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Monday, October 24, 2005
Threading the Needle
With an eye on the weatherfax and an ear to the weather radio broadcasts, the Papa George loosened her lines in Astoria, Oregon and glided down the Columbia River on the slack tide. The entrance bar was forecast to be rugged during maximum ebb. Steve planned to be on the bar at the beginning of the ebb but even so, the seas were steep and the ride past buoy 10 and out to sea dislodged anything not tied down by the crew. His hungover band of sardine catching brothers crawled into the sack as soon as the ride settled down to a normal rock and roll. Steve was on his own up in the wheelhouse to set the course and take the first watch and to think of the next stage.
Truman on the Darlene Z and Al on the Spartan were traveling nearby, also on their way to the squid grounds in Southern California. They were anxious about a 966 mb low showing tight bands of hurricane force winds up in the Gulf of Alaska and kicking up 20 foot seas aimed right at the Oregon Coast. Steve knew they had to thread the needle between weather systems to make it in one shot. Southern California reported rain and wind from a cut-off low below them and a cold front was bearing down on them from behind. Steve didn't exactly put the pedal to the metal but he ran at 1350 rpm which is faster than jig speed.....the most fuel efficient.
After 24 hours, the Papa George had plowed through the SW chop with a NW swell building. This makes the boat corkscrew and pitch. The next 24 hours found them nearing Cape Mendocino with the wind subsiding from 20-25 SW to 10-15 SW. The swell was building slightly from the NW to 15'. Then I lost contact because Nextel has no towers in Northern CA. Picked them up two days later off of Monterey where the wind was calm but the swell was still building on the starboard quarter. Al and Truman speeded up and Steve concurred. Our boat is bigger....75' vs. 58' and therefore a bigger platform for riding out a storm. The two other boats worried about the following sea.
At last the three seiners rounded Point Conception whereupon Al and Truman headed left to Ventura and Steve steered right to travel down Santa Rosa and Santa Cruz Islands on his way to Catalina Island. He hoped to see some squid or just get reaquainted with the territory.
I can picture his route in my mind, almost every mile down the backside of Santa Cruz because I often took the wheel on the way in with a load of squid, usually late at night. It was peaceful then; the crew asleep, the seagulls hoarse from squauking, the porpoise sliding along in the phosphorescent wake, and the strands of light slanting behind the San Gabriel mountains as dawn approached. One morning I saw the comet Kahoutek (? not sure of the name) ..clear as day. It took alot of discipline to stay awake. I had fished all night too but was able to steer in by shear will because Steve needed the sleep and the crew we had at that time was not to be trusted taking the boat across the Santa Barbara Channel amid all the shipping traffic. You could stay awake by standing instead of sitting, patting cold water on your face and arms, and listening to something on the radio...Art Bell, whoa..., or an opera on the CD player.
Soon the sun would beam in and saturate your vision with enough light to combat sleep. I'd make it to Port Hueneme, call the warfinger to get in line to unload, drop the hook, set it, and lay down to nap, job almost done. That's a very small but necessary part of squid fishing.....staying awake.

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