THOUGHTS AND COMMENTS FROM AN AMERICAN Merchant Mariner
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
"if this catches lobster, bob... I quit."
I wish, I wish, I wish I hadn't lost so many pictures from my days on the lobsterboat RITA C. I fear sometimes that the seven years I spent aboard her as deckhand and eventually as captain will be the best memories of my working life. I fear this because the RITA C is no longer the RITA C. She changed hands earlier this year.
I've been through a few storms where the 700-foot ship I was on seemed too small, and had to play Texas Chicken in Houston, where my loaded oil tanker and another ship regularly went head-to-head in a narrow channel, but nothing challenged or rewarded me like lobstering did when I was home.
I've been saving this story for a long time. This is the story that The Notorious B.O.B. (the captain, and eventual owner) and I would retell each other in later years while we were sitting at the dock drinking of a Friday night, something we did on a pretty regular basis, both being single at the time.
The B.O.B.'s dad owned the boat. The B.O.B. was captain. I was the sternman, the deckhand, having been made miserable, poor, and ready for a life change (thanks to grad school) to go fishing, thus achieving my childhood dream of being both a marine biologist AND a fisherman. Sorta.
Anyhow, the lobster dealer we sold our catch to was trying to give a little back to his suppliers, and he occasionally secured us free lobster bait, which is both disgusting and disgustingly expensive to handle and acquire.
makes me want to throw up just looking at it. This isn't the RITA C, BTB.
Anyways, we needed half a ton of bait a day to fill the 400 traps we would haul.
So, one day the B.O.B.'s dad tells us that he's gotten four pickle barrels of salmon skins from a fish processor (Pickle barrels are big barrels with a screw-top lid), gratis, courtesy of Timmy the lobster dealer...only the barrels are in the back of the truck, too heavy for one man to wrestle down, and have been in the sun for a couple of days, so we have to use them fast, before they go completely bad. When the day was done and the B.O.B. and I were back at the dock, we met John, the B.O.B.'s dad, who, with hand flourishes, introduced us to the four barrels that were attracting a serious cloud of speculative flies. The truck was loaded DOWN. Those barrels were straining the suspension. The B.O.B. and I got in the truck, and with much groaning and straining, got the thing to the tailgate. We removed the tailgate, assuming that the weight of the barrel and us would be too much for it. We got the barrel to the edge of the bed of the truck, and the three of us then carefully muscled her closer and closer to the edge, when an odd thing happened. The 400-odd pound barrel suddenly slid like it was greased, and the barrel rocketed to the ground and up-ended, blowing the top off the barrel, and unleashing hell in the process.
I can't describe it to you. You know the sound of a beehive when they're doing movie sound effects? That was the sound of every fly in North America suddenly converging on us. And the smell... fish, and sugar, and shit and burnt cooking oil... all of us, hardened fishermen, gagged audibly for a few seconds.
Did you see that picture of the bait up above? I'd eat a ham-and-cheese with pickles, surrounded by that on a sunny day in July, no problem. And we were all channeling Ralph for a few seconds from the smell of this bait.
Like I said, I can't describe it to you. Salmon has a fishy smell of it's own. Not unpleasant at all. That hunger-inducing smell was still there, but so was the smell of corruption, and the 2 or 3 gallons of rancid Omega-3 fatty acid that collated at the top of the barrel was scattered across the dooryard of the dock. Fly heaven. Anyhow, chastened, horrified, vaguely bemused, we muscled all the bait into the refrigerated bait shed for use in the morning. Then we washed down the dooryard with water and bleach and had a beer before going our separate ways. It was a 90+ degree July day, and the heat and salmon skins ruined an otherwise good opportunity for drinking beer.
I am Paul B, and I spend most of my life at sea. Ships, Science, the life of a mariner, biology and (mostly) true stories of life among the best and the worst people in the world, the United States Merchant Marines. You'll find it here, maybe. You'll definitely find rants, raves and discussion on life aboard a merchant ship. Come back and see the Brazilian girls, too, who show up fairly regularly.