Wake Me Up (When the Season Ends)

20 09 2011

Imagine a small café. Polished bar, creaky wooden floors, an L-shaped jumble of chairs and tables lining the open room. Lights are low, room is packed, whiskey’s flowing. Sitka’s premier rockabilly band, Los Shotgun Locos, is tearing through the 1960’s. When they launch into The Man in Black, the fisherfolk posse in the midst of the Larkspur Cafe erupts. Drinks quake as salt-cracked fists pound the table, skippers and deckhands roaring along.

“Let me go home! Why don’t you let me go home? Well, I feel so homesick, I want to go home!”

Johnny Cash begged his captain for release, but our rowdy group was appealing to a higher power. Between the season’s grim coho run and an early onset of vicious fall weather, our fleet’s been singing the blues since July:

“Been fishing for peanuts all season…They may be small, but at least they’re skinny.”

“This is the worst August I’ve ever seen – and I’m old!”

And, “I’m gonna have to find a yob this winter,” in mock-Norse resignation.

The finish line is just a few weeks away, but judging by the weather and empty harbor, you’d think it’s already a done deal. Even before August surrendered to September, an unprecedented number of folks had thrown in the towel. The high price for tuna lured several handfuls south. Overwhelming doom-and-gloom knocked a few Negative Neds out of the game. (“This season’s a bust,” one of them decreed midway through.) And when last week’s gruesome extended outlook forced the fleet dockside, that was more than most could handle. Many local boats called it quits, and the remaining seasonal crowd streamed south in a mass exodus.

Not Cap’n J and I, though. The boat’s wintering here, so there’s no excuse of rushing for a weather window. We’re here to September 20th’s bitter end, and that’s a good thing. Joel’s spent a lot of time cozied up with the calculator, punching numbers, analyzing conservative estimates of what we’ve made.  No globe-trotting for us, but we should get by on a shoestring winter, sticking close to home, living on fish and rice. Not a bad deal, really.

With a freezer full of coho fillets, we're lucky indeed.

Meanwhile, we’re content to enjoy the unexpected time in Sitka and figure that eventually the weather has to break. A friend mourned that the series of storms has shifted us trollers onto a gillnet schedule. “Three days on, 3 days off – but in our case, it’s been more like 5 days off.”

True enough. As I write this, we’re on our sixth night at the dock. Rain is screaming down in sheets. This kind of rain defies the laws of matter, coming down not as liquid, but a conflicted solid wall of wet. Gusts rip through the harbor, yanking at our spring lines like poltergeists, and the houseboat in the neighboring stall surges as if on anchor. Gazing through the helm windows, I’m looking at the very definition of “It was a dark and stormy night.”

Joel is studying NOAA’s buoy report online. “Holy shit – it’s gusting 46 at Edgecumbe, with 19 foot seas at 9 seconds.”

Nothing like spending a storm snug in your vessel, particularly when no one has to be on anchor watch. Here in the harbor, the Dickinson stove is cranked up, the cat is sprawled on the bunk, and Raven Radio strings Mississippi Delta blues through the cabin like an unraveling spool of indigo velvet ribbon.  I’ve got a steaming cup of tea in one hand, and a palm-sized universe of hope in the other. The wind and seas will come down, the coho will finally grow up, and ours will be among the few remaining hooks dancing in front of them.

Hope pays off: A couple nights later, we got this moonrise over Mt. Edgecumbe.

[This one’s a little out-of-date, friends. Written on September 6th for publication on Alaska Waypoints, it’s now September 20th and we’re back at the dock. Another Southeasterly ripped through the rigging last night. The summer troll season closes tonight at midnight, for what that legality’s worth – every troller I know has sold their final load of salmon, scrubbed out their fish hold, and called it quits. Cap’n J, Bear the Boat Cat, and me, too.  Watching whitecaps merengue through the harbor affirmed that decision.  So we’re now in the frenzied process of winterizing the Nerka, but I hope to have something new for you later this week.]


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12 responses

20 09 2011
Ex Capt'n Steve Rtd

I love your tale Tele but I’m glad its you guys and not me. It was about 75 down here today. Hang tough winter season will open soon

20 09 2011
Tele

Steve! Nope, I can’t do it – can’t bring myself to call you an “Ex” Capt’n. You, sir, are tenured in this fleet, honorary skipper emeritus status regardless of boat ownership. That 75 degrees sounds okay, though (as you can hear more about what we’re dealing with in Joel K’s comment below.) Anyway, I’m glad you’re enjoying yourself, it’s a truly well-earned retirement. Our hugs to both you and Sally!

20 09 2011
Karolee Joel

OK Miss Tele, I’m stuck in K-town and the weather is storm/gale/storm/hurricane/ until saturday. Then long term charts show lows going into south BC, just about when I want to cross the Queen. My buddy Dave was commenting on the last blow “it was gusting and picked spray off the surface; that’s gotta be 60 or so” Sez I: in the channel? YUCK!… “no, between float 5 and 6!”

Only joy has been reading Richard Hugo and being reminded of stuff. Dig “west marginal way” out of the internet and think about Lloyd growing up in that environment. It is no wonder everything today seems so different and worse.

21 09 2011
Tele

OK, Mr. Joel, I’ll have to put Richard Hugo on my reading list. Glad that you’ve had some element of joy to keep you company during your Ketchikan stay. Perhaps there’s a boat cat somewhere nearby that you could borrow for a few days?

Be careful on that trip south, friend. Hope you’re stocked up with lots of good books and some special treats to make the tough days a little more manageable. We’ll be glad to see you safely back in PT!

20 09 2011
Matt G

Being the type to stick mostly to solid ground – I’ve been enjoying these storms from the comfort of a solid house. Sometimes I like to imagine what it might be like out off-shore (though I don’t want to experience it first hand). I suspect I’m not the only one who refreshes the the Cape Edgecumbe buoy almost compulsively this time of year (currently seas are 14ft after reaching a high of 25ft last night at 2am – will be interesting to see what happens when the kicks up again tonight/tomorrow).

21 09 2011
Tele

Ha! Your comment made me laugh, Matt, because Joel had JUST been checking the buoy report as I read that sentence of yours. He’s compulsive with the NOAA site, while I obsess over the Sitka webcam while we’re south. Solid ground is seeming pretty sensible right now.

Hey, we thought of you on our last trip. We were fishing off the Cape one crappy morning, blowing 30 and raining sideways, when we saw an enormous flock of Bulwer’s Shearwaters. Some pink-footeds, too, but Joel seemed particularly impressed with the number of BUSH’s. Was too miserable to get any good photos for you, and we only saw them on the first tack of the morning. Neat, though.

Stay warm, dry and safe!

25 09 2011
Matt G

Do you happen to recall a rough date of the BUSH sighting? Although they may be getting more common (a bunch of them were seen south of the Kenai Peninsula within the last month or so), they’re still considered Rare for the state and it would be nice to include both them and the Pink-footed Shearwater sighting in the Fall report. Thanks!

25 09 2011
Tele

This was the morning of our last day fishing, September 14, just between Beaver Pt and the Cape. About 30 BUSH, another 10 PFSH. They were so active that first tack we made, about 6:30, and I tried to take some video, but we were crashing around and the spray and rain were a problem… Just didn’t work! We moved up towards Amelia after that tack, but came back around the Cape late afternoon and they were all gone. “They were on the move,” Cap’n J says.

20 09 2011
Holly

I hope you’ll continue to write after the season closes. I really, really enjoyed following your blog as I followed my own trolling adventure this summer. Still eagerly awaiting the finale to the Ross story.

I left Sitka last week, one week early. It did seem pretty gloomy at the harbor. Off to Maui for a couple weeks before the deep dark plunge into Juneau winter.

Take care, Tele! And thank you so much for your wonderful stories.

21 09 2011
Tele

Thanks so much, Holly, for the kind words and also for keeping me accountable! I expect that Ross Part 3 should be appearing mid-next week, so stay tuned. Yes, there’ll be new Hooked posts throughout the “off”-season, though scaled back a bit.

Maui sounds like a GREAT plan. (Seriously, there’s whitecaps in the harbor today, gusting 60 in Sitka.) Enjoy your well-earned sunshine, and keep in touch – so glad to have met you the other week, even briefly!

27 09 2011
Angela

Love the phrase palm-size universe of hope. It’s in our hand at all time. Sometimes we notice it. See you soon. Blessings on your travels

27 09 2011
Tele

Thanks, Angela – always helpful to hear what resonates with folks. I’ll miss seeing you and Nick this evening (starting a Tuesday night class) but have Joel give you an extra hug from me and enjoy the time with our birthday girl!




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