That’s Fishin’

I wrote a post a while back (“Business as Usual”) that described the start of almost every Washington Coast Dungeness Crab season. The past couple of days made
obvious that this year’s season was gearing up to begin in the usual way—weather delays, a couple of pumps that went out on the boat, and talk of a fleet-wide strike after one of the main buyers suddenly dropped its price.

I spoke with my family and some of our fishing friends yesterday about how this lifestyle is not for everyone. Things come up; whether it’s the engine, weather, price (you can’t fish for nothing!), catch, or crew, you simply have to accept that you have no control over any of it. The only thing one can expect is the unexpected. 

Like our good friend Adrian, who was a Bering Sea fisherman and who Vis Seafoods is lucky to have had on site for the past ten years, simply said, “That’s fishin’.”

(Chiming in simultaneously was my sister, Cassandra, who fished in SE Alaska, and Jamie, who fished in Prince William Sound, and whose parents are Alaska bush pilots. We’re a salty bunch, can you tell?)

Anyway, because of the aforementioned issues, by noon yesterday, George had not yet left the harbor to dump his gear in the Pacific Ocean. In fact, when I talked to him, he was in Olympia, getting parts for the pumps. He planned to race back to Westport to attend the 1 p.m. meeting of the fleet that would decide whether they’d stand united in the harbor and strike for a better price (not even a “better” price, but simply the going rate until the going rate was suddenly dropped) or accept the reduced price and go fishing.

The result of the 1 p.m. meeting was that the fleet would meet again at 6 p.m. The Coast weather was set to come up anyway, so there wasn’t any real rush on the matter.

Well, at 5:55 p.m., my phone rang. “Change of plans!” George said with a not-amused chuckle. He sounded distracted and I heard engines; for a second, I thought the fleet decided to strike and he was back in the flatbed on his way home for a few days.

To my surprise, George was not on his way home, but on his way out to sea.

He quickly described how he had been in the engine room of the boat, several feet below the water, fixing the pumps when he’d became aware of an increase in noise and activity beneath the sea; engines and props firing up at a rapid rate.

“What’s going on out there?” he called out to Brett from the engine room.

“Boats are leaving!” Brett announced. George knew at once the strike was broken before it had begun.

“Put your tools away!” George called next to Bryan as he scrambled out of the engine room. “Start it up!” he said, referring to the main engine.

In moments, they too raced out of the harbor. He learned on his way out what had happened: Instead of waiting for the 6 p.m. meeting, one boat unexpectedly left the harbor, followed by two of the bigger boats, effectively ending the chance for a better (original) price.

“So much for solidarity,” said George, who estimates he was the 15th boat out of the harbor. He watched as the lights and engines of the rest of the vessels in the harbor lit up behind him in a domino effect.

“Well, like Willis says,” George had said earlier that day, quoting Bryan:

“That’s the way it goes

When you wear

Rubber clothes.”

Make it Quick

I suppose it’s only fitting that the local radio station, to which I’m listening in my living room, is playing every sad song ever recorded in the 70s. It’s probably also fitting that rain is pouring down outside my window to a backdrop of pitch black, and that a certain amount of wind accompanies it all.

Our Christmas tree, stripped of its decorations, has been hauled unceremoniously out of the living room. It now lies outside on the curb where it’s been tossed like yesterday’s news, waiting for pick-up from the Boy Scouts, who aren’t even coming until January 5. Only half of our house lights are still plugged in and shining.

With a couple of beeps on the horn of the diesel flatbed as he drove down the hill, George was on his way back to Westport by 7:30 this morning. He and the crew were scheduled to meet back at the boat this afternoon for the official start of the crab season.

George started his round of farewells to our household this morning with special words of goodbye for the dogs. Eva knew something was odd before he got to her; by the time he did, she was nervously cuddling with me in the glider rocker, clutching one of her new Christmas books. I asked him to make it quick; if he didn’t, I wasn’t sure that I’d be able to hold it together, and of course I had to for Eva’s sake and Vincent’s.

So, with a round of “Now get outta here, you!” words sung in forced-cheerful tones and hugs that, although brief, conveyed all the love and heartache in the world, George was off.

I’m glad I was scheduled to teach Jazzercise first thing this morning; it gave me a reason to hurry, get ready, and get my kids and me out the door. And of course, physical exercise and seeing friends is always an excellent antidote for most of whatever ails you.

After Jazzercise, I got busy with another excellent antidote for whatever ails you; housecleaning. I now have two sparkling bathrooms, laundry halfway done, Christmas decorations lined up to go back downstairs, and a dishwasher that’s been emptied and reloaded.

I guess that’s about it. It’s just an update for everyone and to let those like C.S. know—I’m officially here with you again, and you’re right—it is harder this time.


Happy New Year

Happy New Year! I know we aren’t there just yet, but we will be soon.

Tomorrow, George is leaving home early in the morning to return to Westport, where he will officially start the Washington Coast Dungeness Crab Season. He’s spending today chasing around the town and the harbor, dropping off the flatbed trailer and picking up the cargo trailer, buying one more set of raingear, and filling the flatbed truck with diesel.

The start of the crab season can get very confusing. It seems like we have been “starting” it for the past two months—which we have. When I got to Jazzercise this morning and mentioned something recent that George had done, my friend Kim asked, “But–didn’t he leave already?”

George will be gone now for several weeks in a row, after which time he might be able to come home on “weather days,” essentially, two-or three-day breaks when the weather is too dangerous to work on the open ocean, even for a big boat and an awesome crew.

Just for fun, here are a few of my New Year’s Resolutions:

  • Increase my level of patience;
  • Learn how to stay calm and kind when I don’t feel like it;
  • Not call George so much (he recently used the term “incessant” to describe my calls. Is that a hint?); and
  • Not mention one more thing around this house that I find troubling and that George might feel compelled to fix!

What are your New Year’s Resolutions?

It’s Still a Merry Christmas

When George and I were newly dating, he was the captain of a boat that fished year-round in the Bering Sea. George flew back and forth between Seattle and Dutch Harbor every few months, while the boat stayed put in Alaska. This style of fishing meant that when George was home, he was home, and free from all boat-related work. And because he lived in a beachfront condo in Ballard, he was also free from all home-related projects. The two of us were free to do whatever we wanted, go wherever we wanted, whenever we wanted. We were also free to do absolutely nothing if we wanted!

When the month of December rolled around each year, we truly enjoyed the holiday season. We hosted a Christmas party a couple of times, attended the parties of others, traveled to visit relatives, and shopped easily and slowly, stopping for coffee and treats in between stores.

One year, we went to the Barnes and Noble bookstore at University Village (an especially big version of the store, complete with two floors and an escalator). We separated upon entering and agreed to meet “later on,” (who knew what “later on” meant, and further, who cared? Not us!). When “later” came, we met at the appointed place (the center of the first floor)—only it was hard to recognize each other because we each carried a stack of about 10 books in front of our faces.

“I can’t decide which one to get!” I said from behind my tower of books. I had some books on writing, a couple of classics, and two or three current works of literary fiction (I think The Corrections and Middlesex was among them). Oh, and since it was Christmastime, I may have had one as a gift for somebody else.

“I’m having a hard time deciding also,” said George. He had a couple of books on politics, a pop fiction title, and probably one or two on homebuilding.

“Well,” he said, “Let’s take them all!”

“Really?” I asked, and laughed. I had never done such a thing before.

“Sure!” George said. “Why not?”

So we did. And then we walked across the way to Office Max and bought a bookshelf for our new books, which George assembled that very evening while we each had a glass of red wine and listened to Christmas music.

Things are a little different these days.

George has been home for a week before the start of the Washington Coast Dungeness Crab Season, and to say it has been hectic is putting it mildly. We have a running list that includes things that needed to get done last month while he was knee-deep in gear work, things that need to be done before he is gone for the next few months, and also of course, Christmas shopping.

We did get to the Barnes and Noble in our town this year, but with Vincent screaming in the backseat and all of the traffic (it was dinnertime—the only time we could go!), I had a splitting headache before we even made it to the store. I jumped out of the car by myself and raced into and back out of the D section of the literary fiction aisle before George and the kids came in. (I already knew which book I was buying for him. To be honest, I’m trying to lure him out of the world of pop fiction and into the realm of literary fiction.)

I saw George as he came into the store carrying Vince in his left arm and Eva in his right. I dashed to a different section of books. The next time I saw George, he too was in the D section of literary fiction. “You’re getting me The Living, right!” I said as I passed. “Dillard!”

He ignored me.

We met up at the counter. I tossed my books to the clerk and ordered, “Don’t let him see them!” while I shot a warning glance at George.

“And I don’t want her to see that one!” he said, pointing to his selection. (Of course, Reader, you and I already know what it is.)

We were in and out of the store in fifteen minutes. No snooping around, no reading the backs of books, no treats. No laughing over stacks of books we can’t decide from—who has the time to read them all, anyway?

Also while we were there, Eva saw her Jazzercise daycare teacher and thought she was supposed to go with her for the evening. She fell into line with the teacher’s own two children and tried following them around the store for a while before we finally convinced Eva she was supposed to stay with us.

At home, although we did have lights and stockings up, we hadn’t yet–as of Thursday–put up a tree. George asked again if we were going to get one.

“What’s the use?” I called from the kitchen. “Christmas is, like, on Monday or Tuesday! It’s too late!”

“I’m married to the Grinch,” George muttered to nobody in particular from the family room.

Ah, how things have changed.

Things have changed, but they’re still good. I laughed a genuine laugh that night in the bookstore at the sight of Eva running wildly through the aisles, head thrown back and giggling, as she clutched a book and ran away from George. And speaking of George, he arrived home on Friday afternoon from his errands with a live Christmas tree secured to the top of his truck. By bedtime that night, he had that tree in its stand in the living room, decorated with lights and ornaments.

And now, the kids are asleep. George will eat his dinner, watch the Science Channel, and enjoy what’s left of his Christmas “vacation” before the crab season officially begins. We’ll spend tonight wrapping presents for our little ones; a doll-care center and princess socks for Eva, duck teethers and frog rattles for Vincent.

Life has changed—and we wouldn’t trade it for the world.


“Rigging Gear…or Drinking Beer?” –Recovered & Re-posted!

(From November 15, 2007)

George is working down at the harbor with Brett and my dad each day, overhauling crab pots and getting the boat ready for the Dungeness crab season, which is set to start in December. He leaves the house each morning at 7 a.m. and returns each evening at 6:30 p.m.

I spent yesterday working on this blog, emptying the dishwasher, getting a crockpot meal going for dinner, moving Vince from baby swing to bouncy seat and back again, and cleaning up the three-inch thick layer of baby powder that Eva flung around her room while she was supposed to be napping.

My friend, Tish, came to visit me in the late afternoon. When she left for Jazzercise at 5 p.m., I started my countdown to George’s arrival home. When 6:30 p.m. came and went, I waited for a little while. 

Finally, at 6:32 p.m., I called his cell phone.

“Where are you?” I implored.

“I’ll be home in fifteen minutes,” George answered.

Fifteen minutes? Where are you?” I asked again, knowing full well where he was. “It doesn’t take fifteen minutes to get home from the harbor!”

“Well, twelve minutes, probably,” he said.

“Yes,” I answered. Twelve minutes made more sense.

But then he said something else.

It was hard for me to hear what he said over the music to “You are My Sunshine,” from Vince’s swing in the dining room, and Eva’s yelling for her fifth bottle of milk from the kitchen. But I was pretty sure what I heard him say.

“You’re drinking BEER?” I asked.

“We’re rigging gear!” George answered.

“Oh!” I said. “I thought you said you were drinking beer!”

“Well,” he replied. “We just did have a beer while we rigged the gear.” 

 “But we never stopped working!”


Okay, I had a post back in early November entitlted “Rigging Gear…or Drinking Beer?”.

Tonight, instead of just going to sleep, I began to fuss with this blog and the worst thing happened—I accidentally deleted that post!  I’m pretty sick over it.

I am crossing my fingers that somebody printed out that post or somehow has a copy to get back to me. I don’t think I can re-write it and I would like it back up on the blog.

Please let me know if you have a copy.


Reprieve for WA Dungeness Crab Fishing Families

I have some good news to report for the families of Washington Coast Dungeness Crab Fishermen—the start of the season has been delayed by four days!

Fishermen, processors, and reps from the WA Dept. of Fish and Wildlife met today in Montesano and agreed to postpone the season by four days. Although I don’t know exactly why the season has been delayed, I think it has something to do with the readiness of crab to be caught.

If you have a correction or further information for me, send it on and I will change the post.

In any event, what this means for us at home is that instead of leaving during the middle of Christmas Day celebrations in order to set pots on December 26th, the crab fishermen will be leaving us on December 29th in order to set gear on December 30th.

I know the fishermen themselves are eager to get going on the season, but now, the rest of us can stop dreading the looming Christmas Day departure. Instead, we can relax and actually enjoy the holiday.

George made me promise this would be a short post tonight! So, on this cheerful note–enjoy the reprieve and sigh a big breath of relief.


Thanks, C.S.!

I was so happy to read C.S.’s comment (see it under the post, “Crunch Time…”) because she summed up exactly why I started this blog in the first place.

It does get so lonely once your fisherman leaves. After the commotion and energy surrounding the departure dissipates, and you are adjusted once more to your “alone” routine, the days can get pretty long and the nights even longer. Day after day, week after week, month after month.

What keeps us going in the interim?

I keep going now because I have the kids to attend to. I get up each morning and head directly to Jazzercise to see my friends, chitchat, and let Eva play. It’s a good social outlet for all of us and if I didn’t have that now, I would go crazy being here all day. 

When it gets dark and quiet at night after the kids are asleep, I start reading books. I figure, since my life has slowed down with George’s departure and isn’t too exciting right now, I may as well read about someone else’s life that is still interesting!

Before we had the kids, when we were dating and newly married, I spent a lot of time pursuing my own interests after he left. I traveled a bit, went to the gym each morning,  took a lot of classes, hosted a writing group once a week (more for social interaction than actual writing, it always turned out). I relished my “George is gone” routine. I was even free to visit him at various ports all the way from Dutch Harbor, AK, to Westport, WA!

I basically had/have two lives: George is Home, and George is Gone. 

Some years, the transition is easy and takes no time at all. Other years, it is tough and takes almost the whole duration of his time at home.

The topic of “transition” is going to make for a really good post next spring–stay tuned!

Thanks again for your comment, C.S., and let us know how things are going!

Bon Voyage

I’ve decided that for a captain and crew, the beginning of the Dungeness crab season occurs in about three different phases. Phase one is the beginning of the gearwork that starts around the first of November and lasts about a month. Phase two is taking the boat to Westport and tackling the gearwork that awaits there. Phase three involves the actual dumping of pots into the ocean and then picking them back up to see what’s what.

Phase one ended today.

Today, the lines holding the Vis (rhymes with “fleece,” and named for the island off the coast of the former Yugoslavia from which many local fishing families hail) to the dock were untied.  George backed the boat out of her slip, and a round of smiles and waves was had.  A final blast of the foghorn as the Vis rounded the breakwater signaled the final goodbye and the start of phase two of the Dungeness crab season.

The send-off is never easy. I have done it hundreds of times, as a child, a girlfriend, a wife, and now as mother of our fishing family. I’ve discovered that instead of getting easier, it actually gets harder. I’ve also found that, like the start of the Dungeness crab season, I too, experience a few phases leading to the final goodbye.

Phase one starts with the mild depression and anxiety that sets in about a week before the departure. I also cling happily during that time to the days I have left with George at home. I tell myself we have lots of time still to spend together. I treasure each minute as if it was gold—which of course, it is.

I toughen up about a day before the departure, finding the silver lining in the situation and making my plans (“I’ll finish writing that story, I’ll resume reading my book, I’ll learn new Jazzercise routines, I’ll take the kids to get Santa pictures…”).

My next strategy is to pick a fight with George. Maybe it will be easier to watch George leave if I am mad at him. Say, if I actually wanted him to go away. So I accuse him of being distracted, of not listening to me, of not caring about leaving, and as a matter of fact, of appearing to be happy about leaving!

It doesn’t work.

I stand and watch him from our dining room window on the morning he’s scheduled to leave. The sight of him in his black Carhart overalls, hauling his green duffle bag, the plastic bag filled with his favorite food from our home cupboards, his pillow and blankets, out our front door and across the street breaks my heart. My throat tightens as I watch the way he tosses his things into the cab of his flatbed truck and climbs in behind. Tears fall, try as I might to stop them. 

The final phase is acceptance. I’m the wife of a fisherman, just like my mother and grandmother before me, and this is what we do. I have a little girl here celebrating her second birthday, a baby who needs to be fed, and a day that needs to be planned.

So, I’ll do what we’ve always done. I’ll take my two little ones and meet up with the rest of the wives, the kids, and friends down at the docks. We’ll pose for some pictures, keep the chit chat going, and try not to think too far ahead. We’ll wave to the guys as long as they can see us, and we’ll wait for the traditional blast of the foghorn before we even think about getting into our cars and leaving the harbor.

We’ll miss them everyday while we hope and pray for the best.

Bye-bye (picture)