Long Lining for King Crab on the Aleutian Spray (part 3)

[This is part three of five]

I have a scar on my scalp that is visible through my hair. Some times when people ask about it I have the urge to say "let me tell you, the crab was this big!"  The real story has more to do with seagulls.  We were all just coming in from deck to dinner when someone yelled, "Seth, you better get out here.  The seagulls are getting your bate."  Feeling protective of the results of my labor I went to run out on deck.  You know how doors on boats aren't like doors on houses.  They're usually made of metal and have a rim around the bottom to keep water from sloshing in. I leaped over that lower rim as a ran to defend my bate.  Another difference between doors on boats and those of houses is that the doors of boats tend to be shorter.  I leaped too high and ended up planting my crown squarely on the upper rim of the door.

Seagull from saavem on sxc.hu

I think the blow must have knocked me momentarily unconscious, because he next thing I remember is lying on my butt out on the deck clear of the doorway.  My body must have pivoted around the crown of my head and my momentum must have carried me completely through the door. I felt like an idiot the moment I knew what had happened. The feeling intensified when I felt blood begin to trickle down my face.  The crew who had previously modeled their relationship with me in part on a drill sergeant, now turned into a bunch of worried grandmothers. Mengor's first comment on seeing me was, "ooh, I don't like blood." They shaved a patch of my scalp and one of the deck hands who had some emergency medical training put in a few stitches.  I worked for a while after with a big piece of gauze taped to my head.

The crew acting incredibly protective toward me, immediately blaming the seagulls for this accident.  One of the crew shared a piece of crab fishing lore. According to him the seagulls will stay away from the boat if you hang a dead seagull over the rail. The crew hatched a plan to trap a seagull.  A box was propped up on a stick, a rope attached to it trailed not so innocently across the deck.  The trap was baited.  Some wryly comical thought went through my head and I was not in the least worried for the safety of any seagull.  Minutes later a seagull was in the trap.

A live seagull was in the trap, but the prescription called for a dead seagull.  One of the deckhands grabbed a piece of rebar and strode confidently across the deck to clobber the bird with a mighty whack. The seagull crumpled but popped back up to contemplate the deckhand with a surprised posture.  The rebar flashed again.  And again.  The bird staggering then collapsing limp.  A moment later the body of the seagull was hanging over the rail of the ship.  We went back to our duties on deck. Several minutes later we were shocked to see the seagull walking around the deck in a daze, dragging the rope behind it, with a trickle of blood on its beak.  The expressions of the crew had become very stoic.  The executioner returned to his post and wound up for a great blow of the rebar. The seagull cringed pathetically, was struck soundly, and died. "I feel sick," said someone next to me.

At one point the hydraulics failed.  While the mechanic was working on them, I had to crush the herring with a breaker bar. I didn't quite keep up and the frustrated crew told me to keep at it as they went in to have dinner.  I was physically exhausted, but I was also resentful and felt uncooperative.  I did not make quick progress. One of the crew came out again after 20 minutes or so to help me.  He told me that the crew works together, eats together and you don't have the option of not getting your work done during the time that everyone else is working.

If you were to take a tour of the long line that crab fishermen put under the sea to catch crab, you might start on the surface at one end where a cluster of buoys floats on the water.  You would follow the line to the bottom of the sea where you would find the first crab pot, an anchor pot weighing something like 1000 pounds.  Fifty feet along the seabed you would find the next pot, a regular 300 pound crab pot.  Continuing along the line you would pass another 49 crab pots before you got to the anchor pot at the other end of the line and could follow the line back up to the surface where another set of buoys float. If I got all my numbers right, that's half a mile of line, not counting the rope between the anchor pots and the buoys, with a total weight of around 10 tons.

One day when all the pots had made it into the water, the last of them settling toward the bottom invisible from the surface, I lingered on deck to watch the rest of the rope uncoil and the buoys go over.  The rope straightened but as the buoys started to cross the deck the rope snaked under the raised corner of the huge horizontal door of the hatch to the cargo hold.  As the 100 ton boat moved forward at 7 knots the line pulled tight and the buoys held on the corner of the hatch.   I ran to the pilot house to let the skipper know what had happened so that he could stop or reverse or whatever he thought made sense.  When I came down the other deckhand who had still been on deck was standing right next to the buoys contemplating them.  Ten tons on one end of the rope, 100 tons on the other end of the rope, the other deckhand grabbed a huge crowbar and returned to  lean forward over the buoys to get a good look at what he was hoping to pry loose. The corner of the hatch that the line was caught on was a 3/4" piece of steel with some gigantic bolts holding it to the metal deck.  Just as the deckhand straightened back up, the steel plate folded like a piece of wet cardboard.  The four buoys, two of them the weight of bowling balls but large and hollow, weren't even visible to my eye until they were about 200 feet in the air and 200 feet behind the boat.  They must have passed right through the space that had previously been occupied by the other deckhand's head.

That was the closest I saw anyone come to dying.  The crew had plenty of other stories, though.  The cook had been on a boat that sank.  He floated around in the ocean for three days in a survival suit with a strobe light on it.  The mechanic was on top of a stack of crab pots on deck when the he saw the hydraulic boom coming his direction.  He know that if he stayed where he was he would be knocked into the ocean and no one would ever know where he'd gone.  He saw that there was a little room in-between the pots and the rail.  It looked too high to jump without getting hurt, but he didn't have a choice.  He broke his arm.  I don't remember him explaining how he got out from behind the crab pots with a broken arm.

I was assured repeatedly on the crab boat that what I know as electrical tape is in fact called "crab tape." It's handy for keeping the ends of "pot ties," 3 foot lengths of rope used for lashing stacks of crab pots together, from fraying.  A neat trick that the modern crab fisherman uses is to microwave a roll of "crab tape," to get it soft and ready to use in cold weather.

[This is part three of five]
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