Friday, July 29, 2011


Xtra-Tuffs.  Every fisherman’s staple.  A knee high dark brown neoprene boot with tan trim and soft soles.  I own five pairs.  Six if you count the pair that I cut into clogs. Seven if you count the pair that I have converted into flower pots.   One pair is insulated and I use them to weed whack the grass around my camper.  One pair has five dollops of Aqua Seal across the top of the left boot, patching holes left from accidentally lobbing a rockfish, spine side down, into the top of my foot while picking him out of my net.  Yes, that hurt.  A lot.
My two newest pairs are my least favorite.  They are permanently crumpled up from spending years being packed away.  Though one of those pairs is taking a road trip, as we speak, to North Carolina to accompany me sailing around Florida and the Bahamas this winter, despite the slight look of horror I got from Vince when I concluded they would make good sailing boots and that the fish scales would wear off, eventually. 
My favorite pair and the set I use the most happens to be my oldest pair. They must be about 12 years old.  I got them before Xtra-Tuff became patriotic and threw a flag emblem into their logo.  I think that happened around 9-11. Nothing against our flay, but it’s a status quo to run with the old style, flagless boots. Every Alaskan knows this.
I like this pair the best because they still stand up on their own even thought they are repaired with a combination of Aqua Seal, Splash Zone and duct tape.  When I come into the cabin and crawl out of my boots and raingear, I like to leave them fireman style, with my bibs wrapped around my boots that are standing in the middle.  You never know what havoc is going to reek on deck and you need to be ready quickly.  Besides, I don’t like to keep my boots on all day long.  I like to air out my tootsies between sets and hop out of my ‘tuffs into my clogs. 
That may sound excessive to own 7 pairs of the same boots.  It started out innocent enough.  I would buy a pair, wear them for a season then leave them in my locker for with winter while I embarked on a new adventure.  The next spring I would find myself in a different part of the state fishing a different fishery and needing to buy another pair.  I would hate getting a new pair of boots since then people would assume I was a greenhorn because of the newness of my boots, especially if I had to get new raingear, too.  Eventually, though, I got over that.
A seiner in Valdez sunning his XtraTuffs

Friday, July 22, 2011

Oh, what’s a gal to wear?

Recently, I asked what I wear out fishing.  My answer?  The same thing.  My fishing pants are these old nappy black fleece pants that are over 10 years old and so out of style I have to hide them from the fashion police. I've weighed fashion verses function but function won.  I don’t even wear them in town.  I wear something else to and from the boat and change when I get on board.  It’s such an ingrained routine the skipper even knows it.  The other day we ran out to the fishing grounds and dropped anchor.  I had my town pants on and was about to climb into my bunk when skipper cried “You’re wearing the wrong pants!” I wear them to bed, too.  Guess I just outed myself on that one. I’ll wear them the entire time out there but as soon as I finish cleaning up the boat, I change into something else.  They are these peg leg pants that are form fitting all the way to the ankle, which may look great on someone else, but not me.  But the reason I wear them fishing is that I can just slip on my Xtra-Tuff (knee high brown neoprene boots) fishing boots without having to fuss with the cuffs of my pant legs. 

The ugly pants back when they were new!

I also wear knee high wool ski socks.  I discovered this luxury last year.   I used to wear wool socks that only came to mid-calf.  But they would slide down and bunch up.  Now I find ski socks on sale right before the fishing season.  They have nice cushion and tend to stay up better.  Plus they come in fun colors like purple or blue stripes. 
The rest of my outfit is pretty much fleece and capline.   I used to wear cotton hooded sweatshirts, but they are so heavy when they get wet. Plus, when it’s wet, cotton kills.  (A little side note that you probably already know but studies show that when you are wet and wearing cotton your body temperature is lower than if you were naked.) 
Me in cotton, before I knew any better

Now I wear fleece hoodies because I hate the feel of cold wet raingear on the back of my neck.  Besides, it’s cold enough most days to want an extra hood. Under that I wear a quick dry capline tank top.  So, wool ski socks, ugly fleece pants, capline undergarments, and a fleece hoody topped off with my lucky fishing hat (which is cotton, but hey, rules were meant to be broken.)
I also wear a Stormy Sea’s vest which has an inflatable bladder.  Just a pull of a string it inflates almost instantly with a CO2 cartridge.  ( Just in case I go over.  The Copper River has lots of glaciers and the water is quite silty.  That silt permeates your clothing and if you go in the drink out there, you’ll sink like a rock. Plus, most days it’s cold enough to want an extra layer, even in the summer.

Me in my Stormy Seas and Grundens
On top of all that I wear raingear which is cotton (I know) lined PVC that is waterproof, but not breathable.  So you are always at least a little wet.   This was all made for a man and doesn’t fit me too well.  I wear orange Grundens bibs and jacket.  ( I used to wear dark green raingear which matches my complexion better than orange. 

Me in deadly green

However, it was pointed out to me that my raingear was the same color as the water and if I ever went in, I’d never be found.  So, again, function over fashion, now I wear orange.

Here I have it backwards with green on top

I'm starting to get it right.....
My bibs these days are also orange and have been repaired several times.  When they get a hole, I sew them up with green mint flavor dental floss, slather them with Aqua Seal then slap some duct tape on the inside for good measure.  Those patches have held up well but now one leg is falling off.  It started to rip at the beginning of the season at the bottom and is already an inch shorter than the other.  It may be time to retire this set after the season.  But at about $250 or so for a new set, I like them to last as long as possible. 
My snap down hooded jacket has neoprene cuffs so when you raise your arms cold salty water doesn’t run down your sleeve.  Most of the snaps have stayed on over the years but are getting a bit rusty.  The snaps up by my face have little bits of gillnet stuck around them.  They got caught in the web once when I was setting my net.  One moment, I’m standing there, all fat, dumb and happy.  Next thing I know, I’m flying across the deck and heading out with the net.  Luckily, I when I hit the rail the mesh of the net broke and set me free.  But that was sure scary.  This was years ago on my own boat.  Good thing, too.  If it happens on the boat I’m working on now, I’d hit the power roller which is a hydraulic cylinder that spins on the bow between the bow rollers.  When setting the net, it’s turned on full blast to help set the net by keeping the leadline or the bottom of the net taught. But if you hit it when setting, it would launch your ass then the bow rollers would crucify you before you go over.  This hasn’t happened to me yet, but is something I think about every time we set the net.
 My boots are Xtra-Tuffs.  I have to wear the next size larger or my calves don’t fit in.  (Don’t men have calves?) The entire outfit is polished off with orange rubber gloves to complete the look.  The only other things to add are sunglasses and lots of sunscreen.  And there you have it.
Until next time, eat fish!

Me, back then, displaying the latest fashions on Humpys

My outfit today. Note, I've also upgraded from Humpys to a King Salmon!

Friday, July 15, 2011

I’m putting that on the list

I was curled up at the galley table munching on pistachio nuts, salt and pepper flavor and heaving the shells out the window.  This particular window lost a piece of its frame this spring.  When said frame was glued back on the glue ran down the frame.  It now only opens a few inches.  Don’t worry though; I plan to bust it out with a hammer in case of an emergency.  Anyway, later that day we were running west in a southwest swell looking for fish.  Ocean water was splashing in so I closed the window, or tried to close it, but it wouldn’t stay shut.  I immediately figured out the problem but there wasn’t anything at that moment that I could do about it.  Just then, Skipper yelled at me to lock the window.  I pushed it shut but within a matter of minutes it inches back open.  I yelled back (it’s loud in there when we are running) “It won’t stay shut. Pistachio shell.” He nodded but I could tell this didn’t compute.  “Pistachio shell” isn’t a typical nautical term you’d expect to hear. And when it’s that loud you can only half hear and half guess that the other person is saying.  Usually context clues like pointing, cuss words, and facial expression lend credence to the magnitude of the situation and helps you guess what they are saying.  A calm utterance of “pistachio shell” without any context clues doesn’t have much of a chance of being understood.
We ran into Pete Dahl and after crossing the bar, I took the wheel.  It was a grey day, one of those days where the ocean and the sky are all the same dismal color.  We had ocean spray on the windows which is salty and difficult to see through.  Normally, I could simply use the windshield wiper to clear the way, but earlier this spring, a tender busted out the driver’s side front window when we were off-loading fish. (The boat it having back luck with windows this season.)  A Lexan window was installed temporarily until the glass one could be delivered and replaced in two weeks.  That was two months ago.  Anyhow, since Lexan scratches easy we can’t use the windshield wiper.  Usually Rain-X works, which coats the window with a waxy substance and the water droplets, just slide right off.  But, I forgot to Rain-X the window.   Bad deckhand.  As a result, I couldn’t see shit. 
It was just after low water and I was coming up to the race track, which is a shallow, narrow stretch marked by buoys.  The fathometer said we were only in 5.7 feet of water.  I figured I was good since I was on my track line and right next to the buoy.  But I could see this spit of sand in front of me.   Now, running 25 knots (which is about 33 MPH), decisions need to be made quickly.  I was still gathering information to make my conclusion as to if I was in the right spot or not when we hit bottom.  Another few seconds and I would have figured it out.  Nevertheless, I quickly throttled down and cut the engines.  Skipper says “Zoom in on your track-line and see how far off you are”.  Oops.  I thought I was zoomed in.  Sure enough, I wasn’t on my track-line. Then this orange thing out the side window catches my eye.  It was the buoy that I missed, resulting in cutting the corner and hitting this sand bar.  Skipper, calmly and sarcastically states “I’m not going to yell at you this time.  I’m going to make a list and save it up so it will be a surprise.”  I roll my eyes and went out on deck to Rain-X the window while we wait for water to float again.  I figured while I’m out there, I’ll fix the other window, too, so it can close.  Skipper watched me grab a knife and operate on the sill.  Then a screwdriver.  At first, there was a look of admiration on his face that I was tackling this window problem.  As I pulled out the pistachio shell, that look melted away and turned to disbelief as he states “I’m putting that on the list.”

Me at the wheel

Friday, July 8, 2011


Meal times is one of the few perks on a boat that breaks up the hard work and monotony of fishing.  Eating is a nice excuse to sit down, out of the wind and rain, and have a little slice of civilization.  Or almost.  Depends on the boat.  One boat I worked on, we at nothing but cold cheese sandwiches.  Cold cheese on white bread with mustard.  Every night for dinner.  Not too palatable. Or hardy.   But, after 18 hours of baiting hooks, I still looked forward to dinner.  Maybe that was the trick all along.  Under normal circumstances, that is a shitty meal.  However, when long-lining for halibut in wet cold Alaskan September, that’s  a different story.  Same thing with cold spaghetti and mayonnaise (yes, mayonnaise, it was the skipper’s own invention and he is very proud of it) on Wonder white.  And, same thing.  After 16 hours of picking fish in Bristol Bay, where its 45 degrees and blowing, in July, cold spaghetti and mayonnaise sandwiches ain’t too bad. 
On the other hand, I’ve had octopus ceviche, Cornish game hens, caviar, homemade pizza, tempura shrimp, and pot-roast. OK, not that extravagant, but, given the circumstances.  My favorite boat meal to date was aboard the Whiskey Creek in Bristol Bay.  It was a BLT with egg and cheese.  Now that is a hardy sandwich. I sat down, or rather fell into the dining table after 13 hours of straight pickin’ and saw that plate full of goodness and thought, there is no way I could even finish one. Ha!  I ate two.  Then fell into a 4 hour coma in the bunk, got up and went back to work. 
Sometimes, so long as it’s hot, it’s good.  Top Ramen cup o noodles is very satisfying in a pinch.  Even better if it’s hit the floor first.  Yeah, that’s right.  I’ve eaten dinner off the floor before.  When you only have a few spare moments to cook somethin’ then throw it down the gullet and you’ve been working like a dog in the cold and wet.  You salivate just waiting for your water to boil for your instant salt bomb noodles with dehydrated peas, carrots, and corn.  Finally, the water boils and you brace yourself for movement by leaning onto the countertop with a wide legged stance to prepare for the coming swell and carefully pour the water into the cup, trying not to scald your hand with the boiling water while the boat lurches side to side.  You wait patiently for the 3 minutes it takes to soften that one 50’ noodle coiled into that Styrofoam cup that will outlast all of us by 100 years.  With a steady hand you peel back the lid and grab the chopsticks.  You pause, propped for the next swell.  You decide to go for it and try to make it to a chair to savor your one and only hot meal for the day.  But, before that happens an unexpected wave hits and takes your salvation along with your Top Ramen right out of your hands where it lands on the cold dirty linoleum cabin floor.  You fight back the tears and curse like your life depends on it under your breath.  Or out loud.  At this point, it doesn’t matter.  You are so deflated any action is justified.  Next, you look around, to see if someone is going to witness this gross act you are about to perform.  But at this point, you are too desperate, it doesn’t matter.  Then, you realize that you are about to do something that you never thought you would do.  You stoop down, still bracing yourself for the roll, and scrap…..your……dinner……off…….the…………floor.  Pick out the fish scales and finally have your hot meal. You smile and thank your immune system.
This last week, however, I got to live high on the hog.  My guy Vince made BBQ spare ribs on the grill.  He slathered ‘em all up with love, grilled them to perfection, and then wrapped them in foil and a towel to keep them warm.  We had them on the boat that night on anchor out on the fishing grounds.  They were still piping hot when we pulled them out.  Finger licking good, too.  And we had a great opener.
Until next time, eat fish!  

Friday, July 1, 2011

Elephants and Flowers

One thing about fishing is waking form a dead sleep then finding yourself working on deck just moments after.  And, if you are a vivid dreamer, like me, this can be quite disorientating.  Example, I am fortunate that, through much practice, can sleep anywhere, anytime, in any position.  Years of working on boats, on top of years of travel, has given me lots of practice of catching cat naps round the clock.   Over the years I have perfected this art.  It comes in handy.  During our fishing openers sleep is often catch as catch can.  There is nothing worse than laying in your bunk counting away the precious minutes allotted for sleep. I did this once in Bristol Bay.  I climbed into bunky with four hours of sleep, then tossed and turned for hours.  Three hours of sleep.  Two and a half hours of sleep…you get the picture.  Once they are gone, they are gone.  However, nowadays, I’m out as soon and sometime slightly before, my head hits the pillow.  I can even have colorful dreams in a 20 minute cat nap.  Just the other day I was dreaming that a helicopter  dropped off a baby elephant on our deck.  I was examining its feet and pondering how funny elephant’s feet are.  Unlike most things on earth, like humans or cats who have feet that protrude, elephant’s feet are shaped more like a hoofed animal, like a horse.  Only they don’t have hoofs, unless maybe that is what their ‘toes’ are.  In my dream, I was contemplating this as the chopper was lowering the baby elephant on deck.  At that very moment, skipper woke me up.  We were anchored in Buckles Hole in 25 feet of water.  But the wind had changed, swinging us into 4 feet of water and our stern almost of the beach.  Going dry is embarrassing.  I look at the GPS and see that it is 3:51 AM.  My eyes continue to scan, moving from the GPS to the bow.  “Where is the elephant?” I ask myself.  As if it is perfectly normal to have an elephant on a commercial fishing boat in Alaska.
Later that same day, I again got a short siesta.  This time I drifted off to a tropical party complete with cats and beluga whales.  It was so nice to be in a skirt in the warm weather.  It was green and lush and fragrant with flowers.  After watching the belugas frolic with the cats, it was time to head into the party.  Before I started down the narrow dirt trail surrounded by leafy green foliage, someone, I didn’t see who, was lining the path with flower petals.  I could feel the cool damp, yet velvet y soft flora under my feet. 
Then we had to pick up the net.  I roll out of the bunk plunking my feet on the cold blue linoleum wonder where the flowers went.  Usually, I keep these amazements to myself.  But, sometimes, in my stupor, I slip. In the midst of different dream I could hear a knocking at the door.  I, apparently, awoke asking the skipper who was at the door.  Yesterday after a nap skipper asked me if I got any sleep and I replied “I don’t know.”  And I didn’t.  I couldn’t tell if I had slept or not….so I’m guessing I did. 
That’s the haps this week. Until next time, eat fish!  

OK, I’m out.