The '97 Salmon Season

For the last few years, I have managed to work as a "peak man". That is, I fly to Bristol Bay just before the peak of the salmon run and leave shortly after the peak. Though I take a smaller percentage of the profits, I miss out on the slow times. This year I had arranged to fish from the 27th of June to the 10th July. By the 4th, I could see that the season was probably going to be a total bust, particularly for our boat, and that I would be fortunate to make enough money to pay for my plane fare. It was Also clear that a forth man was not needed, and I personally felt that the skipper was incompetent to the point of being unsafe. For these reasons (and a few others), I suggested that I could leave the vessel before the 10th and the skipper agreed.

On the 6th, I got a job as ships engineer on a tender...The "Sea Trek II". The vessel was much in need of a person with some mechanical aptitude so I was rarely lacking for things to do. Much to my amazement, the skipper of this vessel was also profoundly incompetent! During the next few weeks, he managed to run aground nine times. Running aground is not particularly uncommon for fishing boats who's crew are often not very skilled, but almost unheard of for a 75 foot tender. These mishaps, and a host of other equipment difficulties caused largely by the skippers lack of knowledge and skill caused the owners of the vessel much consternation, but it was learned that "Sandbar Bill" had several lawsuits pending against other boat owners for breach of contract so they where reluctant to fire him outright. When the end of the season came, we found that there was one last mission on behalf of the cannery...the recovery of a downed airplane at Cape Peirce. The boat owner planned not to tell the skipper of the project, and have me skipper the vessel when he left. Unfortunately, the man who runs the cannery happened upon us as Bill was packing and told him about the plane. Bill and I were on such bad terms that I stayed on shore for the excursion with plans to run the boat when it got back (As a consequence of my aging I guess, I find it more difficult hide my disdain for those whose incompetence it so deep!)

When the boat came back, the port engine was shot. I nominally skippered the boat, but mostly sat in port while we tried to decide what to do about the motor. I estimated a minimal bill $6000 in parts to repair the thing, and several weeks of downtime. The owners decided to put it up for the winter at Port Heiden some 120 miles away, so this was the only substantial sea-time I saw after the salmon season ended.

While I was waiting to see what would shape up with the Sea Trek II, I started doing a little welding on some scows owned by another operator. After I came back from Port Heiden, I started working full time for the owner of these vessels. He also has a concrete and gravel business and a good deal of equipment that was in need of repair. For the next several weeks, I busied myself doing welding and mechanical work both on the boats and the other equipment. Yesterday, the desire to get home to my beloved computer, and some slight concern about his ability to pay me became strong enough to draw me out of Dillingham, AK.

I apologize to anyone who's e-mail was not returned promptly on account of my long summer. I normally return e-mail within a few days, but, well...Sorry again :-)

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