Wednesday, October 28, 2009
The fishery officially opens October 15th and we can legally set gear at noon that day. Hoping for the best. I will keep you updated as time permits. Capt. Monte
The evening became somber as a good friend and fellow captain revealed that during this past summer he lost a crewman while salmon fishing in Alaska. He did not elaborate on the subject, and I did not ask. This is not something that is easily dealt with and I am sure he will suffer the loss for years to come. I think he chose to share with me as this is a horrible, tragic experience we now have in common. Having taken not just any man, but a dear friend to sea and failing to bring him home. There is no cure for this type of pain. It has been over a decade for me and I carry the weight to this day.
My friend, I wish you well on your journey down the darkest of trails.
That's all for now. "Wizard Mouse"
Friday, October 23, 2009
The trip out went well, no wind whatsoever. We began setting the pots at daybreak. The gear went off like clockwork in three, 50 pot strings, set at about 12 to a mile. At that spread a pot hits the water about every minute. It took three and a half hours to splash the whole load. Gear can't be set any closer or it becomes difficult to turn the boat on them as you chug from bouy to bouy. The doors are open with no bait as is required for stored pots.
Pointing the boat for "Dutch" we are off like the wind and to our delight a building northeast 40 began pushing us home! We reached town 07:00 the next day and began preparing a second load of 7'x7' pots, with another 150 to rig. The weather forecast is horrid for the next few days...Capt Monte
The Opilio quota also being released today is grim at best, harvest total is 43 million pounds, down from about 65 million last year.
Bairdi is a close relative of the Opilio crab and though substantially larger is not very well known. This is the crab you will find in my freezer. The poundage to be taken this year is just over one million pounds, less than half the amount landed last year.
With the price negotiations looming, it will interesting to see what the canneries and buyers will offering as a starting price for Red Crab. I'll keep you posted. Capt Monte "the Wizard Mouse"
Thursday, October 22, 2009
Westward is our primary seafood processor. We deliver the bulk of our crab there, but not all of it. We are one in a small group of crab boats that calls Westward home and over the years have become friends with the staff, which numbers well over a thousand when the plant is operating at full swing. Landing dockside the crew begins to load the 7'x8's which will take two long days, with some well deserved fun scheduled for late tonight. Capt. Monte.
Thursday, October 8, 2009
The bulk of supplies we have stowed on board, is no doubt, the Production teams camera equipment. all told the amount of gear nearly fill's a semi-truck trailer and basically fills our forward line room, located in the bow . Some of the equipment, such as large crated generators and a four wheeled ATV, which could'nt fit in the bow ,had to be tarpped and chained to the forward deck. They seemed to have traveled well and I'm confident have remained dry. Most of the camera's and such are packed in large Pelican case's, to ward off damage in tranist, and provide a watertight atmosphere.all told there are 190 of said case's in the bow. It is a understatement to say these people don't travel lite!!
Last but not least, is the camera man. Merely a kid in his early twenties, he helped load the above. and sailed north with us. Never having had the pleasure of being on the open ocean before, he suffered a horrible case of seasickness, spares'ly seen, he spent most of the voyage in a bunk. He's not the first to have such a trip and without doubt not the last.
Will continue later,before we enter the pass, and again upon reaching Dutch Harbor Capt.Monte "Wizard Mouse"
can't help but feel like we're closing in. Traveling 400 miles offshore is always a cause for some concern,but as we are encountering large boats on a regular basis, we must be heading in the right direction! ha. Ha! Lets take a moment to
introduce the crew that I'm honored to be sailing with, first and formost without question would be Gary Soper a lifetime sailor who like myself caries a United States Coast Gaurd Master's license, a document that is not easy to obtain and few in the
crab fishing fleet have. The Wizard, being of a larger tonnage and due to our size is required to have two licensed people on board at all times. In contrast most of the fleet is not required to have even a single licensed Capt. on board.
Gary's standing on board is unsurpassed as he spearheads the entire deck operation, along with myself he run's the hydraulic's (hydro"s) being the deck machinery almost exclusively. Swinging 800 lb crab pots around all day with a crane on a rolling crab boat is nothing short of an art, and he does it almost as well as me! this is a topic of some debate as we are all very competetive in every aspect of what we do. Gary's tenure on board spans two decades and change, something unheard of
in the crab industry and is longer than even mine or my brothers. He hails from Anchorage AK. but is originally from Florida we are best of friends and the bond between us can't be discribed, he stands all of 5' 6"tall and I find great joy in refering to him as sawd off at times. with an easy going nature and quick wit, he can make the most miserable of days bearable.
Next would be Lenny Lekanoff, as I mentioned before he is fresh out of retirement, and we are pleased to have him back. as I may have already noted he is the vessels Engineer and a solid one at that, it's not easy working on deck 18 to 20 hours a day and also dealing with the chores associated with the engine room, having done it myself. I carry great respect for him because at times he gets the least amount of sleep out of the entire crew. Lenny was born and raised in Unalaska/Dutch Harbor Alaska and most of his family still resides there today, he is unique in the fact that believe it or not, very few natives participate in the crab fisheries that Alaska is now famous for, Lenny is proud to carry the torch and is tough as nails even at the ripe old age of fifty. An ongoing joke is I refer to him as Grandpa; although he is only five years my senior, he takes it well and always in stride, his usual response is a well timed "squeak squeak" in regards to my long standing nickname of "Mouse".Again I'm thrilled to have him back for more punishment and pain, as the old saying goes, "misery loves company" and it's a comin'.. soon Capt.Monte the Wizard mouse.
Mornin' today is the last day of Sept. and the distance covered through the night was not what I had hoped. The never ending Westerly winds have again increased to forty knots, producing an 18 foot sea height that has dimminished our speed to six and a half or seven knots. With those numbers in mind it's safe to say we're not making very good time, with our slow start I was hoping to make up that lost time on this end of the voyage but it's become pretty obvious that won't be the case, this is beginning to look like a ten day trip. Now entering my twenty-fourth year crab fishing it's safe to consider this my fiftieth journey across the "Pond"as we sail north in the fall leading up to the King Crab season, and south in the spring after the Opilio, a.k.a Snow Crab fishery is over. On a scale of one to ten I'd rate this trip about a six..
Kodiak Island, which is known for the numerous Grizzly bears that roam the Island, lies four hundred miles north of our present postion and sometime tomorrow we will transit over the Aleutian Trench, with a length of over a thousand miles and located south of the Alaska peninsula and stretching along the Aluetian chain it's depth of 24,000 feet,it is to the best of my knowledge, the second deepest place on the planet. bested only by the Mariana Trench off the east coast of Japan.Shortly after crossing the trench we wll make our way through Unalga Pass, being about a mile and ahalf wide and three miles long It joins the No. pacific ocean to the Bering sea. Needless to say ALOT of water moves in and out of this region and a seven knot current is not uncommon,hitting the tide right, time wise is not an option but a requirement. Hitting the pass at the wrong hour is something a person does but once. there are numerous similar passes throughout the Aluetian Chain but the beauty of this one is the simple fact that after you squirt out the other side Dutch Harbor is at the most two hours away
Let see.. one of the many ways we pass the time on a long journey is to play cards, and rest assured it's always for cash. The game of choice is Cribbage, and we have been at battle for many,many years Gary Soper is without doubt my biggest rival! the stakes are low, and not bothering to count the points, it's twenty dollar's a game and double for a skunk all games are logged on a dry-erase board in the galley with payment due at the end of the current season. In the past it was'nt unusual for one or the other to take four or five hundred dollar's from his shipmate..Lenny joins in and is a worthy foe as is my brother. Other forms of entertainment are slim as live televison is not available unless the vessel happened to be equiped with a extremely expensive satellite system, no crab boat is equipped with such a luxury. Music being the most common source of entertainment, coupled with the advent of the Ipod our selection would have to nothing short of vast, as this unit is owned by all. More tomorrow, Capt. Monte "the Wizard mouse"
The King Crab fishery is a difficult one, where to start and how many pot's to fish? more is usually better, and with that in mind I'm sure we'll fish over three hundred. That's alot of gear, and more than most boat's would care to take, but hoping to have three or four hundred thousand pound's to catch it will be required, unable to safely carry more than 200 7x8's (that's 7 feet wide by 8 feet long),it'll take two loads to get three hundred and change in the water. The first hundred and fifty will be hauled out and "set" in storage with the door's open, and no bait,the area set aside to legally store gear is about 150 nautical miles from Dutch Harbor, which make's this at least a two day endeavor, weather permitting of course. The drawback to fishing alot of gear is that once the season end's, you have twice as much stuff to round up!
By the time we reach Dutch, the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game (ADF&G) should be close to announcing the harvest guidelines. There's always alot of speculation, and rumor's abound throughout the fleet. Over the course of the summer three trawl vessel's drop a small net, and drag the seafloor, the duration of the tow is brief and the gear is hauled aboard. All the crab are counted and measured and each size has a classification, female's,legal males, recruit's and juvenile's the tow's are done at the same location every year, and at a distance of every twenty miles,it take's the group over two month's to sample the entire Bering Sea! The data is then compiled,and a total biomass estimated. We are then able to land a percentage of the legal sized males. With a total allowable catch determined, these number's carry with them, great controversy,and the fleet is more often than not, disappointed. It should'nt be long before this information is released and I will pass it on as soon as possible. Thats all for now.. Capt Monte "mouse"
Hello again. We reached the open ocean this morning (9/25) at dawn. Our
night of traveling allowed for some time to reflect on our last couple
of days in Seattle. We were busy with large tasks that are usually
completed several weeks in advance but were still in the works two days
prior to departure. Things like the Costco trip, getting our rebuilt
crane back aboard and of course loading all the equipment for filming.
Good tales soon to be told. Our tasks seemed endless at times and coming
down the stretch, I was shocked we were able to sail when we did. This
season's crew is a blend of old and new, with an old friend returning
from a brief retirement. He claims he had no choice with the economy as
it is, but in reality I think he just missed us! or the fishing itself.
Crab fishing is not something one walks away from easily after 25 years,
although he is a bit of a grump, he is a good friend and a pleasure to
Clear of the Straits and heading due N.W. the weather is marginal at
best. N.W. winds of 35 to 40 knots producing a sharp and steady 18 foot
sea. Having just begun our trip I am disappointed to have the wind and
waves right on our "beak". Though the boat rides up and over this
caliber of weather with ease, it does tend to slow us down. On a journey
of this length every little bit counts and having made this trip
numerous times, I know this is not an ideal start. Generally speaking it
takes about eight days to get from Seattle to Dutch Harbor. The longest
crossing I've ever experienced was 15 days back in 1999, a serious ass
kicking I'd just as soon forget! The forcast is calling for more of the
same weather tomorrow and we can only hope it improves the day after
that. The crew is well and only the new "horn" is mildly seasick, he
seems like a trooper and I'm sure he'll get over it soon. Hoping for
smoother sailing, Captain Monte- the Wizard Mouse.