Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Take a Cement Tablet.. And Harden the Fuck Up

It's 10 P.M, the storm is feeding off the low pressure in the Bering Sea, like a starving beast. A big bad wolf is huffing and puffing, and preparing to blow your boat down.

Even in a protected bay, the waves try to get at us little piggies, in small but choppy, white caps, like tentacles, rocking your anchored boat, back and fourth like a cork in a bath tub.

The land and sky are alive, the clouds are elongated, like they have been stretched and pulled, by a giant. It's a classic Bering Sea night.

For now, I am inside our boat, warm,waiting for the fishing opener in a few hours, looking out the window at the scene upfolding. Everyone aboard, is paying attention to the recorded weather updating over the radio, telling you how bad it will be. A girls, recorded voice talks about the weather. "Today, gail force winds, blowing from the west, seas 10-14 feet, small craft warning till tomorrow night."

It's one hour till the opener, you pull up the anchor, and head out of the bay and into the mouth of the beast. Heading around the protective spit, the waves start to grow, and grow and grow, like monsters. Your boat begins climbing and and descending 10-14 foot swells, making your 32 foot boat seem small, and insignificant. Each weld in your aluminum boat, will be tested tonight.

As a deck hand your spot is at the stern of the boat. So you put on your armour,"rain gear, and head into battle. The wind is howling, stinging your cheeks, the rain prickling your eyes, like needles. You are forced to keep your head down, as spray from breaking waves, crashes against the bow and washes up and over the back, and down on you, like your in a car wash. Your sea legs keep you steady, as you ride the waves like a cowboy.

This year's storm would test us, since we had three 17 foot waves crash into our boat and threaten to swamp us. One completely blind sided me, like I was a quarterback being tackled by a defensive linemen.

Bristol Bay, is famous for it's narly waves, that create freaks that don't follow the laws of physics. Shallow waters, and sand bars break up the huge swells, causing them to divide like an advancing army, and head in all different directions,flanking and richicheting of eachother, then bouncing back like some tag team wrestling match where three come to clothes line you at one time. Others, seem more animal like, take you head on, like a bull, then rise up like a king cobra's hood, growing higher and higher, till they look into your eyes and stare down your soul. Most wouldn't dare to venture out in this storm, but for fisherman who have four weeks to make a living, you can't afford to take the opener off, not when the fish are running.

While friends and family are home in their warm beds, having a restful sleep, dreaming about wonderful thoughts, a Bering Sea fisherman is a warrior heading into hell. They accept the dangers, the risks, and paying the ultimate price. Those that didn't accept this, that are scared,and not sure if they can handle the Bering Sea, "need to take some cement tablets and harden the fuck up."

Ebb and Flood of Life

At the moment I'm anchored up in Egegik Bay, where freshwater from Bacherof Lake on the Alaska Penisula, travels down the Egegik River and meets the Bering Sea.

It's June 18th, and nearly midnight, yet there is still daylight. A gift being so far north, is the days seem to last forever. But when you are sitting on an anchored boat, with not much room and nothing to do, and all the time in the world to wait, the gift of endless dull days, is like opening the same present over and over and over and over. Even the clock seems to tick backwards.

It's crappy out, fog hangs low in the air, the sky and land is a dull colorless canvas. Nothing stimulating for the senses, other than watching the ocean drain from around you, in the out going ebb. Even the seals that are hauled out on the sand bar, seem bored.

To break up the boredom, you find yourself reading through books like your about to compete in a battle of the books competition. At the moment I'm reading a book called Discarded Science, "Ideas that seemed good at the time." It's full of wacky theories man once had that now looks pretty ignorant.

Take the idea that Jupiter was full of hemp. "Jupiter had four moons rather than one, this must mean there were a lot of seafarers there. Hence a lot of Boats. Hence a lot of sails- hence a lot of ropes with which to pull the sails up and down. And.... to make a lot of ropes, you need a lot of hemp."

I tell this to my other deck hand, who is scanning through a stack of playboy magazines, and "not" reading the articles. He responds, "good, then we aren't the only bored and sexually deprived fishermen in this galaxy."

It's not always dull out in the Bering Sea. Last night the sun set, over the crystal clear sky and dunked into the Bering Sea with a green splash. An atmospheric phenomenon, I had never seen before, and wish I had captured with my camera. Tonight, is the flip side, it's as if the world is hidden behind a filter, blocking out any color.

We aren't fishing yet, since it's still early in the season,the huge run of salmon is absent, still swimming their long journey home. So we have nothing to do but wait, and let our anticipation for the upcoming season eat on us, like 9 year olds the night before Christmas.

In the coming days or weeks, the salmon will hopefully arrive in the millions, in the incoming tide. All run on an inate biological clock, that reminds them that their life in the ocean is over and it's time to return to the fresh water.

When the salmon arrive you no longer have time to do anything but work. The sleep bandits, arrive and for the next five weeks they steal your life. "A rising tide not only lifts all boats," it fills fisherman's nets.

All the boats anchored and lifeless at the moment, like we are, will be fighting for room to set out their nets, running their gear, and workin the district lines as hard as they can, 24 hours a day 7 days a week. Through huge storms, and freezing cold weather. Around July 4th, we not only celebrate Independence Day, we are in the climax of the run which ususally lasts for the next 2 weeks.

Commercial fishinig in Bristol Bay is more like destruction derby for cars. You have to fight for everything you catch, it's actually really entertaining to watch and will probably have a reality show about it someday as well. Boats ram into eachother, set nets over eachothers nets, and get nets and line wrapped up in their propellers.

At the end of the season, life slows down again as fisherman head back to port and home to their normal lives. Some will have a great season and some will have a shitty season. But since we aren't fishing at the moment our lives slow, slow, slow, down to the natural rhythm of the ocean. That's the ebb and flood of life.