Thursday, June 23, 2016

Keep 'em Fishin'

On board the bowpicker

I'm officially a gillnetter's wife.

The Wrecking Crew and I arrived back in Alaska exactly 10 days ago. Since that time, I've received roughly 400 bug bites, three sunburns, blisters on the soles of my feet, and callouses on my fingers. I have mended nets in sunshine and rain. I have only slept the minimal amount required to keep on going.

Why this frenzy?

Aquaman bought in!

Um. What does it mean to "buy in"?

It means he bought a boat and leased a permit. And that means he's a commercial fisherman! Which means we're a commercial fishing family!

Do I sound proud? I am. I really, really am.

I should also sound really naive and really clueless, because every day I learn how much I don't know.

We may have lived here for years and I may have known a lot of people and you could even say I knew my way around managing an environmental program and understood the state of Alaska as well as or even better than the next guy. And I thought I understood the heart of this town - the commercial fishing industry. But I really didn't.

The morning after we flew in, Aquaman finished a 36-hour opener on the fishing grounds - the flats, they're called -  and came back in to the harbor. That was the first time I laid eyes on his new boat. And the first time I laid eyes on him since April 30th. Six and a half weeks. Forty-four days.

There he is!

Picking me up from the dock

That selfie is the last time we posed for a picture. We've been going nonstop ever since.

It goes something like this: There are fishing openers and closures. You wait for the "announcement" a few times a week to know when and where those openers are. Every aspect of your life is planned around them. And around the fish.

Copper River red salmon - we set these aside to be smoked
for our home pack

A king salmon surrounded by red salmon

Our first stop was to get fuel. We ran across another boat on our way. Recognize it? It's the Northwestern, of Deadliest Catch fame. They tender here in the summer. 

And speaking of boat names, we changed ours. This was not a simple matter. Changing the name of a boat has long been considered unlucky. It's not that the previous name was bad - it just didn't hold any significance for us. We thought long and hard before finally settling on a new name - the Pelagic. What does pelagic mean? It means pertaining to the sea. There are pelagic birds, pelagic fish, and pelagic zones in the ocean. It's kind of that sweet spot -- not too close to the shore, not too far out to sea. It's a scientific term, and it comes from ancient Latin and Greek roots. And it's perfect.

To change the name, Aquaman had to first erase all traces of the previous name. This search ended up revealing a small plaque on board that labeled some switches that had the boat's original name. We had to remove this as well -- no evidence of any previous names are to remain on the boat. On the exterior, this involved grinding off the old lettering to make way for the new. About a week before we left for Alaska, I had ordered the new name letters and they finally arrived so that we could perform the naming ceremony. Champagne was involved. And other libations. And friends to witness the event.

No name
New name! Yay!

I was in charge of picking out the letters and getting them ordered and figuring out the naming ceremony - the Redhead helped with the final decision on the font. I just keep staring at those letters! Don't they look good? I don't have any pictures of the naming ceremony because I was the one performing it with Aquaman and the Redhead was in charge of getting video but his phone died. So that's that. 

Two out of the three Wrecking Crew have made it out on the boat so far during fishing openers. They were allowed to go in the order of their GPA on their report cards for the year (how's that for an incentive?). The Redhead went first. 

Thing 2 was technically next, but there was a gale warning and 8 foot seas so he graciously passed and said Thing 1 could go. Isn't that nice?

Before anyone went out on the boat, we all made sure to try on our survival suits that must be carried on board at all times - one per person. This helps protect against hypothermia if the boat should sink and you must abandon ship. 

Not comfy. But will keep you alive. Probably.  

Enough with the serious stuff. Let's admire those boat letters again, shall we?

There she is.

Doesn't he look happy?


That last picture was taken an hour before Aquaman and Thing 1 set off to fish on the "other side" as it's called - in Prince William Sound, as opposed to out on the Copper River flats. This was a last minute problem involving screws backing out (did you know screws could do that?) on something or other (the transom?). I told you how I've learned how much I don't know, remember? An amazing friend stopped by to talk and ended up being essential to solving the problem -- taking me to the hardware store and finding the specific screw, washer and bolt we needed, and going above and beyond to get his air compressor, bring it down to the boat, fill up the flat tires on the boat trailer, help us get the boat back into the water safely and help me take the boat trailer back out to the warehouse, unhitch it, and leave it stored. Have I mentioned the people in Cordova and how lucky we are to know some of them and call them dear friends?

So after 23 hours on shore, Aquaman is out there fishing again. He's got Thing 1 with him to help pick fish (that's what removing the fish from the gillnet as they come on board is called). Hopefully, there will be lots of fish to pick. 

I've had a few hours today to think about this whirlwind of a time we've had in 10 short days. I remember folks asking me - before we left for Alaska - What do you do all summer up there? And you know what? I was kind of at a loss as to how to reply. I said things like Well, I go hiking almost every day. I read a lot. Spend time with friends. If I'm lucky, I might get some writing done. I cook and bake, since I have more time with school being out. We do puzzles and play games. No TV. Still have laundry to do. Ha ha. 

It sounded so peaceful. But that's how the past 2 years were because Aquaman was on another boat in another fishery - seining for pink salmon in Prince William Sound. It was hard work, and there were crazy busy days and he was gone for longer periods of time. But now? This is a whole other level.

In preparation for those 23 hours Aquaman was on shore, I cooked a huge pot of pasta e fagioli, and made garlic cheese bread and angel food cake (one to eat and one to send back out with him on the boat). I enlisted the help of another talented friend who is a fantastic net mender to help me mend Aquaman's primary gillnet while he used the secondary gillnet. We (Talented Friend, Thing 2, and I) spent 12 hours mending that net. I'm slow - because I'm still learning. 

Thing 2 knows more about netmending than I do.

Slowly getting the net off the boat and on the dock
where we can mend it. 

I stacked that corkline!

Talented Friend who knows what she's doing

Thing 2 working hard

Action shot of me. That thing in my hand is called a needle.

It was low tide when Aquaman and I hit the ground running the next morning, bagging the secondary net (taking it off the reel on the boat and putting it in a net bag), taking it off the boat, (I learned how to operate a crane! With a little help from another friend who stopped to help...) loading it in the back of the truck, and dumping it at the warehouse. The Wrecking Crew went with us to get fuel and ice, the Redhead worked on an electrical problem with one of the lights on board while Aquaman worked on a hydraulic hose. Thing 1 and I shopped for groceries for the boat, picked up extra hydraulic fluid and propane for the stove, and loaded things needed from the storage locker. We made about a dozen trips up and down the dock. 

Work, work, work

This is what I mostly see. The backs of their heads. 

Waiting for ice. 

Filling the fish holds

Pulling away from the fuel dock

The houses at Copper River Seafoods cannery

It was around that time that an old friend on the street pointed out that one of my front tires on the truck was low, prompting me to ask around about where to get air and potential tire repair. After discovering an enormous screw in the tire and getting aired up as a temporary measure to get us through to the next morning, I went with Aquaman to go get the trailer from the warehouse, and with Thing 1's help, backed the trailer down the boat ramp to pull the boat out of the water to figure out the loose screws thing. Thing 2 had to take the pork chops I had started out of the oven since I was called away in the middle of making dinner. Repairs made, we put the boat back in the water, returned the trailer to its spot and made sure Thing 1 had his crew license. As we walked back down the ramp to the harbor, I noticed that it was low tide again. Twelve hours had passed and we hadn't stopped. I passed Aquaman the license, Thing 1 untied the boat, and they were gone. 

A few hours later, my phone rang and Aquaman reminded me that I needed to research turbochargers for his engine (he may need a replacement soon and the part may need to be ordered now), look into a replacement EPIRB (an emergency locator on board), read him the results of an oil analysis that came in the mail after he left, find out about his known shipper status with Alaska Airlines, look into direct marketing his fish and the accompanying required permits from the state, and to not forget to mend the net we dumped at the warehouse. Aye, aye, Captain!   

These are the magazines I read now.


I remarked to that amazing friend who stopped and helped us about how frenzied it all was as we went searching for that certain size screw to hold everything together and you know what he said? Just keep him fishing, Kate. Just keep him fishing.        

And it occurred to me that that is the answer that I need to give now when people ask me What do you do all summer up there? 

I keep him fishing. 

Aquaman mending his nets during a closure - intentionally letting the boat "go dry" between tides.
Our friends went by in their own boat, took this picture of him without him knowing, and texted it to him with the tagline
"Livin' the Dream"
I think that's pretty accurate.