By Doreen Leggett
On a crisp fall Saturday, John Morgan drove his battered red pick-up onto a long dirt road that runs along the Chatham Municipal Airport.
The bed of the truck was full of lobster trap line of varying thickness and colors; a lobsterman, getting rid of old gear from a storage spot there, had helped sling it aboard.
The gear travelled to Sandwich where it joined dozens of coils. Stretched out, they would likely reach to Provincetown.
Instead, they were soon transformed into thick, durable doormats of varying hues and styles, “Cape Cod Lobster Mats,” as the company Morgan started with his wife Alicia, an interior designer, is called.
“We give it a second life,” said Morgan. “Every single one is handmade — we have homemade looms we built ourselves.”
They got the idea from watching a television show about a woman in Maine who made a similar item out of thinner, lighter line. Morgan, a social worker in the Provincetown schools, was directed to a bunch of rope in Truro and they started with that.
“It was like a mountain. We went through all of it during the summer,” Alicia said.
They ended up debuting their mats in Sandwich in 2018, more for fun than anything. But once people saw the rugged mats, which come in different styles and different weights (depending if the rope is 3/8 or 3/4 of an inch thick) they caught on fast.
“It became an accidental business,” said Alicia with a smile.
Retail businesses across the Cape began ordering Lobster Mats, including Arcadia in Provincetown.
John, standing by a pile of finished mats in his backyard, said he ended up driving to Provincetown every week during the summer. He hefted one of the heavier mats; it weighs close to 20 pounds.
“We call them Nor’Easter proof because they don’t go anywhere,” he said, adding they are mildew proof too.
Buoys on Main in Harwich Port also carries Lobster Mats. Owner Michelle Archibald said she always tries to carry unique items made on the Cape.
“Every mat is different, based on what they get out of the ocean,” Archibald said. Some are wheat-colored, others tan, others have orange or varying shades of blue.
She said Lobster Mats get a lot of attention. Although they come with a card that lets people know about the business, Archibald will talk about how the gear is upcycled instead of going to landfills or ending up in the ocean.
“People like the message,” she said.
Archibald added that the mats are useful, she can’t think of any Cape home where tracking sand isn’t a problem.
She was excited to hear the Morgans were also on the verge of launching a lobster wreath line.
The couple laughs when they describe their wreath work. Alicia tried five different prototypes before she had a keeper.
John grabbed one of the round, heavy, cast-offs.
“This is a weapon,” he said.
The two are still busy making Lobster Mats as well.
“It’s like our new date night,” said Alicia. She’ll pour a glass of wine, he’ll have a bourbon, and they’ll work, listen to music, and talk.
Each mat takes about 45 minutes and the last step is to heat the ends so they fuse together. John figured they could pursue a life of crime because neither one of them has fingerprints anymore.
They continue to pick up gear from lobstermen all over the Cape, usually paying $100 for a load, about the price of one of their larger mats. Laura Ludwig at the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown sends people their way, and a portion of proceeds always goes to that nonprofit. They also give to other community organizations on a rotating basis.
One of their steady rope suppliers is Marc Palombo from Sandwich. He thought it was a great idea the minute he heard about it. His old gear has already been upcycled in other spots, including an enormous art installation in New York.
“I guess I would classify myself as a conservationist,” Palombo said. “There are ways to get rid of this stuff that are good for the environment.”
Palombo, who lobsters on the F/V Terri-Ann (named after his wife), keeps a spreadsheet of what he has to switch out.
He goes about 80 miles out to Georges Bank, so his line is built to withstand the ocean’s might.
“It is like inshore (line) on steroids,” he said.
He has a Lobster Mat created out of rope he fished with, as do other lobstermen.
“John came and they brought me a card. I know it’s a family affair,” Palombo said as both the Morgans’ young children help a bit. “It’s working out for both of us.”
And, Palombo said, he has a lot of rope.
“I coil it up in small coils that a person can maneuver and stack in piles,” he said, adding there is 500 feet per coil.
Archibald has been thinking her blue door is in need of a nice mat. She knows just the candidate, pointing to one in her store:
“That one might come home because it’s cute,” she said with a laugh.