An Alaskan Summer Part: Aalax̂

26 05 2011

 There are lots of little subplot stories I could tell.  I could talk about how our Captain, Walt, was bi-polar and quit taking his medication with two weeks left to go in the season.  Highlighted by his new-found obsession of rubbing olive oil on his face.

I could talk about the guy who lost his arm while trying to cut the cork line out of the prop.

Listening to Yankees pitcher Andy Hawkins throw a no-hitter on the radio, and lose 4-0.  Turning 16 and celebrating my birthday at sea.

Or my trip to the infamous “Star Wars Bar” in Egegik village.  Nicknamed after the movie locale based on the Obi Wan Kenobi quote, “You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.”

There was the evening we got caught in a squall and had to make a run for on of the small rivers that pours into Bristol Bay.  Imagine thirty foot swells in high wind, only you’re not on a massive crab boat, but instead what you see in the picture.  I can still remember sitting at the table in the cab, looking out the windows, and at the bottom of a swell all you could see was water.  Waves breaking over the bow, thinking, “This is awesome!”  If it were today I’d wheelin and dealin with the man upstairs, offering up football on Sundays for church.

After sticking my head in the Star Wars bar, I wandered off by myself.  Purely by chance coming across my grandfathers legendary boat, The Green Hornet.  It hadn’t seen action in years and was dry docked at an abandoned cannery known as Diamond E.  It was the only boat still there, as thought it was left as a monument to my grandfathers legendary conquests.

For years growing up I had heard the stories from my father, uncles and of course my grandfather himself.  Stories about being the top boat on numerous occasions.  Then there are the stories I don’t even want to get into.  Somethings are better left to the inner circle of family.

I remember running my hand along the hull and knocking off chips of the peeling paint.  Thinking to myself, “If you could only talk”.  For me, in a way, on a personal level this was why I had come to Alaska.  To fulfill my destiny and join the other members of my family who had made the same journey so many times before.  It was almost as though the boat was waiting for me.  The same way a parent who has become very ill will hold off death until a child makes it bedside to say their good-byes.

I climbed on board and stood at the wheel in my grandfathers footsteps.  Realizing that was as close as I would ever come to filling them.  I looked over to the rail and found an old homemade fish pick which I brought home.  The pick was nothing more than a piece of wood, slightly bigger than a roll of quarters, with what appeared to be a nail driven through it, the point bent down at an angle, the handle wrapped with net hanging twine.  The fish pick is a deck hands weapon of choice, it’s used to release the salmon’s head and gills from the net.   Not as clumsy or random as a blaster; an elegant weapon for a more civilized age.  Sorry, I had to work in one more Star Wars quote.

When I got home I found out it was my Uncle’s.  To my knowledge he still has it on display to this day.  That’s the type of pride associated  with being a member of the Rubino fishing clan.  My grandfather was to my dad what Mr. Miyagi was to Daniel-san.  He taught him everything he knew and treated him like a son, not just a son-in-law.

To this day, even though my parents have been divorced since the 70’s, when he goes to visit, he calls him “dad”.  One of my few regrets in life is that it appears the lineage will end with me.  Now that I’m older I realize there’s nothing else I’d rather do.  I don’t belong stuck in a cube or an office, I’m at home and free on the ocean.

I’m sure you as the reader want action and adventure not sentimental rhetoric.  You definitely don’t want to hear about how I had a sweet mix tape featuring MC Hammer’s “You Can’t Touch This” or Matt’s off the wall purchase and obsession with an “Indigo Girls” cassette.  Both of which were played daily as they were our only tapes.  I will say Matty was a great cook which makes up of the whole Indigo Girls debacle.  Give the kid some garlic, tomatoes and Walt’s olive oil usually reserved for his weather-beaten face, and he was off and running.

CHANNELING YOUR INNER COOL HAND LUKE

In Alaska when fishing for salmon there are boundaries.  Invisible boundaries know as “the line” defined by the state and visible only by coordinates on a computer screen.  The line is patrolled by a heavily armed fish and game.  When there is money involved sometimes people do crazy things, like pull guns.

The place to be is as close to the boundary as you can be because that’s where the fish are.  The problem is: when you get too close the current can push your boat and net across the boundary.  Should you really hit it right and sink the net with fish, this becomes problematic because it takes time to clear the fish from the net.  Well this is exactly what happened to us.  We were picking fish like crazy when we heard a siren or air horn followed by, “prepare to be boarded!”

My dad has many qualities, one of which is the ability to think quickly in a crisis.  Like a modern-day Cool Hand Luke, without hesitation he took his knife and sliced the rubber tube that takes the hydraulic fluid to the stern real.  Then yelled to me, “Hit the lever twice” which I did without really thinking or knowing what was going on.  The result was hydraulic fluid spurting out all over the back deck.  “What is he doing and where are we going with this?”

In situations like this if it’s determined that you were purposely fishing across the boundary they can take your license, fine you, and take your catch.  Nevermind the intimidation of rounding everyone up on the back deck with automatic weapons and asking to see your licenses.  Why the weapons?  I think it’s safe to say a fisherman about to lose his catch may have pulled a gun or weapon at some point.

“Do you realize you were fishing across the line?”  I had visions of Boss Godfrey “The man with no eyes” looking on as we were basically being told “what we have here is a failure to communicate.”  And just like that my dad went into the explanation of how we really hit the fish and rubber hose had burst causing us to have to pull in the net by hand or “round hall”.  I have to hand it to the old man he was selling it like a classically trained Julliard actor.  Clearly this wasn’t the first time a hydraulic hose had been sacrificed for the good of the boat.

The end result was they bought it, and we got off with a warning.  After they left I remember him dispensing a life’s lesson, “Always have a spare hose” words I live by to this day.  Sadly this marked the high point of the season, not long after this  Captain Walt’s increasing bi-polar craziness started to get on everyone’s nerves.

Matt decided he had enough and “peaced out” on a Tender.  I always thought that was so bizarre, like how was he going to find his way home?  He just got off on a strange boat and was going to find his way home.  Clearly when you’re just a kid there is safety and comfort in numbers.  Update as of 5/16/2011:  During a fact check last night with my dad, I just found out that Matty Franchise took off with the blonde (from chapter 1) for another “job”… you old dog!  Twenty years later and it all finally makes sense.  Of course I’m only teasing, I also heard the blonde and the Steely Dan guy ended up getting married and started a family.  See everybody wins, it’s a happy ending for all!

When the dust settled and the season was over, I was the proud recipient of 57 fresh Hundred dollar bills.  Thinking back that was a lot of money for a 16-year-old kid and not bad for six weeks work.  But the story doesn’t end here.  We still had two weeks to relax and unwind before we headed home.  When you’re 16 you have no concept of danger, Lake Aleknagik and the Agulowak River here we come.

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