Five Days and Counting

Dialing…881631530…for the fifth time in a row.

“Hello?”

Finally! The long-awaited answer.

“What are you doing?” I ask G.

“I’m driving the boat home,” he answers.

“What were you doing?” I ask.

“Bringing in the last of the halibut,” he replies.

“Where are you?”

“In between Yakitat and Sitka.”

“When will you be home?”

“I expect to be home on the 11th.”

“Well, I was worried when I couldn’t get in touch with you,” I say.

“You have to not worry, hon. Everything is fine, just like it always is.”

 

Waiting for Word

Fishing families are known for having strong family ties that help them manage the daily strains of fishing.”

(Fishing Families Project/Oregon State University 1997)

 

One of those daily strains: Worry.

Now, I seldom worry about George’s safety and well-being when he is at sea. The boat is well-built, seaworthy, and solid. Its engines and equipment are current and top notch. The crew is smart, experienced and responsible.

George is an intelligent and talented Captain who operated boats in the Bering Sea when I met him. He has fished all over Alaska and has both the natural know-how and certification to run a safe and successful fishing vessel.

Because I grew up in this lifestyle and fished alongside my sisters in Alaska for my dad during college summers, I know enough about life at sea to understand how a guy might lose track of the days, come upon unexpected weather, or simply be too exhausted to make a call.

I bring up the subject of “worry” simply because my phone call from George, who is fishing his way home from the Alaska halibut and black cod season, is a few days over due. I’ve tried his cell phone, which (as I expected) goes straight to voice mail. I tried the satellite phone (for the first time this year), but there is no answer.

When I was growing up, we didn’t have the luxury of calling my dad on non-existent cell phones and satellite phones–we waited (and possibly, worried) for days or weeks until he got to port and called us.

Through the years, I’ve learned that there isn’t any reason to work one’s self into a panic, because a late phone call always turns out to be nothing, and all one does by worrying is waste precious energy.

I also rely on the old saying, “Bad news travels the fastest.” In other words, if I haven’t heard anything, everything must be okay.

I bring this all up for the sole reason that anxiety felt by waiting family onshore is as much a part of the commercial fishing lifestyle as anything else, and worthy of mention. This is a blog, after all, that celebrates the commercial fishing life–the good and the troublesome.

I know that everything is fine and that the lack of communication boils down to one of two things, as my dad (fourth-generation fisherman and original owner/operator of the family fishing vessel) so eloquently pointed out,

“He’s either working or sleeping.”

There’s also the very real possibility that George didn’t even hear the satellite phone ringing, as the ring is rather soft and nearly impossible to hear over engines, hydraulics, or a movie being watched in the tophouse.

In addition, you can hardly–bless his heart–get that guy to give you a call when he is at home with his phone in his pocket! He honestly operates on “George Time” and usually has so much going on that some things, like checking in, escape notice.

So, I’m just awaiting word. Wondering how it is going, how the weather is, how much quota (if any) is left to be caught, where they are, and when he expects to be home.

I got a reassuring e-mail from my dad today:

“I checked the weather for where G is probably fishing, and it’s ‘good’ and the outlook is ‘good’ and the extended outlook is ‘good’-so it looks good.”

Eva is in bed, Vincent is in bed, dogs have been fed. Now I just stay busy and calm as I wait for my phone to ring. 

Fishin’ His Way Home

“Fishing families experience many benefits from the lifestyle that commercial fishing brings, but they also experience challenges in adapting to husbands’ trips to and from the sea.”

(The Ebb and Flow of Fishing Family Life—Oregon Sea Grant)

 

I got a call from George while he was in Seward last week getting ready to deliver his latest load of longline-caught halibut. Although there haven’t been many outstanding loads to deliver so far this season, George and the crew have been, as we say, diligently scratching away at it.

Bit by bit, little by little. Or, as my dad used to say during Alaska salmon seine openings when we committed to scratching away in one area of fishing rather than running around and burning fuel to chase fish, “Stick and stay, make it pay.”

George has a certain amount of halibut and blackcod quota that he must catch. If fishing is good, he can catch the quota quickly and come right back home. If fishing is scratchy, he simply stays in Alaska until it is caught.

The good news is that he has started fishing his way home–the bulk of the quota has been caught and he feels confident he can grab the rest of it on the trip South.

George is an optimistic guy, though, and operates on something my family calls “George Time.”

For example, George has estimated he’ll be home in about 10-14 days. We automatically adjust this estimate and figure to see him at the dock in about 14-21 days, barring any mechanical problems.

Regardless, whenever he shows up, it is an understatement to say how happy and excited I will be to see him, and I’m just glad the countdown has begun.

After a fun and sunny Memorial Day weekend, last week went all downhill. It was just awful–but because Nobody Likes a Whiner, I won’t bother you with the details of losing the hearing in my right ear (now restored), or how Vincent cried for four days straight, or how I had to take Toby to an emergency vet appointment for another cancer treatment, or how Eva locked me out of my bathroom.

Things are turning around now, though, and balance is being restored: As I told the neighbor who came over to yell at me through my porch window one evening during dinner about one of the construction trailers parked in front of his house,

“Hey, I know we’ve all got a lot going on. We’re all doing the best we can!”

Toby is eating again and is actually gaining weight.  My sister and brother-in-law have helped me out a ton. My friend, Tish, came to visit. The construction is moving forward on our basement. I finally decided to accept an offer to teach two Jazzercise classes per week. My parents will be home from their (ahem, too long!) vacation to Hawaii on Tuesday. And within the month….George will be home.

Whenever I get into my car after a trying morning as the only parent currently available to meet the demands of a young and needy household, I play Trace Adkin’s new song “You’re Gonna Miss This,” at least a couple of times. Next on my (custom mix) c.d.–and I’m not kidding–is Ronnie Milsap’s “She Keeps the Homefires Burning.”

“She keeps the homefires burning
While I’m out earning a living in a world
That’s known for its pouring rain
She keeps the homefires burning…”

If I can just keep these homefires burning for a couple more weeks, we’ll be good to go.

Recent Stats on West Coast Commercial Fishing Fatalities

http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/local/360568_deadlyfishing25.html

I read an extremely interesting AP article tonight on seattlepi.com regarding the latest statistics on the dangers and fatalities of commercial fishing; specifically, commercial fishing on the West Coast (California, Oregon, and Washington) and Alaska. The full article can be accessed by clicking on the above link.

In a nutshell, the new report from the federal government states that West Coast fishing has one of the highest death rates in commercial fishing, higher even than in Alaska.

The report states that although Alaska’s Bering Sea crab fishery has been described as the most dangerous fishery, the Northwest Dungeness crab fleet had a greater number of fatalities and a higher fatality rate during 2000-2006.

Very interesting article, especially if you have ties to both Alaska and West Coast fisheries (including NW Dungeness crab), which we and so many others do.

In my prowl of the Internet this evening, I also stumbled upon a blog that features some interesting photos from the commercial fishing section of Squalicum Harbor.

The first photo shows the town’s original fisherman’s memorial, the Anchor Memorial, that bears the names of several Whatcom County lost at sea fishermen (including that of my brother-in-law, Danny, who was lost in 1997 while fishing for Snow crab in Alaska). There is a new fisherman’s memorial at the harbor now, but the statue looks more like a recreational than a commercial fisherman. Anyway, the fifth picture down shows commercial boats tied up in the harbor, including our very own F/V Vis.

(If you are looking for additional statistics on commercial fishing fatalities, please see the post Commercial Fishing Job Risks: Stats and a Story, from February 17, 2008 in the Highliners and Homecomings archives)

Commercial Fisherman in Commercial?

A couple of months ago, I glanced at our television and spotted a commercial I knew I would have to write about here at Highliners and Homecomings. I hoped I would see the commercial again, but I have not, so I have to go now from memory.

The commercial was for a somewhat-local casino. It featured–of all things–a commercial fisherman. It may have been just an actor portraying a commercial fisherman, but I don’t know.

Now, I don’t want to name the casino and provide free hits and advertising, but I will do my best to describe the commercial the way I believe I saw it that one time.

It began with a shot of a commercial fisherman in his late 20s or early 30s  climbing off a big commercial fishing boat (docked at Fisherman’s Terminal in Seattle?) and walking down the dock with a line of buoys across his shoulders. He’s got his workin’ clothes and boots on, and appears focused on his task of hauling that line of buoys wherever they were going.

The next scene shows our fisherman all cleaned up, freshly shaved and wearing jeans and a collared shirt, sitting and smiling at a gambling table as he throws dice.

Next scene–our fisherman is on the dance floor, getting his groove on.

I believe the final scene shows him flopped on top of a hotel bed, about to get lucky, but as I said…I don’t remember the commercial in detail and can’t be sure I’ve described it accurately.

The point is that– although I don’t gamble– I’ve got to hand it to this particular casino for featuring a commercial fisherman as the subject of their commercial. Because in my book, and from my experience, there is nothing cuter—and dare I say it, sexier?–than a commercial fisherman all cleaned up for a date or a night out on the town.

If any of you have seen this commercial, let me know!

Winter Fishing Pictures

Here are some pictures from last year’s Alaska halibut and blackcod longline season on the F/V Vis (courtesy of Brett and Danielle.)

Once again—as was the case during the Dungeness crab season—if it wasn’t for Brett and his readiness with a camera, how would we ever know how much fun they’re always having?

And check out the last picture: Even commercial fishermen enjoy a little sports fishing now and then.

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New Commercial Fishing-related Blogs of Interest

I’d like to let you know about a couple of new commercial fishing-related blogs that I’ve recently enjoyed reading.

The first is called The Faces of California Fishing. The Faces of California Fishing (as it is described on the blog itself) is a new initiative to promote the real stories and people behind California’s fishing communities. They encourage consumers to support California’s commercial fishing communities by eating safe, fresh, great quality local seafood. 

This commercial fishing family-friendly group also has an extremely organized and well-done website with stories, links, tales and recipes to look over.

Speaking of great quality, wild seafood—another blog I’d like to call to your attention is the new Vis Seafoods Blog. My sister started it and although she is a little slow to post new entries (haha), what she puts up is interesting, and she has some fun photographs.

Her blog has only been up for a little over a week, but already she has received a rather scathing and somewhat ignorant comment from somebody who obviously did not read her last post very carefully. I’ve got to hand it to her. The comment was so mean it would have taken me a week to recover after reading it. I doubt she will post it, but you never know!

My Mother’s Day Bet

I am happy to announce that the joke was on me this Mother’s Day!

I placed a bet on Saturday evening that George would not remember it was Mother’s Day or have an opportunity to call from the Gulf of Alaska and wish me a nice day.

Well—I lost my own bet, and big time.

When I woke up on Sunday morning, I was surprised to discover an e-mail from George, sent via Satellite (a form of communication he rarely uses). The message read in part:

good morning beautiful!
and happy mothers day! go into my closet in vinces room on the far left you will find a dark shopping bag kind of rolled up back in the corner…i will be into seward late tonight or early monday will call you then…

Of course, I went directly to the closet in Vincent’s room and found a bag of presents, along with two cards (one from George, one “from” the kids) that were signed and sealed.

Can you imagine my excitement? (And I’ve rummaged through that closet many times since George left; how did I miss that bag?)

Apparently, before he left for Alaska, George did some secret shopping in Seattle while he was there getting bait for the halibut and blackcod season. He went to my favorite store (which no longer exists in our own town) and got exactly what I needed.

I’m also pleased to announce that I lost the “calling” portion of the bet. George called via Satellite late in the afternoon to see how my day was and if I’d found his gift.

Thanks, G!

My Mom: A Commercial Fishing Wife and Mother

Each morning this week, the local news encouraged its viewers to send in their “Amazing Mom” stories.

One of the first stories they read was entitled, “My Mom Saved My Life!” (Uh, how about the fact that she gave life in the first place? Isn’t that equally amazing?) Anyway, I think that all moms who raise their children and do what they need to do to maintain their homes are amazing. (I also think that “amazing” is relative. But enough of that…I’ll save that discussion for another day.)

I wasn’t about to submit a story to the news, but I’d like to tell you about an “amazing” mom that I know…my own. My parents have been married for over 40 years, and my mom has spent all of those years as the wife of a commercial fisherman and the mother of three girls.

I have a book (Old Friend from Far Away, by Natalie Goldberg) that I flip through at times when looking for writing prompts.  One of the prompts that I came across recently read, “Tell me about your mother’s hands.”

When I was growing up, my mother’s hands were always busy, especially when my dad was in Alaska catching king crab, snow crab, blackcod, halibut, or salmon. While maintaining the home front, my mom mowed the lawn, maintained her flowers, climbed ladders to clean the gutters, and could paint the outside and inside of a house.

Her hands drove our cars in to be repaired, and they rearranged living room furniture and decorated the rooms of my sisters and me. Her hands sewed clothes, stuffed animals, and dolls, and drove all three of us to gymnastics, ballet, piano, track, swimming, and volleyball.

Her hands cooked our meals, cleaned the house, and took us to the ER when we sprained our ankles or suffered bloody head wounds from crashes while roller skating down our hill. Those hands answered the phone whenever my dad called from Alaska, and they handed the phone off to each one of my sisters and me so we could talk to Dad, too.

Mom’s hands wrote checks to pay the bills when money was both tight and plentiful. They drove her to the nighttime bookkeeping class where she learned how to do the books for the family fishing business, as well as to the woodworking class where she built a new lounging chair for the back deck of our home.

To keep it real, I’ll admit that those hands were used for a few other purposes, as well. My younger sister and I shared a good laugh just last night about the day Mom chased my sister into our shared bedroom and pulled her out from her hiding place under the bunk beds to deliver a much deserved spanking. Or the time Mom flung Rolanda, my sister’s Cabbage Patch Kid, against the wall in the hallway. I understand now how things could have, at times, just become too hard or too much.  

However, when I think of what my mom was expected to do, had to do, and wanted to do for her husband and children during all of her years as a commercial fishing wife and mother, I am in awe. Hers are a pair of hands that have never stopped working for her family.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom!

Happy Mother’s Day

I want to give my best wishes for a peaceful Mother’s Day to all the mothers who try their best each day to be the best moms they can be. A special shout-out to the mothers married to commercial fishermen, traveling salesmen, doctors, military men, truck drivers, or any other husband who is away from home as much as he is around.

I commend us all for our efforts in trying to write, quilt, scrapbook, exercise, take classes, or accomplish whatever it is we are trying to accomplish while also caring for our children without relying on babysitters or having the luxury of husbands around to “co-parent.” Last, but definitely not least, a very special shout-out to the truly single mothers who have all the weight of the world resting on their shoulders.

Late last Friday afternoon, the last of the construction workers was leaving our house for the weekend. “Happy Mother’s Day,” he shouted to me as he prepared to get in his truck and drive away.  “It’s your day! George will call, I’ll bet.  He probably calls all the time, right?”

I paused from my task loading Eva and Vincent into the stroller for an afternoon walk and looked up with a chuckle. (My answer to the inquiry was “not likely,” and “no.”)

So here’s the bet–will George call tomorrow,  on Mother’s Day? I’m going to bet no, but certainly not because George doesn’t care or is ignoring the day. I’m guessing “no” because I have a feeling that, being out at sea in the middle of Alaska with his focus on landing some fish (to pay for this construction), that George will not even realize it’s Sunday, much less Mother’s Day.

It’s a fun bet–any takers?

I’ll let you know by the end of tomorrow night who the winner is.