The Salmon Killers - Part 3
The salmon killers were simply characters in a play,
a play as might be performed in a small high school
theater, but with real people, not actors, real time,
not imaginary, and with events so bizarre and strange
that no playwright would dare to write of them for fear
of being called a fake. No, this was not a play; it was
a scene. And like all scenes there was a setting, and it
is about this setting that I wish to here write, sort of
a geography, if you will.
Bob Lawless, Port Ludlow, WA
Find an ink pad and put your index finger in it and then
make a smudge on a globe in the Eastern Pacific, Northern
Hemisphere, a little more north than half way up the
California coast, just a tad more north than San Francisco.
This smudge would represent the fishing grounds of the Fort
Bragg, Noyo Harbor fleet. If you can find a new pencil with
an unused eraser tip, dip this, too, in the ink and make a
small smug with the eraser right in the center of the larger
mark, but tight against the coast. This is where the mosquito
fleet fished. Of course, there was a fleet and a mosquito
fleet all up and down the coast, but we are not concerned
with them here. They all were pretty much the same phenomena,
People who live on land and look at the ocean see it as
a beautiful and romantic place. They usually are looking
down from high atop a rocky bluff and it looks as if the
ocean is only slightly ruffled with small waves. They
fail to see in amongst these waves a tiny speck, a speck
which in reality is a 40' salmon troller, struggling to
keep from rolling over and sending the crew to their death.
The motorists don't hear the shouts and curses of the men
as they struggle to bring things under control. Mom says
to dad, "really beautiful, isn't it?" He nods, yes.
The fleet usually had crew because the big boats made
enough money to pay for deckhands. They could stay away
from port for up to a week or more because they carried
tons of ice. Each fish was carefully gutted, turned upside
down and its cavity was filled with ice. And then they were
stacked like cordwood in the hold with ice placed all around
them. They were held at near zero. Very few ever spoiled.
Mosquitoes dared not venture too far from port as the
weather could turn violent and then they would have to
run for it while the big boats just slugged it out. Thus,
the mosquitoes were called day boats sometimes, and the
big boats were called trippers.
As a day boat, I never dared to go further south than
Point Reyes, CA. since points are inherently dangerous.
The wind will usually double in speed because all that
air blowing down the coast must speed up in order to
force its way around the headland. Salmon tend to hang
around points but boats tend to stay away if they can.
Sometimes, because of the bite, they are forced to fish
the big points and capes if they want to catch fish.
And catch fish they must.
To the north, I always feared Cape Mendocino because
it is here that California makes a big bend, and the
ocean is terribly deep following canyons like the Gordo
Canyon that allows the water to come in from the deepest
parts of the Pacific. Then, suddenly, the canyons end
and the water smacks up against the rocks of the Cape.
That, plus the venturi effect previously described,
makes Mendocino one of the most feared areas in the
world's oceans. Many have died here, sailboats often
become dismasted and drift all the way to Hawaii,
some half-dead, the rest all dead.
Though it was 37 miles north of my harbor and it meant
a night on the open ocean, I went up there because the
rumors were always that it was red hot. I could have
been easily killed doing this in my little boat. Dark,
often foggy, riddled with wash rocks, it was a no place
to be at 2 a.m., and one time, when anchored for the night
in this joke of a shelter called Usal, I rolled so hard
all night from side to side in my cuddy cabin that I was
bruised by it and I vowed to build a coffin and bolt it
to the deck. Then I wouldn't roll and if worse came to
worse, I would be ready at least.
And then I never liked to get more than fifteen miles
out because you might loose sight of land and that sort
of bugged me. Plus, it would be so deep that while
sometime there would be schools of traveling fish,
it was not for boats like me. The fleet only could
work here with any success.
And so those were my limits. But within those limits
all hell might break loose. I remember the time when
the swells were so high and with a pitch on the
forefront so steep that my poor little boat when
at top would break loose from the water and fall
to the bottom of the trough. This was white knuckle
time. What was I doing, flying along at the speed
of light, with no wings, no tail, and no wheels?
I hate flying in a boat.
The people in my limits were mostly all known to me;
if not acquainted in person, I heard their voices so
many times on my three radios (all blaring at once
over speakers mounted outside the cabin) that I felt
I knew them well. It is these people who were the
salmon killers and we will study them in more detail
at the next posting. ~ BOBLAWLESS
Lighter Side Archive