Leonard “Blueberry” MacKinnnon is a towering man, with hands the size of baseball mitts. He is tough as nails and as gentle as the sea after a storm. “Blue”, as he is known, quit school 56 years ago to fish and has been on the waters of northern P.E.I. ever since.
“I remember my first boat in 1960, an old skiff that was on its last legs. I had a horrible time getting mates. They would sail with me for one day and then say, ‘I’m not sailing on that death trap again’”, MacKinnon says with a chuckle.
At dawn, I had the honour to sail on the Blue Bayou with MacKinnon and his crew. That day there was MacKinnon, his son-in-law and MLA Sidney MacEwan, and their hired hand Don. There was also a surprise guest, Darren, a 32-year-old who had fished with MacKinnon up to 2008 and was home for a week. He came and surprised the crew, and was waiting on the boat when they arrived. Darren now lives in Calgary. You could tell the call of the sea was strong, as Darren had been spending his week on P.E.I. going out with different crews for the day.
We were lucky, as it was a calm day. A parade of lobster boats wove their way around the breakwater and to the waiting traps. MacKinnon was at the wheel as he has been for so many years.
Once on the open ocean, MacEwan took over, piloting us to our first line of traps. Before we got there, a discussion on wind direction made for a prediction on that days’ haul, since a south-west wind brings the fish in. The first few lines were a bit sparse, and MacKinnon said, “wait till we get to 50 feet, it should be better there”. Sure enough, once we got to the lines set in 50 feet of water the catches improved.
As MacEwan negotiated the labyrinth of buoys all around us, MacKinnon and Darren started reminiscing about the fun they had when they worked together almost 10 years ago.
“Remember when you put beer in the last line of traps for us, that was a great haul… and the time I put a life size doll on another fisherman’s line?”
The two laughed and talked for quite some time until the crew chided with a chuckle, “We’re gonna have to hire some help back here.”
With that, the two men sprung to action, MacKinnon piloting and hauling the traps and Darren banding. MacKinnon says he doesn’t have much of a grip left in his left hand after so many years on the water, but he seems to have no trouble hauling the heavy traps with one hand as he pilots gracefully onto the lines of eight. He then switched to measure the fish, measuring carefully, and throwing back any that didn’t make the size.
The funniest event of the day happened when MacKinnon switched once again to banding the lobster. I was at the back taking photos when I heard him talking away. I turned to see him holding up his arm with a large lobster clamped onto his thumb. He was looking at it, laughing and having a great conversation with the lobster, until it finally let go and was banded.
It’s obvious MacKinnon loves the water, as he was laughing and singing the whole day. When we got close to the end of our haul, he fired up the cooker, scooped up some sea water, and cooked up a feed, finishing just in time to take the boat into the harbor as he has done so many times, waving to the other boats as he passed with a smile.
Once in the harbour, we dropped off the catch and headed to dock. There MacKinnon said with a smile, “Get ‘em into ya.” We all proceeded to grab and eat several freshly cooked lobsters at the back of the boat. “No tools here,” MacEwan chuckled.
I watched them to see how they used other parts of the lobster and the boat itself to clean the shells of every drop of meat. Growing up in Cape Breton, I can say I had my fair share of lobster, but out of the trap and right into a pot of fresh ocean water, cooked to perfection — these were the best lobster I have ever tasted. We sat around and talked and feasted for some time, then it was time to leave. Before I went I was presented with a bag to take home and share with family. What a treat!