I am on the boat a total of 5 minutes, long enough to find my room and take my bags off of my shoulders, when I meet Brett. A scruffy hippy type from Missouri, and the housekeeper for the boat. As I find out, they cook for us and wash our clothes. Brett's favorite vengeance for people who piss him off is to put 4 times as much soap as necessary in their laundry. It apparently makes them very itchy. I saw the result of this trick only once, the recipient did not know that this trick had been pulled on him, and was violently scratching his chest and genitals for 3 straight days. I liked Brett immediately. The concept was presented by Parshay to head into town, ostensibly to play basketball at the community center. Little did I know that I needed to get permission to leave the boat. 15 minutes on board and I'm already AWOL. I don't think that the Captain appreciated that. Brett and myself split off from the group, shot a couple of rounds of pool, and picked up an Alaska ID with the Ocean Peace PO Box. During our walk to the DMV, Brett gives me the short version of what can and cannot be done on the boat. The most important of which was " NO BOOZE ". I figure that I can use that to my advantage. Everyone can use a couple of weeks detox. Especially me after the past few months.
On the cab ride back, Marlea pulls up next to us and informs the people in the cab that we are AWOL, and that we need to get back to the boat on the double. Except for me. I have the distinguished pleasure to go to the medical center with her to insure that my drug test came back clean (of course it did). We go back to the boat together, and I head down to my room. I had planned to unpack, and set up. As I open the door, I discover 2 people in the room that I had not yet met, sharing a large and particularly malodorous bottle of whiskey. "No booze?" I say. They respond with cursing and unintelligible muttering. I'm not sure if it's even directed at me, both of these cats are drunk out of their minds. The first idea that pops into my head is to step in, close the door, grab the bottle, and with a toast to detox, swill a swig of this eye burning booze. Then I think about it, I'm 5,000 miles from anyone I know. I have no tent, and less money. I've already broken one rule today (albeit unwittingly), I decide to close the door and check out more of the boat. The galley is also the TV room, and there are 2 columns of assorted fruit stacked 3 cases high in the corner. What the cook is making smells like the Golden Corral, or Horn and Horn. I fix a plate of something rich, and sit next to a short, round furry crewmate. Kunsey is his name. Pot Bellied and sad eyed, a man of about 30. He has a penchant for discussing defecation and humping things of all sorts. We finish eating, and he decides to show me how the factory works.
The following paragraph is solely about the modus operandi of factory fish processing. If you care about the technical side of fishing, feel free to read on. If not, skip this paragraph and go to the next.
The fish are caught in a net. The net is "hauled back" on deck and emptied into a live tank via lifts at different sections of the full net. There is a steel wall separator running down the center of the live tank. The separator is there to insure that as the fish empty from the tank, they do not get piled on one side and cause the dangerous condition of a misbalanced boat. There are conveyer belts running all over this factory, some of them steel, some rubber, some hard plastic. A steel mesh conveyer belt runs perpendicular to the live tanks, and, as the fish spill out onto it they are carried to a short U-bend and dropped onto a rubber belt, bringing them to the sorting line. There are always a whole bunch of Mackerel in our net, but there are also other types of fish. At one point we pulled in a 400 lb halibut that we had to throw out, we aren't licensed to sell or use Halibut. The fish that we kept were: Atka Mackerel (of course) Cod (all types), Pacific Ocean Perch ( P.O.P. from here on out [called redfish too]), Northern Rockfish (almost identical to POP, but worth less than half [called redfish]), Prow Fish (no bones or scales and EXTRA slimy), and Pollock. We had to keep all of the pollock and prow fish that we caught because they are a CDQ fish, that means we are subcontractors under the Alaskan Natives' license. We must sell a certain percentage to the natives at an exceedingly low cost, and we get to sell the rest on open market. We were not allowed to have more than 5% of our catch as redfish. We could keep and sell all of the cod we chose. The other 90 % or so were mackerel. This is why we have a sorting line. There are other things that wind up in our net as well: Squid, Jellyfish, Skulpin (which will come into play later), coral, rocks etc... these should be chucked out of the "shit chute" that goes straight back into the ocean. The fish that we are keeping are sorted into 4 very large stainless steel bins full of seawater. There is a steel mesh conveyer belt that runs across the the face of these bins and pulls fish to one of 2 hooked metal conveyers perpendicular to it. These hooked metal conveyers pull the fish up to the headers. The header is a large notched spinning circular blade (to cut the head off), with a powerful vacuum hose (to suck out the guts) placed behind it. It takes 2 men to operate the header. 1 man flips the fish in the correct direction and slides it over to another guy who pushes the fish into the blade. The headed and gutted fish fall down onto a rubber conveyer belt and roll down the line to a guy who "feeds the grader". The fish are pushed one at a time into slots in a hard plastic conveyer belt (this was my job most of the time) and dropped onto a conveyer belt that had a sensor and a scale to measure... you guessed it size and weight. This sent information down the line to flippers (they looked like large pinball flippers) that would push the fish onto a large table with labeled dividers. A phalanx of men stand one in front of each section packing fish into pans. When the pan is full, it should weigh between 19.5 and 20 kg. The fish packers put their full pans on a conveyer belt which bring the fish over to a scaler who weighs them. The scaler in turn pushes the fish into the freezer room. The freezer room has 9 freezers with 10 to 13 plates each, and 12 pans will fit on each plate ( 2.2 tons per freezer). There is one freezer loader. This man fills up 3 or 4 freezers at a time, dependant on the pace of the fishpackers, and waits 4 hours or so for the fish to freeze. When the fish are frozen, 2 men pull out the pans full of frozen fish, place them on a conveyor to a man who separates the pan from the cube o' fish. The frozen cube gets "glazed" with fresh water, placed in "fiber" (a tough plastic mesh bag with a paper exterior), sewn, dropped into the freezer hold (kept at a constant -10 degrees F) where the "freezer rats" stack them.
End Alert!!!End Alert!!!End Alert!!!End Alert!!!End Alert!!!End Alert!!!End Alert!!!End Alert!!!End Alert!!!End Alert!!!End Alert!!!End Alert!!!End Alert!!!End Alert!!!
After this factory tour, I head back to the room to FINALLY set up my bunk and clothes. Midway through unpacking a toothless bear of a country boy walks in. The guy is about 6 foot even and weighs in excess of 300 lbs. The walkspace in the room is roughly 4 feet by 3 feet, so he takes up most of it. "Hi" he says in a voice that's too high for his body, "I'm Mike Barber, I'll be your roommate." So who we have in this wet floored mildew smelling room is: Bret the hippie (ish), James Wilkerson (one of the drunken cursers) the prematurely balding guy who sleeps in his fish gut covered clothes, myself, and Uber Christian Mike. Barber and I are both greenhorns, Bret has been on shrimp boats and other trawlers for years, and Wilkerson has been on the Ocean Peace every contract for 5 years running. Barber drops off his bags and tells me that all of the greenhorns are meeting in the Galley to watch a series of safety videos (all of which turned out to be made in 1987). After Barber makes some space in the room by leaving, I finish unpacking and head up to the Galley for my safety videos (filmed in 1987) and orientation. They put me on C shift. C shift works from noon until 4 AM. A short reintroduction to the factory later, and I'm free to grab another bite, and go on deck. By this time, we are steaming out of Dutch Harbor. On our way to the ocean, we had massive quantities of whalesign. There were Orcas, Humbacks, and Grey whales. We saw their sprays, flukes and tails. Noone was let down save the observers (who I will touch on later), that wanted to watch one breach.
I stand on deck until the seas get rough, and brass tells me to go below. I meet the evening cook, his name is Clayton and he cooks very very well. I am enthused that he will be cooking when I get off of work. It's getting close to midnight on the first evening and I figure that I should get used to my new schedule. I head off to bed. Sleeping in rough seas does amazing things to your dreams!
I wake up and we are still steaming out to our fishing grounds. There is a first time for everything. This is my first time being irrevocably seasick. I didn't eat, but tried to stay hydrated. They were only 20 foot waves, but I couldn't even keep tea down. I decided to go back to bed and try to sleep it off. I woke up with sea legs and fish in our net 2 days later.
More to come
I have been back on dry land in Seattle now for 10 days. I am leaving to go to School this Tuesday. Hopefully I will be able to bring everyone up to date before I take off. The itinerary is: The Macah Indian Reservation which is the farthest Northwest I can go in the continental US, Camp in the rainforest of Olympic National Park, South to Portland and spend a couple of days with Johnny, head to Crater Lake or the redwood forest, I'm not sure if I will hit one or both, and take the Pacific Coastal Highway down to my house in Long Beach. I'm Planning on California by the first. I will be there for at least a year.
Questions?, Comments?, Hate Mail? Send it to Pete or John
11/18/06 Issue 17 - Moregon
11/06/06 Issue 16.2 - Metal Ist Krieg!! Cont'd
10/31/06 Issue 16.1 - Metal Ist Krieg!!
10/27/06 Issue 15 - Cape May to Cape Flattery or
10/23/06 Issue 14.2 - 2 days in dutch and the steam out
10/17/06 Issue 14.1 - Seattle to Dutch
08/25/06 Issue 13 - Holy Mackerel!!!
08/22/06 Issue 12 - Ever heard the verb shunt?
08/18/06 Issue 11 - Close but no cigar
08/14/06 Issue 10 - On the hunt
08/09/06 Issue 9 - I've really been at my parent's house this whole time.
08/07/06 Issue 8 - Nooooorth Dakota where the wind comes sweeping down the plains
08/02/06 Issue 7 - Grooves, Grates and Gravel
07/30/06 Issue 6 - Moon Over Parma
07/28/06 Issue 5 - I LEAVE TOMORROW!!!!!!!
07/24/06 Issue 4 - Why Jersey, and what's the holdup?
07/23/06 Issue 3 - Is this fraud? and Welcome to Delaware
07/22/06 Issue 2 - MVA, Headaches and Miracles
07/21/06 Issue 1 - Mission Statement