Continuation of the Alaskan Fishing Experience

InstagramCapture_6ad82203-ab1c-4649-90b0-f926affb19a9Sept. 24, 2015

First trip complete! We offloaded approximately 300 tons of frozen fish to another boat. Each bag weighs about 16kgs so 300 tons is a lot of fish! The boat we were offloading everything to towered over ours and I later found out that it’s contracted from an Asian country but since it’s in U.S. waters it has to employ only Dutch Harbor residents. When we first started the offload I, James, had managed to get my finger caught in a pinch point. It was my right index finger, second knuckle, an annoying little laceration it was more cumbersome than painful, except when the salt water hits it-then it just plain sucks.

I also made a note in my journal that’ll I’ll transcribe verbatim, “The previous 2 1/2 pages I wrote earlier sucked, all of the physical labor of gripping every single fish keeps you forearms sore. I could definitely tell my hand wasn’t used to writing this much anymore.”

The offload took just under 24 hours. We had a few engine problems so we had to dock and wait for CAT to send out someone to take a look. When we pulled in to the dock I, James, looked out to see if there were any markings that might indicate where exactly we were, all I saw was a sign that read, latitude 54°.  Jordan had gone in to town with a few of the guys from the boat so I’m sure he’ll have stuff to fill in about it. -I wrote that part that day and he still hasn’t filled me in on it other than going to grab a beer. He’ll have to fill in the details in a later post.

I, James, stayed on the boat to talk to the deckhands about their job and if I could learn anything from them for the experience. I only learned that deckhands like to joke a lot since all the knot work I had learned before going up there in the hopes of getting a deckhand position. I later found out that you have to work your way up to being a deckhand after years of experience…….not my plan.

On the bright side of it all, with this first trip complete we know what to expect for all the others until the end of the season.

Sept. 26, 2015

We steamed back to the fishing spot. Steaming is just the term we use to say that we’re driving the boat back to where we catch the fish. Steaming is probably the best part of the trips. We just watch movies, hang out, play cards, tell jokes, pretty much anything to kill time.  We started trip #2 at about 11:30 pm. It worked out perfectly for me, James, I only had about thirty of minutes to work before bed so I figured I’d take advantage of the time and write for a bit. I mostly had to fill in gaps of time remembering what I did and on which day. Trust me, it’s tough especially when your days all just kind of blur together.

 

Sept. 29, 2015

We’re steaming back to Dutch Harbor. Unfortunately we didn’t fill our freezers this time which means we didn’t really make any money. That’s the downside to fishing. You only make money when there are fish, otherwise you’re just sitting on a boat floating out in the Bearing Sea. We were heading back due to engine troubles again, hopefully this time we get it fixed. If it takes a day or two we’ll be missing out on some fishing, obviously. Jordan and I talked about these issues they were having and whether or not we’d sign another contract after the initial 25 day contract was complete or if we’d head off for another venture. Fellow fishermen on our boat said that this issue is uncommon and should be fixed, but if the troubles persist I, James, decided I’d head off and do something else and Jordan said he’ll be staying on the boat until the end of the season, money or not. I tried reminding him that regardless of the troubles and everything we came out here solely to  make money and fast. If the boat isn’t working we don’t get paid at all. That’s the risk of contract fishing.

Oct. 1, 2015

Well we’re still at the dock to get the coolant system worked on. Nobody seems to know how long until we get this fixed. On the bright side there’s only ten days left on contract.

Working with everyone, foreman included, has become a breeze. Everyone  has found their niche and gets along for the most part. Every day is just waking up, having a few laughs, doing your job, take the six hour nap (rest period), and get up again for another sixteen hours. It’s great once the days blur, I’ve come to realize it’s a blessing in disguise, days fly by when you stop counting them.

Oct. 8, 2015

We’re steaming back to Dutch Harbor with a full freezer this time. We’ll  I say full freezer but it’s more than that. The freezer holds about 260 tons of fish so the remaining 40 tons is frozen a little longer and just sits in the factory so we can offload it first. Upon returning to Dutch Harbor I, James, will be getting off the boat and Jordan will be staying. I told him that we could make more elsewhere since the season wasn’t going too well but he decided he wanted to stay and see what happens. Once off load was complete I ,James, packed my bags and headed off to the Grand Aleutian Hotel one last time.

After checking in I went up to my room only to find somebody elses bags in there. Decided what I should do, I said screw it I’ll deal with it later so I tossed my bag in the room and went to grab a beer with the guys before they took back off. I met Sig Hansen on my way back to the room that had someone else in it. Sig seemed like a really egotistical guy which wasn’t surprising. He had a bunch of people around him begging for a job on the show. I decided to let him know he wasn’t that important and the conversation went something like this.
Me: “Hey man, how’s it going?”
Sig: “Pretty good”
“What do you do? These people make it seem like you’re important.”
“You’re kidding you don’t know who I am?”
“Nope”
“Ever heard of the Deadliest Catch?” He asked snobbishly.
“Yea, I think so.”
“Well, that’s who I am,” he seemed to be getting upset.
“Oh,” I tried to sound impressed, “how’s that going for you?”
By this point he looked a bit upset that I didn’t care who he was so I ended up just saying good night and heading off to my room.

After making it up to what was supposed to be my room I saw an older guy sitting on the edge of the bed he looked like he was waiting for something. That something was me I think. We called the front desk to let them know their new guy managed to double book a room with one bed. After they apologized, the said they’d fix the issued and sent a driver with my new room key, easy fix.

Oct. 10, 2015 

I woke up at about eight o’clock in the morning, had breakfast, checked out, and made my way to the airport to check in for a standby flight to Seattle. The airline employee informed me that I was booked for Sunday but they should be able to find room for me that day, Saturday. There were so many people on standby flights that they requested another plane to come out and I was able to get out of Dutch Harbor at about seven o’clock in the afternoon.

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The Start of a Long Journey

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     This is the first of many entries in a (sort of) long planned trip between two best friends. I’m going to give you a little back story on the two this story is about. My name is Austin Natale and my friends name is David Sewell we go by our middle names, James and Jordan respectively. We started our friendship almost five years ago while deployed in Okinawa, Japan. We were both two young Marines who liked to drink, workout and be rowdy, we also both thought everyone else in the platoon was a little odd, boring, annoying, dissimilar interests, or whatever. So naturally we became friends just by our lack of not wanting to hang out with anyone else. After the military Jordan made his way travelling across the United States of America and I just went home to spend what little final time I had with my Grandmother who was terminally ill with cancer. I will tell you one thing about my Grandmother, she is the most determined, strong willed, and courageous woman I have ever known, and I would give the world for as she would say “One more day”.

Jordan met me in Washington and we started college to have a chance to catch up, since the last time we saw each other I was heading on a second deployment and he was heading out after his contract to travel the states, and so we would have some time to plan on how the hell we would ever make enough money to travel.

Sept.1, 2015

We finished our lease with our apartment in Bremerton, WA sold everything except for all the hiking, backpacking, and what ever we thought any self-sufficient woodsman needs and were heading to Fishermen’s Terminal in Ballard, WA. The rumors were that you just show up willing to work, talk to a few captains, and before you know it you’ll be on a boat and fishing in the Bearing Sea…………the rumors were lies.

Sept.6, 2015

Woke up to a gorgeous view of the water and sailboats passing by one after another like a fleet of butterflies. After some morning coffee, Jordan pointed out a falcon that had just caught a fish after an impressive aerial dive. Today is going to be a day of relaxing. It’s been a long few days putting miles on our feet, so we’re going to recuperate with rest, water, and a little bit of rum. 🙂

Sept.9,2015

So far it’s been a learning experience, what we came prepared to do (fish) and what we didn’t prepare for, thanks to our fault of trusting the rumors. After about a week of following leads, checking out local bars the fishermen go to, and camping in parks we caught a break. We were told that O’hara Corporation was hiring and in dire need of new people.
Jackpot!
We were able to file all the paperwork the same day, it was a Wednesday, and had plans to take our urinalysis the next day.
After basically bumming around Ballard for a week we decided to go somewhere else after our urinalysis. Ballard, unfortunately, doesn’t have any camping areas around. Majority of parks and beaches there have the nicest workers, even when they told us to leave they were pretty nice and once we chatted with them a bit they heard our adventurous story/plans and would allow us a day or at least til the morning to head out. Off we go to Port Townsend with no idea what’s in store of if we’ll even get there.

Sept.10,2015

After getting the urinalysis done and paperwork turned in to the company we threw on our packs and started to head towards Edmonds, WA to take the ferry across to Kingston hoping to make it to Port Townsend by the end of the day. Once we got off the ferry in Kingston, I asked a guy for directions he had an extremely bubbly personality. His name is Phil, I thoroughly believe people are generally nice by nature and this guy is a prime example. He looked a bit like Jack Black, mannerisms, build, and all with just this innocent helpfulness about him. I watched him run approx. 200yds just to stop a ferry boat from leaving so an elderly woman he didn’t even know could make it on board, he actually cut me off mid-conversation to do so. It was kind of funny to see his face go from helpful to “superhero” to help her. After giving us directions he mentioned a burger place in Kingston, it was great! A bit pricey but he was right, their burgers are huge and delicious. My chili cheeseburger was at least, imagine a foot long and inch deep plate, full of chili with a burger patty and two toasted buns tossed in covered in cheese. After a long day of hiking, trust me your taste buds won’t know what hit ’em.
After our meal we started to hike our way towards the Hood Canal bridge to cross, thumbs out just in case. 🙂 As luck would have it our waitress just so happened to get off work early, drove by, recognized our packs, and turned around just to give us a lift across the bridge. We managed to make it about another two miles on foot before we were picked up in an old beat up chevy van by three guys ages 27,37, and 42. They were just a bunch of older skateboarders who never gave up on their hobby of riding around. After chatting for a bit and a beer that they gave us as we sat on the floor of the van, we found out that they’re from Port Townsend and gave us a ride the whole way! It was close to midnight when we got there, they dropped us off at a hidden park and we set up camp for the night.

Sept.11-13,2015

I woke up and went to the closest coffee shop for coffee (obviously) and a quick charge on my phone. I met an extremely eccentric older gentleman name Robert Drossel, from head to toe this guy was dressed in either a galaxy print or 70’s style color bomb, this guy was definitely his own walking fashion statement. We chatted fora while about our respective travels. He being retired and me being me. Turns out he’s an artist (go figure haha) he paints from what he said and although I didn’t see any of it, I’m sure it’s full of color. I told him about how I draw more realistic fine art stuff, preferably charcoal or graphite. He mentioned a wooden boat festival that was going on that weekend in Port Townsend, after my coffee and a decent charge on my phone I left to grab Jordan so we could check it out.
We were early enough that we managed to get in before anything was set up, entry fee booth included. 🙂

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All the boats there were absolutely amazing. If you have no ambition to own or even go on a boat, go there. You’ll be itching to jump on board in no time.
There was a little caboose on one side of the harbor, the caboose was hand built by the guy that owned the bar set up and everyone there was extremely friendly…….or drunk. The owner even gave us a few free beers, it was either his kindness or inebriation that made that decision. People came from their boats with all kinds of instruments playing folk music and sea shanties. There were boats from all over the states, Canada, and people that just traveled the world on the drift of the wind. We managed to lose track of time and spent an entire weekend gazing at all the boats and chatting with the locals. Unfortunately all good things must come to an end and we had to make our way to SeaTac by Monday for our flight to Alaska.

Sept.14,2015

We made our way to SeaTac airport to await our 4:00 am flight to Dutch Harbor to start life as fishermen. We realized we were too broke to get a hotel and camping outside in that area was likely to get us robbed, shot, or begged for drugs. Thank god we’re veterans, we went to the USO and stayed there. After a shower, food, and some sleep, we woke up at about 4:05am!
Only thought, we’re late!!
Alarms apparently don’t work on your phone when it’s important. We rushed with our packs trying to shake off the morning fog and met with our contact who had our tickets. He didn’t seem upset about our late arrival so we assumed it must be a common occurrence. After apologizing, probably too many times, we went through security and got on board.

We flew from SeaTac Seattle, WA to Anchorage, AK where we would have to walk out of TSA security (there was a guy waiting to board with arrows sticking out of his pack) to a small terminal and awaited our next flight. Ok,  mini rant, when you are the person who’s supposed to sound when a flight is boarding or nearing departure, don’t eat the microphone. If you hold the microphone near you and speak like a normal frickin’ human being, people would be able to hear you. With that being said Jordan, another employee, and I were the only three standing around like a bunch of idiots. An airport employee came up to me and asked,
“Are you going to Dutch Harbor?”
“Yes,” I replied.
“Did you not hear us call the flight?”
“No, my friend and I are a lil deaf and the other guy doesn’t speak much English,” I jokingly replied.

The decent in to Dutch Harbor was gorgeous. Looking down from the plane to icy turquoise lakes that looked like they were completely untouched by man was breathtaking. Upon landing we had a driver waiting to take us to the Aleutian Hotel where we would await the arrival of our boat, the Enterprise.

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Sept.15,2015

We woke up and packed all of our belongings, checked out of our hotel, and grabbed a cab (companies expense) that would take us to the dock to meet the boat. After waiting for a few hours the captain of the boat decided to send their smaller watercraft, it was about ten feet long, to pick us up and taxi us to the boat. Once we got on board we realized that other than the Captain, Mate, Engineer, one deckhand, one processor, and the engineer’s assistant, we were the only white boys processing on a full 36 man all Mexican crew.

Sept.21,2015

First break in processing fish since we began. They’re trying to find a better fishing spot. The first couple of days the crew, minus the one white processor that was just happy to hear native English speaker, tried to be distant and guarded, the foreman stoic and callous. After they realized we don’t get scared or worried they warmed up quite a bit by day three. All the labor intensive work is pushed on us, but we’re strong and to the foreman’s surprise we’re enjoying it. He didn’t like that at all. A fellow worker, Noe, told us that the foreman uses those tasks as a sort of punishment, he also overheard the foreman express how upset he was that he couldn’t “break” us. 🙂
We decided to use it to our advantage so we’d try to piss him off so we could get a decent workout on our sixteen hour shift. Jordan and I had different shifts but since the crew is so small you end up spending at least eight hours of your shift on with another crew, so we had eight hours a day to see who could top each other with our smartass remarks. All of the crew loved it, and since I knew spanish for the most part growing up I was surprised how sixteen hours a day of being immersed with the spanish language and mariachi music could just open the flood gates of things I thought I had forgotten. I kept quiet about it though, I liked being able to listen to conversations they thought I couldn’t understand. It was like being a fly on the wall sitting in plain sight.

Oh I forgot, my current routine is that I wake up at 7:00am and go through my morning routine to start my shift at 8:00am. Every four hours I get a fifteen minute break for food and at the eight hour mark I have a thirty minute lunch. Midnight I’m off work to shower, eat, and go to sleep so I can start it all over the next day. Trips consist of 300 tons of fish which takes roughly a week cycle. The cook schedules a laundry day and does your laundry for you. The picture below just shows how close our living quarters is.

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