Friday, June 29, 2012

June 29: So that's why the stern is low

Another fishing day - we set at 7 AM, picked up by 2:30. Today put us over 6000 lbs. The idea popped into my head today that the season will be 4 days late. Nothing scientific about that - just the knowledge that it's darned cold and the water is darned cold and it feels late. We discovered the almost miraculous polypropylene glove liners 10 years ago or so (even when our hands are wet, the glove liners keep them warm - and I have Reynaud's Syndrome) and until this season, it has been 10 years since my fingers have stung from the cold. It's cold.

Fishing picked up a little bit today, but still, it wasn't enough to stay out for throughout the tide. When we came in between the set and the flood pick, I found the power converter that Maeve brought back from King Salmon and yippee!! Internet again!!

We planned to go out 1 1/2 hours before the tide turned, but actually only had about 30 minutes - partly because we were slow in getting out, but largely because the tide book was wrong again. This is a problem - we depend on the tide book and it's usually pretty accurate - to about 15 minutes. Except this year, it's been off by more than an hour. Today, the tide turned almost
an hour before we expected. We can feel it when it starts to turn - the net stops swinging north - the direction of the incoming tide - and begins to swing south, the direction that the water goes when it runs out. During that transition, it's called "slack water." There's a "high slack" and a "low slack," when the tide is changing direction. We are most acquainted with high slack, when the nets really does become slack.

Since it wasn't a particularly busy tide, Roger had a chance to work on the power pack in the New Boat - and I had a chance to learn a little about it. It runs, but then it stops. The initial diagnosis was water in the carburetor. I learned how to check the fuel filter, drain the fuel bowl, and then remove the bowl and blow carburetor cleaner up there to unblock the jet (?). That helped a little, but it died again anyway. Roger and Jeff began to suspect a sparkplug problem. They swapped the sparkplug off the powerpack in the Bathtub (I wouldn't let them take it from the Ambi) and... that seemed to fix it. When the crew went into town later, they found a whole box of powerpack sparkplugs in the net locker. Yay! Maybe by tomorrow, all the equipment will be working. And I'm happy to say that it doesn't seem so much like a magic box to me anymore. Maybe I can learn about equipment.

David has been concerned for some time that the stern of the New Boat is riding too low and he suspected water in one of the air pockets. I've thought it was just all the equipment back in that corner - the powerpack and the roller are on the same side, and there is a Pacer pump over there as well. But it felt lumbering to him. So today while we were in there trying to learn from Roger, I saw a black disc in the front of the air pocket - it would be there to cover the hole through which the outboard controls are installed and run to the console. I asked if the disc could be removed. David saw that it unscrews and... water came pouring out. Many many pounds and gallons of water poured out and he pumped out the rest. That New Boat is almost frisky the way it bounces around in the water now.

Even though we delivered the high water pick and again as we picked the ebb, there were still 25 fish or so at the end that we all carried in. David brought us in as far as he could in the Ambi and we jumped out with salmon in hand (like in the old days - though then we usually carried three fish per hand, and all the way from the outside site) Sarah got this shot. In Naknek parlance, we are "packing fish."

The crew, led by David, decided to tackle the home pack now. Often, we leave it to the end of the season and that's a pretty stressful experience. Today isn't the day I would have picked for that, but they had the energy, so they went in with probably 25 or 30 reds (sockeye) and 4 or 5 kings (it was a good day for kings) and they processed for our homepack. Sarah was a faithful photographer. The Montana crew created a fillet line while the coastal part of the crew (David, Sarah, and Jeff from the west coast, Evan and Roger from the east coast) bagged and sealed the salmon. I'm usually on the fillet line so I've never really paid much attention to the effort involved in the sealing process. But when I've done it all myself, I've noticed that it takes about twice as long as I expect because of my limited perspective. Sealing it takes time - probably about as much time as filleting it.

Then, after sealing all the fish up, we have to spread them about the freezer so they will freeze quickly (we learned the hard way that they don't freeze fast enough if we just pile them up). But during the heat of the home pack part of the season, when we spread them around the freezer, we inconvenience others who use the freezer. Plus, there is the little problem of people taking our homepack home with them. So here is Chris, laying out fish in a place he hopes is both out of the way and out of sight.

We go again in the morning - 8 AM, in 9 feet of water (at the low water mark). That probably means too much water for us to push set. However, the current shouldn't be too swift - it'll be coming in from a 6' hold up to an 18' high. With 12 hours to cover that ground, it won't be moving as fast as usual. So if it is a deep water set, unless the wind is blowing hard, it shouldn't be too stressful. We'll know in the morning. Meanwhile, this is what we have tonight, with the late-breaking news that an aerial survey by Fish and Game has detected 600,000 salmon in the Kvichak river. That is great news for many reasons. And one thing it means is that the Kvichak river will be open to drift fishermen, spreading the fleet out a little bit. A little less pressure on us...

June 28: Things I take for granted

I think and hope that this will be the last day with such limited Internet access. Even though I haven't really gotten used to having Internet access on the tundra - it was only ... 5 years ago, maybe, that this became possible - I have become frighteningly dependent on it, and it's actually quite fragile with many potentially weak links.

The cabin needs to have electricity. We've managed that with a generator, solar panels, and three big batteries in my loft with a spider's web of wires leading to them from the solar panels and leaving them to the inverter and the DC lights.

Then the inverter has to work, and the socket it plugs into that attaches to the battery. The photo shows the inverter and the brown plug that has the Internet antenna and router on it. It is sitting on the battery charger which is attached to the battery in case the panels can't keep up with the demand on the batteries. When we run out of battery juice, we run the generator to power the devices and to charge the battery. When we do that, we move the brown plug to the strip powered by the generator, so as not to draw from the battery as we charge it.

Then the antenna needs power to receive a signal - that was the most recent replacement (which I hope is the last fix for keeping us connected this season). Then the signal needs to make it back into the cabin, either to the computer or to the router to be picked up wirelessly by everyone's devices. Of course, the router and the devices also present opportunities for disruptions. There are many links in this chain that can be broken and I find it surprising that even knowing that, it is easy to come to assume that we'll have access. Now that we seem to again, it feels like luxury; by tomorrow, it might start to feel standard again.

In addition to Maeve's trip to King Salmon yesterday to get the replacement power converter, we fished and I'm very happy that Sarah is now in service as a photographer. When we come in after initially setting and running through the nets, we return to the nets before the tide turns. The Bathtub is the easiest boat to move if it goes dry on the beach, so that's the one we run in with. Here we are, ready to go back out again.

When we are out there, sometimes if we're not too cold and we don't have much time before we need to go through again or it's almost time to pick up the nets, we just clip on to each other and hang out. This is when we learned the depth of Evan's sea shanty and Billy Joel songs and other secrets about one another. Except for the sea shanty and Billy Joel secret, what is revealed on the water, stays on the water (usually).

It was almost time to pick up the nets. When it's slow (and the fishing has been slowly increasing), we'll look for ways to entertain ourselves, like racing through the net with one skiff starting at the outside end and the other starting at the inside end, racing to get past the middle.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

June 27: Sarah arrives! And a day in the fishing life.

I’m writing this at 4 AM before we get started. I have to confess that sometimes, when it’s dark and cold inside and outside and I can hear the wind blow, it can be difficult to face whatever wet, cold challenge is coming.

6:45 AM. Back in from the set and the first run though. Not many fish. We were there in time for Roger to clean the battery terminals before the boat started rocking vigorously. To do that, he had to detach the powerpack for the roller because the battery is pinned under it and some of the bolts holding the powerpack in place are inconveniently located to say the least. But the Ambi’s outboard started all morning without any difficult, the New Boat ran well, and the Bathtub seems to be well in service.

There was a moment after Roger fixed the New Boat and had the audacity to think that everything might be running well as the Bathtub was ferrying him back to the Ambi… and the Bathtub's outboard died! It was only a disconnected fuel line. However, that led to Roger to hypothesize a law of nature that goes: at all times something of ours must be broken. He deduced, then, that the trick is to make sure that that thing is not crucial to our operation, which led to the idea of a sacrificial piece of equipment – like a powerpack in the Grayling. Desperate times and desperate measures…

We tried a new approach to the running set: attaching the net’s anchor line to the stern of the boat and stretching the boat toward the inside buoy, then stretching the boat’s anchor line farther toward the inside buoy. The idea is that the crew will stand in the bow, reeling in the anchor line as the net comes out the stern. The advantage of that approach is that it gets the prop out of the way of the anchor lines, which have a tendency to catch the prop and then it’s a regular mess. It semi worked for us, but we didn’t control the exit of the net carefully enough so as Roger was trying to get the anchor up, the stern of the boat was swinging around, pulling more net out of the boat. I didn’t think about all that net swirling temptingly around the prop so I was surprised when I put the outboard into gear and wrapped it up with the net. Argh. We all had to jump out – the water was only up to our waists, which made this tide a good one for an experiment. Roger was holding the bow while Patrick and I spent a minute or two trying to untangle the net from the prop. Aware of the quickly rising tide, I decided to use the knife that is stored on the handle of the powerpack to hack away at the mesh to free the prop. Groan. A significant future mending project. But we freed it and push set the rest of the way without enough time to experiment further.

I think that approach could work, I just need to control the speed of the exit of the net from the boat to give the bow crew time to pick up the anchor. Now that David has perfected it, he declares, "I'll never do another push set."

We’ll go back out at 8:20 AM to pick through before the tide turns.

We decided that the Ambi crew would devote itself to mending the gigantic hole created by hacking at the web that was caught in the prop. The actual mending task, though somewhat tedious, is nevertheless soothing and rewarding when the hole disappears. And when a fish gets caught in the mend? It feels like success! I’m not so sure how rewarding it is for the crew whose job it is to hold the net (normally people use net racks for the purpose) or fill the net needle. So when the tide was almost out and we had four more fish in the boat, even though I would have loved to have kept Roger’s and Patrick’s company, it seemed wrong, so they walked in to deliver the fish and I continued to mend. It took a total of 8 hours of mending. It was a big big hole. This is what the mending twine looks like. Someone rolls it onto the spool and then it's a process of finding the right place to start and tying knots.

While we were out there, mending, David went into town to pick up Sarah. I was so glad to have her here. She came up when she and David had just started dating and it was here that I decided that she fit right in. She was a little afraid of the skiffs, but she didn't let that stop her. At the end of the season, we were taking the skiffs in to be pulled up, winterized, and stored till next season. It was very very windy. She was walking out through the water toward the skiff and took a big wave, right in the face. Her eyes blazed a little, she shook the water out of her face, and kept coming. I knew that she has what it takes. In addition to herself, she brought us some vegetables! Here is the dinner Maeve made us on the night of Sarah's arrival.

We had another moment of Internet access today, but it looks like the transformer that powers the whole device might be dead. It smells bad, and that’s coming from a fisherman.

Just before bed, the new strategy for a running set is to string lightweight line between the buoys. It will serve three purposes: 1) keep the buoy in place; 2) give us a line to follow, away from the anchor line; and 3) give us something to tie the net to temporarily if the current takes the net and we can’t reach the buoy. We’ll try it out in the morning. 6:30 AM opener. Up at 5. Good night.

July 26: Lion hearted crew

People really show their colors when the going gets tough. This crew has spectacular colors.

We did have too much water this morning for a walking set, but we weren’t quite ready to commit to that and by the time we knew, we were 10 minutes from setting and reconfiguring for a running set would have taken 20 minutes, with those last 10 giving the tide time to rise and speed up enough so a running set would be even more difficult than usual. So my lion-hearted crew stood out there in the water that began to invade their waders, as they waited for time to set.

There are many steps in preparing to set even with a normal low key walking set. First, we have to check the anchor lines to make sure they aren’t wrapped around an anchor or otherwise tangled. Unfortunately, there was so much water this morning, we had to do this with our feet in about hip deep water. The v line on the outside of this net was disconnected from where we expected it to be. I found it with my feet and followed it to find a torn caribiner. That’s a lot of pressure. Pulling it up to the anchor line, we found that it was several feet shorter. That didn’t make any sense. So we went back to the anchor and tried to understand it with our feet. Finally, I found that the v line was partially buried in the mud, which shortened it up and put all the pressure on that caribiner which it was unequal to. It is surprising to me that the grip of the mud was stronger than the caribiner… maybe there is more to the story than we could see. Luckily, we had a spare caribiner and were able to make that repair. This photo shows the torn caribiner, next to a smaller version of an intact one. It could be that something else caused it to rip in the current and then the v-line was able to become buried in the mud…

It is difficult to convey how hard the current is on anything that tries to resist it, and resisting current is just what setnetters do. Maybe this photo of the caribiner and yesterday's photo of the broken buoy light gives some idea. In a way, it's reassuring to know that we don't really have a special place in this world we're working in - the current will chew us up and spit us out just as surely as anything else that passes through. We belong here and are treated like all of the other creatures that are part of this world. I like that.

We always hope for an uneventful preparation to fish, but we have to prepare for something to go wrong. After all, the expression is, “That’s fishing.” Meaning that we should expect something to go wrong. The fishermen who remain intact and are able to continue the tide are the ones that are prepared to deal with it, when “it” can take a variety of forms. Not being mechanically inclined or educated gives me a huge handicap, so I have to be prepared with replacements, ingenuity, a lion hearted crew, good phone support, and as much time as we can find to recover.

After getting set up, we were just waiting to set. I had climbed into the skiff and started the outboard to help hold the skiff in position until it was time to set. When we’re standing deep in the water, it’s hard to have the leverage to control a heavy skiff with a big sail for a bow even in a moderate breeze like we had this morning (and I am deeply grateful that it was only a moderate breeze). David and his crew abandoned setting their net because they couldn’t get the outboard to start and they didn’t have the leverage to push the boat. Roger and Jeff made their way into the Grayling to set the inside site, and David kind of swam his way to help us by getting the inside buoy and holding it in place. (When the tide comes in, of course it pushes any buoy down current, so it is moving away from where it will be when the net is holding it to the outside buoy. Figuring out where we want the boat to be when we come to the end of the net is a geometry problem, unless someone is holding the buoy in place, giving us a target.)

We have to wait to set until not a moment before the opener or else we’re fishing in closed waters, which yields a fine of $1500, surrender of the illegal gear and any fish caught in it illegally. Plus, demerits to the permit which can add up to a season of not being allowed to fish at all. When the moment came, I started motoring slowly with the net popping out the side of the boat as we went along, but it turned out that I was leaving Patrick behind. He tried to pull himself along on the net, but that was just pulling the net out of the boat. We stopped, which was possible because David and Evan were outside the boat holding on to it. The water was too deep for Patrick to get into the boat, so he just held on to the outside as I continued to motor slowly toward the other buoy. We found that Evan also started in a poor position, as the net was being set, ending up sort of under the net with the
corks hitting his head as they were coming out (he moved). David wasn’t able to make it to the buoy in time, so he grabbed hold of the boat as well and rode along. He said he climbed over Evan to find a good place to grip. It sounds scary and wet, but it wasn’t as bad as it sounds because we all knew where each other was, everyone was away from the prop, and the whole procession was moving slowly, toward shallower water. And that part of the process probably didn’t take as much as 10 minutes. And the sunrise was glorious.

One of the reasons I wanted to set that site was because it hadn’t been fished yet so we weren’t sure of the distance between the buoys and whether we’d need taglines. I knew we’d be under stress when we found out… that was today, and it was more stress than I was hoping for. I’m still not sure that under normal conditions, we’ll need a tag line, but under today’s conditions, we did and we had it. It was thinking all that through as I was trying to fall asleep last night that kept me from falling asleep.

The crew was able to get in at the inside buoy and David took over the helm, getting us to Chris and Jake who had decided on a running set, but had forgotten to tie the end of the net to the boat so that when they came to the end of it, it just left the boat and started drifting down current. Chris hopped out of the boat and acted as an anchor. They would have been fine if they had attached the extra line in the boat to the corkline and continued on to the buoy, but it all happened too fast and we don’t often do running sets. As it was, we got there in time to attach one of our extra lines to the buoy and run it to the end of the net before the current took it too far. We ended up with about 35 more feet in the set than the site really needs. I call that a success.

Then we converged on Roger and Jeff who were half way through setting the inside site. There was too much current and it was pulling the net down current as they laid it out, so they weren’t going to reach the target buoy. We got there in time to move the target. So, three nets successfully set, and a wet crew that did not give up even though it was really hard and a little scary. They didn’t even accept the invitation to go in and dry out.

After the nets were all set and before we went in the first time, Patrick got some shots of the crew in our boat. Here are Evan and me. And another good one of Roger.

The early morning weather was cold and glorious – another Maxfield Parrish painting. It ended up being a fairly quiet tide with a lot of variability in what the drift fleet did. We had less than 1000 lbs. So we kept going in and warming up for 45 minutes at a time. It started out as a clear and beautiful day. When we went in from the initial set, this is what we saw at the top of the stairs.

Turning around and looking over the cliff, we saw the skiffs where we anchored them, sunbathing.

By the time we got back out, a very cold fog had descended. And then it pretty much stayed cold. Here is Patrick in the cold fog.

When the fishing is light, we come in and out of the skiffs, especially when it's so cold. Of course, we're out when it's time to set and we'll go through the nets at least once right after setting it looking for problems with the set, like crossed leadlines or other snags. If the fishing is slow, we'll anchor the boat in and come back out an hour or two before high water. If there are a lot of fish, we'll keep going through the nets until it's time to pull the nets or the water leaves us, whichever comes first. When we're fishing hard - or when we get up at 3:30 for a 5:30 set (like this day), the crew tends to nod off as much as possible during those 45 minutes breaks. Here are a few of them.

We go again at 5:30 tomorrow morning. We should have a little less water especially if the winds remains calm, and we should be a little more prepared. With Roy’s phone support, Roger was able to get the New Boat’s outboard running and with a second episode of support, we learned that the Ambi’s battery terminals need cleaning so that it will start reliably. Working the bugs out, learning as we go.

June 25: Coffee and repairs, setnet style

Note: we have been out of Internet reach for several days - first because of corrosion on the wire that connects the computer to the antenna, then I think the high winds interfered with the signal, and most recently, the power brick that plugs into the power source and delivers power to the antenna failed. I think that's been replaced (I'll find out in a couple of hours). When we start fishing in earnest (and we have), it gets harder to come to town to borrow Internet access. Today's the day. So I'm posting the logs I've been keeping in Word. That's why there are so many at once.

Jake brought back some special coffee from Indonesia. I think he said it goes for $70 - $100 per cup in the U.S. It isn’t that we don’t have a coffee grinder; it’s just that I don’t allow it to be used for coffee because I can’t stand the taste. It's just for grinding flax seeds. When Patrick understood the score, he just got a hammer and went right outside with the beans and bam!...bam!...bam!bam!... and he returned with gourmet coffee of a setnet grind.

We hurried into town this morning after getting a mayday from Harry that they were loading up on their subsistence fish and would need waders to pick them NOT in the mud, and ideally something to pick them into. (A subsistence net is a 10 fathom net that Alaska residents can get a license to fish for subsistence purposes.) Jake and Patrick volunteered so we packed up a couple of sleds and rushed into town. Their net was losing water pretty fast. Jake and Patrick geared up and I dragged down the sleds. Shortly after, Jake and Patrick arrived and got ahead of the fish (meaning that they started picking the fish closest to going dry and made progress on the net at a greater rate than the tide was falling).
Makenzie dragged the sled up to the dock, loaded 4 or 5 fish into a five gallon bucket, tied the line that was hanging off the dock to it, and I pulled it up. We had many reps of that particular exercise. After she was caught up, Harry asked for her help in the splitting room, so Daniel took over her job and she and I took turns pulling.
It went smoothly. When the fish were all “delivered,” I headed to King Salmon to license the delinquent truck. I forgot to do it last year and Harry was driving when that lapse was brought to our attention. I also used that trip to get duplicates of the skiffs’ tags since after 3 weeks, they haven’t arrived.

Stopping into SeaMar on the way back, I was told that our buoy lights might have been stolen??? Here is a photo of the broken off light, next to an intact one. Apparently many setnetters have been having the same experience. It could be a buoy light thief, but it makes more sense to me that the lights may not be designed to withstand the pressure they are under on a setnet. On the drift boats, they just drift along with the current, along with the net and the boat (hence drift fishing). They feel the strength of the current in how fast they drift. It’s different for us. We are anchored so we feel the strength of the current in how hard it pulls against us, how hard we have to pull against it, and how fast the tide rises around us. We experience the same current, but it has different implications for the two gear types.

The chicken soup in the keyboard incident is almost behind me. I wasn’t sure I wanted to admit our entire solution before, but it seems to be working now – with the exception of not having an ‘Enter’ key. Happy to report the space bar is working as a space bar, the backspace key seems to have reliably recovered its functioning. I think the ‘Enter’ key is the last hold out. So I’m copying the paragraph mark and inserting it where I would normally hit the ‘Enter’ key to start a new line. We’re all about workarounds and innovations here.

I’ve replaced a keyboard before (I wear ‘em out), so I was pretty confident that I could at least remove the keyboard and look for chunks of chicken or carrots and mop up liquid that I didn’t pour out and that wasn’t absorbed by the box of rice. Then I disconnected it and we put it into an egg crate filled with warm water and sloshed it around a bit, watching the chunks and bits float to the surface. (Yes, I cringed while I did it. David worked for an electronics firm and assured me it could be done safely.) Then I used Roy’s air hose and blew on it vigorously, chasing the water off. And then did it some more. Finally, following David’s instructions of putting it in an oven, I laid it on Roy’s metal workbench that is placed strategically over an oil stove and is therefore deliciously warm. When I reassembled the whole thing, the mouse was frantic and not normally responsive and the spacebar problem was intermittent, but by morning the mouse had settled down and the spacebar seems to have recovered. Now I’m just waiting for the ‘Enter’ key to come back on line. That is lots less troublesome than a spacebar that acts like an ‘Enter’ key.

The Internet is back to being intermittent, which is an improvement over not functioning at all. It feels like a welcome surprise when it’s there. I think it will become more reliable now that the winds have died down. Meanwhile, I’ll borrow Roy’s connection when I’m in town.

We fish at 5 AM on Tuesday. I’m worried we’ll have too much water on a fast rising tide, especially with the wind behind it. We’ll solve that problem in the morning if we have it.

Monday, June 25, 2012

June 24: Is that an almond?

The phone rang early, overcoming my reluctance to brave the cold cabin. It was Maeve who had been up for a while, watching the skiffs being tossed around in the 25-35 MPH winds and she was worried about how the Bathtub was riding. So I got up to take a look. They seemed OK, but after pushing my way through the strong winds
to the edge of the cliff, I saw that the tide, slowly going down now, had had quite an effect while it had been in.

It had come up over the berm, and swept the beach around our stairs clean - clean of our work, supplies and equipment. It had either removed or covered the gravel path the crew had made a couple of days before (back when it was hot), taken away the supply of gas cans under the stairs, broken off the end of the wash-down system, picked up Skook and left her upside down in the water-filled trough, swamped the Porta-bote, threatened the four-wheeler and swamped the Bathtub's powerpack. (That powerpack has taken a beating so far this year, and the season hasn't really started yet.)

As I looked up the beach, I saw a truck in front of the Williams' place, unsure at first whether it had arrived there recently, or whether it too had been swamped. It turned out to be the latter.
Steve, the truck's owner, was glad to be able to say that the water hadn't reached the passenger's seat. Only living on a slanted beach would that be a comfort. The tide had come up around and into it, not only introducing water where we'd like to keep it out, but also partially burying it. I guess that is how the snow machines that found their way to the beach a few years ago just eventually disappeared. I think if we dug down, we might find them. So, do they settle lower and lower? Or does the beach rise? And if the beach rises, why hasn't it reached the top of the cliff by now?

I spoke with Sam and found that they dug Steve's truck out and then towed it. Steve was able to get it started and took it into town to flush and otherwise revive. Steve wasn't out there yet when Chris returned from church with the truck, but I wish we had gone to their cabin to see if they wanted our help (or more to the point, our truck's help) while we were still on the beach. I think that's what they would have done for us, but we had been in such a hurry to get the powerpack in to be de-swamped that I didn't think of it.

Jeff and Roger and I went in to de-swamp the powerpack. I had called Roy and he said to bring it in and spray it down and then... the phone reception went all static-y, so I decided to just head in for that step and ask him for the next step in person. Harry was also standing by to offer assistance.

Harry said to pour out the fluids, remove the sparkplug, pour in a little diesel or kerosene (I think because it's not so volatile but it is kind to engines). I think he gave me additional instructions but I am pretty dense about things mechanical. Roy kindly observes that I'm just not wired that way. We sprayed water on the outside and air on the inside, and vacuumed out all the tundra we could find (here is Jeff vacuuming with KC’s shop-made crevice device), making some mistakes in the process, but none that were awfully expensive. We drained the remaining hydraulic fluid from the reservoir and saw something partially occluding a hole in the bottom. It _was_ an almond. How did it get there? One of setnetting’s mysteries. After their diligent work, and under KC's, Roy's, and Harry's combined supervision, we started it up...and it ran!!

Then we did the rest of the town errands, which included parts for a pump system to get water from the bin outside into the kitchen, and I was desperate to get back to the cabin.

While we were in town, the rest of the crew checked the boats to be sure they didn’t need bailing (they didn’t) but they did find that the buoy lights had been sheared off just above the pole. Groan. We have two plans: 1) to create a protective cage around the whole light apparatus; or 2) to remove the lights and store them in the boats except for those times when we need them. The problem with #2 is that they will almost certainly be trampled and broken when we need them next. If we leave them on shore, they will almost certainly be forgotten when we need them next. That may be the best answer.

Once back here, I tried to catch up on blog entries but the Internet was down - I guess because of the high winds. I decided I needed to eat so I heated a can of chicken noodle soup...and poured some quantity of it over my keyboard. Aieee! After pouring out what I could, I tried removing the keyboard but my screwdriver was too big for some of the crucial screws. So I replaced the screws I was able to remove and started it up. It started, anyway. Then I shut it down and stored it in a box of rice for the night. So far, the impact of my swamped computer is that the backspace and enter keys are reluctant but most difficult is that the spacebar acts like an enter key and between that and Word's eagerness to capitalize anything after a paragraph mark, this is slow going. I am finally learning to use a different character (asterisk) to stand in for the space bar with a global find and replace at the end. Still slow.

Just got a call from Harry. His subsistence net is loaded. My stomach is on active alert.

June 23: Blessing of the fleet

Freddie Anderson has been organizing the blessing of the fleet for 14 years. Each year he asks someone from some type of religion to perform the blessing and this year, he asked Harry. Harry did a great job dressed in his Deacon's vestments. He was able to pull out many biblical references to fishing and fishermen and he invited Chris to come up to do one of the readings.

I was sprinkled with holy water for the first time in my life. I'm not a member of any church (though I think the Rector of my Episcopalian friend's church disagrees with a big, warm heart) but I am always grateful to receive a blessing from any that will give it.

Mark Williams' family - our wonderful neighbors since 1969 - helps out with the Blessing every year. Here is Mark, his older son, Marcus, and younger son, Sam with his wife, Dana, in the background.

Freddie also invited the fire chief to make a presentation. His big safety message was PFDs (personal flotation devices) which I think is a great message and one we didn't need to hear, though reminders never hurt.

He also approaches the fish processors and other businesses in the area to donate food and safety-oriented items to use as doorprizes so everyone has a big meal and lots of people are winners.

Stephanie, Marcus' lovely girlfriend, facilitated the drawing.

Our crew won some fire-retardant-in-a-can (which most of them gave to the drift boat crews they were sitting near. (Those little cans are designed to stop fires on the water before they start) and a cup from Paug-vik.

It doesn't take very long in town before I begin to long for the tranquility and solitude of my cabin. We had talked about possibly going dancing this night - I like to go twice a season: once on my birthday weekend, and once at Fishtival weekend at at the end of the season. But by the time we made it home, too cold and exhausted to post, I was ready for a nap.

I forced myself out of bed at 11 to look at the tide and didn't like how it looked. So I asked the crew, all snuggled under a blanket watching something on someone's computer, to take the truck down before they went to bed. That turned out to be a good thing.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

June 22: Slow, hot day

The thermometer said it was in the low 70s outside (in the shade) and in the high 70s inside. What a surprise!

We are now in the waiting phase of fishing. Harry tells us that the test catches of fish coming through False Pass are building, but that the water is colder than it has been in nearly 30 years. I've heard the idea that the cold winter and late thaw is the reason that the beach is so treacherous: the ice is much later in melting so the ground under the gravel remains soggy. Harry says that he is hearing from the scientists that the cold water is causing the fish to behave in unusual ways. As a setnetter who fishes near the shore, I hope that means they will favor the beach, where the water will be warmer. But honestly, as a setnetter whose net will be in roughly the same spot no matter what the fish do, I just wait and find out what the fish do. We have to be ready, though.

It becomes tiring to get out to fish the flood of every tide as well as the ebb. We start to get ready about 3 hours before high water instead of at or after high water like some crews do (and like we used to before we had skiffs and knew how to use them). Because of the way we fish now, though, with the leadlines tied down creating a basket, if we don't clear the nets before the tide turns, we're wasting whatever has been caught in the basket. When we were getting only 5 or fewer fish in a tide, I felt OK about missing those floods. Usually night tides are slow and usually tides early in the season are slow. Any other tide during the season, though, and I want us to be out there are ready for the arrival of a mass of salmon. When we have masses of salmon every tide, we get tired, but the excitement and activity of handling all those salmon contribute to our energy. It takes a more disciplined type of strength to wait out a slowly building season. We cannot let a disappointing showing on the previous tide affect how we approach the next one, because they may arrive on the next one.

Today, though, we spent much of the time relaxing. I cleaned my cabin, the crew organized the tools in the crew cabin, sun bathing occurred. I consulted with the engineer-minded crew members about how to reduce our misery when the fish do hit and the tides are high enough to soak the trough in front of the stairs, creating a skating rink of mud. They decided to carry up tubs of gravel from farther down the beach to create a gravel path and landing. It looks good.

We had visitors - the parents of Pat Patterson, my oldest friend who found the steak-sized agate. His dad, Pat Sr. told me that he has been working since he was five. He lived with his family up the Kvichak river. At five, his dad, an Irishman, told him that he needed to start working around the place and his job would be to load up the wood baskets. He said that after a couple of days, he didn't want to do it any more so he told his dad that he was going to quit. "Well, OK," said his dad, "But you should know that you have to work to eat." Pat didn't take much notice of that piece of advice until that night at dinner when he came to the table and saw that no place was set for him. When he asked, his father repeated that he has to work to be able to eat. Pat went to bed hungry that night and the next morning, he had all the wood packed before his dad woke up. "I see you're catching on," his dad commented. He continues to work hard into his 80s.

We were able to pick up the fixed power roller today - the replacement bolts that hold the pull cord mechanism to the side of the powerpack were too long and were interfering with the flywheel. Roy shortened the bolts for us and put us back in business. I do understand his frustration. He said, "When I gave it to you it was running like a watch, and just a day and a half later, you bring it back to me, broken." He is trying to keep the whole plant running, as well as the trucks and Gehl forklifts that pick up our fish, a growing number of boats, and now, a growing number of tenders. Even though he is part mechanic, part magician, it's an enormously big job, even for him.

So the other thing I had the chance to do today was bake him a batch of cookies - and not just any cookies. These are healthy cookies - with white beans as the main ingredient, followed by oatmeal, and relatively small amounts of butter (which I think I'll try replacing with peanut butter in the next batch), white flour, and sugar. He told me that he gets up just before he is expected to start his work day, skipping breakfast and having a bagel at 10 o'clock mug-up. That's a high glycemic, low nutrition way to start the day, so I am trying to provide an alternative. I don't know how to fix a power roller, but I do know how to bake and I have an idea of what makes food nourishing.

On a similar note, another friend up here has been diagnosed recently with kidney disease and advised to avoid salts, and reduce protein and carbohydrates. The institutional food available to him is pretty much an anti-kidney diet. I'd like to find something I can make for him - or at least ideas that he can implement in this setting. If anyone has advice in this regard, I'd be happy to hear it.

Tomorrow: the Blessing of the Fleet, with Harry giving the blessing.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

June 21: Water haul

This is an important, if undesirable, expression in fishing. We needed it on this morning's tide. Though I accidentally didn't go out. I was a little early and did that thing that so often gets me in trouble: "I probably have enough time to do this." Usually, I don't. The crew was geared up and went fishing without me. But it looks like I didn't miss much. Water haul means no fish. At all. Maybe this afternoon...

This did give the chance to take some pictures of the fishing process on a beautiful day (except for the "no fish" part) from up on the bluff. The crew went out on an outgoing tide. We have one net that is inside relative to the others and it goes dry first. It also is most likely to catch ebb fish. So the decision must be made: pick it first, to be sure it doesn't go dry? Or after so we don't inadvertently leave some fish in the net? David lives on the edge, so he decided to pick it last. (Me, I would probably pick it first and last.) In this first photo, they are running in from the outside site to the inside site. Note the belly to the left in the outside site. That's because that's the direction the outgoing tide goes (southwest). Usually, the wind blows from that direction so we sometimes have to deal with competing forces of nature. Today was a very calm day. The second photo shows the approach to the net. David has chosen (wisely) to start from the inside and work his way out. The reason for doing this is because the inside will go dry first. If he started from the outside, he might not make it all the way to the inside before the net went dry... and if he did, the water might not be deep enough to float the heavy Ambi.

It isn't always feasible to make that choice. We don't like having a lot of waves and weather to the stern. It's not designed to keep the water out, so when the stern is facing the storm - like when our prop gets tangled in web so the web acts like an anchor, but off the stern of the boat - we are more likely to swamp because big waves will have an easier time getting into the skiff from that direction. Or if the wind is blowing strongly out of the west - then it is really hard to pull the boat through the net against the wind.

Because the bow is so high and with the crew standing there, ready to lean out of the boat to grab the corks, it is hard for the skipper to see where they are, so the crew signals - forward, left or right, and stop. I ask them to let me know when they have it so I can stop the outboard and come up to help if necessary. On a day like today, they wouldn't need help. But in heavy weather, with nets heavy with fish, it's really hard to get that net up over the bow. This photo shows the pick up.

Once corkline and leadline are over the bow, the crew works together to pull that section of net toward the stern of the boat and then lift it over the power roller, so the skiff is situated perpendicular to and under the net. Usually with the assist of the power roller, we pull along to the other end.

I think Patrick may have taken this photo - this is Roger and Jeff installing the bolts to attach the turning mechanism on the power pack that powers the power roller for the Bathtub. But they can't get it quite aligned so it's going in to Roy.

Here I feel compelled to say that we didn't have power rollers until 1995. Before that, we pulled everything without any help. Prior to 1982, we didn't use skiffs and even when we got skiffs, it took a couple of years to realize that we could fish on the incoming tide as well as on the falling tide, which was all we had ever done when we just followed the tide out in our waders. Prior to 1979, we didn't have rangers, which meant that we picked just as fast as we could, into our little 6' dingies to float as many as possible of the fish we caught into the beach so we wouldn't have to drag them in through the mud. That fear still haunts me.

I've been thinking about the way that relative to old people, young people are very devil-may-care in many things, including risk of bodily harm. I don't think it's because young people think they are immortal as we so often say, but rather because old people have seen and been traumatized by just how wrong things can go and we want to be sure that doesn't happen again. Young people think it's unlikely to happen because in their (limited) experience, it hasn't. So young people are relatively fearless not because they think nothing can hurt them, but because in their experience, it hasn't - and why would that change?

The "free week" ends tomorrow morning at 9 am. We could fish it, but we so rarely have any fish at night that I think it will be better to just pull our nets in after this evening's tide. Then, the waiting begins. (And this season, the waiting will begin with a bonfire! Yay - beautiful day, probably a cold night. Perfect for a bonfire on the beach.)

Fish and Game will monitor the escapement of the salmon into all the rivers. We'll pay closest attention to those returning to the Naknek and the Kvichak. That is what will determine when we are allowed to fish again. We need to listen to the radio at specific times or call the ADFG "Info" line or watch our email for announcements. I do really appreciate being connected to the Internet here, but getting these emailed announcements is probably the most important reason for it.

After the morning tide, most of the crew went to town to take showers. David and I stayed behind. (Going to town wears us both out.) Jake and Patrick came back early on the four wheeler and I'm glad they did because they helped us move along some projects. Here we are, marking the corks and repairing the torn leadline and ripped net. On the afternoon tide, we brought these nets to the water's edge and loaded them into the Ambi so that we could put it into position to set when we are next allowed to fish (assuming David's permit appears by then).

When the rest of the crew returned, David, Jeff, and Roger got the small outboard working - the one that we attach to our handy Porta-Bote that carries us to the skiffs when they are anchored too far out. They were successful - one more working little boat. And Chris finalized the washdown system -- now we have running water on the beach. It isn't clean water - it's from the shallow pond behind my cabin, but it's cleaner than we are when we come off the flats. You can see the business end of the hose in the photo above.

We ended up with only three fish on the afternoon tide - a king and two reds. We kept them for dinner, adding them to the hotdogs, potato salad, and s'mores we brought to the bonfire; the first of the season and I hope not the last.

The crew filleted the salmon after the tide, attracting a family of eagles. Roger got many photos of the whole ballet. I pulled out just a couple here.

It was a beautiful night, we were mostly relaxed, knowing that we weren't fishing tomorrow. I know Harry misses some aspects of setnetting (I don't believe he misses the mud at all), so I was really happy to be able to invite him and his crew to the bonfire, along with Phil and his crew. And I had my camera so I got photos of everyone.

Here are Makenzie
and Daniel, Harry's crew. We were able to persuade Harry to sing a song he wrote about Bristol Bay and he remembered all the words to The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, which Jake initiated.

And here are Phil and his son, Tom, who surprised and thrilled us with their musical talents. I love it when people sing, and I'm even more impressed when they can make it sound right, unlike me. I learned about my inability to sing when I was singing to my two-year old David while making his lunch. Imagine my dismay when I turned to him in his little highchair to see that he had put his fingers in his ears. A gift I've often wished for but have not yet received. And here is Patrick from Phil's crew. This is his second year. I'm looking forward to when he has learned the songs too.

At the bonfire, I got these beautiful shots of my great crew. I think they are even better than last year, and last year's crew was a tough one to beat. They have become even better at thinking about what needs to happen and moving forward with it. I feel like they have my back and in fishing (and in life in general) that is crucial.

Here they are: Chris: water-master, roof-master, patience-master, beast, looks innocent - watch out!

Jake: multi-talented, knows what needs to be done and does not hesitate to act, has long, flowing locks, and can sing!

Patrick: the third of the Montana contingent and he is a great find. He is the guy I can count on to take note of and act on what I mention we need to do. Plus, he can levitate, lifting himself into the skiff when it is over his head.

David: I don't know how I would be able to do this without him. He and I are similar in many ways and I am so happy to say that he also has strengths where I have weaknesses.

Jeff: This guy is very quiet and when he does speak, he is hilarious. In his quiet, he is a learning machine. He often surprises me with what he has learned here and other depths of knowledge.

Roger: Competent, courageous and undaunted, he can fix stuff and even if he can't, he is always willing to try and can figure out where to start. It is such a comfort to know that Roger is near.

Evan ("Eightball"): another multi-talented crew member - Smart and strong, he can sing and he knows songs. He always offers to help and his help always helps. I'm not sure what he sees when he looks in the mirror, but it isn't what everyone else sees.

I don't know anywhere in the world that has more beautiful sunsets. Patrick said that this place is photogenic.