We Go to the Ocean to Work

Once upon a time, “going to the ocean” meant swimming, beach combing, laying in the sun, reading, and generally just being lazy.  While those days aren’t completely lost forever, more often than not – now that I’m married to a fisherman – “going to the ocean” really means going to work.  This last weekend was one of these times.

Our fishing boat has just finished the 2013 crab season and she needed a little scrubbing in preparation for the next few months of sitting idle.  Trust me, you don’t want bait chunks rotting in bait bags or crab juice fermenting in the fish hold for too long!  The boat is currently residing in Westport, Washington (which is also where she fishes out of) but we live in Bellingham, which is a four or five hour drive away.  We could have just sent Zed down to work all weekend by himself, but why not make it a family trip instead?  Zed is soon headed up to Alaska for the summer, so we need to fit in as much family time as possible now.

So Thursday after school we loaded up the truck with kids, dogs, and supplies and hit the road!  We didn’t pull into the Westport Marina until after 11pm, but the kids were still awake and so excited to climb into their own bunks.  Sleeping on a boat is kind of like camping, but with all the conveniences of home.  Kind of like a floating RV, I suppose.

Walking down the ramp to our boat

Walking down the ramp to our boat

We spent the next three days scrubbing.  Scrubbing garbage cans, scrubbing the dump box, scrubbing the deck, scrubbing bait jars.  I got the lucky job of climbing down into the fish hold and scrubbing out old crab gunk (since it was Father’s Day, I accepted the job readily).

Hard at work on the F/V Robin Blue

Hard at work on the F/V Robin Blue

And for the first time ever, we had both boys working with us, getting stuff done, and not complaining!  For a four year old and a six year old this is a major accomplishment.

scrubbing the deck

scrubbing the deck

I even got a video of the work party in action, complete with a sweet soundtrack.

We made sure to keep our little “vacation” fun by taking ice cream breaks, walks on the beach, and exploring the town.

at the top of the watchtower, overlooking the marina

at the top of the watchtower, overlooking the marina

It might not have been the most relaxing weekend vacation we’ve ever taken, but we got to spend it as a family.  It felt good to have all four of us working together as a team and actually being productive!  Our boys had a great attitude the whole time, and I can see that they will one day be hardworking men (deckhands?).  I’m a proud mama!

Trout Fishing the Blues Away

Somehow a month and a half has passed since my last blog post… yikes!  I have no idea how that happened.  Well, that’s not entirely true.  I have been in a bit of a funk lately because things are not going well on the fishing front.  It has been a disappointing crab season and I didn’t really feel like talking (or writing) about it.  It’s a lot easier to talk about good news, but there hasn’t been much of that this season.  Now, as the season draws to a close we are struggling to scrape together a Plan B that will tide us over until the next dungeness crab season.

I suppose that’s just the nature of the industry – ups and downs.  Even long time fishing veterans tell me the roller coaster never ends when you fish for a living.  Everything can seem fine and dandy until a bad season combines with boat troubles and really knocks you on your ass.

But on a brighter note… we went trout fishing with our boys for the first time!

Atticus with his pole

Atticus with his pole

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yes, it was raining on opening day (isn’t it always), but the kids didn’t seem to mind.  They were too excited about catching their first fish!  After much tangled line and flying hooks they stared to get the hang of casting.  The waiting for a fish to bite was quite a bit more difficult for them.  6 and 4 year olds just aren’t know for their patience.  They had to keep reeling in their lines every couple minutes to see if they had anything.  But, by the end of the day we had six trout in our bucket.  The boys were just beside themselves with excitement and pride and I made sure to thank them several times for catching food for us.  They are now officially fishermen, just like their dad – my little providers!

Atticus and Larkyn with their catch

Atticus and Larkyn with their catch

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We did the classic trout fry with the trout – dredged them in flour, salt and pepper, then fried them in butter.  Pretty tasty!  We went back out and caught a couple more this weekend.  Not quite enough for a meal, so I’m going to smoke them and make them into a dip.  One of my favorite food blogs, Savory Simple, just posted this recipe for Smoked Trout Dip, which looks amazing and would make two trout go a whole lot farther than if I just fried them up again.  I’m brining the trout right now in a mixture of water, salt, sugar, garlic and pepper.  I’ll let you know how it turns out.

I promise I won’t let another month and a half go by between posts this time – and hopefully next time I’ll have some GOOD news to share!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Crabbing on the Coast 2013: A Photo Update

This is just a super quick visual update – some photos Zed took while fishing for Dungeness crab last month.  These were taken during one of the only brief windows of good fishable weather we have had this season.  The weather has been terrible, but spring is on its way, RIGHT?!?!  (Ugghh, I don’t really want to talk about it, which is the main reason this post consists of mostly photos.)

photo 108photo 109photo 110photo 112photo 116photo 121photo 123

the view from the captain's chair

the view from the captain’s chair

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have to try to look on the bright side.  Bad weather means no fishing, but bad weather also means that Zed gets to come home and spend time with his family!

photo 126

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

photo 127

 

Spontaneous Family Time

I’m sad to say, our family hasn’t spent much time together since we bought our fishing boat last year.  That’s just the way it goes for fishing families, especially when a new operation like ours is struggling to find its feet.  Zed has been gone crabbing for a month now out on the Washington coast and the kids and I miss him terribly.  We probably won’t get in much quality family time until Zed wraps up the Dungeness crab season, but we have no idea when that will be.

our boat tied up in the Westport harbor

our boat tied up in the Westport harbor

So, until we find ourselves with an excess of time and money on our hands, we must make to most of our situation and seize every little opportunity we have to reunite, even if only for a few hours.

Zed called me last week to say the weather was too rough to fish, but he couldn’t drive home because he had some repairs to do on the boat.  Would I like to drive down that evening with the kids and visit for a day (and bring him some clean laundry)?  I mentally ran through our schedule for the next day before mentally crumpling it up and throwing it away.  Yes!  I don’t care if I have to take both kids out of school for a day, skip Atticus’s Kung Fu lesson, reschedule a playdate with friends, cancel the art class I teach, and drive for 5 hours in the pouring rain through Seattle rush hour traffic.  Our boys need to see their dad and I need to see my husband!

I stuffed some clothes in our bags, crammed our two giant dogs in the back of our station wagon, and the five of us (including the dogs) hit the road!

All loaded up and ready to go

All loaded up and ready to go

5 hours (and a few potty breaks) later we pulled into Westport, a busy fishing port on the Washington coast.  We were all exhausted but it was a wonderful reunion nonetheless.  It was 9:30 pm by the time we checked into our hotel, so we all passed out pretty quickly.  Judging by the sounds of Zed snoring, I think it was the first good sleep he’d had in a while.

This was the view of the ocean I woke up to in the morning

This was the view of the ocean I woke up to in the morning

While Zed worked on the boat the next morning I played in the hotel pool with the kids.  We all met up for lunch and then tagged along as Zed ran errands for the rest of the day.  The kids were SO excited to hang out with their dad and visit our boat in the Westport harbor!

hanging out on the deck of the Robin Blue

hanging out on the deck of the Robin Blue

And before we knew it, it was time to head back home again to get ready for school the next day.  Before getting back in the car for the long drive home we took a stroll on the beach to stretch our legs one last time.  Flat sandy beach = happy kids and dogs!

a kid and dog paradise!

a kid and dog paradise!

The moral of the story here is that, no matter how busy you are, you have to put family first.  It is too easy to get caught up in paying bills and forget that our family is the whole reason why we work so hard.  If no one in the family is happy, what is the point of working so hard?  Even in the fishing world (especially in the fishing world) parents need to take a break and spend some time connecting with their kids and spouses.

a glimpse of the sun as we left the beach

a glimpse of the sun as we left the beach

Moments like these are never regretted.  We will never look back on family time and think, “if only I had spent more time fishing and less time making memories with my kids!”  I have, on the other hand, heard too many older fishermen look back on their careers and regret all the missed moments they never shared with their children.  When those moments pass – when your kids are grown – there is no way to get them back.

Zed on the beach with his boys

Zed on the beach with his boys

Even though we spent more time driving than visiting with Zed, I would do it again in a heartbeat, just to see my three guys together again.  Money can’t buy that kind of happiness.

The Moment We’ve Been Waiting For: Ready, Set, Crab!

Dungeness crab season begins on the Washington coast tonight at midnight (January 24, 2013), and for hundreds of Washington crabbing families (including ours) this is the most important moment of our year.  We have all spent months, if not years, preparing for this moment — rigging up crab pots, measuring lines, painting buoys, grinding rust off boats, painting boats, replacing boat parts — and it has all come with a cost.  The price to invest in the crab fishery is not cheap.  Between leasing or buying fishing permits, crab gear, and boat maintenance and repairs, we have all invested many many tens of thousands (or hundreds of thousands) of dollars.  Our blood, sweat and tears go into these fishing operations (literally), and if we have one bad crabbing season we could lose everything we have worked so hard for.

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The Robin Blue in shipyard earlier this month

We have essentially been preparing for this moment for the last year and a half and we now find ourselves at the point where we could begin to make money instead of borrowing and spending money. The excitement and the tension are indescribable.

The first “pick” (or “set”) of the season is an important one.  The entire coastal dungeness crab population is scuttling around out there, so the first set will likely be the best.  With every set the crab fleet makes from then on, the crab population grows smaller and smaller, and catches grow smaller and smaller, until it no longer remains cost-effective to continue fishing.  This year there are quite a few boats crabbing in the same area, off of Westport, Washington, so there will be some competition to set pots in the prime fishing grounds.

Late night at the dock, loading crab pots on to the boat

Late night at the dock, loading crab pots on to the boat

I apologize for my lengthy explanation of the crab season (especially for those of you already familiar with the process) but I really want to drive home the point that this moment — the first day of the crab season — is a very important and very scary moment.  I will be a nervous wreck for the next week, waiting to hear how the first trip went.  Unfortunately, I could be waiting all week if Zed is out of cell range.

As a fisherman’s wife, it is necessary for the maintenance of my sanity to keep myself from worrying about things that are out of my control (boats, weather, danger, prices, etc..).  Sometimes this works for me, but I have a feeling that this week my mind will be reeling out of control with questions like “what if he doesn’t catch any crab?” “what if it’s a horrible season?” “what if they get trapped in a storm?” “what if the (fill in the blank with any of the major parts we just installed) doesn’t work?”  I’m already biting my fingernails and the season hasn’t even started yet!

All I can do at this point is to wish my husband — and all the other crabbers out there off the Washington coast tonight — prosperous and safe crabbing!  And I will leave you with this message from the Washington Dungeness Crab Fishermen’s Association:

FOR THOSE FISHERMEN HEADING OUT TO SEA, WE WANT YOU TO KNOW YOU WILL BE IN OUR HEARTS AND ON OUR MINDS.
AS YOU RETURN BACK TO WORK, RISKING YOUR LIVES TO SUPPORT YOUR FAMILIES AND TO HELP FEED THE WORLD, WE HOPE YOU KNOW JUST HOW MUCH “COMMERCIAL FISHERMEN HELP ALL OF US LIVE BETTER”
MAY THE WAVES AND THE WINDS OF THE PACIFIC OCEAN BE CALM, YOUR JOURNEYS SAFE AND YOUR HARVESTS PLENTIFUL.
MAY GOD BLESS YOU, KEEP YOU, AND RETURN YOU TO THOSE OF US LEFT BEHIND. BE SAFE… GOOD LUCK…

 

 

What Ever Happened to the Blues?

I think I’m way overdue for a Blue family update.  I’ve been writing new blog posts, but I realize that I’ve been leaving out details of our new boat/fishing/business operation.  I think I’ve just been too stressed out and depressed about the whole situation to write about it and share it with the world… until now!

If you are a regular reader of this blog you’ve probably been thinking, “didn’t they buy a boat?”  If you are new to this blog you are probably thinking, “what the hell is she talking about?”  So first, for any new readers, I will try to summarize what our family has been working on for the last year.  One year ago, my husband (Zed) and I purchased a sixty foot commercial shrimp boat in Alabama, fixed it and converted it to a crab boat for fishing on the Washington State coast.

Our boat in shipyard in Alabama last year (and our dog, Dora)

As these types of projects seem to go, we went over schedule and way over budget.  Zed spent four straight months in Alabama working on the boat and then two months traveling, bringing the boat around through the Panama Canal, and up the Pacific coast.  By the time he arrived in Washington with the boat, the crabbing season (our main source of income) was mostly over.

We have spent the last six or seven months just doing whatever it takes to stay afloat (literally and figuratively) until next crab season.  Essentially, our boat has been docked for most of the year because it is only rigged for crabbing and we couldn’t afford to set it up for any other fisheries.  Zed used our boat to tender for crab, but he’s mostly been working as a deckhand on another boat longlining for blackcod.  I have picked up several odd jobs to help make ends meet, including some freelance writing for www.alaskajobfinder.com, babysitting kids in our neighborhood, and teaching a preschool art class (okay, this last one is more just for fun).  I even painted our neighbors fence!

Essentially, I have spent the last year raising two kids (and two dogs and a cat) on my own.  I’m not gonna lie to you – it’s been a rough year.  We have been barely scraping by, not even able to pay our bills some months, let alone pay off any of the personal debts we have recently acquired.

Captain Larkyn, you might want to turn those around

But I am happy to report, things are just starting to turn around!  We are slowly finding our way out of the woods, so to speak.  Last week we signed the final papers to refinance our boat loan and to finance some much-needed improvements to the boat.  This loan has been in the works for months now and I can hardly believe it is over and done with!  I’ve been sleeping better the last few nights knowing we are in a safer financial situation.

Between now and the start of the crab season (sometime in January) we have a lot of work to do – putting our boat in shipyard and installing a refrigeration system and a new generator (to start), getting our crab gear in order, buying new crab pots, painting buoys, cutting line, and all the other fun preparations that happen before a season.  All of this work will happen here in Bellingham, or nearby, and I look forward to having my husband home every night.

stack of crab pots last year

big pile of lines and buoys

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the same time, I don’t have any expectations that things will get any easier just because Zed is in town.  I am well aware of the never-ending duties of a boat owner.  This is a very important time of year for us – it is absolutely essential that our boat is ready to fish when the season starts or we could miss out on our most profitable fishing of the year.  In short, Zed will be burning the candle at both ends and I don’t expect to see too much of him, except maybe when I’m bringing him lunch down at the harbor!

Zed and Atticus on the boat

I think we have another rough year ahead of us – I don’t see any breaks in sight until the summer, at least – but we have hope that this coming crab season will be profitable and bring us further out of debt.  That’s what fishing is all about: working your absolute hardest and hoping for the best.  Wish us luck!

And Happy Thanksgiving to all my American readers!

 

 

Fishermen Always Miss Out

A fisherman’s work schedule does not follow any calendar. Fishermen do not get weekends off. Fishermen don’t get a 40 hour work week and they sure as hell don’t get paid overtime. Most fishermen are lucky if they get one lunch break in their 20 hour work day. If you are a fisherman your work schedule goes like this: if it’s fishing season, and the weather isn’t total crap, you will be on the water catching fish (or attempting to at least). Fishing continues until the season is over, or all the quota is caught.

Now, there are a couple of exceptions to this rule. Most fishermen do not fish on Christmas day. Since Zed and I have been together he has never had to work on Christmas day. He has had to work the day before and the day after, but never the day of Christmas. Also, the birth of a baby is generally considered grounds for a short leave of absence (how short depends on the generosity of the skipper). We were lucky that the birth of our first baby happened between fishing seasons, and when our second baby was born Zed’s skipper gave him a whole month off.

But over the last eight years (that’s how long Zed and I have been together) we have spent many a birthday, holiday, and anniversary apart. This last year has been the hardest of all. Since purchasing our own fishing boat last October, Zed has spent nearly every day working. During this time period Zed has missed Thanksgiving, Christmas, our son’s 5th birthday, my (un-numbered) birthday, Valentine’s day, our anniversary, Mother’s day, and untold numbers of friend’s weddings, BBQs and other random celebrations. Add to this all those little moments, like the first lost tooth, or just a lazy summer day at the beach. And then last Friday Zed missed our son Atticus’s first day of kindergarten.

Our son Atticus on the morning of his first day of kindergarten

Just to be clear, I do not intend this as any sort of criticism of Zed as a parent or spouse, only as a demonstration of the sacrifices that a fisherman makes in order to support his family.  I know that Zed deeply regrets his absences…  He spent most of our son Larkyn’s first year of life in the Bering Sea crabbing and I think we can all agree, it was a miserable year that we wish we could get back somehow.

Zed crabbing in the Bering Sea in 2009

As a deckhand, Zed has zero say in when the boat leaves or comes home. As the captain of his own boat, Zed will have a little more control over his schedule. What is important to remember though, is that sometimes in fishing you only get short windows of opportunity where the fish are biting, or the crabs are the right size and in the right place and at the right time. The profits from a couple of weeks of fishing might be the majority of your earnings for the entire year. So, if you miss the peak of the season because you wanted to catch a school play or a soccer game, you could miss out on tens (maybe even hundreds) of thousands of dollars in earnings. This is just the way it is in fishing.

While I understand the necessity of Zed’s odd work schedule, it is difficult to explain to 4 and 5 year-olds. I try to tell our kids often, “Dad really wants to be here right now, but he has to catch fish so that we have a house to live in and food to eat”. It’s a harsh reality for little kids, but it is our reality nonetheless and I want our kids to understand that their dad is doing what he has to do, not what he wants to do.  I want them to grow up appreciating the sacrifices that their dad is making.  So far they seem to understand.

At this very moment Zed is somewhere off the Washington coast longlining for blackcod.  He’s probably wet, cold, and covered in fish blood and slime – coming to the end of a 20 hour day on deck – maybe stumbling inside to eat dinner at midnight before crashing in his bunk for his two hours of sleep so he can wake up and do it all again.  So, to my hard-working husband I say – sorry for all the moments you miss out on, and thank you for the sacrifices you make.