands, Mike Milano, Richie Michelson, and Sam Doughty command first, second, and third places in the wader division. John Bruno holds the first and only place in the wetsuit division. Mary Ellen Kane is in first and second place in the women’s division. Christine Schnell holds onto third. Brenden Farell, Philip Schnell, and James Kim look like they will finish in that order in the tournament’s youth division.