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…

 

 

Starting a New Life in 2012

Well, not a completely different life – we aren’t moving to France or changing our names – but starting our own fishing operation sure feels new and different.  Zed has been a deckhand for as long as I’ve known him (16 years!) so to switch occupations and become a boat owner is kind of a big deal.

It has been a difficult couple months for our family, especially being separated over the holidays.  We spent Thanksgiving apart, and then our first ever Christmas apart.  Yesterday was our oldest son’s 5th birthday, and Zed had to wish him a happy birthday over the phone…  We used Skype on Christmas so the boys could talk to their dad and show him their new presents.  And since Zed and I both have iPhones, we can use “face time” to have family video chats.

Atticus waiting patiently for a slice of birthday cake

In case you are wondering, Zed is still in Alabama working on the boat.  It turns out, converting a shrimper to a crabber is not as simple as we anticipated, but the work is almost done!

One of the major differences between shrimp boats in the South and crab boats on the West coast is the hold.  Where we have “wet” tanks that can be filled with water, most shrimpers in the South have “dry” tanks that are not water-proofed.  To convert our boat to a crab boat, we first needed to reinforce the hold so that it could handle the extra weight of all that water, and then we had to fiberglass the entire hold.  First, old foam needed to be ground smooth before new foam could be sprayed on.  This first photo shows foam being sprayed on all the surfaces.

spray foaming the fish hold

Here is Zed, getting ready to grind some foam.  Pretty attractive getup huh?

shipyard fashion

This next photo shows the foam being ground smooth.  Next will come the fiberglass.

grinding foam, dust everywhere!

Another necessary part of a crab boat is a dump box, where the crab are dumped out of the pots.  Here is our brand new dump box.

shiny new custom dump box

Exposed wires needed to be protected and water-proofed, so a solid run was installed from the lazarette to the engine room.

the installation of the housing for the wiring

Meanwhile, back in Bellingham a crew has been working daily rigging the dungeness crab gear.  Buoys have been painted, branded and tied, and line has been measured and cut. New crab pots were just delivered a couple days ago and sit waiting to be filled with buoys and lengths of line.

stacks of new pots

piles of line and buoys

Hopefully the F/V Robin Blue (yes, the boat is named after me) will soon be splashed into the Gulf of Mexico and headed to her new hometown of Bellingham, Washington.  We still have a lot of work ahead of us, including months of crabbing, but I’m feeling optimistic about our future and looking forward to a time (months from now) when we can relax and enjoy the fruits of our labor.

On that note, I wish everyone a Happy New Year, filled with new beginnings, fresh starts, and opportunity for a happier future!