Monday, February 26, 2018

Out To Sea

 "Call me Tony," he said as we walked by the boats busy with men loading supplies and gear.  I saw up ahead "Arlene S." painted in big block letters on her white hull.  Groceries, fishing poles and other gear was being loaded onto her and stowed here and there.  She was about 50 feet long and stoutly built.  She shined with a new coat of paint.  I stopped and watched the guys load for a few minutes, finally he said, " Hey guys, this is Howard, I fetched him from Frankie for the day,"  I smiled and waved hello, they reached out to shake my hand and said,"welcome aboard!"  I replied, "I'm happy to be here," and I was!  I threw down my coat and began helping the men stash the stuff in the wheelhouse and down below where there were others doing the same things.  There was little grumbling, they worked quickly to unpack some boxes of large hooks and put them in bins along the side of the hull.  Another man was tieing leaders to the same hooks and placing them in another bin.  I went back topside to help.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

"I Smell Fish!"

Was the first thing out of my mouth.  Bud had me up early, I mean early.  4am early!  I tore off the tags and labels then slipped on this new pair of jeans my Mom bought me yesterday along with one of Bud's old denim shirts and I was set. These were now my "old" clothes or soon would be!  Out the door we went, into his old Chevy pickup and away we went.  About 15 minutes later we arrived at the Italian fishing fleet off the main drag in San Diego.

The Fleet at rest

The smell of less than fresh fish wafted our way as we walked down the dock.  Many boat slips were empty, their owners and crews had already left though it was only 5am.  The sun hadn't risen yet and here I was being introduced to an old man on a small fishing boat with a mop in his hand.  "Here", "take it," he said, thrusting the mop my way.  "He's your new boss," Bud replied, "Do what he says and you'll be fine, won't he Frankie?"  Frankie replied,"I hope so."  They chatted a while about how the catch was going this season and soon Bud said, "I'm going to go now, you've got our number, call when you're done."  I nodded that I understood and he walked away down the dock towards his truck.  "Where should I start?" I asked and Frankie pointed towards the bow. "Get a bucket, put some soap and bleach in it, not too much,"  pointing at the cabin, "You'll find 'em in there, under the sink.

So here I was cleaning the boat, "learning" in reality as Frankie had his own way to do everything and that was the way it was going to be done.  His was a bait boat, anchovie catcher with big tanks for the catch and a netting rig to get 'em up and into those tanks.  Thousands of them at a time.  These, in turn, were sold to outgoing tuna boats that did line catching, mostly for "Big Eye" and albacore but yellowtail at times too.  The cleanliness fetish was because the anchovies would shed scales and also get crushed underfoot as well and with a bit of summer heat, oh how the boat smelled!  So cleaning was a constant chore, rinse, scrub, soap it down, scrub some more, rinse and do that stem to stern three times every day after a bait run.  I began going out on his bait netting runs after about a week (him seeing if I would last, which I did).  I liked going out and doing the catching, helping with the nets, filling the tanks with fish and tending the screen filters for the pumps that fed the tanks.

One day just after I had arrived at 2am sharp,  a bearded man approached the boat and I looked up at him.  "You the Lute boy?" he asked. "Yes sir," I answered, "Bud said you'd be here at Frankie's boat," he hesitated a second then, " Need a bait-boy on the Arlene S., you up for it?"  I didn't think a second, "Sure am, but I've got to finish the cleaning here first."  Frankie stepped out of the wheelhouse, "Go ahead Howard, I'll finish the cleaning."   I grabbed my coat, put it on and climbed the step ladder to the dock.  I was about to go fishing out on the blue Pacific!