swinging from a purse seine boatSo a few weeks ago while I was sitting in the Cordova Library playing around on the internet and looking for a job a somewhat familiar looking guy  (I must have spoken to him in the bar) asked if I was looking for a job, then told me to call a random number about a deckhand job.  After a short phone call, I was given directions to the boat and told to meet in a half hour.  After some sailing talk on the dock I was offered a job, moved out of my van and onto the boat, and rode out of Cordova on the F/V Advantage that evening around 6 pm, without much of an idea – other then some preposterous Cordova bar rants I’d listened to- as to what I should expect.

Now that I’m back in Cordova and living in a tent, since my boat and crew members left for Kodiak to fish for pot cod , I still haven’t really gotten my head around the last couple of weeks action on the boat, so this post may read like a bunch of unrelated thoughts.

Despite not having any previous experience to use as a baseline the fishing seemed extremely slow.  We struggled to catch in three weeks what my captain was claiming we’d catch every day on that first evening leaving town.  Talk of 70,000 pound sets and catching 100,000 pounds by noon and taking the day off began to seem like a farfetched fantasy on days we made 16 plus sets for a total of 10,000 pounds and caught nothing but water, weeds and jelly fish on a regular basis.

salmon purse seine fishingThat first night on the boat I was told repeatedly that I’d be working harder then I’d ever worked before and have sore muscles that I didn’t now existed, but other then having to skip around semi frantically as I tried to keep from slowing the operation down and some tiredness in my admittedly puny forearms things were generally pretty easy.  After learning to look away from the exploding jelly fish in order to avoid 20 minutes or so of eye pain things became remarkably easier. The realization that every 30 minutes of actual work is followed by a 20 to 200 minutes of standing around as we either re-set our net, or as we waited in line behind other boats really took the fear out of the 18 hour work day.  And after the initial 3 day opening, we were never allowed to fish  more then day on day off, so every actual day of work was followed by a day of lounging around on deck trying to kill time.  The amount of reading I got done in three weeks actually frightened me.

Seine fishing in PWS Alaska

Rather then the complete solitude and days that go by without spotting another boat while sailing with Gary and Norm out of Seward, I don’t think there was any point in the last 3 weeks when another boat wasn’t within eye site.  Despite our Captain’s reluctance to wait in line and penchant for avoiding other boats  all but one day was spent fishing the same spot as 3 or more other boats. I was expecting cold wet and rainy weather, but on average it was sunny and in the 70s with glassy water the entire time I was out.  At no time was it ever too rough to read and overcast and rain days were a pleasant change as they’d keep me from getting overheated or squnity eyed while working.

I’ve always been amazed by the frivolous complaints I hear from skiers and sailors about some combination of anything and everything, so I got a continual laugh about the level and type of complaints dished out by my crew, captain and various other boats overheard on the radio.  Victimization was the main norm as the tide was seemingly always against everyone, the wind was never co-operative and the poor fishing was always the result of a nefarious plot by either ADFG, marine mammals, sharks or the Japanese.  The site of some whales within a half mile would inevitably result in screaming and a sea lion swimming up and biting the head off a single fish in our net was treated like a mugging.

Despite not catching many fish, hence not making much money, I’ll look back on the last 3 weeks with a huge smile. I easily surpassed the longest I’d gone without walking on land, I picked up some new boat skills and a couple of knots, saw some fantastic scenery, read a couple books I had been putting off and laughed a lot.  I guess I’d even go again if given the chance.

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