Friday, April 29, 2011


Did I ever tell you about the time that I was almost run over by one of those real big cruise ships?  It was back in 2000, my first year fishing my own boat. I was up in Coghill, in the northwest of Prince William Sound. College Fjord is a spectacularly beautiful and pristine area of the Sound and a popular destination for cruise ships.  The fjord is about 20 miles long and consists of five tide water glaciers, five glacier valleys, and countless other glaciers.  It’s possible to see eight glaciers at once.  It is a narrow stretch of pristine, deep blue water, glaciers, and icebergs all surrounded by spectacular mountains dotted with birds and marine wild life.  There are rafts of otters floating around, cracking clams on their bellies and bald eagles soaring in the sky.   The crystal clear water is peppered with white and blue icebergs.  A sockeye run that goes through there and up the Coghill River.   

Running my net on f/v King-N-I

I’m awakened by Lenny, one of my buddies, calling me on the radio.  It’s early, maybe 4:30 in the morning, but is already daylight.   I had made a night set and finally hopped in my bunk around 1 am for some much needed sleep.  Typically, a set lasts about an hour.  If you are lucky, you can make a night set for about 2 or 3 hours without getting into too much trouble because the gill net acts like a big sea anchor and slows down the drifting of the boat. If you are unlucky, you might get tangled with another boat, wrap a buoy, wrap your own boat with your own net, drift across the line only to be rudely roused by the Troopers writing you a ticket for fishing over the line, drift up onto a reef and rip your net in two, or drift ashore.  There is a plethora of predicaments you can wake up in.   The possibilities are endless.  I know, as I’ve encountered most of them.  However, this morning I would add a new possibility to the list.
Still a novice at “the fishin’ position”, I set my alarm for every hour and half so I could wake up and look outside to see if I’ve gotten into any trouble.  The alarm goes off and I stumble out of the bunk and shock my eyes by going from dead asleep to looking out into the blaring daylight. It usually takes a few moments for them to adjust then another few moments for events to compute while I wake up.  But, if everything looks OK, I go back to bed and set my alarm for another hour and half.  This night was no different.  Now, granted, I do sometime have a biased opinion of “OK”.  I know this about myself.  When I get woken in the middle of the night, or precisely, in the middle of my three hour nap, I’ll deem almost anything as “OK” so I can go back to bed.
The weather is calm, clear skies with no wind.  Everybody is making a night set and I am on the outside of the fleet.   We were all spaced out nicely, with no signs of trouble, yet.  Sure, there were a few ice bergs around, but none so close that I was concerned with wrapping one.  Those are a bugger to get out of the net.  It’s impressive how well they can get entangled. They may look smooth, but in reality, there are thousands and thousands of little edges that like to get caught up in the net. As soon as one corner is free, another gets caught up.  It’s practically endless.  Also, it’s true.  For every bit of ice seen on the surface, there is at least another 90% of the burg under the water.  
My night set came and went without catching any icebergs or any other hitch.  It was morning when all hell started to break loose and it all began with that call from Lenny.  He was calling to make sure that I knew a cruise ship was coming around the corner and heading our way.  I had heard the ship make an announcement on the radio but it didn’t lure me out of my bunk.
            I roll out of my sleeping bag rubbing my eyes.  Not being a morning person by nature, it takes a little time for my brain to register information, especially on 3 hours of sleep.  So, I look out my window and had to shade my eyes from the morning sun.  After a few moments to get them to focus, sure enough, there is a cruise ship coming around the corner.  “Ah well”, I thought, diving back into my bunk as I was desperate for sleep.  I remember thinking “He'll go around.  Besides, I have the right-of-way”.  And I plop back in to my bunk.  A few minutes later, Lenny calls me back.  I begrudgingly get up and answer the radio, wishing I had an extension cord for my radio so I can talk on the radio without getting out of the bunk.  Since I’m up, I look out the window again.  Sure enough, there is a huge white cruise ship coming around the corner a few miles away.   It appears that the cruise ship is turning wide enough to go around everyone else fishing.  Everyone except me, that is.   It looks like he is heading right towards me. It’s traveling much faster than I initially anticipated and is a great deal closer to me than I would have thought possible in only a matter of a few minutes. If I stay in my current location, in a few more minutes I’ll be squashed like a bug on a windshield.  Now, a shot of adrenaline kicks in and now I’m awake.  I fire up the engine and stumble around getting dressed.  I hop into my raingear, which is positioned near my door fireman style, with my bibs wrapped around my boots just for instances like this and I need to get into them quickly. I figure there's no time to call this guy on the radio, I'm the one who needs to boogie out of there.  It’s a judgment call, but I know these things don't stop on a dime and even changing course take time. 
            There is no time to let my engine warm up this morning. I turn on my hydro's go outside to pick up my net.  The first thing I feel the cold, crisp air slap my face.  That’s the thing about glaciated areas; they are beautiful, but cold. But, no to dwell on my surroundings, I have a cruise ship coming at me. I start reeling in my net and picking fish.  Since my net has been out a few hours, there are a few fish in there.  And, I don’t say this often, but luckily, there weren’t too many.  I look over my cabin and see this ship is heading towards me faster than I anticipated. They are so big and that makes it difficult to gauge just how fast they are traveling. I look up and see the word “Princess” in big letters on the side of the boat.  She’s about 1000 feet long and 120 feet wide.  It towers fifteen stories in height and cruises 20 knots, approximately 22 miles per hour and is about to run my ass over. 

Tune in next week for the rest of the story.  Until then, eat fish!  Catch ya on the flip side.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Prince William Sound Spill Drill: That'll do 'er

NOFI Current Buster, f/v Morning Thunder with a skimmer and a mini barge along side.  We tow the orange boom around scooping up oil.  The Morning Thunder skims it out of the water and pumps in into the mini barge. 
The state of Alaska mandated a law that oil companies  put on regular oil spill response training after the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989.  Several times a year there are on water drills in addition to training, which consists of classroom lectures, hands on equipment trials, and on water drills.

This past week was a surprise drill.   A surprise that even I knew about 3 weeks ago.  Anywho, about 100 or so boats of all shapes and sizes came from all over the sound from Cordova, Valdez, Tatitlik, and Whittier.  We all enjoyed the beautiful weather, total blue birds (and a few icebergs) as we convened at Naked and Story Island for a 3 day on water drill.

What, one might ask, are the qualifications needed to participate in such drills.  I was told that a crewman is qualified if s/he can fog a mirror.  I said sign me up.  I have done these in the past, it's good money but mind-numbingly boring.  This time, I tried to be prepared.

Required gear list: PPE (personal protection equipment) life jackets,  safety glasses, and hard hats are to be worn on deck at all times.  Period.  This means, if you go outside to take a leak, you have to wear a hard hat. Even to ride a bucket. (That reminds me a a poem I recently heard "Those rodeo cowboys got nothin' on me.  I can ride a 5 gallon bucket in 40 foot seas"!)  I find that none of this stuff usually fits me and I keep getting caught up  in it.  I walked to the stern to tie up a line, my jacket got hung up on something on the way back there.  Then I bent over to reach for the cleat and almost fell in trying to keep my hard hat on.  Finally, I squatted down towards the cleat in an effort to keep my hat on, then my jacket road up in front of my face so I had to work blind and one handed to tie a line on the cleat.  All in the name of safety.

The other gear lists consists of magazines to read, music to listen to, cribbage board, noise reduction headphones (with ipod attachment) and my new favorite toy, a kindle.  Skipper and I got into a serious match of scrabble.  I totally got my ass kicked the first few times (clearly, he is not a novice at scrabble like I am) but our last match ended as we were pulling back into the slip in the harbor.  I had one letter left, a V and was down by 5 points.  Wanting to take a shower after 3 days on the water superseded the need to win at scrabble and I took the loss.  But, secretly congratulated myself for having come so far in just three days.

All in all these drills are almost comical.  SERVS (not sure what that stands for) is the company that puts it all on.  They cross all their T's and dot all the I's.  They are all PC and say "over and out".  Then they work with us fishermen who only cross T's when we feel like it and say things like "I'll snuggle up to your apex and hang tough".  Yes, honestly, I did actually hear that on the radio.  I even just ran out in my PJ to my truck in the wind and rain (its blowing about 20 here today, forecast is for 40) just to get that quote out of my truck.)

Here are some pics:

f/v Controller Bay, the boat I was on

Towing just the Current Buster which we towed about 12 hours going .5 knots

The state ferry as is cruised by

That's the haps this week.  Catch ya on the flip side.  Eat fish!!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Cordova Update

A few photos of my view from the camp ground and around.

Queen's Chair, the view from my trailer

Inside Large Marge the Land Barge (aka my camper)

Otters in Orca Inlet

Hunter enjoying the sunshine

Friday, April 15, 2011


Finally, I made it! Now I feel like I can get on with my life. And I no longer have to say “Hi, my name is Jen and I live in a camper….in my boyfriend’s driveway.” Now, I live in a camper in a trailer court. I got my very own spot right on Lake Eyak and everything. It’s beautiful here. I wake up to the morning sun beaming in my windows and look out to see Queen’s Chair in the Heney Range I’m so happy to be back in Cordova, it feels like home.

This winter in Anchorage was good enough and all, I enjoyed having lots of time to write. However, I felt like I put things on hold. I found myself saying things like “I’ll have a job when I get back to Cordova. I’ll be able to hike more when I get back to Cordova. I’ll …(fill in the blank) when I get back to Cordova. I’ll move out of my boyfriend’s driveway when I get back to Cordova.” And, now I can finally stop nix that broken record because I’m back in Cordova!

This past week was pretty hectic, actually, more like the past 10 days. Actually, more like the past month. First, it was a mad rush to get things together to get to Florida. Once I got back from Florida, I hit the ground running after an 11 hour red eye flight. I put my fisherman’s endurance to use and put in 18 hours days, starting at 4 am. I rented out my condo for the summer, so I had to pack up things to bring to Cordova, pack up things to put in storage, pack up the rest for the garage sale, and clean the condo. I never even knew how much crap I had until I have to box it all up! Then it was time to clean the camper, vacuum up the 50 or so flies that sprung to life this spring, then pack up the camper. After that, time for provisions. A sweep or two through town buying all the things that, either I can’t get here in the ‘Dova or that are just cheaper in Anchorage. That entailed getting about 4 months worth of food, beer, and wine, plus new shoes, camper parts (potable anti-freeze, light bulbs, new pooh-pipe, etc) a new BBQ and pink duct tape. Two full days of shopping then we threw it all in the camper and headed to Whittier. The drive was uneventful (unless you were Hunter, my cat. He didn’t dig the truck ride so much) and only one piece of the camper flew off going 60 mph down the road. I couldn’t stop and could only hope I could either replace it in Cordova or it wasn’t important. We discovered later that it was the anti-sway bar, about a $150 item. Good news is I won’t need it here.

For the first time in my life, was early at the Whittier Tunnel, a 2.2 mile tunnel originally built for a train but since has been paved and open twice an hour for car traffic. Since we were early and I had plenty of time for dinner before the ferry for a Buffalo Burger at the Inn at Whittier and a beer. It was a great 12 hour ride across Prince William Sound, it was as flat as a mill-pond. We arrived Cordova on a beautiful blue bird day. It’s always nice to arrive in the sunshine, opposed to arriving in the normal weather, gale force winds and sideways rain. That always makes me wonder what I was thinking but arriving in sunshine make for no regrets.

We got the camper all set up and level with no problems. Ran around town doling out deposits for the all the utilities, met the neighbors (whom I already knew) and settled in. Grabbed Rockfish Taco’s at Baja Tacos and began the greetings and welcome backs. Actually, the greetings began in Whittier before I even got on the ferry, but they hit full swing at Baja Taco. It was there that I found out that I am mentioned in an article in the latest issue (May, 2011) of the magazine National Fisherman, page 18,  The article is called Winter’s chill can’t keep Fisher Poet fans away. There is a picture of me, quotes, and everything! I ran into about 5 people telling me they saw me in the magazine before I got my hands on one. I was beginning to worry if I could continue to show my face, not knowing what the article said!

That’s Cordova for you. It’s great to be in a place where everyone is so friendly and knows you, however you do need to budget that in your time. I was at the post office for 20 minutes before I even made it inside. And that’s is one of the reason’s I love it here so much.

That’s the haps here. Catch ya on the flip side. Until then, eat fish!

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Calm Before the Storm

Ever wonder what fishermen do to get ready for the season?  If I were to guess, I'd say they would do bench presses, sit-ups, warm ups to reduce carpel tunnel, Zen out on a lotus leaf,  and that type of thing.  Maybe. Maybe that's what other fishermen do. But I find myself doing are all those projects that I've been meaning to do all winter.  Finishing the kitchen re-model project I started over a year ago.  Go to the dentist and have a cavity filled. Have lunch with old professors.   Get my eyes checked at the eye doctor.  Get my studded tires removed and put the summer ones back on.  Get an oil change, clean out my storage unit, have a garage sale, get a hair cut, eyebrows waxed, rent out my place, pack up and move,  etc.  All in the last week before I leave.

Finally, I stopped tripping over those kitchen cabinets and hired someone to install them.  I was going hang them myself, but, then came to my senses and I realized I'd better leave that one to a professional.  Or, more exact, a friend of a friend who does that stuff on the side.  I decided I'd better re-caulk the tub.  That one I decided I can do myself.  I mean, I like DIY projects and fixing things. But in reality I made a mess, the tub looks like shit and I got caulk in my hair.  I have to be honest with you folks, I really didn't enjoy that.  I guess I just want to want to enjoy DIY projects. When I'm not under the gun, that is.  I did enjoy staining all my cabinets.  But I didn't leave myself enough time to do it.  I rushed and ended up with bubbles in my varnish.  But no time to fix it now.  My renter moves in Friday and it still looks like a bomb went off in there.  Seriously, I would take a picture but it's too embarrassing.  But I'll tell you it sure doesn't look like someone is moving in here in a few hours. And I hope my renter doesn't read my blog!

I've been getting up at 4 am (thanks to still being jet lagged from the four hour time change spending last week in Florida) and putting in 14-18 hour days.  Packing, cleaning, getting rid of stuff.  Doing things like finally changing out the shower curtain rod after looking at an ugly one that didn't match anything for 3 years.  I have to wonder why  I do that for someone else, but not for myself.   No time to psycho-analyze my actions now, the clock is a ticking.

The renter moves in Friday (holy crap, that's today!)  We are having a garage sale on Saturday.  I have to pack up the cat and the camper yet and stock up on groceries and all the things I can't get in Cordova.  Then catch the ferry next week.   Fishing season starts in about 6 weeks.  So, I'm frantic now in order to have plenty of time to settle in, mend nets and be Zenning on a lotus leaf next month!

Eat fish and I'll catch ya on the flip side. 

Friday, April 1, 2011

Spring Break: Fort Lauderdale, 2011!

Who says you have to be in school to enjoy Spring Break?!?  Granted, last time I was in Fort Lauderdale, I was in school and it was spring break.  The Ohio State Sailing Club drove down here, rented 5 boats, grabbed a bunch of bear and sailed around the Bahamas for a week.  This trip is a bit more mellow than that one was, but Fort Lauderdale is Fort Lauderdale.  Pink flamingos, blue hairs, and HAPPY HOUR!!  Gotta love pool side happy hour.  Happy Hour is one thing we in Alaska don't get to enjoy, strick alcohol rules. But, none of that malarkey here!

And, if you are new to this blog and are wondering what Happy Hour in Fort Lauderdale has to do with commercial fishing in Alaska, I'm here to tell ya.  Absolutely nothing!  But, a gal has to get some vitamin D and red tomatoes before the fishing season starts up next month.

Speaking of fishing, we did a chartered sport boat, paid a few hundred dollars to go flop around in the ocean and get skunked.  We even paid extra for bait. $80 a pound for bait fish!  I'm so in the wrong fishery!  Our $37.95 worth got us jack, and I don't mean a jack tuna.  I mean jack as in we caught jack shit.  Well, we did have a shark on for a bit.  Then the skipper was watching the shark and not where he was going and almost ran us right into the navagational marker.  I mean, really, man, even Jimmy Buffet likes to keep it between the navigational beacons.

We are getting lots of water time here.  There is a system of canals and water taxis  We took one yesterday and cruised around the city via multi-million dollar homes and yachts.  One yacht, built in Holland, costs a million dollar a meter to build.  That's what, $33,000 a foot?  Wowza.  The water taxis are a good way to get local dirt on all the rich people.  Its like reading People for Fort Lauderdale.  "This person fired all his employees then added on to his mansion, where property taxes alone costs $425,000 a year. " That's almost as much as I make a year (haha, just seeing if you are paying attention, it is April Fool's after all.)  But, the water taxis are a cool way to travel and go grab dinner, shopping or a beer.

view from our room
The canals are right outside our window and from the 18th floor we have a nice view. 

canal where we saw the manatee

Even saw a manatee yesterday, right from the balcony! Go go digital zoom!

manatee from 18th floor

ocean to the east!!

All in all, the 85 degrees temps, the thunderstorms, fresh fruits and veggies, red tomatoes, key lime pie, its all what the doctor ordered.  And not a monent too soon either.  Sure makes break up in AK a bit more bearable.  That's the haps for now, I gotta get down and catch the rest of happy hour.  I'll catch ya on the flip side, until then, eat fish!