Friday, February 25, 2011

14th Annual Fisher Poets Gathering, Astoria OR

14th Annual Fisher Poets Gathering, Astoria, OR 2011
"Pull hard and she comes easy." 

Fisher Poets is here!  Today and tomorrow, Feb 25 &26 is the 14th annual Fisher Poets Gathering in beautiful, sunny, downtown Astoria Oregon.  And so am I.  This is my first year at the FPG and I'm a greenhorn.  But, no worries.  I didn't even have my bags out of my rental car at the hotel yet when I ran into someone I know, Steve, a fellow gillnetter in Cordova.  He's an old salt at reciting his poems here and is showing me the ropes. 

Last night, we checked out the Voodoo Room, one of the 8 venues where the performances are held this year,  I'll be there tomorrow night at 7 PM.  Then, it was over to Clemente's for a dinner, meet and greet and open mike.  Appetizers  included Carpaccio, a thinly pounded local Albacore tuna with olive oil, shallots, black pepper and a touch of lemon and garlic, served on warm bread.  For dinner, I had the Oysters Casino.  Fresh Willipa Oysters broiled with bacon, chives, bread crumbs, Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, and a cream sauce. Yum.

FPG is part of an Astoria tradition, bringing men and women tied to the commercial fishing industy together to share stories, poems, memoirs, essays in celebration of the industry and it's people.  It's people, the community of fishermen.  Birds of a feather flock together.  That's it.  That's one of the things that has kept me fishing all these years.  I started fishing for the adventure of it, some 18 years ago, but the reason I keep coming back to it is the people. 

At last night's dinner, there were folks there I knew from fishing in Cordova, AK.  Like Buck, Lloyd, Phil, Dennis and Patty.  Then there was Rich and his wife, Marsha, whom I met in Hawaii a few years back.  And there's Pat and Jon,  who I'd emailed when arranging to come to this and finally met last night, face to face.  Then there's guys like Dave, who I sat next to last night.  Turns out, he and I both worked for the same family but at different times.  He worked for Gene Sheldon back in the '70's when kids two boys, Brian and Dave were still kids.  In the mid 90's I worked for Dave.  Small world.  But that's what I love about it, you just start talking and before you know it, there's a connection. 

As I mentioned in last week's blog, the performanced will be live on the radio.  Community radio station KMUN-FM broadcasts the Friday and Saturday evening program from the Astoria Event Center. This includes "streaming live" over the web at Simply go to their website and on the left click the button "Listen now on Demand".  I'll be on between 7 and 8 PM Pacific Time Friday night!  I'll be doing a shorten version of a story from my book, which will, hopefully, be out later this year.  I can give you a sneak peek of a poem that I'll be reading, too.  Just don't tell anyone.

I wrote this poem a few years ago, before I fell of the wagon on quiting fishing. It's call Fishin' Again.

Fishin’ Again

The seas were high

Yet there was I

Standing upon my boat

Whilst the waves were mean,

Gruff and green

I manage to stay afloat.

Though thoughts turn

Towards headin’ back to town

Where it is safe and warm.

But them salmon keep a runnin’!

And them bills keep a comin’!

So out my net does go.

These waves come a crashin’

O’er my bow

And slap me in my face

I taste the salt

Upon my lips

And ponder ‘bout my fate.

But “keep fishin!” says I!

It’s do or die

Its now, I must keep my faith

And low and behold

What the sea does unfold

A king as big as I!

So I set out again!

And fight with the wind

This struggle to keep alive.

And the riggin’ is singin’

Yet in my head is a ringin’

“Something here just don’t jive.”

But if this day looks bleak

By the end of the week

This tide is sure to change.

I’ll stick n I’ll stay!

And I’ll make ‘er pay!

The hour be not too late.

So keep fishin’ I must!

Or this season, a bust!

Then I’d be the one

To pay.

Cuz’ the ocean, you see,

Is intertwined with me

As the same salt runs through our veins.

And I need her

As she needs me

And so I go out

Fishin’ again.

I don't remember all the poems done last night, but I"ll share what I can.  Rob's was about riding a 5 gallon bucket: Those rodeo guys got nothin' on me, I"ve rode a 5 gallon bucket in 40 foot seas! And when the boat rocks port to starboard you get a bit drenched, just like those toilets, designed by the French. 

If you want to take a gander at other performers and what they are up to, there is an anthology of FPG songs, poems and stories called "In the Tote" put together by Pat Dixon,  Or, click here to check out last year's venue  A lot of the perfomers have Cd's and books out, these will be for sale during the weekend.  My buddy Steve, has some great poems on his CD titled Give a Dollar to the Sea: Poetry and Songs of Alaskan Fisherpoet Steve M Schoonmaker and can be reached at

Next week, I'll be able to post some of the high lights, and maybe the low lights of the weekend.  And, will also resume work on the Egg.  Catch ya on the flip side!ea through vivid and powerful poetry. Discover what truly inspires this colorful community on the brink of extinction

Friday, February 18, 2011

Putting Humpty Dumpty Back Together Again...

First off, I'm very excited to let you know that I'll be performing at the 14th Annual FisherPoets Gathering in Astoria Oregon next week, February 25th and 26th!!   I'm on both Friday and Saturday night around 7:30 P.M. Pacific Mountain Times.  My Friday night's performance will be broad casted on 91.9 FM KMUN  @ www.  To give you an idea about this celebration, I've taken the following is taken from their website I'll have more on this next week but in the mean time, check it out!  The schedule and all that is on their website. 

The FisherPoets Gathering (FPG) is expecting a record number of more than 80 fishing and maritime industry people from several states and British Columbia to bring their original poems, stories and songs to Astoria.  Along with several local musicians who also have strong fishing-industry ties, they will present their readings and music at this 14th annual weekend program, February 25 to 27. 

"Fisher Poetry" comes from experiences living and working in the industry, and ranges in writing style from fast-moving rhyming couplets to crafted free verse or literary prose, and includes poems, songs, short stories, personal memoirs and essays, along with art.

KMUN-FM community radio broadcasts both evenings live 6 to 10 p.m. from Astoria Event Center at 91.9-FM & Enjoy!

Now, back to our regularly scheduled blog

Hanging panels

No EGG-zadgeration, putting the Humpty Dumpty back together again is no easy task. That is one term of endearment that I call the Egg, my recently purchased 12'  1955ish camper that I am renovating.  Did I just say I?  I meant to say Vince.  He seems to be currently doing most of the work, for now.  Mostly because he has more patience than I do and, as a result, better carpentry skills.  If left to my own devices, I would be done by now, but it probably wouldn't look too good.  Turns out, remodeling is a big task, a bigger task than I ever imagined possible.  But, I'm committed now and just too stubborn to turn back.  I also did a bit more research on discovering the make and year of the Egg.  I found this website featuring old, excuse me, vintage camping trailers.  I emailed Ron, the founder of this organization and he speculates that the Egg is from the mid 50's but said that most manufacturers just copied each other back then and couldn't guess on the make.  Thanks for the info Ron! If you're into vintage campers, here is another cool site:
So, its looking more like the Egg is closer to 50 than 30 years old!  Wow.  It'll be eligible for social security soon.  But, I got to tell you, the wooden ribs on the inside of the camper are beautiful!  No knots anywhere and for the most part, with the exception of a few portions of the ribs, they are still all good and solid.  The plywood floor is in a little better shape and again, no knots at all, a sign of older wood.
This week's progress was hanging some of the panels up.  We thought we would just fly through it and be on to installing the bunk by now, but we are still hanging panels.  That's OK though, we are taking out time and it shows.  I think it looks pretty good.  One of the reason its slow going, the main reason, is that the Egg is not symmetrical.  Guess after 50 some odd years of shimmying down the road, I'd be a little off kilter, too.  We've had to accommodate for that.  A panel might be 1/8-1/4 inch off from one end to another. Or ribs will not be aligned and things like that.  Anyway, we are getting there.  We got the two ends covered and the ceiling up.  See our progress below from measuring out the panels in the garage to hanging them.

Cutting panels to fit

One down, many more to go!

Measure twice, cut once

The finished ceiling

Currently, Vince is making forms for the walls.  First, he made them out of poster board to copy the curve of the back wall.  Then he transfered the poster board and copied it onto a left over piece of insulation.  After that is fitted correctly, then he will copy that onto the paneling, cut and install.  Easy peasy.

Making forms for side panels

Tune in next week to see if we are pulling our hair out by then, I mean to see our progress.  And, I'll see you in Astoria!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Ha ha ha.......An Egg?

Anyone remember that at the end of some Ozzy Osborne song?  Well, it's become a reality for me.  I call it "Project Egg".  I recently purchased (gotta love Craigslist, best thing since sliced bread, if you ask me) a 1971 12'x7' camper. However,  I'm doubting this thing was built even that recently.  Maybe mid 60's?  Anywho, the plan is to remodel  it, throw some creature comforts and necessities in there, drag it over to Cordova  and call it home sweet home for the fishing season.
Chris, the gal I bought it from had gutted it, insulated the s*!t out of it, made a few rudimentary necessities, threw a in a heater and lived in it in her friend's driveway in East Anchorage all winter.  One  fact I like to point out whenever someone tells me I'm crazy for planning to live in this thing for the next 5 months is that she lived in it in the winter!  If someone calls me crazy first thing I do is point out someone else slightly more crazy than I am. It helps take the heat off.  The second fact is that this camper in a foot wider, thus bigger, than the cargo trailer I lived in last summer in Cordova.  And, unlike that trailer, this one has insulation.  Thereby proving, that while I may be crazy, I am slightly less crazy than I was last year.  You see, we all live and learn. This is what it looked like when I first got it.

My idea is to re-do some of the insulation and tack up some sort of covering over it.  If I don't I fear eating the insulation will become Hunter the cat's favorite past time.  I decided to go with 1/8" mahogany plywood.  It's not too heavy, expensive and is somewhat flexible.  Next, we designed a bunk, dinette, closet, and sorta designed a kitchen space.  That part is still a work in progress.  Well, ok, the whole thing is a work in progress.
First thing we (I roped my guy, Vince, into helping) did was rip out the second layer of insulation.  About half way through this project I realized this whole thing undertaking is indeed a bit more than I initially anticipated.  But, I'm committed now and too stubborn to turn back.  This is our progress.

 Next, we set about melting the glaciers in the corners.  At first, we made very little headway with the electric heater we had in there.  Turns out, its hard to warm up a trailer when its 10 degree out.  We needed bigger guns.  How about a heat gun?  Me tackling glaciers in the corners.

That worked well, but the novelty of that wore off in about an hour.  We turned to the Mr Buddy propane heater that came with the trailer.  It worked great! Who knew there was all that ice under the insulation?  Until....wait a minute.  Was the ceiling black before turned the heat to high? Probably not. Settling on medium heat and some fans, we went this that. Not quite as effective, but less likely to burn the Egg down.  A few days later, I think we've finally made some headway, but not enough.  As luck would have it, the outside temps went from 10 degrees to about 35 and we were able to open all the windows and just let it air out. And, finally,  it looks dry inside.  Then I sprayed some mold and mildew killer, just in case.  In the meantime, I'm varnishing the panels with Minwax Polycrylic  and deciding on fasteners to use that aren't too hard on the eye. Aesthetics are everything! Such is the case with this Chicken Air tee-shirt screwed to the door as a curtain.
All the panels are now varnished and we will be hanging them this weekend and starting to build the bunk.
Tune in next week to check out our progress.

Friday, February 4, 2011

How I got Hooked on Fishing: Part II

Last week's blog is the story of how,  a land-lubber from got hooked on commercial fishing in Alaska.  This week we read the rest of the story.
Returning to Ohio after traveling home from my summer in Alaska, and spending all my money doing it,   I worked three jobs all winter and wondered how I was ever going to make and save enough money to make my way back to Alaska.  My cousin, who I staying with in Anchorage,  had moved back to Ohio and without a place to stay, my dream didn’t seem possible.  But, as fate would have it, after three short months of Ohio, cousin had had his fill and wanted to move back to Alaska.  This time to a small fishing town in southeast called Petersburg.  He offered to pay my way if I helped him with the drive cross country.  Come spring, I was again heading north, but this time in a Toyota minivan.  It took about a week to drive to Bellingham, Washington where were caught the ferry. Another four days later and we arrived in Petersburg, Alaska.

Arriving in the middle of the night  the town was dark, quiet and seemed little eerie.  We pulled the van off the ferry and I remember asking “what is that awful smell?”  The whole town reeked of the most fowl, appalling, disgusting odor I ever encountered.  My cousin simply replied "Fish!"  Funny we don't recognize those foreshadowing moments when they are upon us. 

We drove out the road to cousin's new job as chef at the Beachcomber Hotel, Restaurant, and Bar.  The Beachcomber was older than dirt and started off as a cannery cookhouse then converted to a bar, restaurant, hotel.  It sits on pilings, though ever so slightly slanted from years of wear,  on the scenic Wrangell Narrows a few miles south of town.    There was a dock so you could just pull right up on you boat and come in, have a cocktail, and watch the sunset on the back deck.  It was also a place where you could sit and watch the commercial fishing boats come and go.  They would head out down the Narrows and vanish out of sight only to return a few days later, loaded with fish.  I remember being so intrigued by them.

And since nepotism is alive and well in Alaska, I was the new house keeper/ van driver/ bar back/ waitress.  My room was in the attic, which the person who lived there before me to thoughtfully painted mauve and teal.  In order to keep that room, I was kind of a work slave with my four job titles.   It seems to me I worked every day and night.  Summer came and went, just like the boats.  By the time fall rolled around, I had found a boat sitting gig in the South Harbor.  A guy was going to be gone about six weeks and wanted someone to stay aboard his leaky 1945 retired Coast Guard Cruiser.  Me, not knowing any better, said yes and spent the whole time trying to keep the rain from coming in from above and the ocean coming in from below.  At the end of the six weeks, the guy returned.  I later found out he had been in jail.  Anyway, by then I had befriended some of the fishermen in the harbor.  Ron, the skipper on the other side of the slip from me needed a deckhand for the fall halibut derby. 

Before halibut went to IFQ’s (individual fishing quota) which is a set poundage you are allotted to fish, it was a derby.  Meaning you had a set time, such as 24 or 48 hours, to go out and catch as much halibut as your boat would hold.  That fall’s derby was for 24 hours.
Again, not knowing any better, I jumped at the chance.  I was so captivated by these fishing boats, I just had to find out for myself where they disappeared off to.  Next thing I knew, I was chopping bait 15-17 hours a day and eating nothing but cold cheese sandwiches, the only thing the skipper packed to eat.  We (as in I) baited gear for 5 straight days.  I grew up on a farm and was accustomed to hard work but had no idea that it was possible to work as hard or as long of hours as we did.  My hands were so sore from gripping the knife to fillet fish and piercing that fresh, hard salmon skin with a hook and I had no idea the worst was yet to come.
Four days into the trip, Adam the other deckhand flew out to the boat.  He was a young guy, about 25, but had been fishing for years.  Made quite a rookie mistake though his very first day aboard.  We were running and I was, as usual, at my baiting station.  Ron, the skipper came up to me and asked me if I’d seen Adam.  “No” I replied, and not thinking anything of it, kept baiting.  Once Ron frantically started looking around for him and calling his name did it dawn that no one is every really out of ear shot, or sight for that matter, on a 4 foot boat.  Nope.  Adam was not aboard.  We whipped the boat around and searched the water with our binoculars.  Luckily, not too far in the distance, we spotted a little teeny tiny head sticking out of the water.  It waved at us.  Running full bore back to Adam, we scooped him up and brought him back aboard.  He was all macho about it stating that he needed a cold refreshing bath anyhow.  I mean, it was a relatively nice day out, but truth is, this is September in Alaska, folks.  Ain’t nothing warm about it, he must have been freezing! He changed into something dry and went back to work.  What had happened is he went up to the roof to grab some buoys and accidently stepped over board.  All I know is if it had been me, who had fallen overboard in that cold water, watching the boat getting smaller as its driving off, without me, into the horizon, I would have insisted that a helicopter or Coast Guard or something come out and take me home!  No way would I have gone back to baiting.  But, Adam toughed it out.

Not too much longer did I have my own chance to tough it out.  The next day the weather had picked up as we rounded Cape Decision and headed into Chatham Straight.   I was on the front deck baiting but as the weather got worse and it started raining buckets, I moved to the bait shed on the stern, behind the cabin.  It was almost all enclosed and stunk of diesel exhaust and the ripe smell of five day old chum salmon and squid.  Disgusting.
Before I took the job skipper asked me if I got seasick.  Well, I never got sick when I was in sailing club and we even sailed from Florida to the Bahamas, once.  So, I answered “No”.  “Good” was his reply “because if you do, I’ll feel no mercy for you.”  

Now, I don’t know how many of you are familiar with seasickness so I’ll tell you some of its triggers.  Rough weather is definitely a factor, like the weather that we just turned into.  Bad smells is another, like, for example, the combination of five day old chum salmon and squid mixed with diesel exhaust.  Being stuck in a bait shed and not being able to see the horizon doesn’t help much either.  Needless to say, I can no longer answer “No” when someone asks me if I have ever gotten seasick.  I was at the rail, barking at the sharks.  And for those of you lucky folks who have never been seasick, without going into too much detail, I’ll just say it’s worse than the worse flu and hangover you’ve ever had all rolled into one, times ten…….thousand.  I wouldn’t even wish it on my worst enemy. 

Knowing that I’d receive no mercy, I kept working.  Or, tried to keep working.  My knees were so weak I could hardly stand up.  I went from baiting one hook every 30 seconds to baiting one hook every five minutes.  But, I stayed out on deck.  A few hours later, after my toenails had even been launched overboard, we pulled into a cove where it was flat calm.  Skipper called me into dinner, cold cheese sandwiches.  I said I’d pass, that I wasn’t feeling so choice.  He insisted.  I crawled into my spot at the galley table and instantly fell asleep.  Not sure how long I was out, but when the skipper woke me, I felt right as rain.

That next day, at noon, right on the dot, we set out gear.  We set gear for about six hours then took a nap.  Or, in my case, attempted to take a nap.  I was so pumped and nervous for what was about to happen, I really couldn’t sleep.  At 10:00 pm we woke up, had cheese sandwiches (I’m not exaggerating, that is all we had.  And not yummy toasted cheese sandwiches, but cold cheese sandwiches with nothing but mustard) we started picking up our gear.  And we picked straight through the night until the derby closed the following day at noon.  Then Adam and I  cleaned halibut and scrubbed down the boat on our way to town.  I made $700 bucks in the seven days I was out.  And was jazzed about that until I found out Adam, who was only along three or four days, made roughly $4000.  Ah well, so goes it.  I now had experience on a commercial fishing boat in Alaska……….and was hooked.

Jen baiting tubs, 1993

Jen and Adam cleaning halibut

The catch aboard the f/v Spirit