Hey friends – Amanda is our special pen pal for the summer, as introduced in this post. I’m grateful to her for sharing her first-time fisherman perspective with us, and hope you’ll join me in welcoming her to our community here.
Wednesday, June 20, 2012
Thank you so much for the opportunity to write. I have found something really special about telling folks in Sitka that I am going to work my first summer on a fishing boat. I’ve seen a lot of faces light up with warm, nostalgic smiles and I’ve heard many an exclamation that lets me know I’m about to have an experience to cherish. I have been received with nothing but support and have been told many times that I am “going to have so much fun!” For this and a few other reasons, I feel motivated to write about my experience and I am grateful for an outlet here.
I’m working on a fishing boat this summer. I’ve never worked on a boat, I’ve never spent more than a night on the water, and I’ve never even really caught a fish. I grew up in a suburb of Seattle and went to college in Bellingham, Washington. I’ve spent the last four years doing various types of social work. I’ve worked with developmentally disabled adults, divorcing parents, and most recently children with mental health issues. It is safe to say that with the emotional exhaustion these jobs have caused, I’ve often idealized a kind of work that is demanding in a different way. This is part of the fishing job appeal.
When I moved to Sitka, just like so, so many before me, I was instantly charmed by the harbors and the fishing culture. The descriptions are so quaint they are cliché, the bobbing of boats, the smell of old wood, fish, and diesel, the back drop of trees and mountains. It all appealed to me in a distant way because I knew nothing about it. I was struck by the camaraderie among fisher people who always seem to have something to talk about; a big catch, a boat maintenance issue, an upcoming season opener, they have a language that can only include those among the trade. The social savvy side of me has always wanted to participate in the conversation, especially with a scruffy young fisherman or two, but this is the kind of talk that you can’t fake. You don’t talk about it unless you’ve lived it.
Herring season amplified this to a degree I was not expecting. That time of year, late winter and early spring, brought a lot to Sitka and to me by default. Not only did I see two months of the most beautiful weather I have seen in Alaska, but the town collectively woke up. People got out on their bikes and hikes, dug up their garden beds, and went out to brunch. The days were noticeably longer and the town filled with new people, including a charming herring seiner who I happened to become acquainted with. We shared each other’s company for a few weeks and hearing him talk (complain, brag, joke…) about the season was really interesting to me. It provided me with moments to learn from somebody who spoke of something he clearly cared for and knew about. There is so much experience behind this kind of knowledge. I won’t resign all the credit to this adorable fisherman and his unyielding habit of helping friends and friends of friends, but I did mention to him that I liked the idea of working on a fishing boat. Soon enough, we could barely walk down the harbor without him facilitating a new introduction. And for some reason, I got some job offers.
The job I accepted is working for the salmon season on a “tender boat.” This is a big boat that transfers fish from the trollers out at sea to the processing plant on land. My job is to cook for a crew of two men plus myself, write the “fish tickets” (receipts), and miscellaneous deckhand work, like navigating the boat or sorting incoming fish.
Stepping onto the Nichawak [not the boat's real name] for three months has me worried about a number of things.
Safety: I can be pretty clumsy, what if I trip or get tangled hurting myself or jeopardizing the safety of two other people?
Isolation with two people I barely know, what if we don’t get along?
I’m so inexperienced, I’m certain I’ll surprise the captain a time or two with what I don’t know.
I’m good with direct, clear instructions but I know there will be times where I’ll feel like I’m learning another language.
I’m worried about my gender identity. I cherish my femininity but I know that in a male dominated culture, there will be constant attention drawn to it. I will have to find a balance, I don’t want to covet my femininity but I don’t want to act upon it as if I’m obliged.
I know there are things I didn’t mention here (the physical and psychological toll of long work days, the nights awake in the wheel house, the massive cargo of dead fish, killed without hesitation). But overall I hope that it sounds like I’m fairly aware of what I’m getting myself in to.
Ultimately the reason why I am fishing is this. I have a college degree, 25 years of life, and some tools I’ve picked up along the way. But I have no direction. There are a few things I know I’d like to do and be and make in life but at this point, I go wherever experiences are to be had. Experience means newness, challenge, lessons, and eventually wisdom. So whether I’m ready or not, I greet this experience, the Nichawak, tomorrow.