Lucky 'Larry' trades boiling water for Long Island Sound

Waterford — The life of a 17-pound, 80-year-old lobster that was destined for a pot of boiling water was spared on Tuesday and instead of becoming a memorable dinner is now back in the ocean.

The lobster was caught somewhere in the waters of New England — where exactly, they won't say — and then purchased by The Dock Restaurant.

That's when Don MacKenzie, vice president of Boats Inc. in Niantic, stepped in.

"This lobster has seen World War I, World War II, seen the landing on the moon and the Red Sox win the World Series, he's made it this far in life," MacKenzie said. "He deserves to live."

When The Dock received the lobster, named "Larry" by the children who came to visit him over the weekend, word got out around town last week that someone had reserved the lobster for dinner.

"There was a price on the guy, but I won't say how much it was," MacKenzie said. "Let's just say that it's the most expensive lobster I never ate."

Restaurant manager Kristen Eighme said she spent the weekend holding the lobster for the groups of children who wanted to touch it and take pictures with it. She has the scratches on her arms to prove that she had been cradling it like a baby.

"Battle wounds," she said, cracking a smile. "The kids loved him. He brought a lot of smiles here this weekend. He was the star of the show."

Thick rubber bands were wrapped around each claw to prevent the lobster from pinching anyone who wanted to get close enough to touch. The rubber bands were cut off before "Larry" was released, and MacKenzie kept them as a memento.

While there is no scientific way to determine a lobster's age, Mackenzie said, the most common way is by its size and by estimating how many times it has shed its shell. He estimated the lobster to be between 80 and 100 years old.

Before Mackenzie boarded the boat to get the lobster from the restaurant, a group of children started chanting, "Let Larry live, let Larry live!"

Meeting MacKenzie and Boats Inc. head rigger Steve Wilson at the boat was John Baez, 10, who agreed the best place for the lobster was in the water, not on a plate.

"He's 70 to 100 years old and he's a bigger lobster so we should see how long he can live," Baez said.

He admitted he enjoys a good lobster, but "Larry" wouldn't be an option.

"He's too big. The meat would be too tough," Baez said.

On the way out to sea, "Larry" also received an official send-off from the Niantic River Bridge operator who sounded the opening and closing siren for the crustacean.

Released in Long Island Sound in an area of water that makes it impossible for draggers to drop their nets, MacKenzie and Wilson said they believed "Larry" would be safe.

"They (lobstermen) drag during the day, so if he does venture out of this area, hopefully it will be at night," Wilson said.

The exact location of the release point is confidential, Wilson said, so no one will try to catch him.

"It takes seven years for him to even become a lobster big enough to keep," MacKenzie said. "For a lobster to live this long and avoid lobster traps, nets, lobster pots ... he doesn't deserve a bib and butter."

j.hanckel@theday.com

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