With the beginning of the New Year I realize just how busy we’ve been for the last several months. I thought I would catch up and post about some of my activities from last fall.
Tom, a friend of ours in Bellingham operates a prawn boat in Southeast Alaska and asked me if I wanted to crew for him. Always willing to try new adventures I agreed and found myself on a flight to Wrangell in the last week of September.
|Weather the first day, and what I expected.|
As a little background information, I’d been through parts of Southeast while working a run on tugboats, but had been left feeling somewhat underwhelmed. Of course, that had more to do with the fact that I’d barely seen any land what with all the fog and mist. I was left with kind of a meh opinion of Southeast so far. Based on the weather when I arrived I didn’t think I would leave this time with a different opinion.
|The weather we actually had most of the time!|
A day prior to the open, it was time to head south. Tom had previously done a little scouting and had a good idea of where he wanted to be. We also wanted to set a longline or two to get some baitfish to supplement to frozen whole fish and pellet we had onboard. We left Wrangell in the evening and transited the narrows in the channel southbound by radar and GPS in the dark. After clearing the south end of Wrangell Island we made our anchorage on the east side of Etolin Island, a run of about three hours.
|Longline hooks baited and ready.|
|100 pots stacked on the workdeck.|
At 0800 precisely, our first pot went in the water. From that moment on, Dan and I worked furiously to build strings and Tom took us to the next setpoint. I would assemble and bait the pots while Dan built the strings. When we neared a setpoint, Tom would call out to stream the buoy, which would then go over the side. At the spot he wanted the pots he’d call “Set” and we would toss a pot over the side. Each pot in a set went over after the line had uncoiled and stretched out. Working quickly Dan and I stayed ahead of Tom ad 5 pm pound us with the last string of twenty in the water. Tom was pleased to gotten al one hundred pots in the water. With the job done, we retired to the anchorage to drink beer.
|The fruit of our labors in the live tank.|
The next morning we unloaded the packages from the blast freezer, dipped the boxed prawns into water to glaze them and loaded everything into the hold freezers. All this had to be complete before 8 am to we could start turning pots for the day. Our first days catch was almost 300 pounds of tails--it was the second best day Tom had ever had in his fishing career. Needless to say, he was pleased! The second day continued as the first, but as Dan and I had sorted out the deck rhythm we were able to spend more time heading prawns in between sets. The harder and faster we worked, the sooner we could have a beer and get to sleep in the evening.
|A variety of some of the really cool critters that crawled|
into our pots for a free meal.
About twenty minutes out an ominous pounding banging sound built up from the engine. We shut down to investigate, could find nothing obviously wrong and then fired up to return to the anchorage.
Feeling we were pushing our luck, Tom decided to return to Wrangell for a closer inspection. A few of the other boats were heading back to unload catch, so we knew we could catch a tow if anything went seriously wrong. Cruising at idle speed, pounding the engine the whole way we headed home. There were five sets along our route that we were able to pull as we went by, which just aggravated the situation. We’d been averaging over two hundred pounds of processed tails a day, and these five sets had the biggest, prettiest prawns and the fullest pots we’d yet seen. When we should have been pulling sets and moving them to this area, we were instead heading back to uncertainty.
|Prawns, all headed and sorted by size.|
|Tom setting up on the next string of pots to pull.|
Tom has since installed a new engine and is waiting for next year. In the end, I had a great time and am ready to go back north again. I’ve gained a new appreciation for Southeast Alaska. The scenery, if a little wet is spectacular. With a rifle, a toolbox and some hard work a person could build a pretty amazing life up there. I however, will just continue to visit. I’m feeling a little to old to try that game now!