The View From Sitka: Arrival and Appreciation

17 06 2011

After doing such extensive work on the good ship Nerka this winter, her insides pulled apart, mucked about, and put back again, we left Bellingham riddled with anxiety. Would everything work? What gremlins would reveal themselves? Spend time with boats, you quickly learn they’re full of surprises, and not the party-and-ice-cream kind.

Other than an initial scare that we were on our way to Alaska without a working stove, she was indeed a “good ship.” We enjoyed a record-quick trip at 4 days and 8 hours, our smoothest yet, the miles flying by with lovely weather and conversation. (And yes, hot food. Cap’n J saved us from days of PB & J when he triumphed over the reluctant stove.) Our friend Sean, deckhand to the Five Girls, hitched a ride and proved an excellent travel companion. Bear the Boat Cat threw up only once. Glassy-eyed in disconcertingly calm waters, she howled for Sean to move his feet from her preferred puke site, then appeared to gain her sea legs.

We pulled into Sitka at 2 a.m., Tuesday morning – perfectly timed to get a few hours’ sleep, then make it to the Backdoor’s opening for pie and coffee. We’ve nestled back into the community and have been dividing our days between tinkering on the boat, rigging up for our king salmon season to open on July 1st, and reveling in the rare opportunity to relax in town. Plenty of writing time for me, hikes and photo missions for Cap’n J. Bear’s been nosing around on the cruiser parked next to us, perhaps a fan of how rarely it leaves the dock. Pretty content, all of us.

Last night we parked ourselves on a shoreline at the west end of town, waiting for the sun to wink below the horizon. Up here these days, that’s a long wait; sunset is listed as 9:59, but the sky remains permeable for another hour. Joel got some great pictures, his first opportunity to reconnect with Sitka in the way that’s most meaningful for him. (And skilled? Oh yes. You can check out some of his work here.)

Cap'n J and Mt. Edgecumbe, reunited.

Yep, feeling pretty full of the warm-fuzzies. So it was good timing for a fellow fisherman to tell me a story of how he ended last season. He was on the run south, traveling with another boat. They stopped one evening, rafted up together in the anchorage, and cooked a Thanksgiving feast. It didn’t matter that it was late September. Their season’s salmon harvest bountiful, they gave thankful acknowledgement for the life they’d taken.

This kind of thing warms my tree hugging, hippie heart. Inspired me to give my own pre-season thanks here. I’ve received an awful lot of kindnesses that deserve public appreciation, and some of these accolades are shamefully late.

Several months back, I joined She Writes, an online writers community. After years bemoaning the lack of writers’ energy in my life, She Writes has meshed beautifully with my migratory lifestyle. The wealth of experience and project diversity is at once humbling and invigorating; I’m thankful for the inspiring conversations and new friends.

One of those happy She Writes connections is Fl (Girl with a New Life). Tina, the author, celebrates women’s stories with an eclectic blend of writing prompts, film reviews, and personal reflections.  She’s tireless, maintaining a faithful schedule for her readers, posts rich with her warm, conversational tone, with remarkable consistency.

In May, I came back from sea to find that Tina had posted about Hooked, naming this fishy little site as one of her favorite travel blogs. Her praise was a delightful surprise, a powerful example of the way stories bring people together. We live on opposite sides of the country, in daily routines that are worlds apart, yet when we share reflections of what matters to us, what’s life giving and what keeps us awake at night, we find kindred spirits. Thanks to you and your husband, Tina – I’m glad our virtual paths have crossed!

The past month was very good to Hooked. Pacific Fishing, leading business journal for the West Coast seafood industry, ran an “Introducing the Blogger” story in their June issue, and has generously posted a link on their homepage. I’ve been a Pacific Fishing reader for decades, so this was particularly touching to me, and has greatly increased Hooked’s audience. Thanks, Pacific Fishing, for your support; it’s much appreciated.

I’m thankful for a whole mess of goodness. For May’s longline job, a safe, successful, laughter-filled season with my fantastic “brother” and a good-spirited crewmate. For the Backdoor for being my Sitka haven, and for Bernadette and Sotera singing out, “Welcome home!” without hesitation or qualifier.  For all of Cap’n J’s work on the Nerka while I was gone, and the fantastic dinners he prepared upon my return. “You just keep writing,” he insisted, when I was deep in the words and would’ve ended up scrounging for a bread-and-cheese midnight snack, if not for the delicious meals he set before me.

"Dinner with Steve." A delicious sandwich, a story for another day.

Five days ago we were running up the coast of Baranof Island, glassy water pierced only by humpback exhalations. The cabin filled with a collective pulse of excitement and relief. We were reluctant to speak of the magic we were feeling, jinx-wary, but Sean, Joel and I all agreed: this season just feels good. Hopeful. With plenty of time ahead to be smacked by reality, we’re enjoying the positivity of the present.

As we approach next week’s solstice, may it be so for you, too, sweet reader, that the light in your heart reflects that of these lengthening days. Be safe, be well, and be sure to find time for pie.

Thanks, Bernadette and crew... Love you guys.





Heading North, Take Two

8 06 2011

Seems that no matter how much advance planning and preparation time there is for the trip north, our final days are always frantic.  Way back in late April, before I headed off on the Charity, Cap’n J and I set a departure date. June 8th sounded just right… Time enough to enjoy our house after I finished longlining, time to go over the remaining Nerka details together, and time to enjoy several weeks in Sitka before our salmon season starts on July 1st.  A sound plan, indeed.

I was pretty confident in last week’s post.  It’s possible that the universe heard my confidence as cockiness: “With an intended departure date of next Wednesday, the remaining tasks are pretty slim.”  As many times as I’ve been through this process, I should’ve known better.

As you’ve heard before, fishermen’s plans change.   We planned to be slipping loose of the Bellingham breakwater in a half-hour; instead, I’ve got a cup of tea steaming beside me and am enjoying a final communion with the Bobs (you remember, our resident Stellar’s Jays) and squirrels.  Looked like we’d be hitting Queen Charlotte Sound just in time to buck into a Northwest 25.  Do-able, but we’ve got an awfully long season ahead of us to get beat up right out of the gate.

Between avoiding an ass-kicking and this week’s mad scramble of final details, the captain determined that a 24 hour delay would be acceptable.  We should still hit the tide right at Seymour Narrows, and hopefully sidestep the bumpy crossing.  Never a good idea to feel too rushed or locked into one arbitrary intention, we’re breathing much easier this evening.

We’ll have a friend on board for the trip up, someone to share wheel watches and contribute new conversation. Sean was a first-time deckhand on the 5 Girls last season. Every June, Joel and I eyeball the new crop of green deckhands and make a game out of anticipating who’ll make it and who won’t. From the moment we met Sean, we were in agreement: he was going to be the star new deckhand of the season.

And that’s how it worked out. He’s returning for a second round, but needed a ride up to meet his boat in Sitka. He and his partner, Angela – who’s a rock star deckhand in her own right, a powerhouse of endurance, strength and fishing expertise – drove up for a big send-off. It’s a bummer that our plan changed after they got here, so they’re having an unexpected amount of sitting-around-waiting-to-go time, but they’re professionals who know, “That’s the way it goes when you wear rubber clothes.”

Chaotic as the week has been, it’s a fun time to be in the harbor. After winter’s quiet and the slow meander into spring activity, everyone is in full-throttle preparation mode now. The 4 to 5 man (and some women) crews of the seiners surrounding us have been hard at work, repairing nets, sanding rails, all kinds of bustling about. We’re all a constant tide washing up and down the ramp, pushing mountainous carts down to our boats, tossing matching harried grins at each other.  This time of year, the harbor pulses with camaraderie.

Through it all, I try to remember the relief that’s on the other side of the breakwater. As soon as the lines are untied and we’re under way, none of this current chaos will matter. The mental brakes squeal, as we go from a zooming frenzy to a sedate 7 knot cruise. What’s inevitably forgotten won’t end up mattering, or will be dealt with in Sitka.  If our weather holds, we should have about a five day migration, a luxurious exemption from the rest of the world that I’m hoping to use as a mini writer’s retreat.  Fingers crossed.

Below, some photos from the past few days:

Monday: Provisioning, Part 1.

Stocking a Fishing Boat with Fake Meat Product: Oxymoron?

Cap'n J checks our survival suits. Bear, not so into it.

Sean & Ange, our ridealong squeezing himself into an if-he-absolutely-had-to suit.

Fake meat in the freezer AND prayer flags from the rigging? Bunch of hippies on this boat.

Cap'n J & T: frazzled, hopeful, anxious, and eager to be on the way north.

That’s the update, sweeties.  My remaining tea has gone cold, and some overripe bananas are begging to be transformed into bread, courtesy of Joel’s sister’s Ashley’s delicious recipe.  Be well, friends – hope to share some good stories with you by the middle of next week.





F/V Charity, North to Alaska

29 04 2011

A mountain of unavoidable boat projects caused a few days’ delay, but I’m now reasonably certain that the good ship Charity will pull out of Seattle’s Fisherman’s Terminal today. As certain as a deckhand ever can be, that is. If a profession rooted in taking life can offer Buddhist teachings, it’s this: Let go of expectations and attachment, as captains reserve – and continually exercise – the right to change plans.

(I have a ways to go yet on realizing this lesson.)

The Charity's last night in Seattle, until fall 2011.

Had some excitement this week. If you read Hooked’s last post, you know I was pretty casual about packing for this trip. Saved it for my last night at home, tossed everything into a couple bags. I don’t expect to be on the Charity for more than a month, and the process is pretty formulaic. Boots, raingear, toiletries, a lot of fish clothes, a little of town clothes. (“Town clothes”: A T-shirt and Carhartts that haven’t been worn while fishing. That’s pretty classy for our crowd.)

While Martin did the Costco run, I prepared to gel-coat the head floor. At lunch, he’d said we’d likely stop in Bute Dale, a mystical ghost town several days into Canada. Century-old skeletons of houses and a long-abandoned cannery slide into the bay under the supervision of a massive waterfall and one lone caretaker, Lou.

My thoughts wandered as I wiped the floor down with acetone. Haven’t stopped in Bute Dale since the last time I fished with Martin…what, 6 years ago? Wonder what’s left of it. Bute Dale… Canada…Customs…Passport – NO PASSPORT!

I called Joel in panic-stricken disbelief. We were planning to leave in the next day, and not only had I forgotten to pack my required documentation for transiting through Canada, I didn’t have a clue where I’d put it. A bad surprise for anyone; extra mortifying for the family member known as the responsible, organized one.

Cap’n J saved the day. He calmed me down, refusing to play my “What if you can’t find it!” game. When he didn’t find it in any of my usual safe-keeping spots, he drove down to the Nerka, checked the binder of required documents on our boat. No dice. I jumped when the phone buzzed several hours later, and felt my shoulders sag when he said, “Found it.”

With that, things took a turn for the better. Joel had already planned a trip through Seattle for the next day, so he made a special delivery detour through Fisherman’s Terminal. We had a bonus last lunch together, a few more hugs and kisses goodbye, and I’m now legal to travel through Canada.  Whew.

We got fuel yesterday. Over $3500 of diesel. That’ll get us to Alaska; we’ll have to fuel up again in Sitka before we can go fishing. We’ve still got a few tasks today – groceries, running new anchor line on the winch, checking the survival suits. If you’d like to keep an eye on our trip, visit here and here for marine weather updates.  We’ll be heading up the Inside Passage, Seattle to Sitka, and expect a 5 to 6 day trip, barring any weather-related delays.

June 2010: Looking back on Washington water, heading into a great forecast.

When you next hear from the F/V Charity, we should be safely tethered to Sitka’s Eliason Harbor. If we pass on the dock, you’ll know me by the halibut-sized grin on my face. I’ll have made the first walk up to the Backdoor, Romeos fairly skipping over the sidewalk to get to that homecoming slice of Bernadette’s close-your-eyes-and-whimper-it’s-so-good pie. (See? So much for letting go of expectations.)

Until then, sweet reader, may you enjoy clear skies and safe seas in your life, as you embrace your own seasonal transitions.








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