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Sunday, July 15, 2007
Another View From the Back Deck

This picture of the starboard stern quarter was part of my domain for many months. I looked backwards usually, watching the lines, the jigs, the birds and other boats. This view is looking forward from the stern rail. First of all notice how calm the ocean is. In the upper right there is a triangular shaped piece of steel we call a “stabie”, more accurately known as a stabilizer fish. Sometimes at night or in marginal weather, we lower the stabilizers into the water where they prevent the boat from excessive rolling. In winds of 35 knots or so we have been able to fish with the stabies down which kept our jigs from leaping out of the water in the frenetic dance of rough weather trolling.

The steel pipe bent in an “L” shape is the davit which tilts out over the water and holds the blocks or pulleys which change the direction of the trolling lines from the hydraulic pulleys or gurdies to the fish. On our boat, each set of five gurdies was run by a foot pedal and levers. You engaged the lever for the line catching the albacore and then pushed down with your foot on the pedal like an accelerator. A good operator could pull in three fish at a time with the gurdies and one or two fish on the stern pullers. I was not that proficient but none the less could pull in my share of fish steadily. In this photo one can see our safety line which stretched over our heads from the davit to the cabin roof forward. We used it in very rough weather when wind or water threatened to blow or wash you into the scuppers.

The fish climbed on the lines in a good bite and you pulled them in as fast as you could. On our boat, a blast/bled operation, the fish was pulled over the rail and landed on a padded table. Then it was spiked in the brain quickly and bled in three places with a chinuki knife. It then slid down a chute onto a deck checker, under shade cloth, and was doused with cold sea water for a half hour or so. Then it slithered down a chute into the blast freezer where it froze solid to -30 degrees F. in 24 hours. Every night I donned a heavy freezer suit, my “Carharts”, a thick hat, freezer boots made in Finland to withstand -40 degrees F., and lined work gloves. Our freezer hold held 50 tons of albacore, if it was stacked well and that was my job. Steve put the refrigeration system into defrost so the fans would turn off so at least it was only freezing and not windy down there. Early in the season I built up the bottom layers with the fish facing aft. Subsequent layers grew in a wedge shape so that the air could circulate up over the fish and down through. Our hold was lined with lathe over the fiberglass for the purpose of circulation. As the layers of frozen albacore grew, I crawled around in the hold stacking fish. On a good day it figured out that I pulled in, moved and stacked at least four tons. No wonder we have problems with tennis elbow and tendonitis.

Albacore in the hold is what it's all about. We hunt, scout, plan, connive, and scour the ocean for these babies. They are beautiful fish. Glimmers of pearl and silver shine from their scales. Their blueness is the deepest blue-black of the sea. Each and every albacore fights like hell. You watch their head, keep up the tension on the line, and feel their fight in your fingers. A couple of wraps around your palm, use the motion of the rolling boat, and pull them onboard. De-hook them and throw the jig back out for the next one to climb on. When they fight hard, they want to dive, so you keep their head up and hope they’ll slide on their side like a water skier. In a good bite, there is no time to eat or grab a cup, only to grin and pull faster. By then even the skipper is on deck pulling, the boat in a circle running on its own, the school of albacore biting everything in sight, and us grabbing line after line, pulling them in and throwing out the jigs as fast as we can without tangling the lines. When it’s all over, the deck checkers are plugged with shiny black fish and we laugh out loud with the fun of it all.

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