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.


Tele said...

Oh my god, Jen, this is one of my nightmares! Glad to know that you survived, and will be anxiously tuning back in. Hope all's good for you!

Patrick Dixon said...

Good story! It's "Right-of-way" by the way. Something you had, but they, being enormous, took away. In Cook Inlet the tankers do the same thing. Scares the teewadin right out of you, as me ma used t'say. Well told.

Jen Pickett said...

Hey Pat, thanks for the editing, that's not my strong point. And, I know I had the right-of-way, however, had I exercised that right, I'd be blogging from Davey Jone's locker!!

Anonymous said...

Great Story Jen. Yield to tonnage!!