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I am a fortunate lady. I am surrounded by the love and understanding of a family of friends. For many years now we have individually navigated the pitfalls of life with the understanding we had a safety net beneath us. If things get tough we merely had to call out and the others would rally to give us strength no questions, no recriminations, no I told you so. We have never been our current circumstances to each other our individual joys and pains belong to all of us.

It was an email from one of these friends that set me to thinking about this thing that I take for granted as a part of life and how unusual it really is. Through the miracle of modern technology it has become possible for him to offer up opinions, criticisms and the occasional praise for the middle of the Bering sea where he is hard at work as the captian a crab boat. He uses my diary to relieve the stress of keeping his boat afloat and everyone alive. It helps him wind down before he tries to catch a few hours sleep when he can. It seems I am his personal non narcotic sleeping pill.

We have come along way from the old days when the Friday night entertainment was sitting around the ship to shore radio listening to what were essentially every bodies phone conversations. Commenting by clicking on the microphone if something really good turned up. When one guy proposed to his girl friend and she said yes it was a good ten minutes before they could hear each other again for all the clicking. I have noticed lately that we all use the same odd closing for our correspondence  "Peace out" our generations sign off for ship to shore radio a twist on the "over and out" used by our fathers. We use it I think to remind us of the old days, good times, and the joy that is possible when innocence is still intact. It reminds us of where we came from and just why we are who we are today.

My little family was born from endurance and survival. If I had to point to one event I would say it was one winter day many years ago and it was a bad one.


Most of us spent our winters in  college. Forced there by our dads, who wouldn't let us work the boats in the summer and make more money in four months than most people make in a year if we didn't spend some of that money learning something to get us out of that life. Our fathers were not stupid, the writing was on the wall fishing was not only dangerous, it was a dying industry. But, many of our friends would take a winter season usually because they wished to fund a dream or a project. The winter seasons were far more dangerous, but the rewards were huge and we were young and bullet proof or so we thought.

But then came the day when we learned differently.

The beginning of Opelio crab season, a derby of sorts. The season would open for six days a boat would have that long to catch all the crab it could. They would stack on as many of the eight hundred pound pots as the boats would carry without sinking on the spot and head out at the blast of the cannon. It was a free for all. But a simple deckhand could walk away with small fortune or die trying.

Shortly after the opening of the season that year a storm roared out of Siberia bringing hurricane force winds and tempatures that reached forty below.The waves broke over decks and through wheel houses turning to ice. The added weight made those boats that had not yet dropped their pots top heavy and helpless, they rolled over and sank.  In a matter of hours five boats with all hands vanished forever. Among them many of our friends, our co workers, our family members.

There was Alexander the beautiful viking from Ballard, with a personality like sunshine, a spirit that lived for adventure, and a black belt in Karate. He was there to earn the money to open his own karate studio, his goal to teach kids the discipline that had served him so well. There was his friend Jessie equally beautiful, but one who chose to walk a very dark path. he was there because a court had judged that he had done wrong and fines were owed. There was Joshua the shy young man from Friday Harbor who had tried to work up the nerve to ask me into town only to step between me an a co worker as we were tossing fish to fill an ice tank. Nothing kills budding romance faster than a forty pound salmon straight face from the object of your affection. He was there to help his single mother pay her medical bills from treatment for breast cancer.
 The list went on and on.

Then there was the collateral damage, Bjorne, Alexander's dad, sidelined from the season by a mild heart problem died of a massive heart attack less than a week after learning his oldest son had been lost. Paul, Alexander's brother, age 21, a junior in college watched his dream of becoming an architect disappear when he realized unless he took over the boat his family would be destitute. Today he still fishes and his sons now 22 and 20 work with him but their winters are spent in college. He has well funded trust accounts for each of them insurance their dreams will never be denied to them, no matter what. There was Julia, mother of Joshua, her medical bills paid by the out pouring of support from the fishing community but who seemed to lose the will to live after her only child vanished beneath the ice filled waters of the Bering sea. She died the following spring.

The shock waves were like tsunamis, crashing through our lives leveling everything we knew and everything we believed. We learned that day that death did not discriminate it took the good along with the bad, the powerful, the meek and the innocent and it didn't care about us or how well we lived our lives, or the futures it stole. There is nothing more devastating than knowing there is nothing you can do, nothing. That day we learned that life could be short and cheap and not one of us was ever the same.

 We all died together in a way. This new information affected each of us differently our reactions were different and our choices as well. But at the same time we clung to each other we listened, we commiserated, we shared that hard time and we bonded for a life time. Our conversations were often deep, raw and wrenching as we worked our way through the afterlife of groping for the answers and some new understanding of life that would allow us to move forward somehow. We counciled each other toward the individual choices and viewpoints that would allow some form of healing and we did alot of listening. Together we chose to step out and embrace what life had to offer with a new zeal and new understanding that there are no guarantees, that if we put off something until tomorrow we would be there to follow through. To this day that knowledge is the lynch pin of each of our individual characters.

There were many bad choices by many people that led to this tragedy. Those who believed the fishermen were to greedy or uneducated to have a voice in the original system. The boat captains who overloaded the decks. The foreign factory trawlers that work just outside or marine borders and also in them when they think they can get away with it, which is often. Our own government for turning a blind eye to these trawlers and their flagrant violations that often decimate prime spawning areas with their drag and drift nets. The people themselves, born risk takers who believed it couldn't happen to them. There is reason to be bitter, yet there is no point, what happened many years ago can never be undone. We can only go forward.

The industry has changed a lot since that day, the derby system is gone replaced by quotas and a longer season making the events like this less likely to ever happen again.
Fishermen now sit on the regulatory boards to add their knowledge and their vote. The sinking of a boat, these days, is a rare event and that is a miracle in itself.

Over the years our tight knit family has seen us through much we have celebrated in grand style and we have pulled each other out of lifes tar pits a time or two.  We have also grown to include spouses, children, and even some grandchildren. We give what I now understand is a rare gift of friendship that accepts the quirks, eccentricities, and good that each of us has to offer. Friendship that is born from knowing tomorrow may never come. The enjoyment of the ups and downs and the choices that create them while we spend the short and precious time we are granted to be on this earth. The knowledge that we are each doing the best we can manage to bring the best we can to this world. If sometimes we just make a wrong turn, that is to be expected, it's not like life comes with a road map. Together we face the world knowing there will always be someone watching our backs and offering us a hand up or a job well done slap on the back. That is the greatest gift of all.

Be safe my friends, you are in my thoughts and my heart.  For that I will always be grateful.

                                    Peace out

Originally posted to PSWaterspirit on Mon Feb 21, 2011 at 04:04 PM PST.

Also republished by PacNW Kossacks, Community Spotlight, J Town, and Personal Storytellers.

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Comment Preferences

    •  Photo by Mike (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Chinton, psyched, trashablanca

      This photo was taken by my talented friend Mike, an Alaska fisherman who kindly provides me with interesting pictures delivered straight to my computer.

      He has allowed me the use of his beautiful work in my diaries.

      Stay tuned, more of his truly amazing work is yet to come in the future.

      Should he ever decide to retire I think he could find a career as a photographer. Don't you agree?

      It is the heart that makes a man rich. He is rich according to what he is not what he has -Henry Ward Beecher

      by PSWaterspirit on Tue Feb 22, 2011 at 08:01:53 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Beautifully written.....Thank you. (18+ / 0-)
    Together we face the world knowing there will always be someone watching our backs and offering us a hand up or a job well done slap on the back. That is the greatest gift of all.

    For those of who are so fortunate.....

    Love is the lasting legacy of our lives

    by princesspat on Mon Feb 21, 2011 at 06:12:31 PM PST

  •  Wonderfully written (8+ / 0-)

    and an inspirational story.

    Thanks for sharing it with us.

    I hope that the quality of debate will improve,
    but I fear we will remain Democrats.

    by twigg on Tue Feb 22, 2011 at 04:54:13 AM PST

  •  Beautifully written (6+ / 0-)

    Thank you for sharing your story.

    In a controversy the instant we feel anger we have already ceased striving for the truth, and have begun striving for ourselves. " - Buddha Shakyamuni

    by Actbriniel on Tue Feb 22, 2011 at 05:15:52 AM PST

  •  Thank you for your wonderful story (4+ / 0-)

    It's been a while since I've caught one of your diaries, and it's a pleasure to read this one.  Thanks for your wisdom and your unique perspective.

  •  What a beautifully written diary (5+ / 0-)

    Even with modern technology, and better safety, the sea is still dangerous and lonely.

    Before I was born, my father, who had the misfortune to graduate from college with a business degree just as the Great Depression hit, fell back on going to sea as a radio operator on an oil tanker that made long trips to from the United States to European ports.  He had many stories about the storms on the North Sea, and more than once was tossed out of his bunk by the huge swells.

    In those days, there was no voice communication, only Morse Code. He was at sea when my mother went into labor. Thanks to another radio operator who relayed a code message, he learned that my  mother and the baby were well, and that he had a son, my older brother. It was several more weeks before he could return to his little family. He was happy when the Depression lifted, and he could find an office job on dry land.

    Thank you for sharing this beautiful diary with us.

    Good thing we've still got politics in Texas -- finest form of free entertainment ever invented.- Molly Ivins

    by loblolly on Tue Feb 22, 2011 at 06:22:33 AM PST

    •  Right you are (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Thank you so much for sharing your fathers story.

      There are many experiencing exactly the same thing these days.

      My younger cousin, a college graduate with a masters degree, currently spends 8 out of 12 months fishing simply because there he can make a living, in the profession he is educated for he can not. This has been going on for some years now. Much longer and it is likely he will never leave the fishing industry.

      Even with modern technology there are places of dead air. Ironically these are usually also the most dangerous.

      One in particular is a narrow pass on the inside passage between Alaska and the Puget Sound. Even with years of experience and being careful a friend of mine had his 78 foot ocean going fishing boat sucked right out from under him.

      The crew got wet, but were unharmed. The boat will never be seen again.

      Technology adds a new dimension and but changes little. The cold fact is if a boat gets in trouble and radios for help it is probably already to late.

      This time of year going swimming in the North sea is a losing proposition. A person has about 2 minutes before hypothermia sets in and another 3 before it kills them. Modern survival suits give them a bit more time but not all that much.

      Thank you for reading.

      It is the heart that makes a man rich. He is rich according to what he is not what he has -Henry Ward Beecher

      by PSWaterspirit on Tue Feb 22, 2011 at 07:37:41 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Wonderful summary of a special type (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    trashablanca, I love OCD, peachcreek

    of life.  We have a special fear of and reverence for the sea and those who venture forth into it.  Your diary is a testament to the truly great writing evoked by the sea and those bonded by their adventures upon and in it.  
    Thank you, pswaterspirit.  The photo is lovely and evocative as well.

    •  Thank you (4+ / 0-)

      I appreciate your lovely compliment.

      I would extend that reverence to the whole planet both land and sea.

      On land we have the illusion that we have tamed the earth but it really isn't so. The sea has never allowed up this illusion of control.

      To work with the waters is to learn to understand them. It is not something that can be learned from books but must be done the hard way by life experience.

      Thank you for reading.

      It is the heart that makes a man rich. He is rich according to what he is not what he has -Henry Ward Beecher

      by PSWaterspirit on Tue Feb 22, 2011 at 07:45:38 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  What a wonderful diary, (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    thank you for writing it.  It's so important to have those connections, to know you belong to a family that's there for you.  

    I've found that here, many times, when life's tarpits were sucking me down.  I need to be reminded to say thank you.

    I'm not looking for a love that will lift me up and carry me away. A love that will stroll alongside and make a few amusing comments will suffice.

    by I love OCD on Tue Feb 22, 2011 at 07:29:25 AM PST

    •  And so do I (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      trashablanca, I love OCD

      It is often to easy to take for granted or even question those gifts we are given in this life. Until they are no longer there.

      In recent years I did the hermit thing for awhile, only staying in touch sporadically with my old friends.

      They let me get away with it but much to my horror I found that while they were honoring my need for space and time alone I was worrying them sick.

      Shame on me.

      Thank you for reading.

      It is the heart that makes a man rich. He is rich according to what he is not what he has -Henry Ward Beecher

      by PSWaterspirit on Tue Feb 22, 2011 at 07:52:57 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  The sea is a beautiful lady... (4+ / 0-)

    ...that will kill you in a heartbeat, even sometimes when you do everything right. I still love her though.

    I was never out there commercially, but I grew up sailing all around the Irish Sea with my dad. You never forget it - a flare goes up or worse yet the lifeboat station fires the maroons and it doesnt matter if its your worst enemy out there, you still leg it down to the boathouse and when the RNLI is passing the hat you dig deeper in your pocket than you ever did when the plate came by in church.

    When its blowing, you get out the glasses and scan the moorings to see who is still out and you know all your neighbors with a view of the harbor are doing the same. Maybe you whisper a quick prayer to any god that can hear it just before you lock the scanner on channel 16 or maybe your mother, wife or daughter pulls on their rain gear to just drop by somebody elses mother wife or daughter "just to see how they are doing" and never ever ask "have you heard from.....?" when theres an empty mooring out there. It was just an unwritten rule - you never asked unless you KNEW the news was good.

    Thank you for writing this.

    •  Thank you for Sharing (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      trashablanca, peachcreek

      your experiences and thoughts.

      In the few years I spent in working on the sea I was involved in several search and rescue efforts. There is nothing worse or more diffacult. It is not far from anyones mind that it could just as easily been any of us.

      The sea is the great equalizer if it wants you it doesn't care who you are or what you have left yet to do. It always gets what it wants.

      It is the heart that makes a man rich. He is rich according to what he is not what he has -Henry Ward Beecher

      by PSWaterspirit on Tue Feb 22, 2011 at 09:13:49 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  not exactly "Deadliest Catch" (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    trashablanca, PSWaterspirit

    I suppose there's a point to making a fishing boat captain into a rock star, and I appreciate that the Discovery Channel cameramen are in the same boat (so to speak) as the crabbers when a gale blows in, but really...

    Thanks, PSWaterspirit, for a beautifully written tale of the joys and terrors -- for both the crabbers and their friends and family -- of working on the sea.

    grok the "edku" -- edscan's "revelation", 21 January 2009

    by N in Seattle on Tue Feb 22, 2011 at 09:06:07 AM PST

    •  I have it on good authority (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      N in Seattle, mwk, trashablanca

      That most of the "rock stars" tend to hide out in Alaska as much as possible  where they are nothing special except maybe  good for a funny new story.

      The fame took them by suprise, and each has had to find a different way to deal with it.

      Recently I heard one of those stories.

      One of them was standing an airport ticket line when the lady in front of him turned around and promptly passed out. He, being the salt of the earth fisherman that he is, promptly panicked sure she was having some terrible medical emergency. It never occured to him he might be the cause.

      Their origional intention was to bring education about a world, that is, by nature not accessable to most. The people you see on that show, as rough and cranky as they are, are not what they appear to be at all.

      Most are highly educated, talented, and accomplished in many other areas of life as well.

      The show has been helpful in bringing light to some of the problems faced by both the fishermen and the crab.

      Crabbing is most defiantly the most dangerous of the fishing seasons simply because of the time of year it must be done. We only have to look at our own Puget Sound to see that it is much rougher and colder in the winter months. Multiply that by the more severe weather that comes north of the arctic circle and the lack of daylight this time of year and it becomes very challenging.

      It takes a tougher person than I to be willing to endure that. I have spent a grand total of one week in Dutch Harbor during the winter and that was on land. I whined for my entire stay. There is absolutely nothing that would get me out to sea.

      Just call me chicken.

      It is the heart that makes a man rich. He is rich according to what he is not what he has -Henry Ward Beecher

      by PSWaterspirit on Tue Feb 22, 2011 at 09:59:46 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thanks PSW! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Great story and it puts a truly human face on what "Deadliest Catch" is really about.

  •  You have been Republished at J Town (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    peachcreek, PSWaterspirit

    courtesy of princesspat


    Much of life is knowing what to Google
    (and blogging at BPI Campus)

    by JanF on Tue Feb 22, 2011 at 01:21:13 PM PST

  •  This rings so true... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    That day we learned that life could be short and cheap and not one of us was ever the same.

    It is so sad that over and over we fail to appreciate what we have until after tragedy strikes. I'm guilty of this failure. Sometimes though, the tragedies make us better than we would have been. I wish it wasn't so, but there it is.

    •  I agree (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      It is very easy to take for granted what we have until it is no longer there.

      Tragedies often make us look at things differently. in the end how we view a certain event and what we take away from it is an individual choice.

      Those choices big and small add up to life as we know it.

      Thank you for reading.

      It is the heart that makes a man rich. He is rich according to what he is not what he has -Henry Ward Beecher

      by PSWaterspirit on Tue Feb 22, 2011 at 11:44:03 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

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