First and foremost, before I ruffle rightfully proud
itself, what little I was priviledged to see of it, was the main thing that didn't
suck about it. There aren't enough awe-expressive words in English for how beautiful it is there. That said:
- The Flight From Anchorage to Dutch Harbor:
Turbulance like no roller coaster that has ever been invented from take off to landing. Sitting in stunned silence as the plane seems determined to occupy practically every cubic meter of space between the one point and the other, at some point in its chaotically roiling path. Looking out the window at opaque, gray, nothing. The smirk on my seatmate's ugly phiz as he drawls: "First time flying into Dutch, huh?"
Then we're landing. Down, down, down, up, down. Still gray, inpenetrable clouds, and even more buffeting. Then we break through. The ocean looks like it's about 100 feet down there. No land in sight, anywhere. We are about to land on something, but it is all very theoretical at this point. Then suddenly there is land, and about 15 seconds later, we are on sitting on it. I grab my Dad's old army dufflebag and stagger off.
- The War on Drugs:
I was supposed to be Ship's Cook, well, 2nd Cook anyway, because that's mostly what I did for work back then, and the guy who was supposed to be 1st Cook arrived a day or so later he was this pretty cool guy and everything seemed like it was going to go ok, but then, BAM, his pre-employment piss-test came back a little too heavy on the THC and They flew his ass right back to the lower 48 just like that. The Coast Guard could seize a whole half million-dollar ship over a seed if they found one, so they weren't taking any chances. Since it was set up so the two cooks would share a cabin instead of being 4 or 6 to a cabin like the factory hands, policy was they must also share a gender, and the next viable candidates were of the opposite one, so I was either getting flown back myself, with apologies, or staying on as a factory hand, at a pay cut. I needed the money, I wanted back into school, I stayed.
- The Fact That The Guys in all the Other Boats Hated Us:
Not that this was hard to understand. I went into the whole thing utterly naively, because it was just supposed to be a way you could make a lot (for me, back then) of money in a short time,which was what I needed to do to get back into the overpriced, underfunded ivory tower of my choice. Also there was no way I was hanging around Seattle much longer after my girlfriend broke up with me and started things up with another guy in the same house on the rebound. I never realized what an exploitive, greedy, evil mess I was getting myself into. The people in the smaller boats we would run across from time to time hated us, and, I was given to understand, sometimes shot at us with their rifles, because we were there to destroy their traditional livelihood, the business their family had been in for generations, by gobbling up all the fish. I wasn't on a drift-net boat, at least. Not the ultimate evil. But a big, stinking trawler that hauled up tons at a time, and not all that discriminately either, despite regulations leading into the next item:
- The Indescriminate Carnage:
Deep Sea fishing boats, not to mention a lot of people's outboard drag-a-trailer-to-the-lake rigs, have fish detectors that can see down hundreds of feet and tell you exactly where the fish are and also what kind. Fish have a gas bladder organ that they inflate and deflate to rise and fall in the water, and the chemical composition of the gases in each species is unique enough to register as some signature the detection equipment can pick up. I'm not sure how it works, exactly, but it does. They know what they're after, and where it is. So when a net comes up full of black cod, for instance, which we were allowed to catch, mixed with HUMONGOUS, primordial looking halibut, which we were not: fish that weighed over 100 pounds each in some cases and would not even fit out of the chute that dumped the fish we didn't keep off the boat again, (which official studies claimed had a 75 to 80% survival rate, yeah right.) and had to be lifted and carried by two or three of us at a time upstairs to the main deck and thrown overboard by hand, they knew they were down there to begin with. They just hauled em up anyway, cause they were shoaling with something valuable that we could legally catch. This went on all the time.
- The "Oh Shit, The Boat is Sinking" Drills:
These were intended to keep us in a state of readiness for when the Ocean decided it wanted us that day. Drop everything and run up on deck and grab one of the bright orange wetsuits with the little inflateable pillow behind the neck to keep your head afloat and the incorporated thick rubber mittens. Now try to zip the thing up. Faster, the boat is sinking. Oh, shit. If this ever happens for real we are all just dead. This first trip we went out on, the Captain said he didn't believe in unannounced drills, they rattled poeple too much, so we would have a drill at some point, but it would be pre-announced. About a week and a half into the trip, luckily I was already awake, BROOP, BROOP, BROOP, BROOP, no announcement. But they were going to announce the drill so... Later I found out it in fact hadn't really been a drill. Just a little fire in the engine room. False alarm, sort of..
- The Coolant Gas That Was Leaking Out Into The Freezer Hold for a Couple of Weeks
I wound up a freezer guy, labeling and packaging the frozen fishies and stacking up the boxes in the huge, cathedral-like freezer hold. Second month I was there, somebody accidentally opened a valve on the ceiling of it while they were stacking up the "fiber" or empty, collapsed boxes, and for a couple of weeks it leaked out into the air in the hold. The brass were all very nice and reassuring. It wasn't toxic, or flammable. The dizziness was just from oxygen deprivation, not poisoning. Everything was going to be O. K. One time during all this I was riding the freight elevator up the 40 or so feet to the factory floor because taking the ladder was kind of scary with all the light-headedness, and my index finger got stuck between the cable and the pulley at the top. Not enough so it hurt, really, I had a couple of layers of thick gloves, but enough so I couldn't get it out. O.K. now, listen carefully... push the lever DOWN. Make the elevator go DOWN, please. Thanks.
- The Perfect Storm
Well, maybe not quite, but as close as I ever care to see. This is when you begin to understand why the Captain is basically God at sea. You just sit there praying your God is enough of a bad-ass to get you through this one.
- That Time I was in the Gear Closet Changing into my Raingear and Sort of Leaned Over to Look out of The Porthole and the Solid Brass Porthole Cover Fell Down and Hit Me On the Head and Some Guy Standing Next to Me's Jaw Dropped and He Said: "A Friend of Mine Died That Way."
- The Fact that I Never Saw any Whales and One Time Somebody Said, "Hey, Check out the DOLPHINS over there", and I looked and said, "Wow, cool!", but they were already gone before I saw them.
- The Fact That Fish Heads Still Think They're Fish and Keep Opening and Closing Their Mouths as they Slide Down the Switchbacks in the PVC Pipe Chute That is Carrying them Overboard to be Eaten by the Cloud of Seagulls that Follow The Boat SHRIEKING day and night.
There were others, but this is getting to be a long node anyway. I don 't even know if you can make them this long. Anyway,
it wasn't all bad. We got to go in to Kodiak a couple of times and nobody on the boat was eaten by bears. Alaska is really beautiful. Someday I'm going to have to go back and enjoy it all more thoroughly.