I had been in Alaska for almost one month. I had flown into Anchorage from San Francisco at about noon on the sixth of May.
During the plane switch in Seattle I happened to Run into a Humboldt classmate that was headed up to Valdez to work on the big oil spill. It sounded to me as he had a good job. Listening to him made me feel a small bit of guilt that I hadn't gotten a company job after graduating, and practiced what I had learned. But I also noticed that he also had a longing to be doing what I had been doing. Such is life, we romanticize our past and hear the romanticized past of others, each failing to mention that we are searching unfulfilled in our actions. Yet, hearing the others' exploits, we think that maybe he is on the right path, i.e.," That's what I should be doing." As I said I felt a small bit guilt when hearing about the places that he been paid to go, but I caught myself and realized that, as good as it sounded, he was working for a company, and locked into assignments. I am less secure but free,(I think.)
When we arrived in anchorage Nellie called a friend of hers while I looked in the paper to find a cheeps Van to buy and drive to Homer. We were on a tight schedule for the ferry to Kodiak was going to leave at four the next morning. If we were to drive to Kodiak we had to leave here by at least nine that evening.
Nellie got hold of her friend Nenna and she agreed to drive us around to look at vehicles. I found a couple of prospect in the paper and made appointments to see them.
Nenna showed at the airport with her car at about two that afternoon. Nenna is a real feisty Alaska woman who has been working up on the North slope during the winter, but she had recently gotten hurt and was back in the city recuperating. She was full of energy and overwhelmed us weary travelers.
We took off for Eagle River (forty miles north of Anchorage) to look at a van for sale but before we got out of town I spied a van with a for sale sign on it . We stopped to take a look at it. It was your typical Alaskan vehicle; beat to shit. I took it for a test drive. It did everything it was supposed to do; accelerate, stop, turn left, turn right. What the hell, I could live with the fact that it had cancer all over it, the exhaust system was shot, the tires were bald, the doors were all screwed up, it leaked coolant, and who knows what else.
We went across the street and ate a pizza while we waited for the man of the house to come home in order to ask the price. We finished. He was home. He wanted five hundred dollars. I offered four fifty. He said OK. I bought it.
We filled her up with gas, bought an extra case of oil, and some tools, said good-bye to Nenna and headed out of town.
Before driving to Homer we stopped in the town of Girdwood, ( some of the best sour dough pancakes that I ever had,) to pick up some of Nellies gear. We finally got on the road to Homer at about nine at night. When it got dark we discovered that the head lights had a mind of their own, and would turn off periodically. That kept us awake. With about fifty miles to go, we pulled over for an hour of rest.
We had taken the time in Girdwood to fashion a platform to sleep on. The van came with a supply of wood and even the nails. It only took an hour to build. The mattress was a large piece of foam that we found in Girdwood. We were set.
The reason that we had to make the fairy on this day was that it was going to go out to Dutch Harbor and would not be going to Kodiak from Homer again for more than a week. We wanted to get to Kodiak before then because of the Halibut opener on the fifteenth. If we waited for the next ferry we would miss the opener. Of course we could fly, but being in Kodiak without a vehicle or a place to stay sucks.
It was two a.m. when we checked into the ferry terminal office. The lady behind the counter told us to get in line and go to sleep. They would wake us up when it was time to load. The ferry was to leave at four AM. An hour of sleep sounded great. We parked in line, crawled in the back of the van and fell asleep.
I woke up with a start. It was light outside. "Holy Shit !"
When I sat up and looked around I saw that we were no longer in line, everyone was gone. We were alone. I looked at my watch, it said that it was five am. " That's it ," I thought we missed the ferry.
I quickly got dressed, jumped out of the van and ran out a little way to see around the building that obscured the ferry loading ramp from our view.
The ferry was still there. There were only two cars left in line with two more on the elevator going into the hold. I ran back to the van and drove up to the line.
We were the last vehicle on. Another fifteen minutes and we would have missed it. The woman that told us she would wake us up was there and she came over to apologize for forgetting us. " No harm done. We will be the first ones off." I told her.
After the ship's crew lowered the vehicle down into the hold and chained it to the deck, we collected our sleeping bags and toiletries and went up to the main deck. We lay our bedding down between a row of lounge chairs, climbed under the covers and went to sleep.
The ferry we were on was ( and still is ) called the Tustumena. It is probably one of the older ferries used by the Alaska Marine Highway system, but she was a sturdy sea worthy vessel. She had sort of a battle ship decor to her. You could call her a no frills civilian transport vessel. There are state rooms that don't cost all that much more but the waiting list to get one of those is very long, besides we didn't need one. There is a nice solarium up top sides that is covered heated and open to the stern. By the time we got on board all the available space up there was gone. I didn't mind that because the stack is right in the middle of the place and it is quite noisy.
Nellie and I chose to sleep in the cluttered, horrible designed main salon. That was a large room with windows all around that is filled with uncomfortable lounge chairs that are bolted to the deck in sets of three. The arm rests were not movable, there fore making them impossible to lie across and sleep on.
All the chairs had a button on them that allowed you to recline the seat back about as much as an airline seat. The seats are nice and wide. Too bad they don't go back far enough to sleep in. Out of the hundred or so seats available about seventy-five were broken and did not go back. A few people that didn't bring sleeping bags and had found a seat with an unobstructed aisle and a back that did recline were trying to get a little bit of sleep on the eleven hour ride.
Most people, (including us,) had found themselves a spot between rows of seats and had laid down a sleeping bag and were comfortably asleep. We were lucky to get a spot next to a bulk head, but were unlucky in that it was next to a main aisle. If the ship is crowded and one arrives too late one could find one's self stuck out in the middle between rows of seats with aisles on both sides. When you get a spot like that you have to sleep in the fetal position else your head and feet stick out in the aisle and you end up getting stepped on by wobbly walkers that haven't gotten their sea legs yet.
We were lucky, our heads and feet were safely under seats forward and back. The only problem we had was the noise from the guy that sat in the seat that we were under. Oh well... That is Alaska ferry travel on a budget.
Now for a little back ground. I first started coming to Alaska to fish commercially in the summer of 1981. That was the same year that I got out of the Marine Corps. I got lucky and landed a job on a seiner in Sitka. That was the year of the botulism scare that all but destroyed the salmon market for the next five years.
During the 181 salmon season we were getting forty to fifty cents a pound for pink salmon. The next year we were getting twenty-seven cents a pound for the same type fish. In 1983 I went to the North Slope and worked in the oil fields. In 1984 I went to Mexico for the summer, and in 1985 I fished in Prince William Sound for pink salmon at twenty to twenty-five cents a pound. In 1986 I worked on a collage grant.
I graduated in December of 1986 with a BS. in Environmental Engineering and an emphasis in alternative energy. That was the year that gasoline prices fell and nobody wanted alternative energy. So, looking to get back to the sea after all the academia, I flew back up to Alaska in the spring of 1986, and fishing has been my source of income ever since.
I long lined blackcod and halibut in the spring of 1986 and when summer came along I drifted back up to Prince William Sound. I talked my way onto a 10% share as a skiff man and had a great money year. That was the year that the fish didn't show at Bristol Bay, Kodiak, Southeast, or Cook Inlet. But the fish were strong in Prince William Sound and the price went up to a dollar a pound at one point in the season. After that great summer I went out to Kodiak and fished black cod and halibut again. I then secured myself a job on a crab boat for the winter, and then I flew down to Seattle where I bought a sailboat with my older brother Doug. Doug was a merchant seaman. On Jan. 1, 1987 I flew up to Kodiak and fished tanner crab until February. After that was over I was still hot for work so I went out to Dutch Harbor and in three days I had a job on a joint venture dragger fishing gray cod for the Russians.
I had made plans to seine in Kodiak, but in the stop over at Anchorage, while headed back to Seattle from Dutch Harbor, I met another skipper. He talked me into fishing with him in Prince William Sound. That was the year that the fish didn't show in the Sound or in the Southeast but they hit in Kodiak heavy. Rumor has it that the average crew share was forty thousand dollars.
So as it was, I flew out to Kodiak in late June of 1988 and fished the halibut opener, then I flew over to Prince William Sound to participate in one of the most disappointing season ever, as far as show was concerned. Because the price was high I still did pretty well. Some times we only fished two days out of the week. That was the summer that I met Nellie. She was working on a tender as a deckhand.
After the salmon season ended, we both flew over to Kodiak and fished a halibut opener. My younger brother had written me a letter saying that he had gotten a job seining in Kodiak and that he was taking the boat south to Seattle with the rest of the crew. He asked me if I would take his vehicle back to Anchorage if I came to Kodiak before going south. So after the halibut opener Nellie and I drove his van to Anchorage where we planned to purchase a truck and drive it south. We were going to leave Robert's van in a spot known to him.
Robert's plans changed and he did not go with the boat down to Seattle, but not knowing that we had taken his van he thought that it was stolen. Now... Living the gypsy life that I do it is very hard for someone to get in touch with me, and the same is true for Robert, so it was just plain luck that Robert called a mutual friend of ours and left a phone number where he would be for the next two to three hours. Thirty minutes later I called this same friend to say hello.
I called Robert up and made arrangements to pick him up at the airport the next day. After picking him up Nellie got her plans moving by buying a Volkswagen truck. The day after that we were packed and on our way to the lower forty-eight.
We were taking our time and had made a detour up to Fairbanks, where after spending a sleepless night in a camp ground inhabited by some people that partied all night and roared around in a four-wheel drive pick up and no muffler we got a five AM start. At six AM and fifty miles out of Fairbanks I fell asleep at the wheel, ran off the road, and rolled the small truck. That was the end of the road trip. We sold the car for the amount of the towing charges, and a ride back to Fairbanks. There we rented a motel room and the next day we rented a car and drove it back down to Anchorage. I bought myself a ticket to Seattle and flew out that day. Nellie stayed in Girdwood for a while then she flew to Lodi.
Back in Seattle I worked on the sailboat I had bought with my brother Doug. I also spent some time down in Lodi with Nellie, and she came up to Seattle a bit also. The big sailing plan was to fix the boat up into top shape then sail her up to Prince William Sound in the spring, fish halibut and blackcod then seine all summer. With the finish of a good season we planned to sail her down to Mexico for the winter, then out to the South Pacific, eventually working and sailing our way around the world.
This might have been a dreamers plan, but we had the boat to do it; a forty-one foot French built ketch. In February and March we had installed a three and a half Kilowatt diesel generator and a twenty gallon a day fresh water maker. In April we had hauled her out of the water and completely redid her bottom. The boat was coming along fine, but Doug and mine's conflicting personalities were making it obvious that we could not sail together. About a week from the date we were to leave the situation came to a head. Without going into details, it turned out thus; I took all my personal gear off the boat and drove to California. It was then Doug's boat.
The trip from Seattle to Lodi was an adventure in its self. My VW van broke down. We met new friend and found some old ones also. We fixed the car, visited and had a good time. It was a week before we made it to Lodi, and another week before we flew out of San Francisco to Anchorage and started the trip that got us on that ferry to Kodiak.
The ferry pulled into Kodiak on schedule and we were one of the first to get off. It was a clear sunny day and first impressions were that things were going slow in town. It was still five days till the halibut opener, and the hectic last minute rush was a few days away.
The first thing we did was walk the dock to check out the job prospects, and to see if any of my old friends were around. I asked a few boats that had people working on them if any positions were available , if there were not then I asked them if they knew of any boats that needed anybody, being careful to let them know that I had experience. I got a few leads and a couple of offers, but not with a boat that I thought that I could make money on.
The next day both Nellie and I had secured jobs for the up and coming Halibut opener. I got on with a young skipper running a sixty-five foot tuna troller. He didn't look too young and age isn't something that I usually ask about, but I should have talked to some of the long time residents about this young man. I thought the boat looked good. He assured me that he knew what he was doing, and that we would catch lots of halibut. He had one hundred and twenty tubs of Halibut gear.
One tub of gear consists of one hundred large circle hooks spaced one and a half fathoms, (nine feet,) apart on nylon ground line. A loop is spliced into each end of the ground line so that each tub can be tied to another, thus making a set. Each of the hooks is tied onto a ganion. The length of the ganion from hook to ground line varies from boat to boat, but is surely between one and a half feet and three feet. The ganion is tied into the ground line.
Before the twenty-four hours of allowable fishing time the crew baits each of the hooks. A few years ago many fishermen began using octopus for bait, but herring , salmon, and gray cod are also used. With the price of octopus now over two dollars a pound it can be a monstrous expense when used.
It is my opinion that it doesn't matter what you use for bait. If you're in the fish you are going to catch them. The young skipper I signed on with swore up and down that octopus was the best, " Besides," he said, " I have a secret weapon." So, we baited up with octopus. It took quite a long time to do mainly because two of the four hands were busily keeping away from to tubs. Two days before the opener the skipper showed up with his secret weapon; one hundred gallons of Herring Oil. It was still warm in its five gallon buckets, but the cold temperatures on deck quickly turned the buckets of oil into solid blocks. We were to pour about a gallon of oil onto each tub of baited gear. We got about ten tubs baited before the stuff got too hard. The wise skipper then put three buckets of the hardened oil at a time into the forward stateroom in front of an electric heater set on high. That room had already been used before to thaw out frozen herring, and it stunk like rotten fish. Besides it didn't matter to him he was to sleep in the captains quarters, but it did matter to me, for I being the last one hired, was to bunk in that room.
I should have jumped ship right then, but deck hands are too smart, besides I was staying in the van while we were at shore.
When we had baited up five tubs of gear we would get a bucket of oil out of the hot house and pour it all over the ground line and bait, put another cold bucket in front of the heater, and bait up some more tubs. The buckets of oil were full to the brim, so it was inevitable that some of it would splash around. We did not open any of the containers while in the heated room, but we tracked it in with our boots and rain gear. There was not a room on board the boat that was not covered in herring oil. It got in the galley, wheel house, and any where else that somebody happened to walk through. Needless to say by the time we left port every room and space in the boat had that particularly rancid smell of aging herring oil about it.
The sunny days had left us and winds of thirty to forty knots out of the west-north-west had been predicted for the day of fishing. A north west wind is very cold, but because of the protection of the peninsula the swells don't usually get over fifteen feet. We left port on the day before the opener. The winds had already reached twenty-five to thirty knots. We baited the last of the tubs just as it began to get rough. It was already very difficult to walk around because of the slippery oil all over the deck. As we got further out into the deep swells it got difficult to even stand in one place without sliding around. After eating a bit of dinner, I decided to go forward to sleep for a while. It was to be a twelve hour run to the spot the skipper had chosen to set the gear.
A lot of spray was coming was coming up over the bow, and I got a bit wet crossing the open deck space to get to the forward cabin. Once I got in the cabin I realized just how uncomfortable this bunk was going to be. We were headed directly into the wind and sea. The relatively light bow rode like a crazy roller coaster. The heater was still on, and I soon learned, could not be turned off. It was uncomfortablly hot. The heat along with the ride and the rancid smell of herring oil made me nauseous. I lay down. I put the arm pit of my sweaty two day old tee shirt over my nose to keep out the smell of rotten fish. It smelled better than the herring.
There I lay. Every thirty seconds or so the boat would crest a large wave and plunge down into the trough. I would fly up out of my bunk and hit my head on the empty bunk above me. Then I would slam back down into my bunk. I tried bracing myself with my knees or my arm, but it was hard to sleep with some part of my body tensed up to hold me down. Finally I wedged a survival suit between my chest and the bunk above me. Although I was not able to get asleep I did get a bit of rest.
It was not long before the guy on wheel-watch called me up to the wheel house for my two hour watch. I was looking forward to this because I knew that it would not be as rough a ride in the after part of the boat. I thought that it would be more relaxing sitting in the captain's chair watching the radar than it was bouncing up and down in the fore peak.
Before we had left town I had been informed that the ship's toilet was not working and was not to be used. I had been on boats without toilets before and forgot how much I hate using a bucket on deck to dumb in, and there I was needing to go. There were no buckets inside and I didn't want to put my rain gear on to go and look for one out on the deck, so I grabbed a plastic bag and went into the head with it. In there the stench was incredible. Someone must have used the broken toilet. It smelled like a shaken-up port-a-potty, with no disinfectant to cover the stink. I did manage to keep from puking while inside. When I got out of there, the rotten herring oil smelled like spring flowers in comparison.
I went up and relieved the other wheel watch, and settled in for my two hours of wheel watch. All I did was make sure we were on course and keep an eye on the radar screen for any other boats that happened to get close to us. Every half hour I would go down into the engine room and check the level of he bilge water and make sure all was well down there.
As I sat up in the wheel House I kept hearing one of the deck hands get out of his rack, open the aft hatch, and puke his guts out. He must have done that every twenty minutes or so. He hadn't eaten any dinner so I knew he was a hurting unit. He was probably throwing up yellow bile. I wasn't feeling well myself, and listening to someone else heaving is not something that makes you feel better. The wheel house was about twenty feet from the water line and with large breaking swells coming in on our port forward quarter it made for quite a roller coaster ride.
When my two hours were up, I went down and woke up the next watch. After he took over, I went up forward, wedged myself in the bunk, and roller coastered without sleep until about seven AM. That's when the intercom rang. It seems that we took a few big waves in the evening and some of the tubs of gear had turned over. I climbed out of the rack and put on my rain gear. When I got out side I could see that the weather had gotten worse. It was now blowing forty-five to fifty knots and the waves were sometimes over twenty feet. The deck was a mess. Every thing that hadn't been tied down and some things that had were washed into the scuppers; Gaff hooks, knives, sharpeners, scrapers, and cocoa mats were gone.
I made my way back to the stern of the boat where many of the baited tubs were tied down. It was a mess. About six tubs of gear had been turned over some others were full of water. One tub had its contents washed over board. There nothing we could do but recoil the tangled tubs of gear. Trying to work with the oil on every thing was as trying to work on an ice ring that was pitching up and down, and back and forth. Sometimes I would get a tub recoiled only to have a massive wave hit us and screw up four more. By the time the opening started at noon we had more messed up tubs than when we started fixing up the gear at seven AM. We were now getting gusts of wind up to seventy knots and an occasional wave of thirty feet that would just swamp us. The sick deck hand just held on with eyes wide, and stayed out of the way.
The slippery deck from the herring oil made the operation look like a keystone cop's film. People were falling on top of each other and shit was flying everywhere.
Weather or no weather at noon the twenty-four hours of legal fishing started and the gear went into the water.
By now we were about sixty miles off shore in about fifty to eighty fathoms of water. This was an area called the Albatross Banks, and it where the captain hoped to find the fish.
The crew on the back deck and the skipper in the wheel house could communicate via a P.A. system. He could ear what we yelled to him, and we could hear him through a loud speaker. He would tell us how deep it was and we would attach the correct amount of buoy line between the anchor and the flag pole. We would then put about thirty feet of line with no hooks on it between the anchor and the first tub of gear. He would tell us how many tubs of gear to set, and we would tie each tub together as they went over board. After the last tub of gear was tied on, the rest of the gear would be set out. It consisted of, thirty feet of hookless line, the anchor, more buoy line, and another flag pole. The whole thing would go over-board.
When noon rolled around, we threw over the first flag pole and started dumping gear. It never ceases to amaze me that the hooks don't snarl-up more often than they do, as they just fly out of the tubs. That day we had more snarls than normal due to the beating the gear had taken.
The skipper can't see what is going on in the back, so he has to rely on what the crew yells to him. The only thing he heard from us besides the number of tubs that had gone out were grunts, groans, and lots of profanity. Much of which we directed at him.
We were sliding around on our buts, knocking over tubs, and slamming into each other. Twice I fell into the chute, luckily both times I fell into a tub of gear that was next to the one that had hooks flying out of it. If I had fallen into a tub that was going out I would have gotten hooked and possibly gotten pulled over board. It has happened to others. A knife is handy just in case something like that happens, but in the mess and confusion of that day I doubt if someone could have found one fast enough to cut the ganion before someone got pulled over.
We set out about twelve tubs of gear or one thousand two hundred hooks before we put the anchor and flag pole on the end of the set. Then we set out another string of sixteen tubs, (1600 hooks.) With that set completed, the skipper wanted to put out another set, but the crew thought that it was just too dangerous. Someone was going to get seriously hurt or killed. I had already injured my back when I slipped on the herring oil and fell on a board. The herring oil was now everywhere. It flew out of the tubs while being set, and big chunks of it stuck to every square inch of the back deck. It was a serious safety hazard.
At that point we had sixteen tubs of gear that were so tangled up they could not be set. Things looked grim.
There were four of us setting gear on the back deck, two green crew and two with experience. The green guys were useless; one was bent over puking, the other didn't do anything but hold on to the bulk head with a slack jaw and wide eyes. The other experience guy, (Greg,) was in charge. He went into a cursing fit and told the skipper fuck off. He wasn't setting any more gear. He asked me if I wanted to set any more gear. I told him that I didn't. The skipper came down to look the situation over. Greg cursed and ranted at the skipper. The skipper told him to either set the gear or leave the deck. That's what he did. He went inside and took off his rain gear.
The skipper went back inside and must have talked Greg into doing so more work because he came back out and asked me why I didn't back him up. I really didn't have an answer for him. I thought to myself, "fuck it. This skipper is an ass, who doesn't give a shit about the safety of his crew. He is just another greedy son of a bitch. Well I'm not sacrificing my health to make him rich." Then I went up to the fore peak and took off my gear.
The fore peak was a shambles. Every cabinet door had sprung open and spilled its contents onto the deck. Oil filters, tools, clothes, food, fish hooks, survival suits, twine and much more was piled in a heap. There also a large chest freezer in there that had broken loose from the deck. When we hit a large wave, the chest would lift up off the floor, its top would fly open and slam against the bulkhead. Then it would crash back down to the floor, and its top would slam shut with a loud boom. This together with six cabinet doors slamming open and shut, and the terrific noise of the pounding sea against the steel bulkhead made for an ungodly hell hole.
My back hurt, my head hurt, and so did my knees and neck. All I wanted was to lie down and give my back a rest. The skipper came in and asked me what I was doing. I told him that I needed a Half hour or Forty-five minute break to catch my breath. "Rest a bit captain then we'll set some more gear." He said that he would set it with me or without me, "Right now! Are you coming?" I said, "No."
That guy went out and set sixteen more tubs of gear, and although he did it much slower than before, he still almost lost a guy over board. One of the green horns did a back flip over the rail and into the water. He was able to hold on and pull himself back on board when the rail went under water on the return roll. Lucky!
After my forty-five minute rest I put on my rain gear and came out of the cabin to help haul the gear in. I had thought about not coming out at all, but when I heard the activity on deck my conscience got the best of me and I knew that I needed to go out and clean fish.
The weather was still incredibly bad. A lot of water was coming over the rail, and we were pitching and rolling so much that it was impossible to stand without holding on to something. I put cocoa nut fiber mats on the deck under my feet to keep from sliding on the herring oil, and waited for the fish to start coming.
The hauler was operated by the hydraulic control (C) in the space provided for the roller man. He gaffed the fish as they came aboard through the rollers (B), and he kept the boat on course via the controls (D) on the other side of the roller. Another guy stood between the hauler and the roller. He threw the fish onto the cleaning table (E) and he kept the deck clear of garbage fish; gray cod, starfish and redfish. The two cleaners stood port and starboard of the cleaning table. The coiler guided the line, that was coming on board, into empty tubs and made sure that the line did not jump out of the hauler. I was on the portside was cleaning fish and handing the coiler empty tubs when he needed them. The cleaning table was a bit too low for me to be comfortable; I had t stoop over. The heaving of the boat and the position of the table made it hard on my back. It is best to be built like a stocky Norwegian if you are going to go lonelining. Something finally gave out in my back and in my will while I was trying to pull a tub out of the stack of empties.
Prying the tubs apart from one another was quite a chore. The solidified herring oil inside them created an incredibly efficient vacuum seal when tubs were stacked inside each other. Not only did it take a lot of force to pry them apart but the oil on the outside made it impossible to get a grip on them. The skipper didn't want us to put holes in the tubs, (it makes a vacuum impossible to occur,) because of the use of the oil.
I fund that I could get the tubs apart by pushing up on the top tub with my thumbs and pushing down on the bottom tub with my fingers, but it took a lot of force. In order to do it I had to get real close. You wouldn't think that would pose a problem, but it did. When the tubs finally parted, it would be accompanied by a great rush of air. With my face necessarily so close I would be presented with a breath of the most rotten gut wrenching stench that I could imagine.
I could not handle the stench any more so I tried yanking the top tub out of the bottom one, but my timing was off and I pull a muscle in my back that sent me to my knees. I was in pain every roll of the ship brought lightening to my spine. The slipping and sliding on deck seamed incredibly stupid compared to the possibility of doing permanent damage to my self, but I gritted my teeth, pulled tubs apart, stooped to clean fish, swayed about, rolled, fell, and I made it through the first string of gear.
As we were between sets, I went into the galley to get something to drink. The nauseating stench of herring oil had made any thought of something to eat nauseating itself. I was standing at the sink about to fill a glass with something to drink when skippy turned the boat into the trough of the sea. We rolled violently to the port. I lost my oily grip on the galley rail and slid speedily across the galley floor only stopping when my hip smashed into the galley table. That put on my back in pain, and that is when I wrote the trip off.
I went back to the forward cabin, took my gear off and lay down. They pulled the rest of the gear in and called it quits. During the whole opener the weather never let up. It pounded the whole time.
Late that night we pulled into Alitak to unload the small amount fish we had caught. I got off the boat that night, slept in the cannery and got a ride on the mail plane back to Kodiak in the morning.
Nellie had a similarly dreadful experience, so when we got back together we encouraged each to "Never do it again."
When I got back to Kodiak my back was feeling better and I could go easy on it. I found work over hauling gear from some of the other boats in the fleet. I made four hundred and fifty dollars in two days just cleaning up tubs of halibut gear. That was more than I would have made if I had stayed on the boat I went out with. Over hauling a tub of gear involves recoiling the ground line into a clean tub, stripping off any old bait, replacing bent hooks, replacing cut, broken or worn ganions, and splicing sections of worn line. Sometimes a tangled mess is encountered but perseverance and quick hands can straighten out any mess in short order.
The next month Nellie and I spent our days either hanging out at the library, hounding the VECCO hiring office, or scouting for the town for work. We spent our evenings out of town parked among the stored crab pots that are hidden away on some of the many side roads. The crab season had been long over. We didn't have to worry about being bothered by anyone coming around early in the morning. Living in the pot yard we had many peaceful evenings away from the traffic.
Every new day showed us that a few more blades of grass had turned green upon the brown winter colored hills that surrounded us. Slowly the barren hemlock branches produced small buds telling us of the coming summer. Seldom, did it not rain, but, every time the sun did manage to muscle aside the heavy drizzled overcast, the landscape would rejoice with a burst of new green growth. Small fiddle head ferns would appear as summer came closer. Tiny white ground flowers came out of hiding. Large bumble bees came out after the flowers. It was quite a show to witness the transformation of Kodiak from a cold wet brown Island to a cold wet green Island.
Now for a travel tip. If you go to Kodiak to find work, having a vehicle, to move around and to sleep in, is a great asset. Motels are very expensive. The cheapest room at the Kodiak Star is forty-five dollars a night and it is a dump. Come to think of it the fifty and sixty dollar a night rooms are dumps also. That year, because of all the activity on the oil spill cleanup, there were no vacancies any where. If you chose to live in a tent, be sure to bring plenty of plastic. You darn near have to build a plastic house over your tent in order to keep from getting flooded out. Even with the plastic dampness will get into everything that you own. Good tent sites are not close to town so you will have to hitch hike about three to seven miles to get back and forth from tent to town. No camping is permitted in the city limits, and it is enforced. That is a shame, for their lots of spots close by that would be perfect; like Near Island. Near Island is accessible by the bridge and it looks over the whole of Kodiak's boating world. You can see every new boat that arrives and everyone that leaves.
Kodiak is not insensitive to its migrant work force. In 1989 they put in a camp ground. They really stretched the definition of camp ground with this new site. It is about two miles west of town, and about one hundred yards from the main highway. It is really an RV park, but you could pitch your tent on the gravel box on a big asphalt parking lot, surrounded by chain link fence, next to the city storage facility, and about a quarter of a mile down wind of a fish meal plant. It only costs two dollars a day. I can see the travel brochure now, "Come to Kodiak and camp in the last frontier."
I knew of a person that set up camp in one of the many abandon military bunkers that lie scattered around the Island. There must be hundreds of old look out posts and gun emplacements on the Island.