Friday, January 16, 2009

My winter on a crab boat in the Bering Sea

Ten years ago at this time I was working on the F/V Bountiful as a seafood processor. The Bountiful is a rare type of boat, it catches crab and processes/packages the catch. The boat is owned by Trident Seafoods, which is majority owned by Chuck Bundrant. Chuck invented the crab catcher/processor type boat with the F/V Billikin [link], with the Bountiful being the second of this type. I had already worked for Trident in Alaska since 1997 (my 1997 akutan alaska story here), and the Bountiful crew had a reputation as an elite tough guy club. I took a demotion from bookkeeping and quality control for the experience.

It almost killed me. 18 hours a day, an unheated bedroom, the hardest work I've ever seen, and waves that didn't look real. In March the Lin-J capsized due to a sudden ice storm [link], the same ice coated our boat and I was with everyone else fighting to break the stuff before we went down like the Lin-J. I can be all romantic and posture with a tough tone right now, but shit, that kind of adventure is no fun when you're in it.

Everyone on the boat was tough. Except for one guy. From Florida, got sea sick all the time. Then he made a mistake beyond not being tough. He stole money out of his roommate's bag. The captain gathered us all in the wheelhouse, and said he wanted the guy found and he'd be fine with whatever frontier justice happened. The guy was beat up, and fired. Years later I was talking to a deckhand working the boat that received this fired worker. Our boat swung in fast, lifted the guy up with a crane and swung him onto the receiving boat almost at full speed and in rough seas. Petty theft meant this guy's life was in peril till he reached dry land.

There was this seven foot tall Bosnian who never complained, and showed up 15 minutes before start time to kill more crab. Hacksaw, a jovial guy to me but threatened the guys he didn't like. Everybody liked me except this one deckhand from Hawaii. He pushed me once. Others told me was looking for a fight, and would claim I started the fight, hoping to get me fired and lose my end of contract bonus.

I made a plan to defeat the guy. I would do it by being crazy. On my raingear I used magic markers to draw and write. I drew lots of little flowers and "I WILL KILL YOU" all over myself. Across my rubber work gloves I wrote "I hate indigenous hawaiians". The little flowers all had smiley faces with swastikas for eyes.

The propaganda campaign worked perfectly, most got a bang out of it and the jerk deckhand walked a wide circle around me.

The gig on the Bountiful was a bit too intense to call fun, but my other experiences in Akutan, Ketchikan, and aboard the Neptune, Sea Alaska and Independence were awesome.

One message I want to creep out of this indulgent remembrance is how meaningful and valued people were in those notoriously anti-union Trident factories. There were more than a few ex-cons, and a lot of the American guys seemed to be current or ex street druggies. There were more green card workers from the Philippines and Central America than Americans. Everybody that worked was an equal, and most worked much harder than they really had to. ( e.g. Hacksaw the big muscled up street druggie stacked all 5000 boxes of crab perfectly in the freezer under no supervision ) Down here in the lala-land of the lower 48, especially amongst the do-gooder set who've never seen hardship, we think of the most bizarre schemes to enrich the impoverished. Up in Alaska I saw a lot of people from bitter backstories be reasonably satisfied, and laugh if the joke was good enough -they did it by working their ass off and getting a few thousand dollars to take home. That's what the down and out need.

1 comment:

556N127E said...

Your account of your time on the Bountiful seems a bit hyperbolic, the Hawaiian wasn't that big. You left out your affinity for Japanese women :-)