I speed up my hydraulics and pick a little faster. I hear my buddies call on the radio. I don't have time for the radio but know they will worry if I don't respond. I run in and tell them quickly that I see the ship and that I’m picking my net right now and have to get back out on deck. I’m sure they were worried and could hear the panic in my voice. I was 28 and it was my first fishing season.
I race back out of the cabin and back to picking my net. I look over my cabin again and now, I’m alarmed. But, on the other hand, there is still a little sense of denial, like maybe I’m over reacting. Maybe I just look like I’m in his path but he’ll really go around me. I think there is often a little element of disbelieve when bad things happen to us. A moment of “this can’t be happening”. Although, that moment was fleeting and in an instant I’m back to reality. This monstrosity is heading right for me there is no denying it now. No time to pick the fish out of the net. I realize I need to get my net in now! I consider my options while picking up my net. My mind is racing. With more than half of my net still out, there is no way I can maneuver the boat anywhere. My engine doesn’t have enough horsepower to just tow the net out of the way. Besides, this thing is so big, it’s hard to judge if I even could tow out of its path. I make the split second decision to either get my net aboard or cut myself free of it. I stop and think for a second where my in case of emergency knife is. The one that is brand new and I don’t use in order to keep is sharp for instances such as these. I look over and it’s hanging in its little case next to the steering station. I thank my lucky stars that it’s there. I grab it and set in next to me, just in case I can’t get the entire net in and have to cut it free. I figure with me towing on one end it should be pretty tight and relatively easy to cut. Especially if the cruise ship grabs the other end of the net, it will be tight as a drum then. But, I’ll have to be quick. If I linger too long, I’ll get sucked into the bow wake of the ship and it will slam me against its side. And at $5000 for a new net, I want to get my net aboard. Looking back, I can’t believe I was more concerned about a lousy $5000 fishing net than I was about my life! But, I think there was still that element of denial going on. As if I hadn’t accepted anything else except best case scenario of getting me and my equipment out of danger. The reality of having to choose between myself and my boat hadn’t sunk in yet.
Finally, I stop picking the fish out of my net and just drum it all aboard. Everything is going on the drum, net, fish and all. This is very poor quality handling of the fish and pretty much ruins them, but given the circumstance, I can't care about quality right now. Yet, the idea of fish quality still flashes through my mind. Nevertheless I remind myself that the quality isn't going to be very good if they are splattered all over the bow of a cruise ship and I’m at the bottom of the ocean, either. But drumming fish aboard my boat is a risk, too. If I have too many fish, they won't all fit on my drum. Then my drum will be full and I'll still have net out. In that case, I'll have to pull the rest of the net in by hand, which is doable but, takes forever and is not even an option this morning.
I look up again and now I am looking straight up at the bow of this cruise ship. I bump up my hydraulics and put the boat in reverse so the net will tighten and fit on the drum better. I wish I had thought of this sooner. Otherwise, like I mentioned, my drum will fill up and I’ll have to pull the rest of the net in my hand. This is not something I have time for this morning and neither is beating myself up for not thinking of things sooner. I rev up the engine again to bump up the speed of my hydraulics, again, and am running them faster than they are designed to go. I’m hoping I don’t blow a hose as I'm listening to them whine. Actually, now I’m praying I don’t blow a hose. It’s funny; they say if you aren’t religious when you go out fishing, you will be by the time you get back. I think there may be an element of truth to that.
Looking up again, I realize now I’m seriously in trouble. I have been out on deck about 7 minutes and awake about 15 minutes. I am looking at this giant wall of metal getting bigger and bigger and as it gets closer it gets closer. I am right dead center in its path. If I don’t get out of its way, I will be run over. There is no longer any doubt, no longer any room for denial. He is not going around me. He is heading right at me. I throttle up again to speed up my hydraulics which are now screaming. Fish are flying aboard and smacking the deck as they are going around the drum, thud, thud, thud. Water, jellyfish, and fish blood are flying everywhere. I grab my in case of emergency knife. I am ready to cut my net in order to get out of the way. It’s looking like I’ll have to cut my net after all. Not my first option, it’s the last. However, I am running out of options. If I don't get my net aboard and this ship hits my net, he will suck me along side and I’ll be crushed against the side of the boat. I’ve heard of this happening to guys down in Puget Sound. It’s a bad scene and right now, best case scenario. If this ship hits me, well, let’s just say I won't be worrying about my net anymore.
All the while, I’m thinking “This is it? This is how I go? Really? I don’t at least get the honor of being taken by a wave in Kokinhenik, the most dangerous bar on the Copper River Delta, like so many other great fishermen. I have to be killed by a big, tacky cruise ship? How indignant. I want a more honorable death.”
Needless to say, adrenaline is running high, my heart is pumping and I am doing all I can to get my net in a get out of this guys way. I keep looking at how full my drum is, how much net I still have aboard, and back at how close the cruise ship is. I’m practically giving myself whip-lash just assessing the situation. Finally, in comes the end of my net. I rejoice a small moment. Never mind the fact that I’m not religious, I thank god I was able to get the whole thing in without blowing a hose or filling up the drum. My buoy comes flying in and smacks down on the deck. Thud! Quickly, I run inside to shut off my hydraulics because my outside switch broke. I don’t want to risk the hydro’s blowing when I got full throttle to get out of here. I think to myself I really need to fix that switch. My net is aboard but my boat is still in the way. I race back on deck and push the throttle into full forward, down as far as it will go. The diesel engine roars and I feel the bow rise up and the stern squat down as it picks up speed. I run out of there full bore, as fast as I can. I look back and see that I am clear of the boat, except for his bow wake coming at me. I quickly turn the wheel and I get my boat turned around just as his bow wake is hits my bow. Because I’m so close, his wake is steep and fast. Catching it on the side would probably flip me. My boat climbs up then slides back down each individual wave, about four of five on them in total, each one about six feet tall, but becoming smaller.
Finally, I am out of danger, with only about 100 feet to spare. I look up in awe as this white monster fills my entire field of vision. I watch it go by me and I feel my knees go weak. The rush of adrenaline was gone and my eyes fill with tears. My knees give out and I sit down on my fish hold and cry. Through blurry eyes, I see this giant go past me. I imagine the passengers having a lovely breakfast, gaze out the window and see me, sitting on my boat. I give them the finger.
|I didn't take this picture. My boat is that small dot under the dip net.|