Friday, November 11, 2011

Watch that tow line!

“Watch that tow line!” shouted Bill, trying to stop me from running across the deck. But, it was too late, I was already in motion.
Bill used to crab and as a result, has perfect teeth. He got them by leaning over the rail at the wrong time, just as a crab pot appeared, smacking him in the face and shattering all his teeth. Now they are all flawless and false.

We were seining herring up in Togiak, Alaska back in the late ‘90’s. I had a few seasons fishing under my belt, but was still pretty green when it came to seining, unlike Bill who had been crewing for about 20 odd years. Bill was stacking corks and I was stacking leads, the top and the bottom of the seine net, as the net came in. When it went out, it was my job to make sure the net didn’t get hung up.

The opener was only 10 minutes long, which is an amazingly short time to set a seine net. Hell, even coffee breaks are longer than that. Anyway, we were setting the net at 16 knots, full fart. I could see that it was going to get hung up going over the stern so I darted across the deck to throw the end over. I took two steps when I heard Bill, who was standing right beside me, scream “NO!! Watch that tow line!” But it was too late.

So instead of watching the tow line, I watch my feet sail up above my eyes as I sailed across the deck, perfectly horizontal, six feet in the air. I thought for sure I was going over. All I could think is how cold that water is and how badly that will sting like pins and needles all over. Then I thought of how fast we are going and wondered if I would get run over by the boat. Or sucked under. Or caught up in the net. Or run over by someone else’s boat. Togiak herring is like a demolition derby on water, not a good place to take a swim.

Before I really knew what even happened, I landed flat on my back about eight feet from where I started and about a foot away from the rail. Turns out, on my dash to clear the net, I stepped on the tow line at the exact same moment it went taut, catapulting myself across the deck. Still stunned when Bill asked me if I was Okay, I nodded that I was. “What the hell were you thinking?” was his second question. “The net was going to get hung up” I said, as meek as a mouse and he grabbed my hand, bringing me to my feet. “Forget the net” he snorted. “But, skipper said….” “Forget the skipper, watch out for yourself first. You know how close you just came to getting slashed in two? Or launched overboard?”

I didn’t and there was no time to reflect. I was no more back on my feet when the skiff came ‘round with the other end of the net, it was time to stack leads.

Later, when we were with our partner boat, who saw the whole thing. We weren’t even tied up to them yet when I heard “Holy shit! I thought for sure you were going in the drink!” “Are you OK?” “What happened?” “Are you hurt?” They all asked at the same time. “I’m fine, I’m fine” I assured them. It took seeing all those guys concerned about me to realize that maybe I did get pretty close to getting hurt. But, I tell you what, that was good advice and from that day on, I always kept one eye on the tow line.


Anonymous said...

I'd never make it on a fishing boat, habitually slow, as in "he never moves at full fart" Never heard of FF but that made me laugh, always a good thing.

Jen Pickett said...

Hey Laura, thanks for the shout out, glad to make you laugh. And not too many folks are familiar with the term "full fart", it's a technical term. :)