Preparing for Crab
Clouds meet sea today, shrouding our island, blurring the spruce trees to smudges, and imperceptibly blending into ocean at the horizon. It is an easterly wind that brings this overcast drizzly day and that piles up the waves sweeping in to our coastline from the wide-open Gulf of Alaska. As we ready for Tanner crab fishing in a couple of days, this weather is on our minds. Hearing the moaning of the navigation aid buoys that mark the entrance to the channel in to port, watching the surf crashing into shale cliffs, we know it’s possibly going to make for some sloppy fishing conditions with the boat rolling around on the big ground swells and 800 pound, 7 foot tall crab pots sliding around on deck as we set them.
As a green, forty-two year old woman who has never participated in any other fishery aside from summer salmon set-netting, this weather and upcoming forecast heightens my anticipation of the experience. I’ve always wanted to test myself with some kind of big boat fishery, to learn the unique dance of landing pots and moving with the swell, to put my whole physical being into the moment of fishing on a boat. During my previous life, when I had a career in adult education, I would often dream about doing a winter fishery instead of stressing over test scores, student retention, and staff meetings or the budget. My female friends thought I was joking, but finally my dream is becoming a reality.
Now I wonder, more than ever, what my experience will be like. Will I get seasick? I haven’t ever been seasick fishing out of open skiffs for salmon, no matter how rough it gets or who else is sick, but I think that’s entirely different from being out on a 68-foot boat in the middle of winter, in a storm, with diesel exhaust in the mix too. How will that affect me? Hopefully I’ll still be able to function, but I’m trying to get my head to accept the idea of being queasy. I like reminding myself that lots of people do this all the time, and also that if I do get sick, it won’t last forever. It’s a short fishery.
Will I be strong enough? I think yes, thanks to the fact that the whole deck is run on hydraulics, and that I have a lifetime of working with my body and being athletic. One day as we were loading the pots on the boat I picked up a coil of crab line, not thinking anything about it since it was a lot lighter and smaller than most coils of line I have to deal with set-netting, but that was enough to impress the skipper. 100 fathoms of dry ¾ inch line wasn’t a big deal. I don’t kid myself that I can be as strong as a man of equal size, but working and playing alongside men my whole life has shown me that most often I have the endurance and drive to keep up.
Will I learn fast enough? As the only new person on deck, I know I’ll be scrambling to remember what to do. I don’t want to slow the boat down, don’t want to make mistakes, don’t want to embarrass myself or Tollef. I am grateful that Tollef is there to help me learn, and the skipper is calm and patient as well. Everything is scaled up from working in skiffs though. As we’ve been doing boat work, getting the pots ready to fish and the boat ready, I’ve been keenly observing and trying to remember every little tip and trick. Though I highly doubt I’ll ever be called on to operate them, I spent the first night after boat work rehearsing in my head the order of the levers to run all the various pieces of hydraulic equipment on deck: from left to right we have the sorting table to slide in, pot launcher, double action on the launcher to dump the pots, and the “dogs” to lock the pots on the launcher. Thankfully I know my knots from set-netting, and know how to keep my fingers and appendages safe from getting crushed between the rail and various other possible dangers. Fishing with dad, whenever we approached another boat even if it was the fourth time in one day, he would always say “watch your fingers.” It’s ingrained knowledge. I know anything can happen, but I am hopeful that I bring more than just a basic awareness to the table.
Our boat preparation is mostly finished and we have the day off today. I’ve got a huge pot of venison stew cooking away and am baking a double batch of my special cookies for our trip. One of the two of us will be the cook. Tollef has been the boat cook before and knows the challenges of using the locking arms to hold pots down on the stove top when the boat is rolling. Ideally the meal is ready when we drop anchor in a calm spot for the night, so knowing the ins and outs of the galley helps speed things along. Tomorrow we’ll go grocery shopping and maybe move some pots around on deck and I can get more mentally prepared before our Monday departure. Our skipper is poring over his charts, historical catches, and any other information he can get his hands on, planning where we can set pots with the best chance at finding a nice school of crab. The call of the ocean is getting stronger by the day. We’ll report back when we return from this adventure!