That Pennel and Sharon Ames are still commercial scalloping together on Nantucket Harbor after more than 30 years of marriage and 30 seasons on the water shouldn’t come as a surprise.
After all, it was bay scallops that initially brought them together.
“I started out as his opener - that’s how I met him - in the back of Charlie Sayle’s shanty,” Sharon recalled on Tuesday as the pair unloaded their bushels at Old North Wharf. It was the late 1980s on the island, and the Nantucket Inn had just opened. “He had to come in and pay me every Friday, and he said ‘do you want to go out for a drink at that new hotel?’ I said ok, but I didn’t know him. I had no idea, he was just some guy I opened scallops for.”
Pennel and Sharon were married in 1991, and have been commercial scalloping together ever since. They are one of the few married couples - perhaps the last - in Nantucket’s dwindling commercial scalloping fleet who fish together.
In those early years scalloping as a couple, the Ames would have Sharon’s mother come to the island to watch their two daughters - Kelsea and Amelia - while they went out fishing. After she passed away, the couple would pay a taxi driver to come pick up their girls and take them to school so they could still head out at sunrise to go scalloping.
Three decades later, Pennel, 67, and Sharon, 63, are still going strong.
“You get a satisfaction out of it - it’s just what you do,” Sharon said of commercial scalloping. “I enjoy it. But there’s days I hate it. There’s days where it’s blowing or snowing, and I still had to go. But it makes you appreciate things.”
What does Pennel enjoy about scalloping with his wife?
“It’s a chance to go fishing,” he said with a smile.
“You’re supposed to say something nice about me at this point!” Sharon chimed in.
“Well it’s a chance to go fishing with your wife,” he replied with a laugh. “I have cheap help. I got free labor.”
Pennel has been commercial scalloping out of Nantucket since 1976. Even though the island’s fleet has declined, along with the eel grass and population of scallops in the harbor, it still beats working on land, he said.
“You can outperform what you do on land - if you’re paying attention,” he said. “It’s fun and you can make a little money.”
Both remarked on how fishery has changed since they first started out in the industry.
“There used to be 100 (boats) in town everyday, it was the biggest thing going on in town for a long time,” Pennel said. “Kids off island had paper routes. Kids down here opened scallops.
That’s how people would pay their electric bills, opening scallops. You didn’t get unemployment. There was no food pantry. You had to suck it up.”
“We’ve seen so much in the amount of time we’ve been here,” Sharon added. “Sadly a lot of scallopers have died. It used to be... it was a different experience.”
Still, after 30 seasons scalloping together, the loving banter between Sharon and Pennel at the dock on Tuesday illustrated a long tradition that the couple has kept alive over three decades.
“When it’s blowing and he says ‘oh it’s not that bad out’,” Sharon said with a laugh. “There are certain phrases I hate: ‘it’s not that bad,’ ‘it’s going to get better,’ and the one I would probably put on his tombstone: ‘just one more tow.’ I’ll be dying, there’s ice coming out of my nose, I'm covered and wet, and I just want to go home and he says ‘oh just one more tow’.”