On those occasions when I was lucky enough to run in to Peter Prybot he had a gift for making me feel like that was the best thing that had happened to him all day. He was a big, smiling handsome man with the toughest looking hands I had ever seen. With those hands he made a living hauling lobsters from the ocean but he also wrote, and wrote beautifully.
Before I met him I knew who he was from his columns in the Gloucester Daily Times, “Ebb and Flow”, in which he wrote about the local fishing industry and also about the day to day experiences of working on the ocean – both the beauties and the horrors. He had a light, tender style of writing that could be humorous or impatient but always filled with appreciation for the world in which he lived. His book White-Tipped Orange Masts, The Gloucester Dragger Fleet that Is No More is filled with photographs of the ships and the men that made Gloucester famous as a fishing port.
His second book, Lobstering Off Cape Ann: A Lifetime Lobsterman Remembers came out about the same time that my dear friend Mark S. Williams' F/V Black Sheep was published and my novel The Old Mermaid's Tale came out. Because all three of our books were published as having a maritime theme (Peter's and Mark's about lobstering and mine about the Great Lakes maritime lore) we were seated together at a book event at Cruiseport Gloucester a few years back. I don't remember if any of us sold much in the way of books but we had a fine time talking and I had the pleasure of listening to those two lobstermen swap tales. Now that both of them are gone it seems an exceptionally precious gift.
It is a bitter irony that Peter's death on Sunday off of Avery's Ledge seems to have been closely described in Mark's book, F/V Black Sheep, just a few years earlier. (Working alone on a September afternoon, Gloucester, Massachusetts fisherman Mark Williams was setting back lobster pots aboard his boat f/v Black Sheep, five miles off of Good Harbor Beach where he grew up. Suddenly a trawl line cinched around his leg and within seconds he was being dragged overboard to a sure death twenty fathoms below.- from Amazon's description of F/V Black Sheep). In the story Mark told about an incident in which his leg became entangled in a trawl line while setting back lobster pots. He was dragged overboard and nearly drowned but lived to write the tale. According to the Essex County District Attorney's office the very same thing happened to Peter, but with a different ending.
He died doing what he loved. That's what the newspaper said and I hope that those last few moments of his life were as happy as were his forty-plus years of life as a lobsterman. In his book Lobstering Off Cape Ann, he wrote, “Although lobstering has largely consumed my life since age 12 and nearly taken it at least once, it’s also given me a livelihood, a hands-on education, a defined and meaningful purpose in life, a unique sense of freedom and pride and a job that I wouldn’t trade for the world.”Peter releasing a seagull that got tangled in a line.
Peter was a good man who loved his world. He majored in marine fisheries biology at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. In White-Tipped Orange Masts he talks about his plans for his future but his love of being on the water always came first. He tried a regular job at UMass' Marine Station in Bayview for awhile but his love of being on the water won and, after a year and a half of a 9-5 job, he left to go back to lobstering which he did until the moment he died.
I hope that he and Mark have an opportunity to meet again and spin some yarns together. I know wherever they are that in their hearts both of them sail on great celestial oceans aboard the October Sky and the Black Sheep respectively, pulling up traps full of keepers, and enjoying the beauty of their days.
Rest in Peace, Peter. You will be missed very, very much by many.
Thanks for reading.