P.E.I. newcomer comes ‘out of his shell’ after working on mussel harvesting boat

Eissa Mir has been in many places, but it wasn’t until this summer he was truly out at sea.

Born in Pakistan and having spent most of his life in Saudi Arabia, Mir went to Alberta in 2018 for his last year of high school. In 2019, he moved to P.E.I. to study computer science, working different jobs during the summer break.

This year, his summer job presented him a new challenge: he was hired to harvest mussels out of Tracadie Harbour on the Island’s North Shore — even though he’d never set foot on a boat before.

Mir said he took the job simply because he doesn’t have a car and the person who interviewed him offered to arrange for him to be driven to and from the harbour.

“He told me that my first day of work will be on Wednesday, so I went and I got the gear and everything,” he said. “It was a very weird experience at first.”

Fish out of water

Like in any job, his first day wasn’t his best.

Mir is currently studying computer science at UPEI. (Eissa Mir)

“I was just really bad,” Mir said. “There’s 200 socks of mussels in each line. And I was able to do with most like five.”

Andy Handrahan, a bay manager at Tracadie and one of Mir’s crewmates, said he put on his gear backwards and the crew had to help him get geared up.

“The first couple of weeks are a little bit of a struggle when someone’s not used to a boat and they’ve never done anything,” Handrahan said.

“He was very willing to learn, so, I mean, when you come with a good attitude and you want to work, you can learn fairly quickly.”

For the first few days, he got hit with some motion sickness. But the biggest challenge he faced was being surrounded by open water while having almost no swimming skills.

“His swimming skills were very limited,” Handrahan said. “We had a spotter in the water with him at all times. He’d have his life jacket on and he couldn’t even get turned around or anything.”

Handrahan said the crew even tried to teach him how to swim when they took him to Shining Waters water park for a staff party.

Finding his sea legs

A quiet guy, Mir said he lived for the most part a “sheltered life” in Saudi Arabia.

Mir said he suffered from some motion sickness during his first few days working on the boat. (Andy Handrahan)

During the first days on the boat, he kept mostly to himself. Mir said he was intimidated by the crew,  which largely consisted of young men who, unlike him, had lived on the Island for most of their lives.

“I was a bit scared of some of them a bit, like my bay manager, Andy. He did look scary, but over the days [you realize] they’re really chill people.”

“I have a young staff, so a lot of the guys are in their mid-20s,” Handrahan said. “They try to make the day go by very [quickly] by playing games … There’s a lot of singing, and roaring, and screaming at each other and making jokes, so they’re always joking around and fooling around just to pass the time.”

When you spend 10 hours a day with a bunch of guys out on a boat, you don’t have any choice but to come out of your shell a little bit.— Andy Handrahan

But Mir said he eventually started to open up. He started hanging out with the crew outside work. When the rest picked on him, he would now be taunting them back.

“I was really like silent and terrified. And then over the days they helped me out,” he said. “I started like joking with them as well, and then join on the jokes they were making. And they’re always a little surprised, like ‘OK, we never expected this.'” 

“I think if you’d seen him the first day he started with us, he was fairly quiet and a bit of an introvert,” Handrahan said. “He is out of his shell pretty good after a couple of months. 

“When you spend 10 hours a day with a bunch of guys out on a boat, you don’t have any choice but to come out of your shell a little bit.”

Mir expects to graduate next year. While he said he’ll be looking at jobs related to computer science, Handrahan said he’d be welcomed with open arms.

“He won’t be a newbie next year, for sure,” he said. 

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