Vanishing Boats, Lost Fishermen, and the Price of Fish
I woke up this morning with a particular post in mind. I wanted to tell you about the changes afoot here at Hooked Central. Winter is abruptly over. Cap’n J, Bear the Boat Cat and I are packing up and heading back to Sitka next week, where we’ll reunite with our girl, the F/V Nerka. It’s been a tough winter up there, and we’re anxious to see how she weathered all these months alone. I’d planned to tell you about the long to-do and don’t-forget lists, reflecting on the ways we say goodbye to one life in anticipation of the other, and probably would’ve ended up with something very similar to this post. That’s what I had in mind.
Then two tragedies bookended the day, and suddenly those preparatory details of our life at sea seemed terribly trivial.
The first was out of Newport, Oregon. The F/V Chevelle ran hard aground on the jetty this weekend. Everyone made it safely to shore, but the 70-foot steel crabber remained lurched against the rocks, hammered by growing waves. The News Lincoln County’s article included video of the wreck, and my blood chilled as I realized what I was seeing. As each wave hits, the Chevelle’s aft deck raises independently of her shuddering wheelhouse. That’s the sight of the sea slowly unzipping a boat down its midship line, like a piece of paper torn in half. For the ocean-goers amongst us, this video is more frightening than any horror movie villain.
Tonight, I went back online and saw this headline from today’s Seattle P.I.: “Boat sank so fast no time for distress call.” The article includes all the worst kinds of heartbreak… The crewman who’d had a bad feeling about making that trip, but a worse feeling about his house payments. The deckhand who’d been hired on just a day earlier, eager to work. The Coast Guard station that received an EPIRB alarm from the Lady Cecilia at 3:37 a.m., and arrived on scene, 17 miles off the Washington coast, only to find an oil slick, some debris, and a life raft – empty. The search team that scoured over 640 square miles of unconcerned ocean. The four men who weren’t found. The two year old boy who won’t see his father again.
Here at our house, we keep a little altar over the fireplace. Some candles. A weeping Buddha, circled with small mementos from the sea. Photos of people we’ve lost. I keep a photocopy of an old Portland Oregonian article tucked up there, too. I don’t know the author’s name or the publication date, don’t even know how it came into my hands in the first place, but I know it resonates in a deep, waterlogged place in my heart and it’s all I really want to share with you today.
The Price of Fish
“The deep sea fishing boat ‘Republic’ will never sail out for the tuna again, nor for the salmon – out of Astoria into the green swells from westward. Part of her bow has drifted ashore near Long Beach, and some of the forward deck – and where the hulk of her is, only the sea can tell. Her last port of call was the storm. And the fishermen who sailed her, and looked to her fishing gear, and harvested the sea? Where are they? Perhaps the gulls know, or the cormorants. Only this seems certain – that they and their boat will fish no more.
You walk through the market and glance at the fish stalls heaped with limp silver. Only a day or so ago these fish, most of them, were out where ‘the low sky mates with the sea.’ Now they bear price tags. Even fish, so we say, is high priced. That is true. Fish are high priced – and the least of the price is reckoned in coin.
Men who would rather fish at sea than work ashore sail out on the fishing boats to seek and follow the fish. It is a glad, hard life, and they love it well – but they stake their lives on the catch. It isn’t often that the boats don’t come back to port, for their oil-skinned skippers and crews to shout to their friends on the dock with word of their luck – but sometimes they don’t. The ‘Republic’ was one that didn’t. And how are you going to figure that into the price of a pound of fish?”
Rest in peace, Dave Nichols, Jason Bjaranson, Luke Jensen, Chris Langel, F/V Lady Cecilia, and F/V Chevelle. My heart goes out to all of your loved ones left on shore.