Saturday, July 25, 2009

Deadliest Catch

It's barely 6am and I'm watching reruns of Deadliest Catch thanks to my antennaed friend, Tivo. Another one of my many obsessions, this one happens to be "the roughest and toughest" highlight episode; all the horror stories of a life at sea. Some have happy endings, like the guy who got pulled overboard by a swinging, 600lb. crab pot and then was miraculously retrieved by his quick thinking crew mates. Or the guy who fell off a neighboring boat and was plucked from the hypothermia pool known as the Bering Sea by a boat running alongside. Occasionally they'll actually find a living, breathing fisherman inside those space age-looking survival suits. Other times the ship will go down with all hands lost. Maybe they find some floating debris: all that's left of a once vibrant family of fisherman. They don't call it deadliest catch for nothing.
It's hard to say exactly what draws me to this show. Probably my Norwegian heritage-viking blood mind you. One things for sure though, i'm not alone. Amongst man shows of it's genre, "deadliest catch" is the most popular-hands down. Maybe it's the lure of high-seas, man's man adventure and the ability to watch it all from the safety of my warm home, sipping coffee in my boxers, petting my cat.
As one watches the show the inevitable question infiltrates their consciousness. Could I survive a season on a crab boat in the Bering Sea? Certainly I'm tougher than that last greenhorn they sent packing for home. What a momma's boy that guy was! Most of the guys seem to be happy in their orange suits: whooping and hollering over the latest prank they've pulled or a full pot of crab with dollar signs written all over it. No wives around to tell them to take showers because they reek like week old cod guts. No kids pestering them incessantly with, "Hey dad, look at me". Heck, I don't get sea sick very often and I love being out in a boat all day fishing. Easy money. One month at sea for what some people make in an entire year. Yeah, I think I'll pack my bags and head for the docks.
Reality sinks in when the show reveals what's really going on. Wait a minute, did he just say a twenty-eight-hour shift? Did that guy really just get swept across a fifty foot deck with that wave? That guys missing two fingers and three of his buddies are dead. Come to think of it. I really like sleeping at least six hours every night in a bed that I can sit up in, one that is planted safely on solid ground. Those mountainous waves don't look too inviting, especially in the dead of night, black as obsidian with sinister white snakes crawling all over it, whipped into a frenzy by an eighty-knot hurricane. The captain ain't turning around when you get a toothache or bruise a few ribs. The Bering Sea doesn't offer time outs or second chances when you do something dumb. I can't stand the smell of rotting fish or the feeling of being drenched to my socks in bone-chilling winds.
On second thought, I'll leave the crab catching to the salty dogs and watch all the danger and drama from the safety of my living room. I don't really mind showering frequently and my kids need me. So does my cat and I don't think he'd make a very good stowaway aboard The Northwestern.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Deep Sea Fishing in Cabo

Anticipation painted the muted blue sky as we disembarked from the Taxi Van. I was so excited I "tipped" the driver three bucks. He came running after me. "ees eight dollors senor"! Oops, I'd been spoiled on this all-expenses paid trip to paradise. We were met at the docks by a portly, muy amable caballero who called himself "el jefe". Papa Paul paid him up front and I had an uneasy feeling we might never see him again. He pointed us to the table to purchase our licenses and after completing the inevitable mexican documentation and the ever-present tarif. We found ourselves boarding the "Yesenia II" with Mario (El Capitan) and Carlos (El Mano).

We cruised through a sea of pelicans, seagulls and sealions to the federales to show our licenses. I discovered with some trepidation that along with half of our groceries, we had brought bananas; Old school sailor bad mojo to be sure so we offloaded them to the federales and were on our way with no obvious mal influencias.
As we rounded the head, Carlos dropped back some Tuna Jigs and we proceeded to troll immediately.This told me that either we were saving gas or the crew was not seriously committed to finding the schools of Sailfish, Marlin and Dorado that Cabo is famous for. Before all the lines were even in the water though one of the rods started bending and shaking. I grunted a reflexive "heh" as Maya looked at me like, "when did you become an epileptic spazz?" I was validated when Carlos grabbed the pole and handed it over to Paul who took the first turn and landed a feisty bonito or skipjack. "Bait" exclaimed Carlos as he unhooked it and dropped it in the box with a flick of his wrist. I began to day dream about the monster who could make this three pound fish his breakfast.
Everyone got a turn with the diminutive tuna. We snapped pictures and whooped and hollered. Maya was particularly fired-up after her battle with the scrappy tuna. Secretly I hoped that she would catch "the fishing bug" this trip and she might share some of my passion for the sport. I caught her epic battle with the "flip mino" so that the world could watch her deep-sea battle on YouTube. As she scrolled through the pictures on the camera of course she was disappointed.
Hey, everyone got a close up with their fish except for me!
Yeah babe, but I got you on video!
As Cape San Lucas began to slowly shrink my perception of the crew changed. The boat reflected the makings of a successful operation: clean save for the bare necessities. Everything had a place and the crew seemed to utilize everything that they brought forth from their hidden stowage. Although I still regarded the one fillet knife they brought as wholly inadequate to fillet dinner, I later learned that the enterprise of cleaning fish in Cabo is an entirely different business unto itself. Muchachos armed with garbage cans loaded on hand trucks roam the docks and will clean and bag your catch for a nominal fee under the scrutinous eyes of the federales. Apparently the big one can still get away even after you reach the docks!
As the arch shrank from view, Mario throttled back and Carlos tossed in the live bait which included our first bonito, half-filleted and bleeding profusely. Eshark, Sailfish, tambien Dorado o talvez Marlin, recited Carlos the deck hand to the seagulls and his stowaway party, now slightly greening from the heavy rollers and thick diesel exhaust fumes. As fishing goes thoughts and conversation turned to more land based topics when, as if in response to our lack of focus, the action began. Carlos descended the ladder and grabbed up a rod with catlike quickness. A dorsal fin cutting a zig zag pattern through the surf of our wake grabbed everyone's attention. My first instinct was that it looked like a shark but then I had never seen a large dorado in action either and I wasn't sure if I could trust my eyes. Maya was up and I thought this might be the moment she succumbed to the fishing fever; a chance to dance with a truly worthy combatant-the hammerhead shark. Carlos turned to Maya, Hell No!, she said, I'm not touching that thing. It's bigger than I am! It's gonna pull me in!

Uncle Darin stepped up and it was game on. The hammerhead engaging in a bulldog battle of tug o war. Darin fighting back punch for punch and it went on like that for twenty five minutes. The discussion among the spectators delved into what we should do with the shark should we land it. Carlos said it would be 600 dollars to mount. A pretty fair price but still a chunk of change and so we decided in the end to let it go.
I beat you! exclaimed Darin in his best prizefighter voice and with a quick snap, the shark was back to his own business, nothing hurt save his pride.
The boat trolled on with a more expectant air. Heck, if Darin could catch a hammerhead, anything was possible. I was up next and doing my best to stay focused on the fishing, working my mind-control mojo on the lines and the boat, doing the fish dance, feeling the flow. Suddenly the left outrigger popped. Carlos was there and handed it over but I reeled and reeled and ....nothing! He grabbed it back and dropped the line back. The Big Dorado cooperated, Mario gunned the engine as Carlos gave it three hard jabs to set the hook and it was game on.
The Do Do peeled off line like a banana and went airborn twice, fighting with a dogged determination right up into the fishbox. Maya filmed like a pro, using two hands, one with the camera and the other running the video. That night we ate it: grilled, breaded, blackened and in ceviche. All in all a thrilling exclamation point to an unforgettable vacation. Maybe heyman is right, I am a lucky bastard sometimes!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Lost and Found

We are so encumbered by possessions "things" that the loss of even the tiniest device or keepsake can render us into babblying psychopaths. My Memorial Day trip to Eagle Lake started off great until I did the poor man's tap in front of McDonald's near Willows. My wallet was missing and so Pattyo-not one to miss out on getting an early start on the EL festivities-jumped into Heyman's rig and I was cruising backwards to find my Wallet at the last Wal-Mart.
Preoccupied with the thought of Wal Mart employees (or patrons for that matter) going on a spending spree with my cash, I hit the gas with boat in tow. As I pulled into the fast lane, the car I had just passed began shrinking and then turned to flashing red and blue lights. I thought my anxiety over a miss-placed wallet was causing me to hallucinate until reality caught up. Those really are red and blue flashing lights in my rear view. I glanced at the speedometer. The needle was flirting with 80. My heart sank as I quickly decelerated and tried to find a place to pull over, suddenly realizing that there were orange cones every fifty feet. Further enlightened, I finally realized that I was in a construction zone. My heart rate doubled and I thought I could feel it palpitating. When I finally pulled to a stop, the lack of inertia created a silent vaccum in which my brain fast forwarded to showing the cop my wallet. In this tranquil zen-like state of consciousness a realization set in: My wallet's at Wal Mart! F(^*^%^^(&***!!!
I don't think i've ever said "Sir" more in a twenty second conversation than I did that day on the side of highway 5. I did remember that I had my fishing license. Another example of grace and clear thinking under pressure? I'll leave you, the reader to decide on that. All I can say is that I was cursing myself out like I was playing on a team that I coach and just did something stupid. The officer seemed to believe me as he took my license back to his squad car. My thoughts vacillated drastically. One moment I had visions of having my car impounded and having to call my wife to come get me because I knew the guys were already annoyed with my forgetfulness and Pattyo wouldn't mind not having his dog with him so long as he had a cold one and a fishing pole. The next second I would entertain delusions of being let off with a warning. "Sorry you're having such a bad day. Didn't want to further complicate things for you sir. Just watch your speed next time alright, especially in a construction zone and with towing a boat and all. Have a good day."
Boots crunching gravel snapped me back to reality and my popped the bubble that was my fantasmal daydream. Apparently I had to use up all of my fishing luck before I even got my line wet. The Highway Patrolman only wrote me up for doing 60 when, as all the signs say, I should've been doing 55. If it said anything about a construction zone, I haven't seen it. The ticket ended up costing about $250 with traffic school which definitely hurts but probably could've cost me a lot more.
I had to build up some speed on the shoulder before quickly merging between the orange cones and I was back on my way backwards to Wal Mart with new thoughts doing battle. Would my wallet be there? Would I have to bribe the employees to give me back my credit cards and such sans cash? I decided to give the store a call, checking every mirror twice before dialing information and trying not to swerve as I wrote the number on the back of my traffic ticket.
It's no wonder I only caught a few fish that trip. A trustworthy Wal Mart employee had given my wallet to his manager. When I got in touch with the guy, he handed me back my wallet and, lo and behold, everything was in it-even the cash! I have a new found respect for the integrity of Wally World employees. Either that or the pervasiveness of their surveillance cameras and the mind control of their Big Brother management. In any case, the gods shined on me that day. While I'm always quick to remind myself that material possesions come and go, losing my wallet that weekend would have definitely put a damper on things-Big Time. I probably had as much cash in my wallet as the ticket would end up costing me but I'm scared straght when it comes to speeding. I'm slowing down:)