The Wet 'n' Wild

By Michael Roberts aka. Salty Dog

When I first saw the Wet'n'Wild it was no more than the beginning stages of a homemade ChrisCraft. A few pieces of plywood glued and screwed to some oak framing sitting on a rusty haywagon frame next to the side of Rt. 90 in Rockport, Me. The sign said "4 sail cheep". Not being one to pass up a deal I decided to stop and inquire on how cheap. I could hear a commotion in the wood shed round back of the slightly run down house and called out to no one in particular. A man come out blinking and asked what he could do for me. I nodded towards the boat and said simply "How much?" Well the old fellow looked me up and down and ambled past me to the boat, and said over his shoulder "She's solid ya know. Just not finished." I nodded and said nothing. It was cold out but the snow banks along the roadsides were melting. "My brother had a heart attack and died before he could do anymore work on her, and I told Mary (I assumed the widow) that I would get rid of this for her." Great! I said to myself, A deadmans boat. Well some of my dive gear I had bought the same way so maybe this was trend for me. "Sorry to hear that, looks like he did good work." He looked me over again, and I added quickly, "I want to finish it into a workboat for myself." His shoulders sagged slightly and he smiled and said "Tell ya what, 400 bucks and you can have the trailer too since it don't really fit nothin else." "Done." I said,"I'll come get it Saturday."
So was born, what was to be, one of the most recognizable little dive boats in Maine. You see, I left the ChrisCraft bow the way it was but cut the rails and stern down to about 20" creating a 21' Novy boat. Then I glassed her and finished her with that bright orange polyester gel that boatyards make hull molds with. Visible for miles! With no cabin and an outboard bigger than it should have been she always made a striking pose and she was FAST. When I was nearly done building it I was able to convince a friend of mine to move back to Maine from California where the sea urchin business had gone to hell from over harvesting. We took the boat then named The Color of Money, due to the similarity between the boats color and the color of sea urchin roe, to Bath to start our new careers as urchin harvesters.

November 15th, the big day has arrived. Well not that big really. I had maybe 20 dives on my drysuit by then. I had bought the suit back in Dec. of 85 on the belief that I was going to make all this money diving for scallops. I had met and buddied up with this guy from Vinalhaven Island during the cert. course offered by the Red Cross at the Camden Y. John (names have been changed to protect the insane) has been a good friend ever since, even if he is a little twisted from being in the Special Forces and then undercover for the DEA. Always thought it was a strange line of work for a lobsterman from an island in Maine. Anyway he was going to show me how to scallop dive, so I rushed off and bought a Viking Pro and 6 tanks from Tommy's Dive Shop in Portland. Threw it on my American Express and headed back to Vinalhaven. Now I have to point out that at this point in time I had never bought any new dive gear before nor had I completed the OW coarse yet. I had never been in the ocean, and the gear that I had, I had purchased from a widow who had advertised in the newspaper. The guy had died while diving!! Hey, I got fins, mask, backpack, weightbelt, a first stage, and regulator for 50 bucks so I wasn't complaining!! Yeah I can guess what you are thinking, look I never said I was as sharp as a razor clam! So there I was, Dec. in Maine with a drysuit I had never worn with gear I had never used doing boat dives in a snow storm to roughly 50 ft. By the way I do have a guardian angel. Then my buddy, John, up and leaves to go to Chicago to marry some newspaper magnates daughter and leaves me hi and dry. I drew the line at diving alone!(Remember, I am still trying to get over my fear of dark water - RSD post 1/8/99 "Earliest dive memories") Since then I hadn't used the suit but once till that summer of 89 when I had started checking out the urchin scene. But I have digressed enough.

It was the 15th of Nov. and T.J. and I have checked all our gear twice loaded into the back of my pickup and made the long drive to the boat. I suited up and swam out to the boat fired it up and brought it to shore where we loaded all our gear into the boat and struck out on our first attempt to make us rich. Since we really didn't have any idea where to start we headed south down the peninsula about a mile to Big Wood Island where I remembered that there used to be a lot of kelp. Big Wood and Little Wood are side by side with a nice protected channel in between not a lot of current and to our dismay no kelp to be seen from the surface. We anchored anyway and made note of the depth where our anchor was at about 35 ft. We hooked the bags to bouy lines and threw em into the water. This created a big snarl of rope floating on the surface that immediately wrapped itself around the outboard and the anchor line. We shook our heads and laughed, we didn't care we were going to make money diving! We high fived and both did forward somersault entries off the rail and then spent the next 15 min. untangling the ropes and ourselves. We both knew what good urchins are supposed to look like so we swam over to the island til we were over the bare ledges we had seen and desended to the top of the ledge. It was quiet, I took a moment to adjust myself to the new surroundings, slowed my breathing, looked around and didn't see any sharks zeroing in on me so I added a little air to the suit when something grabs my arm! Whew, just T.J. but he's got a smile on his face and he is waving his arms all around like a nut! He stops waving and holds up one finger then he takes it and points down. Well I have been sittin on the ledge in only 15 ft of water so I had no idea what he was tryin to tell me but I follow his finger and wouldn't ya just know it, I, or I should say we, were sittin just a couple of feet above a bed of urchins!! YAHOOO, I forgot all about bouyancy and grabbed my little 3 pronged garden weeding rake and started raking the urchins into the first bag I could grab. Before you know it I was down to 500 lbs. of air and had to go back to the boat for another tank. When I got to the boat T.J. was already there puttin on his second tank with the biggest grin I have ever seen. Well we only did two tanks apiece that day but we were off. We harvested 500 lbs. apiece and were dog tired by the time we got it loaded into my truck and had the boat back on the mooring for the night. "Tomorrow - Part 4 When we discover that you have to sell the damn things too!!"

Well it was 5:00 and T.J. and I were all smiles after our first day as urchin divers. We worked long and hard to get to this point and it was satisfying to know that we were finally doing it. Now earlier in the fall I had been approached to be a local buying station for a larger buyer in Portland. Well we couldn't exactly strike a deal, mostly because I wanted to be in the water not on the dock, but we told him we would bring our eggs to him when we got going. So off we drove with our new found gold to Portland. It took nearly 45 min. to the waterfront in Portland and while there was some activity there wasn't much. We drove to the address of the buyer and the place was devoid of any humans. The seagulls were quite interested in what we had in the truck but since they weren't offering cash we chased em off. We were still riding on a cloud of excitement cause we obviously had the best urchins in the state and the buyer, George, must have just stepped out for a moment, so I figured we would wait. We waited til 6:15 and then called his home #. George answers and says that he is closed for the day and he won't buy day old urchins tomorrow! Well this really pissed us off, but we couldn't getGeorge to change his mind. This turned out to be the best thing that could of happened altough we didn't know it. We drove around some other wharves looking for signs of activity as it was getting late and our bubble was nearly burst, arguing between each other as to what to do. We were looking at a 2 hr. drive home and we were broke. We stopped at this bar on Wharf St. and asked this guy stumbling out if he knew of anybody buying urchins. Now the answer to your ? is yes, it was a seedy bar and the guy was wearing big boots, a beat ball cap, and a torn flannel shirt, so we were sure he wasn't a banker and might be able to help us. He said, "Sure. It's late but you should go try the Jap guy on Hobson's Wharf." So we sped off to "The Jap Guy" and there we found Shangri-La. This guy's place was set up to do real business. Free air while you waited. We walked around and saw more urchins than we ever imagined! We finally found Atchan, who turned out to be very pleasant, but not pleased that he had not been our original destination. We told him that we had the very best urchins in the state and if he bought them we would bring him more. Now in self defense I have to explain that I had done alot of research on sea-urchins and knew that we really did have some very good product. He reluctantly agreed to buy them but said that he couldn't pay us until the next day and that he couldn't give us a price until they were tested. Geez, talk about makin this into a long day! We weren't going anywhere until we knew how big our check was gonna be. Besides now we wanted to show Atchan that we knew what we were doing! Well all's well that ends well, the eggs tested at 18.7%, Atchan rushed over to us and said he would buy all that we could bring him! We didn't get home til nearly midnight, but we were officially urchin divers! The End!

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