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Sunday, May 06, 2007
The Skipper

There is no other way to describe being the skipper than “all consuming”. At sea, the skipper is on call 24/7. His word is law; he has the last word, and the final responsibility.
His attitudes and personality permeate the trip. The boat’s personality comes from the top. In any event, Steve had chosen to be a skipper from age seventeen. He loves fishing, is always optimistic, and likes to have fun. For the most part as a skipper, Steve was a good man with whom to fish. His salmon crews in Alaska came back year after year because he not only caught a lot of fish, but he also paid well and enjoyed the process.

Steve was on his second season tuna trolling. A typical day on the Papa George began in the dark. If we had shut down for the night, Steve set the alarm for a half hour before sunrise. We were in the south pacific summer so the days were long, beginning at four thirty am and stretching to eleven pm. He woke me up to fix coffee and put the lines out., then slipped down the stairway to the engine room. Check the water level in the day tank, check the refer system, then hit the air start button for the main. The air start yells out “Wheeeeeeaahhhhhhhhh!” and it’s as good as an alarm clock for the crew and any fish nearby. The engine rumbles to life. He checks all the gauges, and changes auxiliaries. In the meantime I have the coffee started, my boots on, and possibly rain gear if it’s rough. Steve puts the boat in gear and the wheel over ten degrees, weather permitting, and we scramble out on deck to throw the lines into a dark ocean.

Steve worked the port side and I the starboard. First out are the long lines from the pole tips and last are the stern lines, the short ones only a fathom or two long, tied to the stern rail. I examined the wear and tear on the gear such as the area where the leader meets the jig. Were the hooks nice and sharp? If not, then they were filed on the spot. Are the feathers bitten down too far for the jig to be effective? Is the color right? What jigs for today….a Mexican flag, a zucchini? I make sure the gear tracked correctly and Steve bolted for the galley and a refill.

Steve grabbed his mug of hot coffee and parked in the skipper’s chair with its array of electronics in range. The plotter, the sonar, the fathometer, the temperature gauge, and the multiple radios on various bands, were all set for the morning. His log book was open to an empty page. “Lines out, 4:55 am. January 30th WX good, SW swell 8 ft., S wind 10-15 kn. Partly cloudy. Then he scans the weather fax printout to see what was in store. The radios were quiet since we were a long way from the fleet. Steve had accepted a charter to scour the sea for albacore from Easter Island to south of Tahiti. It was a huge swath of ocean. Our survey was for two weeks of continual running.

The sonar was set at an 8 degree tilt with a range of 800 feet. This arc could spot albacore if it wasn’t too rough. The fathometer displayed fish as you ran over the top of them. Steve sometimes yelled out “get ready!” when he knew for sure we were over fish. Many times he was right on them, and we would see the line suddenly go taut and we’d yell “Fish on!” Steve plotted, planned, listened to the radios, and did a lot of thinking up there in the wheelhouse. If he was on fish, he was a hero, and conversely if he was skunked, he was the goat. Steve made the plans, and we were supposed to go along.
Would he listen to us, his loyal crew?


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