Wednesday, June 29, 2011

June 29: Back in the water

It turns out that the predictions for last night's winds were... uh... overblown. But we got some sleep. David did some reconnaissance and found that we missed somewhere between 4000 and 8000 lbs. It's not nothing, but I think the extra rest will stand us in good stead in the coming week or two.

We were out at 8 during a big hold up tide to set the nets and ended up with about 2000 lbs for the tide.

An item for the glossary: a hold up tide is one that doesn't go out very far. If the mean low water mark is the edge of where you'd find water at an average low water, an 8' hold up is when the water would be 8' deep at low water at that same spot.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

June 28: The season is upon us

I think posts will be short for a while. We fished yesterday, starting at 7:30 am and ended up with something like 23,000 lbs for that tide, most of it on the ebb (and yes, I was right to be confident in this crew - they did great. Even when we needed to pull the last of the fish into the net without picking them. When the nets are heavy with fish, it's really hard. But we were racing the tide - we did not want those fish left in the mud because the buyer doesn't like it and I was outside the boat in knee deep water, lifting. It was a real race). We individually handle every one of those fish. It's very demanding. This picture shows us with a full boat. This is the biggest boat in our "fleet," the Ambi (short for Ambi-fisher referring to when we also used it for drift fishing and setnetting and I was ambivalent about the drifting part. We weren't very good at drifting, but David was really good at maneuvering the skiff and the net.)

We got in from the tide at about 8:30 PM, knowing that we had another opening at 10 that night, to continue into the next tide - 19 hours. That means only a few hours sleep between tides. We ended up with almost 10,000 lbs on the night tide and a little more than 6,000 for today's tide. We got another opening starting at 11 tonight and going till 5 tomorrow afternoon, again two tides.

We've also been having very strong winds and cold, wet weather. The winds started offshore, from the northeast and swung around from the south and then southwest. They feel about 25 mph. (I estimate that by trying to imagine what the wind feels like when I'm in the back of a pickup truck going 25 mph). We're told to expect 35 mph winds directly out of the west tonight.

I heard about the possibility of a strong wind during an overdue trip into town and I started considering not fishing the tide then, wondering how the crew would feel (and wondering how much of the thought about not fishing was due to my growing fatigue - here, where sleep is for sissies). (Even though we're here for the fish, we still have all the regular things of life to tend to - we were low on drinking water and gas, and we needed advice or help on the Grayling's outboard (no help available; advice was to drain the carburetor), update on the New Boat (the needed part has been ordered), advice on the power pack for the power roller which seems stuck in low throttle (new carburetor), and to process some kings we've been saving out. It took a long time - but less because Yin came with me and was wonderfully helpful.) It turns out that the crew also heard about the weather and their discussion came to the same conclusion I did. I guess that decision was easy even though I hate not fishing when I have the chance. Still, I hate beating up our crew and equipment even more.

There are many problems with fishing in really heavy weather: 1) it's scary because it can be dangerous. The waves are high and sometimes water crashes into our boat; when we have to beach it, it pounds down on whatever is underneath it - rocks, which the outboard doesn't like and if we're struggling to control it, assorted body parts may be in the way. It's possible to swamp which approaches disaster when the outboard is on it and all the gear and fish and people are in it; 2) it's hard. Setnetting calls for working against whatever elements are in play, usually wind and tide. We're stationary and we struggle to stay on our nets, while the effects of wind and tide are to move us along. We have to hang on; so 3) it's exhausting. Fighting against the wind and tide wears us out tremendously and I have a feeling that we haven't really seen this year's run yet; 4) we're sort of stuck in the boats even if there are no fish - it's too hard to get into shore with the rough conditions and surf break; and 5) things tend to go wrong and those conditions make it really hard to recover.

Additional problems, as we learned with last night's tide, is that we have few options for delivering any fish we do get. The drivers who came to pick up our flood fish did everything they could to take our fish, but they were pinned by the tide and the giant forklift couldn't move to the skiffs to offload the fish and if it could, it could move to the truck to deposit them. I guess the weather was too rough for our tenders, which is disappointing because that's when we need them. And there we were with a boat full of fish in very stormy conditions, carrying about 5000 lbs of salmon in really rough weather with no place to deliver it. And now they tell us the wind will be stronger, there'll be no tenders, and the trucks won't be out till even later? I found myself thinking that we would be safe only if we didn't get many fish. But if we weren't going to get many fish...

We definitely had our mishaps during the dark 20-25 mph tide. One of the rings we use to connect the corkline with the anchor must have had a flaw or just too much strain so it cracked and the corkline slipped out, leaving the leadline to do all the holding of the net. We really couldn't fix it during the tide and the process put quite a few big holes in the net. Josh fixed it as the tide went out. Also, we are required to have one red buoy and one white buoy with a black stripe to let drifters know that we're a setnet so they'll know which side to pass the buoy on. That white and black buoy is important (and the fine is big if we don't have it). As we were putting on the buoy lights, I noted that the line that was holding the buoy on was frayed and would need replacing. As we were struggling to try to fix the disconnected corkline on the other net, I saw a white and black buoy floating by. We chased it down and indeed, it was the one with the frayed line.

In preparation for the big wind, we've moved everything as far out of harm's way as we can. Three-wheelers and rangers have climbed partway up the cliff; one truck is in town, another is at the beach access road, and the boom truck, which runs on propane, ran out of propane part way to higher ground. That one might cost me sleep tonight.

We'll put our nets out tomorrow at 8 and sleep now, hoping we're not missing much but still feeling OK about the decision even if we do.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

June 26: Reading the net

Doug Olsen, aka "Hippie Doug," stopped by to visit last night and talked about learning to "read the net." I'd never heard that expression before but it's exactly right. There are simple things - is the fish on the inside or outside of the net? (This is important because you want it to drop out of the net when you disentangle it.) Is it under a single or a double layer? Is it caught in more than one place? If so, where does it need to be disentangled first? Which fish should be removed first? And things that are more complex – is this basket fish just twisted? Or through a hole? Where’s the hole? Was it also caught again after it went through the hole? Is it a hanger or a roller or is it gilled?

This is a really good crew and they seem to automatically know how to read. They are learning to mentally pick the fish as it approaches them. And the crew who were new last year are picking like pros. Oh wait - they are pros. We got a beautiful big king this tide. Here are photos of Chris and and Roger with it. (Trevor did predict that we'd start getting big kings once he got off the boat. Uh oh...)

Today started out still and sunny - even at 6:30 am. The search was on for insect repellant and sun screen. It was a really slooowww tide, coming in to a short tide from a hold up (meaning coming in to a low high tide from a high low tide - not much distance to travel in the 6 hours to do it). We had to wait for water to set the nets. Here we are, with our neighbors, doing just that. Part way through the tide, the wind picked up - off shore (not so great for fish) and became downright strong - maybe around 20 mph by the end of the tide - and I hear it blowing out there now as I type.

The New Boat is back up on the dock with a broken seal on the steering ram. Not that I know what all that means - there's a rod that goes side to side in response to the steering wheel. It looks sort of hydraulic-y. When it gets to the compressed position (which it takes many revolutions to achieve), it squirts out oil. I'm pretty sure that's not good.

Roy diagnosed it over the phone and David, Sarah, and Jeff took it back up. A few more days to order in the part and get it put back together. Sure glad we have the Bathtub. That outboard is a champ. And Roger fixed the antenna on the Ambi so we almost have a radio.

Despite the still weather and then the offshore wind, we got 6000 lbs, pretty evenly distributed across the flood and the ebb. In 2009, everything we caught was on the flood – that’s easy fishing because it's easy to deliver the fish. In 2010, it was all on the ebb which is tough because the tide goes away so the Jacqueline W, the seine boat that tenders our fish, can't stick around because they draw too much water, and we can't reach the trucks because the water has gone out, and the truck can't reach us because they can't get through the mud. That’s hard and stressful – a constant race. I’ll be happy for evenly distributed. The best news is that this crew managed 6000 lbs with time to take the New Boat to the outboard clinic, mess around with the 2 ½ HP outboard, stand and watch the person with the fish do the picking… we didn’t break a sweat. If the wind turns and we end up with a 23,000 lb tide, I’m confident that this crew can handle it.

When we deliver on the beach, we bring the skiff in to where the giant forklift (the
Gehl) can reach it without getting stuck in the mud. Brad lowers the forks over the skiff and we attach the brailer - the bag that holds the fish - and he takes it to a "deuce and a half," a big truck that carries six totes of slush ice and salmon. It's really important for us to do it as quickly as possible - if there's a wind, being on the beach beats us up, threatens us with swamping and/or damaging the outboard on rocks, and even if there's no wind, if it's on the ebb, we're always at risk of going dry and then we're in trouble. Brad had lifted the first bag out of the skiff and was waiting for the truck to catch up. But it seems that it was stuck between gears, meaning Brad was going to have to back up to it... and it was all going to take a long time. We just needed to offload, so Evan and Roger held a brailer out of the boat that we filled up to leave on the beach for Brad to get when he could. This photo is of us pitching the fish into the brailer. Do you see the fish approaching Evan's shoulder? They get pretty blase about fish flying past them. Though everyone usually gets a fish slap at least once in the season.

In other news, Kyle, the young man we gave a bunk and friendly faces, has found a boat at Peter Pan cannery that needed a deck hand. Marilyn, the office manager gave a call this afternoon. One of her captains lost a crewman (he quit) just about the same time that Kyle came to apply. I hope that works out well for him. He seemed pretty happy.

Yin came on board with us for a while and got lots of photos. I felt so terrible because I caused her to have to stand in wet boots the whole time she was with us. She was standing on the beach waiting for us. I thought she was wearing waders with knee boots over. I saw she was reluctant to step into the water but people often are and I thought she was worried about getting the inside of the boots wet. I knew we'd be able to restore them easily enough so I kept gesturing her in and she finally waded in. It turned out that she was wearing sweat pants, not waders, under her boots. And she was worried about getting her feet and her legs wet, not the inside of her knee boots. I felt terrible. But she’s right, she’s not a sissy! Here is one of my favorite of her photos. I think we were pitching fish from one boat to another, holding them together.

And finally, my brother told me that he saw Trevor today on the Italian Leprechaun and he seemed happy when he waved to him. I hope we'll have more news on him later. For now though, dinner has been cooked and consumed (curry with all the vegetables I could find, in addition to chickpeas and chicken), followed by strawberry shortcake (David and Sarah brought strawberries with them and I wanted to be sure they got the celebration they deserve - and I found some shelf stable whipping cream. It worked!) The seven loaves of bread and cinnamon rolls are out of the oven.

We fish again tomorrow from 7:30 to 4:30. Another slow tide... sounds like we'll have some wind, though; might have more fish. I kinda think so...

Saturday, June 25, 2011

June 25: David and Sarah are here!

First, the catch: it was a very calm day which usually reduces a catch and anyhow we had 2,870 lbs on this morning's tide. It was pretty evenly divided between the flood and the ebb. And the crew did most of it without me (I was on my way to the airport).

Now comes the part that I'm embarrassed to admit. First the good part of it: the New Boat is now in service!! The embarrassing part: it wasn't the CDI - it was that we hadn't remembered about the safety clip that the outboard operator is supposed to attach to himself/herself in case s/he is thrown from the boat. In that case, the clip goes with the operator and the two pieces come together telling the engine to stop. The clip keeps them separated so the engine will go. It wasn't installed. Boy, did I feel dumb. I know that patience is always a virtue, but I think it is especially a virtue in people who end up helping us with mechanical stuff. Here are Trevor and Jake who volunteered to go with me to bring home the New Boat.

Another piece of good news: the Grayling is also in service. David and Sarah have arrived; we are ready. We picked up the outboard today. And with David here, we are bound to get the little 2 1/2 hp outboard running to make it a little easier to get to and from the skiff when it's anchored out and we're in.

In another piece of news today, Trevor changed jobs and bunk locations - he is now working on a drift boat. This was the goodbye (until the end of the season when he'll come back and we'll go to Katmai together). He came up with us even though we didn't have a crew position available, we did have bunk space and I was willing to give him a place to be, some exposure to commercial fishing, and a phone number for people to call who wanted to possibly hire him. He posted some information about himself at the two main fishery supply stores in town, starting with 6'4", 250 lbs. He has received three calls so far. In several ways, the setnet job he initially secured would have been perfect. It is with the people who fish the site just at the foot our stairs, so he could have stayed with us (we like his company) and kept an eye on their net when they're not there. But they haven't started fishing yet and he was becoming worried about how well that would work out. Meanwhile, a couple of drifters called, he went to meet Mario, and they hit it off. Mario has been fishing here for 27 years. This year it's him, his 19 year old nephew (also new), and Trevor. He fishes in Naknek in this traditional Bristol Bay gillnetter made of fiberglass. So we went up to SeaMar to get him outfitted as a drift boat deck hand. I met Mario (I was in full "Mom" mode) and it turns out that he is from Monterey and has long known and worked with someone I know well and think highly of, so I think it'll work out well for him.

Today's crisis occurred when I dawdled getting Hannah to the airport. It's a small airport, the plane heading into Anchorage would not be crowded, so I wasn't awfully worried about the time. We took the time to clean today's kings but when I looked at my clock, we had only a few minutes before David and Sarah's plane was to arrive (the same plane that would take Hannah back to Anchorage) and it's about a 15 minute drive. We hurried then, arriving at the airport something like 45 or 50 minutes before flight time. By the time we got to the agent, she said Hannah couldn't fly. Hannah was very disappointed - she had been looking forward to seeing her mom. I think they made some special adjustments and got her on the plane, though not her luggage. It followed on the next one.

Trevor and I made a second trip to King Salmon (air freight came in) in the same trip drop him off at his new home for the next few weeks. On the way, we saw a person on the side of the road dragging a bag toward King Salmon. We offered him a ride and it turned out that he had just arrived from King Salmon, having finished the school year at his college and leaving his job at the factory in Indiana, and his younger brothers with his grandparents - to come to Alaska in the hopes of making some money to allow him to continue in school. He was heading back up to the airport (15 miles) to sleep, to walk back to Naknek tomorrow to look for jobs. Wow. I thought about what it would be like to be that 20 year old. I told him he could sleep in our bunkhouse and eat with us, and we'd help him while he looked for a job. His name is Kyle.

We fish on Sunday from 7:30 to 4:30. The wind is building; we may have a few...

Friday, June 24, 2011

June 24: White-Bearded Dinosaur

It's so much fun when we get someone who talks in their sleep. At least it's fun for the rest of us. Hugh is the guy. He was sleeping and Jake heard him talking, calling "Look out! Look out!" Not able to resist, Jake went to explore and this was the exchange:

Jake: Hugh, what are we looking out for?
Hugh: A white-bearded dinosaur!
Jake: Where is it?
Hugh: It's coming; it's in the net!
Jake: Hugh, how are we going to get it out of the net?
Hugh: Shhhh, don't tell Liz... we're going to cut it out!

Several minutes later, armed with her camera...
Yin: Hugh, did you get the dinosaur out?
Hugh: No, I killed it.

June 24: *That* was refreshing!

We had a 6 am opener today. We were out there 30 minutes before time to set. I had the chance to remind everyone that we don't always have the opportunity to prepare - untangle the anchor line and v-line, check knots, check for frays, check shackles and carabiners... just check everything. But when we do have that 30 minutes to prepare, use it.

It was a very slow tide. No wind, little current, few fish. This photo shows what happens when there are few fish. Before coming in, we all pile into one boat and go through the last net, fighting over the fish.

And actually, it was slow for everybody. When we finished our first net, I checked over for the other boat and saw a big drifter motoring in between the sites. That doesn't happen much - they were asking how our fishing was and whether we got any fish at high water. That drifter must not have known very much about setnetters. We don't usually like drifters to come and set their nets right in front of ours so we'd be unlikely to tell him to be sure to set right off us just after high water when the fish are running through here hard. We don't want to invite competition. Another thing to notice is that everything was the same color of gray today... kind of cold and still.

After the set, mending the running line that was severed ... was it just last week? ... with a splice, and going through the nets once (about 25 fish so far), we came in to wait for the just-prior-to-tide-turning pick, except Jeff, Roger, and Hugh went into town to try to get the New Boat running (probably with Roy's help). Part of the reason for being early into AGS is to be first in Roy's line, sort of like lining up for a rock concert. (If Roy ever sees this, I wonder what he'll think of being likened to a rock concert.)

When I looked at the outboard last night with my infantile mechanical skills, I noticed that gas was leaking from around the fuel filter. I tightened the clamps, but it still leaked from other places in that vicinity and wouldn't start anyway. Toolkit empty, Josh, Evan, and I came home on the three wheeler - very slowly. Now the mechanically inclined are going in for another run at it.

We went out again for our last pick of the flood - one red and one king. Our next trip to the nets will be the last one of the tide. We're not expecting many fish on the ebb (though last year we were surprised by that just about every tide), so we want to go at sort of the last minute, run through the nets and pick them up, stacking them into the boats for the next set, whenever that will be (probably tomorrow). But we won't know till 3 this afternoon. Before the last pick through, the goal is to anchor as deeply as possible (so the boat will still be floating after the tide has dropped) but still be shallow enough to walk in without getting wet. So we run the skiff in, estimate the depth 50' toward the shore from where we'll drop the anchor (try to figure out where 50' forward is), call the anchor drop, continue to run until we reach the end of the anchor line and spin around, getting us another 20' closer to shore. Now very quickly, before we start drifting into deeper water, someone must test the depth usually using a fairlead or a gaff hook and if shallow enough, jump out and hold the boat so the others can get out. I thought it was probably shallow enough for me in the dry suit so I quickly moved to the stern and jumped over. I was surprised to find that my feet didn't reach the bottom, and happy to find that my dry suit actually does have enough floatation to keep my head above water.

I didn't waste any time trying to get back into the boat and instead started kicking my way toward shore. I've been struggling with the zipper on the dry suit for several days now so except for the shock of the cold, I wasn't surprised (but was unhappy) to feel the very cold leak seeping water over my right shoulder and down my back. Brrrr. On the bright side, I was
still floating and after a few more teeth chattering minutes, was in shallow enough water to stand. After the crew knew I was safe, they decided it was funny. It sort of was. A perverse combination of funny and cold. They just reanchored the boat a little shallower. Here's what happens next with that sort of adventure. Wish the cabin were warmer so these would actually dry. Heater has stopped working.

Well, that was a slow tide - a total of 165 lbs. Harry called to say it was his worst day of fishing ever. He got 2 fish; one to eat and the other to send home with Hannah tomorrow. I'm going with the still-early theory.

The New Boat is not coming down any time soon unless a real Roy-miracle occurs. He thinks it's the Capacity Discharge Ignition. (I think that's a brain box for the outboard). So we're ordering a CDI ($$$) and I'm hoping that'll be just a few days. Uh... plus the weekend. Sigh. But really, we've fished plenty of successful seasons with the Ambi and the Bathtub. Plus, the Grayling's outboard is ready! Yippee!

Yin took this beautiful photo a couple of nights ago.

We go again tomorrow from 7am to 3:30 pm. I won't be there for the ebb - going to King Salmon to collect David and Sarah, put Hannah on the plane home, and swing by Charlie's Sport Shop to pick up the Grayling's outboard.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

June 23: First emergency period announcement

This was probably our last day of pure preparation. It felt luxurious. I didn't tune into how hard it is to prepare and fully fish two tides a day at the same time. It's hard to figure out when to sleep. Setnetters often don't fish the flood and instead just come out on the ebb. This is especially true when fishing is slow. The effect of tying down our leadlines is that it creates a basket that holds anything that's loose, including loose fish. (Also including flounders, tundra, garbage, floaters, and more.) Because I feel like we're asking fish to come to our nets to become someone's dinner, I think our part of the deal is to be there to help move them along their way to those dinner plates immediately, respectfully, and carefully. Part of that is being out there early in the tide, before the fish get beat up in the net and before the net turns inside out, dumping its contents. So as soon as we start tying down the leads, we fish the flood.

The effect of that, though, is that even when there aren't many fish, we have only 5 or 6 hours between tides, and maybe 1 1/2 hours between flood and ebb pick. If we're trying to finish preparations, one of those 5 or 6 hour windows is the logical time to do it, but that leaves only the other 5 or 6 hours for sleeping. And that wears on a person after a while.

But I think today will be the last day of preparations. Roger, Hugh, Chris, Jeff, and Trevor went into town to finish getting the New Boat ready. Yin also went in and, brave woman that she is, she took everyone's laundry.

The gas tank came in for its power roller (sans gas cap and hardware) ... and it's the right one! Roy suggested using a thread chaser to rethread the bolts... and they were given the wrong size, so they needed to get new size nuts (and it was dinner time), but that was the only snag. Roger installed the fuel filter earlier in the day and it works (yay). And now, assuming that is easy enough to get the new size nuts to hold on the gas tank, they'll wrap that up in time for Josh and Evan to bring the boat down to the site so we'll
have it for the first emergency period opening, which is Friday from 6 am to 6 pm. I hope I'll soon have a photo of the New Boat anchored out here in front of our sites. Meanwhile, here is a photo of my cabin: the crew Internet cafe. This is 1/2 of today's town contingent, Roger, Chris, and Hugh (without the head - sorry about that!) and the baked loaves of bread.

While they mechanically inclined were in town, I cooked ham and bean soup, baked bread and made cinnamon rolls, and the rest of the crew straightened up the crew cabin. Even the counters! It felt decadently cozy.

End of day update: no New Boat yet. They were launched at 9 or 9:30 tonight. At about 10, I began to worry and called the beach boss to see when they were launched. About a half hour ago, he told me. I took the four wheeler along the beach looking for them in the water and most of the way there, I was picking my way across the strip of rocky beach not covered by the incoming tide and called back to the cabin to see if they had slipped past me and already arrived at the cabin. Roger said no, but while we were talking, another call came in from the beach boss' phone - it was Josh. They couldn't get the New Boat started. That was a surprise as the town crew had had it running. So I proceeded on into AGS and found them tying up to the dock. I saw that the fittings on the fuel filter were loose and the hose clamps were falling off. I tightened up what I could (I feel like I've done a day's work when I can't get the gas smell off my hands)... and it still wouldn't start. Too bad I don't know what I'm doing. Roy.

June 22: Happy Birthday Sarah!!

I'm looking forward to David's and Sarah's arrival. We'll have to celebrate her birthday when they get here.

We pulled our nets tonight. Free week ends Thursday morning at 9, but that would be just an hour before high water and without a doubt a struggle, and for few fish... we pulled at the end of this evening's tide after about 1000 lbs, for a total of almost 7000 during free week. Not bad. And now we wait. Maybe for a few hours or maybe a few days.

Josh arrived today. His first duty was to work with Hugh to get the king sides sealed. It turns out that if we combine two extension cords, we're more likely to flip breakers with the vacuum sealer than if we confine ourselves to one extension cord. So I filleted 15 or 20 salmon this morning and they sealed and froze them. Then Josh's first activity upon arriving at the cabin: sleep. We then did a little fishing before pulling the nets.

It was a beautiful sunset (and a swift current so I didn't get to stop for many photos, but here's what I got). We had just all piled into the Ambi. There's Evan up on the gunwale, Chris to the right of him, then Roger and Trevor.

We dropped off Jake and Jeff to clear the inside site in the Grayling, then Josh, Hugh, and Chris into the Bathtub to work on #3 and #4 (picking them and picking them up) which left Evan, Trevor, and Roger with me. Here they are pulling through the net. Roger is on hydraulics, Evan is on the fast pick and Trevor is holding the boat steady with the corks.

In this last photo, Evan and Trevor are focused on the net. The idea is to get through the net and get it back in the water as quickly as possible. The fish (and everything else in the net) come in over the roller and we try to get the fish out without having to call a stop to the net and without pulling ourselves out of the boat. Here Evan and Trevor and ready to wrestle whatever comes in over the roller out of the net.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

June 21: The solstice

Today started out overcast with a little blue poking through. Here, that invariably means it will clear up, and clear up it did. It turned into a beautiful morning that we got to go fishing in. There weren’t any fish to catch, but still, it was beautiful.

Despite considerable messing with the pull cord, it remained un-subdued. We decided that Roger should take pictures of the relevant pieces of the puzzle so we could show the picture to Roy or maybe the guy at Charlie's Sport Shop so he could say, "See that thingie? Take it off and there'll be a little thingie under it..." and so on. And we had to pick up Josh from the airport... but actually, we were a day early for that. My mistake.

So after not picking up Josh, and not being able to find anyone at Charlie's, we headed back down to AGS via SeaMar to get the parts for the fuel filter and LFS where we talked to a woman about Pebble Mine and then to AGS to clean and seal the fish, check the post office twice for the gas tank (no, both times)... and head back to the beach 5 hours later. The crew delivered 88 lbs from the morning tide, tried to use the weed-whacker to cut the path to the outhouse and threw rocks at birds. I can't say why Jeff was in this tierce, but Yin got a photo of it. Now you know a little more about Jeff. Ahem.

By the time we were heading home, the weather had turned and a pretty strong wind had come up. Worry about swamping the Bathtub, which was anchored where Roger could work on it without gearing up - but that means in the path of swamping under the influence of a wind. So they dragged that boat out with the ranger and prior to the tide, Jake brought the Ambi in so we wouldn't have to row out to it. But it was then anchored in the path of swamping, so we had to rush out there early and get that bow pointing out into the weather, walking it over to the running line and hang on until the rest of the crew arrived and we could get out of the surf break. Yin got video footage of that adventure.

Harry told me that there were 6-8' breakers (not just peaks and troughs) out in the middle - those are some rough seas. I had just been saying to the crew how tough us setnetters are to be bouncing around in that, working against the wind and the current in these open little tin cans, when Harry told me that his boat broke in the storm. They had electrical problems and their bilge pump went out - water all over the place. He fixed it, though.

Roger still couldn't get the retractor thing to work, but it did figure out how to get the part off, so he and Hugh went back into town and Roy helped them rewind it. (The dreaded "sproing" effect when replacing a cord occurred, but it was hidden from view so Roger didn't know what problem he was trying to solve.)

The wind became quite strong and it brought a lot of fish on the flood - more than 2300 lbs. The crew did really well. Evan is a natural picker - I think it's his logical mind; he thinks it's his stubbornness. In any case, he can see how they're caught and just gets them out.

I really like this crew.

Now, must sleep - up at 7 for the next tide. I think I'll be able to add photos tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

June 20: My birthday

It was a delightful birthday, though not trouble free. We had an opening at 9 am that we finally decided to fish. Out there at 8:30, getting ready, we found the Grayling swamped and a flagging line in the water. Ours. Our running line. It turns out that someone ran a boat over our running line (it does stick out there a bit) and cut it. Then the running line wrapped the anchor line of the Grayling, preventing it from riding properly in the fast current whereupon it took on water and swamped.

However, this is another one of those "If it was going to happen, this is about what I would pick." The Grayling didn't have an outboard on it, the net didn't spill out, it wasn't stormy, and we were working in the daylight... it just needed some bailing and it was fine.

We mended the running line - it took a couple of tries because we didn't realize at first that it was broken in the middle. Then we managed our first deep water set pretty uneventfully - and as deep water sets go, that's a smashing success. We decided just to set the other net from the Bathtub on one of the outside sites (the one with the buoys a little extra close together) and that also went fine.

Jeff was leading the Grayling restoration crew and was ready to set that net as we'd talked about on the neighbor's site, since they weren't using it. That turned out to be a good call because as soon as they got it in the water, we started getting hits. That's always exciting.

I had noticed some irregularity on the pull cord on the Yamaha that powers the Bathtub and discovered later in the tide that the irregularity must have been a nick because about half way through the tide, it turned into a full blown fray and that cord pulled its last pull.

Luckily, we have Roger.

We ended the tide with about 500 lbs and a pretty good selection of kings. Here are Jeff and Trevor with two of them, in a photo taken by Yin through a lens of a binocular.

When we went in from that morning tide, I was shocked to see that it was 2:45 - the first half of my birthday had disappeared! We cleaned the kings and prepared to vacuum seal them in our new vacuum sealer. But the 1000 W generator doesn't have quite enough to do it. Sigh. So get that thing (it's heavy!) into the truck, get it into town and use their electricity. But first, to King Salmon to get a cord (before Charlie's Sport Shop closes - he told Roger how to do the Ninja cord swap), and then success with the vacuum sealer before heading back down the beach to the Bathtub for Roger to take a shot at the repair and to the cabin for me to start the teriyaki salmon, couscous salad, and chocolate chip orange cake. It takes a while, but it's worth it. I think the best present I got for my birthday was not only that my brother came back from Anchorage, but he came back bearing vegetables and watermelon. Now, how do you get a watermelon on the plane? Only one way: carry it on. He carried a watermelon on the plane to give me for my birthday. That's a really good brother.

At dinner, Hugh did something to his hair and he looked just like Wolverine (a personal favorite of mine). So he did a little costume enhancement and here was Hugh's look for my birthday.

Down to one working outboard, we use the Ambi to tow the Grayling to the net it'll work on.

Roger was able to get the pull cord installed the ninja way but is having trouble getting the retractor mechanism to function. I didn't fish the evening tide, but the crew brought in 770 lbs and 10 kings, including two pretty big ones. They'll go into the freezer today. Yippee!

When David and Sarah arrive, the big kings will start heading to the east coast to a market David has developed there. Lucky them.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

June 19: Bob's birthday begins "free week"

Even if Bob isn't here this year, he has been in our thoughts several times - like when the Ambi had the sticky choke problem. We think he diagnosed that last year and we just didn't remember until Roy diagnosed it again. And today we finally brought down the freight that had the box that Bob sent in the middle of the winter with perfect, wonderful little tie off lines and v-lines to hold the leadline down. We're using two of them tomorrow. Chris recently said, "Bob's still the MVP and he's not even here this year."

Today was another day of getting ready - every day up until the fish start running hard will be a day of getting ready as long as we can keep thinking of things to do. So far, it's easy. Roger, Jeff, Trevor, and Yin went into town to do many errands and to change the fuel filter on the New Boat so that as soon as the new gas tank arrives, we can pop it on, get in the water, and go. Alas, in taking the fuel filter off, it was broken and SeaMar didn't have another. Dang. Boo. But... I bought a back up filter for the Ambi - it's smaller, but Roy says it'll push enough fuel so Roger will install that one and we'll be almost back in business.

I've become a little superstitious of trying to bake bread - for a few years there, every time I got it started, something urgent would happen and then the bread would just go its own way, which doesn't turn out as well as when it gets some guidance. But I tried today anyway and it came out fine. Even made cinnamon rolls...

Meanwhile, Jake, Chris, Hugh, and Evan stayed around camp and repaired my walkway (yippee!!) and worked on the two water-related projects. The most important is getting the pump running to pull water from the lake behind the cabin (actually, it's a giant mud puddle, but it has been home to a pair of swans and one time I was out at the lake not paying much attention to my surroundings when I looked up and found myself in the middle of a few caribou. So it may be a glorified mud puddle, but at least it's glorified) That water project is almost ready. Roger contributed the photo to the left of Jake and Hugh putting together the line draining the water from the reservoir tank at the top of the cliff to where it's needed for washdown at the bottom of the cliff. They're also making progress in getting the cabin waste water (from doing dishes and washing hands is about all we have) to run all the way over the cliff instead of just in front of the cabins.

We have a fishing opening (aka "an opener") in the morning at 9 am. We'll be allowed to fish straight through until 9 am Thursday when "free week" ends and the emergency period begins. At that time, we will become devout radio listeners at 9 am, noon, 3 pm, 6 pm, and 8 pm, when Fish and Game announcement are read letting us know whether we'll be allowed to fish and if so, when. (Actually, since I now have Internet access at my cabin, I just get the info via email. I don't exactly miss the old days of listening for announcements, except that I miss the hominess of the local public radio station - with polka hour, rock hour, country hour, space music, jazz, birthday announcements, the trading post, job opportunities, the Bristol Bay messenger (relays messages over the radio for people who can't be reached any other way.))

Since free week begins just after high water, I had decided that this early in the season, we won't fight with a high water set and instead just wait till the afternoon tide to set our nets out. The crew isn't experienced enough to add much to the discussion of decisions like that (though they do get lots of credit for gamely trying), so in the process of thinking it through, I often end up making a decision and then thinking more about it and making a different decision. It's a way of being indecisive that wouldn't appear indecisive if it were part of a dialogue. Decisions really are better when they're informed by multiple perspectives, and I think there are some people who immediately see and weigh all the factors and considerations and come up with the right course of action the first time because it started out clear for them. Not me. For me, it's a process.

On one side - the crew is pretty new - even the experienced guys are pretty new and doing a high water set is difficult and puts the gear at risk of getting caught in a prop, which of course risks not only the gear but it turns the stern of the skiff to the weather and pins it down, which is never a good thing and as things sometimes unfold, you can imagine where that cascade of events could lead. So, there probably won't be many fish to make the risk worth it... we should just sit it out and wait. Sound reasoning.

But then more thoughts trickled in...

Everyone is saying it'll be an early season,
We've had a southwest wind,
In one other year of the 40 seasons I've been paying close attention we've had a good showing on June 20,
And in one other year since we've had skiffs (since 1982) we participated in a high water set and the inside sites did great (and the outside sites did almost nothing),
If we wait till the afternoon, the drift fleet that may be fishing will have been fishing so we'll have missed the advantage of a long window of fish distributing throughout the district, free from nets.

So finally, I decided that we should set our inside site and since the neighbors are showing no sign of fishing their inside site tomorrow morning, we'll throw a net on their site too. What the heck. We'll fish the ebb and at least I hope we'll get a fish for my birthday dinner. Then, as the tide falls, we'll pick the net up on the borrowed site and put it where it belongs - about 900' seaward. And the crew will get practice at doing at least one type of deep water set. I hope we'll be close enough to high water that the current won't be running much yet. But it won't be that fast - going out to a 4' hold up.

So after Evan and I anchored the skiff at the outside of the outside site and then rowed in against the current and the wind, Jake and Chris went out and brought the Bathtub in so we can use it to set out of in the morning. Even though the skiff is anchored in, we'll still need to row out to it. Here is our port-a-bote, and beyond it are the four-wheelers and the stairs and beyond that our fleet of trucks, too far away to see the chewing gum and bailing wire that holds them together.

Trevor gave me his photos - he shares my taste for sunsets. This darker one is about as dark as it gets this time of year. And though it may seem pretty light, it's hard to pick a fish using mood lighting.

In today's final news: Trevor got a job on a neighboring setnet site - about two sites down, I think. So he'll stay with us and commute about 900' to work. I think that will help David in his quest for large kings, and of course, it will help Trevor. He's not 100% certain whose site it is, but I think she's a member of the Aspelund family, and that says a lot for them.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

June 18: The Blessing of the Fleet

Laid back day today, lots of good news, stress free.

Freddie Anderson, a local artist and fisherman started the Blessing of the Fleet several years ago. He persuaded the local processors and vendors to donate food and various safety items that he uses for door prizes. He makes the rounds of the different religious traditions represented in the area and asks a different person each year to say a few words (and depending on the preacher, it's sometimes more than a few), they give away a few door prizes based on tickets we get when we sign in, and then eat a little (or in some cases, a lot), a few more door prizes and then... the grand prize!

I think we all had fun - here are Hannah (left) and Hugh, thumb wrestling, and Makenzie, refereeing.

Our crew was very lucky - Jeff was first, winning a life jacket.

Jake won Peter Pan sweat pants;

Evan won a Peter Pan T shirt;

Yin won a little carrying pouch;

Hugh won a documentary called Red Gold;

I won a life ring (and gave it to my neighbor who just said he needed one and I thought we had enough - but wasn't positive);

and Yin won the grand prize - a life ring (now I'm sure), a Peter Pan vest, and a bear carved with a chainsaw by our wonderful neighbor, Mark, of The same one with the chainsaw injury a few days ago. I did check the bear for blood spots. None.

We decided not to try to work on the New Boat since the gas tank didn't come in today and we couldn't finish it. Chris and Hugh finished setting up the water system so now we can wash ourselves and our equipment off when we come in from a tide (and in a pinch, we can wash down fish, though we try to keep them out of the mud).

Here is the much maligned mud. The processors don't like it on our fish because it is hard on their equipment (in my opinion, they would be wise to bring back the wash down tank that used to stand where cars are now parked), some setnetters don't like it because it's darned hard to walk through over and over and over again - it gets on and in everything. Don't worry - Roger still has feet, they're just a little buried.

On the other hand, walking through it is a cardiovascular workout like none other I've found, and the calf muscles this develops can't be beat. Roger is looking forward to the impact of negotiating this mud on his bicycling when he gets back home.

You can't drive through it - trucks, no matter how big the tires and how many wheels are driving, just get buried. But a ranger can do it. The wide tracks provide enough displacement not to sink and the treads give them traction. They are a welcome piece of equipment, especially with outside sites that are about 1300' of mud away from where the buyer can take delivery of our fish. But we couldn't bring the rangers to the sites without having to drive them over about a one foot cliff created by the tide eating away at the beach access road. The rangers aren't flexible enough to take the cliff without significant risk of tipping over. So we waited.

Now the City has repaired the beach access road so Chris and Trevor took one ranger (the Friendly Ranger - Chris is jumping off it in this photo) and Roger and I took the other one (the Killer Ranger) down to the sites. Roger took the helm before we'd gone far and learned how that ranger communicates its intentions. It's good to sit if you can for stability's sake, but not all that comfortable if you do.

We got the rangers parked up high, out of the way of the tide and without incident, the wind has turned southwest.

We pulled the kites out of storage for the first time in a long time (the tails are just catching up with the nosedive here on the left), the crew threw rocks into the water (here are Evan, Hugh, and Trevor).

Trevor just came to offer some brownies (thank you, Meredith!) and told me that Roger got really good pictures of the crew jumping off the cliff (eek!!). "No one broke a leg," he assured me, "Makenzie was there."

... all is well.

Friday, June 17, 2011

June 17: What more could we hope for?

A Seattle work-related call started the day. Then near time to go see if the skiffs survived the incredibly fast tide last night. It was a 30' tide change in 6 hours... with a wind blowing. That current moves.

We got to the Bathtub as it was edging its way up the beach. It rode out the storm well. We had gas with us and oil. Thinking our problem was water in the gas, I asked Jake and Trevor to go to the Ambi to see if it will start - maybe it got over its problem enough for us to help it the rest of the way over (by use of the throttle). I ran to the processor's to get advice on how to care for the Ambi's outboard (after stopping by the Ambi to see that it too rode the storm well, even though it did it stern to the current). The advice: 1) dump out the old gas (this processor is really good. We put it in buckets and give it to them and they dispose of it in an environmentally friendly way) and 2) put in new. (I learned today that gas loses its oomph after about 8 months. So don't try to save it over the year.) Then 3) clear out the float bulbs. Huh? There are 3 carburetors and each one has a little screw under it to purge the float bulbs. But I didn't know that then.

Returned to the Bathtub with the needed supplies, fueled it up, added a bailing bucket and another life preserver. When the boat has plenty of fuel and it's running well, it gives me the same feeling as a full freezer. All went well and the equipment and people all converged on the Ambi to find that Jake had gotten it started. Yippee!! They ran it and ran it, trying to blow the water out of the system. I thought it still sounded funny - sort of muffled. But it seemed to be OK enough so we sent Roger back to camp in the truck and we were to follow, with Trevor traveling along the beach with us on the four wheeler.

It was time for skiff piloting lessons so Jake was to teach Hugh in the Ambi and I was to teach Evan in the Bathtub. As soon as Hugh dropped it into reverse, it died. Surrender. Rafted it up to the Bathtub and hauled it to knowledgeable help. They pulled it out of the water and Guy, the beach boss and nice person, showed us how to empty out the float bowls. But it continued to misbehave. We couldn't find Roy, but Chris the welder was willing to pitch in and when he felt over his head, he recruited KC for us, and he was just warming up to help us when Roy arrived. Roy used the force and diagnosed a sticky choke reparable by WD40. Jake then remembered Bob spraying WD40 on something at the beginning of each tide last year. Maybe it was that.

The outboard then worked fine and the beach gang was able to launch us again before dinner while we still had plenty of water. Kindness and competence from people; generosity from the universe. Skiff piloting lessons ensued and five miles later, we were at the site. The tide was still up to the gravel and the offshore wind rendered that water at the beach quite calm and easy to work in, so we took that opportunity to bring in the skiffs and load the nets into them that we had removed the night before and run the skiffs to the outside sites. Evan and I were the last ones out so we were the ones to row back in, in our little port-a-bote.

The port-a-bote has wonderful qualities - it is light, it will ride rough weather without capsizing because it is flexible and absorbs the pounding wave that would capsize a rigid dingy, and even if it does swamp, it floats just below the water. Those good qualities outweigh the disadvantage that that same flexibility makes it lumber through the water like a plow instead of slicing through it like a knife.

So when it was time for us to paddle our way the 1/4 mile back to shore, that offshore wind that I appreciated so much when we were loading the nets was less of a friend, and the outgoing tide added to the challenge. It is at least as hard as it sounds, the but really difficult thing is that we can't stop to rest or we get blown back to where we started, just more tired. We also took some time to sync our strokes so that for the first 600' toward shore, we paddled at least that far to the left and/ or right, sort of fighting each other with our paddling.

When we finally made it to shore, Evan commented that his arms had never felt that way before. All to the good, I think.

In a final positive note - while the rest of us performed the skiff rescue mission, Chris and Jeff stayed at the cabin and set up the pump!! It looks like some bears may have had their way with the pipe in a few places so we have some mending to do, but that's a great achievement. And another piece of progress: Marc Watson of Peninsula Automotive got the rangers ready for the season and dropped them off at the beach access road. We just need to bring them the rest of the way down the beach. The only problem there is that much of the dirt ramp leading to the beach was eaten away by those high tides we've been having so it's a bit of a cliff instead of hill. And the Killer Ranger isn't called that for nothin'. So we'll need to figure that one out this weekend, but it's a problem that can be solved with a shovel and a couple of hours.

Good day. We're ready to fish on Monday (my birthday!). Tired, though.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

June 16: Lucky (considering)

5 am: Back from the first flood pick. It was a training run. Up at 2:30, out at 3. Hugh, Trevor, and I worked the Bathtub (I have a special affinity for that outboard) and Jake, Roger, and Evan worked the Grayling (that 25 hp Johnson is persnickity and I think it favors the men). The Grayling is hard to work in because it has such low sides, so I took the tallest crew members with me - a little mercy on their backs. 1 fish.

But actually, the real reason I'm posting so early is to assure parents that we all survived sampling the year old cookies. No one seems any the worse for wear. I want that recipe! More later after we've slept a little more and fished a little more.

We went back out at 7 for a water haul on the rest of the tide, back in at 8. I had started some steel cut oats between the two picks - 3 cups of oats; 9 cups of water. Enough for 7 guys, right? Ha! So Yin and I also made ... I'm not sure what it was, but it involved onions, tomatoes, potatoes, kidney beans, black beans, eggs, and smoked salmon. Those disappeared too. I like to put beans into everything I reasonably can because they last so long in a person. Here we are at a meal. It's so much fun just to be in the same room listening to them as they wait to eat. And for all the parents out there: yes, they do offer to help; sometimes they wash their hands; and they've done all the dishes so far.

The Johnson outboard gave up during the morning tide so we towed the Grayling around to its various responsibilities and eventually loaded the outboard into the truck to take to Charlie's Sport Shop for repair (he laughed and said one week.) The main purpose of the trip into town was to get the Ambi - the Big Boat - ready to launch. Oh, the emotional aerobics of that process. Roger successfully replaced the fuel filter and installed a new antenna mount (yay!!) - which was promptly destroyed before the skiff even left the river (boo!!). He said changing the filter was easy - none of it looked easy to me. But the engine part of it was alarming and had me thinking about how much it would cost to replace the outboard by next week (boo!!).
The old battery is bubbling - replace it.
The new battery isn't fully charged and everyone is going to lunch - quick! Borrow one and see if the outboard will start and go.
Eek! Something is wrong. We can see a spark, but now the light isn't even turning on. -- Eek! Did you say "spark?" Negative on the positive? Disaster? Nope, just dirty terminals and icky clamps. Roy advises us, "clean and tight."
Yippee! We're ready to launch!! Jeff will take the helm, with Roger and Trevor as crew. We waited about a half hour before I was ready to abandon the launch crew because the rest of us need to get back to the nets and pick them up until Monday. I had wanted to stay for the launch because some powerful part of me thinks it's my fierce concentration that gets the boat launched unremarkably. I spotted the Crane Master and, not wanting to bug him I just asked if I should wait for the launch or leave for the beach. There's a skiff waiting to be launched? Oh... yeah... communication breaks down everywhere. It did give the kids a chance to go to mug-up. That's everybody's favorite time of the day - coffee break at 10 am, 3 pm, 8 (or is it 9?)pm. Free goodies, like cookies, cakes, grilled cheese sandwiches - oh, and coffee. On a nice day people stand out on the "balcony" and survey the domain.

A few minutes after the launch, we got a call:
We're dead in the water and drifting toward the mouth of the river." - Drop the anchor. Is the fuel line pinched? Is it firmly attached to the outboard? Is the tank getting some air? (All the while, I have a terrible feeling I know what happened - I think it's my fault for being so cheap - I hate to throw away leftover gas, even though I know condensation probably happened over the summer. Lesson 1 that I already knew but apparently needed a refresher course.)

Most of the crew is new and they haven't spent much time in the river on the water so it was hard to figure out where they were. But we finally sort of worked it out and, as with the stuck flatbed of a few days ago, if it had to happen, it couldn't have happened at a better place. I told them to wait till they could get out of the boat without swamping their waders and pull the boat to a nearby protected area and we'd come and get them in the truck as soon as we finished picking up the nets (with our one functioning boat). Hugh and Chris were with me and they were efficient so I began to think that we would have time to run to them in the skiff, tow the Ambi back to the processor for its recovery. And then I decided that there really is no rush, no need to add to the stress by trying to beat the tide when we're not really in a race. But then I couldn't figure out where to anchor the boat full of nets - we would need them at the outside sites on Monday. But first, we would need to take it into the river to recover the Ambi - and the sooner the better. Well... now, then. So I gave our total catch (3 fish) to Jake and zoomed out to the river. I imagined if my kids saw me, they wouldn't believe it since I usually drive like an old lady. And the wind had come up, pretty strong. The weather report says 24 MPH with gusts to 45. I think there were a lot of gusts.

I kept thinking that I should call the Ambi crew so they wouldn't beach it, but I didn't want to stop because I was racing the very quickly outgoing tide. I got to where I thought they were and couldn't see them. So I called. They had tied up the boat to a barge and caught a ride to the beach where Chris picked them up in the truck that he was using to follow me. I was slow and it took a few tries to get me to understand that. Lesson 2 that I already knew: try patience. Just for a minute. I'm not sure it was wise to head out for them. Maybe.

They had done just what I asked them to do, but more thoroughly and more quickly than I expected. But there was still time and they weren't far, so they came back to help me get to the Ambi with the Bathtub, with the extreme river current pushing us around. And they mentioned that Roy would come look at it. Oh. Then there's no reason to take it to him. Oh.

So I tried to race the tide home, but lost that race and started to hit bottom, something that would happen sooner than usual with that boat because of the weight of the nets it was carrying. Uh oh. I could anchor there, walk in and walk back out on the next tide. That's a long walk. I could walk the boat in, but I didn't know how well skiffs on this part of the beach ride a storm. OK, back to the protected cove place that I hoped Jeff and crew would take the Ambi. But I was low on gas. Made it even though the gas tank was floating by the time I beached it.

The uneasy thing is that the southeast wind blows straight down the river so the usually protected little space gets kind of wild. And my skiff with a heavy load. Sigh.

But I think the Bathtub is actually in a good place (assuming it doesn't swamp there and dump its nets and submerge our one working outboard) because it turns out that Roy wasn't actually planning to come rescue the Ambi's outboard... just that he for sure wouldn't walk through the sticky mud I was suggesting to do it, but he would come down a ladder and across a barge. Though I'm not sure about getting from the barge to the skiff... details!

So I think we may need to tow it to the processor after all and the Bathtub is in a decent place to begin that task. Too bad about all the nets. And the wind.

Chris and I will get up at 2 to check the wind and if it continues, we'll head in to babysit the boat and maybe to unload the nets into the back of the truck so the boat won't need such babysitting, it'll maneuver more easily in that outrageous current, and it'll be better able to do its expected towing job /// It's a good thing I'm writing this because as I wrote the previous sentence I realized what we needed to do: unload the nets into the truck while the tide is well out and before it can be a threat to the boat. And take the four wheeler and trailer that Hugh just got functional for us today, in case it's too boggy by the boat for the truck.

Jeff, Trevor, and I did that and loaded two nets into the truck and Jeff rode back with one in the four-wheeler trailer. We also had a chance to check on the Ambi which went dry very nicely. Except for the problems that need solving, all is well and we can sleep.