The Block Island Times

A mission for clams

By Daniel West | Apr 23, 2011

I’m out hunting clams in about eight feet of water, 30 or 40 yards from the shore, kicking up big plumes of silt with my fins when disaster strikes; my mask shifts, pushed by the hood of my five-millimeter wetsuit, and saltwater begins to pour in. My eyes sting from both from the salt and the 43-degree water. I committed last week to harvesting clams to bring down to Washington D.C. when I visit my sister, and at this moment I am regretting the decision.

Diving for clams in April is a far different prospect from August. It’s a mission; there is no time to sightsee or swim lazily from spot to spot. When the water is below 50 degrees it’s about getting as many clams as you can before the cold becomes unbearable.

You have to dress right too: a full wetsuit with hood, gloves and booties to keep warm and wide fins to kick up more clams faster. Before going out I filled my booties and gloves with hot water, which will give me a few extra minutes of warmth.

I dive down to the bottom, my vision blurred by a mask full of water, and feel around in the muck. It’s hard to grab clams while wearing thick gloves and I am only able to pull two or three at a time in a single dive.

I surface and let the water drain from my mask. Drizzle starts to fall from the gray overcast sky and I’ve begun to ruin the visibility with all the sand I’ve disturbed. I push the mask tightly to my face and swim to a new location. Only taking the clams I can grab on my first dive is a way to make sure I don’t completely mine out the area.

Swimming along the shore I notice three large green starfish clumped together next to a seaweed-covered rock. Even in my rush for clams the pond still shows me something interesting. I pause for a moment to look but soon become chilled and move on.

I kick up several more spots constantly hitting perfectly sized littlenecks. It’s hard to drag myself away when the area is so full of beautiful little quahogs but after half an hour I start to succumb to the cold.

I walk out of the pond through the rain with my bag heavy with clams. After warming myself in a steamy shower I count my catch. Over the winter I started to record my best clams-per-minute time and this outing is not bad; however, I think I will have a hard time beating a particular February outing where I collected a dozen clams in eight minutes.

As for the clams they are safely stored in the clam drawer of my refrigerator — you know that drawer mainland people use for lettuce — waiting for their trip to a pot in Alexandria.

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