Alaska: 50 days and $3000 Later

Alaska-0092View photos and read about my voyage to Bristol Bay for Commercial Salmon Season. Crossing the Gulf of Alaska in high seas, 20-30 foot waves.

The boat has everything loaded that is needed and it is time to head north to Bristol Bay for the largest Sockeye run in the world. Plus we were carrying a 32-foot Gill-netter on our deck. It takes us a few days to reach Ketchikan, taking the outside passage through Canadian waters. In Ketchikan we top off the fuel and load one last piece of equipment that was stored at the cannery. We spent the night on the dock and visit the last bar for a month and a half, not that we missed out on any drinking. We enjoy a few drinks on the captain’s tab, and the second best pizza in Alaska. The pizza I make is of course the best.

Alaska-0220After Ketchikan we crossed the Gulf of Alaska. Driving a 110’ boat long distances is quite similar to driving a car long distances. The rhythmic roar of the engines, the rhythmic hum of a car engine. The rhythmic sound of the waves, the rhythmic moan of rubber and road. They are both the perfect recipe to fall asleep, and of course you cannot. Our boat’s cruising speed is 10-11 knots, nautical miles per hour, the average about 9 knots depending on the currents and tides. One nautical mile is equal to 1.15 land miles, nautical miles compensate for the curvature of the earth. It takes a while to get places, we would have three hour wheel watches. The late night shifts (12am-3 & 3-6) were terrible, during other watches there was usually someone in the wheel house watching a movie or playing PlayStation. But its very important not to get too distracted by the others, there is a lot at stake when you are driving a boat. Crossing the Gulf was fun for me, we had twenty to thirty foot seas, wind blowing 30-60+ knots. It was like riding a roller coaster for 5 days, the GPS Max speed was over 20 Knots, I assumed it was reached while we were riding down one of the thirty foot waves. Everyone else got sea sick, fortunately I didn’t. Even the captain said he got a little nauseous. And one of the crew members was sick the entire trip. Due to the rough weather we had to slow down and were only going half speed, taking us forever to make it to our destination.

Alaska-0151The gill-netter on board was a problem, it was properly secured to our deck but pretty much everything on the gill-netter was loose. I enjoy rock climbing and am pretty nimble. I am also quite good at tying knots. This was not a good trait to have on the boat. They called it monkeying around. It was my responsibility to run out on the deck and secure anything that came loose, and pretty much everything on the gill-netter came loose. I would have to scale up the side of the gill-netter while our boat is tossing and turning, with waves crashing over the side trying to sweep me off my feet. Fortunately I was born with sea legs and didn’t need time to develop them. The worst thing I had to tie down was our two PA speakers hung up on the mast. We had a 10,000 watt sound system on the boat, it made working long fast paced hours a little easier. As our boat tossed side to side I had to climb a ladder to the crows nest. Climbing up my feet would be thrown off the ladder as the boat pitched and turned. This went on throughout the season, it was always my job to take the big risks. So if you work on a boat, don’t demonstrate skills of climbing to heights.

We finally made it across the Gulf to some calmer waters. Stopped in False Pass for some halibut fishing and a night on anchor so everyone could get some quality sleep. When the boat is going up and down, side to side you don’t ever feel too rested. There were times I would wake up in a ball at the head or foot of my rack(bed), other times I would make up after my head hit the wall a little too hard. So needless to say, a night on anchor was heaven. Not to mention relaxation with a Bloody Mary and fishing pole.

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Back at sea we were making our way towards the Alaskan Peninsula and through the Aleutian Islands. I was on wheel watch from 3am-6am, and got stuck there till 7am. I was excited because this leg had the Shumagin Island and they are very tight islands. The captain was suppose to take this passage giving me a short wheel watch. Unfortunately the captain is a very heavy sleeper. I was unable to wake him up and then it got to the point where my ass couldn’t leave the captain chair otherwise we would run aground. I just kept yelling at him from the chair, and the worst part was that he would talk coherently in his sleep. He kept telling me I had it and was doing fine. I was stuck, I drop down the speed and just focused on the task at hand. I did quite well navigating the 100 ton vessel through the islands. On top of this the next person on wheel watch over slept by an hour. He came up towards the end of the passage through the islands.

Alaska-0242The next day when I woke up I caught some hell from the captain for not waking him up. I told him I shook him and yelled at him and tried the entire time. Its not like I wanted to be in that position, I wanted to be sleeping in my rack. After a little while he calmed down and I never heard about it again. Now that it is passed I am glad I did. It was fun, nerve racking, and gave me more confidence about driving the boat.

About half the $3000 dollars was spent in Bellingham. About $500 was spent on gas crossing the country and about $1000 while being on the road. I spent at least $500 on gear for the season: Boots, Rain gear or water gear as we called it after one crew member said it, sweat pants and shirts, and other random essentials. Plus there were the bar tabs, $10 packs of cigarettes, eating out, and whatever else added up. I also lived more frugally before moving onto the boat.

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