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!

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15 Minutes of Fishing Fame

Last month a reporter from National Fisherman magazine contacted Zed and I because he wanted to write an article about the crazy experience we had buying and fixing up our fishing boat and driving it half-way around the world and through the Panama Canal. We thought, why not?! Even though our story so far contains more regrets than successes, we figured we could endure a little embarrassment if other potential boat-buyers out there could learn from our mistakes. (Lesson #1: Inspect boat THOROUGHLY before buying)

To make a long story short, the September issue of National Fisherman just came out with our boat, the Robin Blue, on the front cover!

The photo on the cover was taken after 4 months of shipyard work

The author of the piece, Michael Crowley, was very kind to tell our story in such a positive light. Thanks Michael!

If you want to read the full article, you will have to find yourself a copy, but Here is a link to National Fisherman if you would like to read an excerpt from the article.

A short side note… a reader of the magazine recognized the Robin Blue as his father’s first fishing boat from when his family lived in Louisiana. He searched online, found my blog and left me a nice note. His family fished for shrimp with the boat for years and then sold her in 1998. It was nice to hear that our first boat was once someone else’s first boat and that she has a long history of supporting fishing families!

Here is the Robin Blue in her previous life as the Buddy Boy (thanks for the photo Daniel)

This is what I love about blogging most of all – the connections I make with individuals from all over the world, with very different backgrounds and life stories, that I would never have had the opportunity to meet otherwise.

Here she is in Alabama after her transformation, awaiting departure

Home at Last: The Robin Blue has Landed!

FINALLY!!!  After four months of shipyard work in Alabama, and almost two months on the traveling on the water, the F/V Robin Blue has arrived at her new home of Bellingham Washington.

The red line is the route of the F/V Robin Blue

This map above shows the path of her journey, starting out in Bayou La Batre, Alabama on February 28, 2012 and arriving in Bellingham, Washington on April 29, 2012.  Total miles traveled: 6,100!  What an adventure!

The boys and I were in the harbor, waiting on the dock when they came around the corner and we spotted the boat for the first time!  I can’t even begin to tell you how excited we all were as she pulled up to the dock.  There have been so many times in the last six months when I doubted whether this day would ever come.  It has been an insanely long six months for all of us – Zed, away from home, madly working through all of the many obstacles that came at us – and me on my own, at home with the kids and dogs, trying to keep our lives and loans in order.

We were so excited to explore our boat for the first time and It feels great to have our family together again.  (By the way, that’s Justice in the above photo pulling the boat up to the dock – the only man to stay on the boat for the entire journey!  Thanks Justice, you’re my hero!)

The hard work is far from over though.  No relaxing yet!  Now we have to get her ready to fish so Zed can go out and try to salvage what’s left of the dungeness crab season.  I still feel stressed, but I can at least breathe a little easier knowing my husband and the boat are home at last!!!

Coming soon – lots of photos, videos and stories from the voyage!

The Kindness of Others

It would be an understatement to say that the last few months have been trying. In fact, it would be an understatement to say the last few months have been an hellish mash of ulcer-inducing failures and sleepless nights. As it turns out, starting a fishing operation is not for the uncertain or faint of heart.

What initially seemed like a great investment soon turned into a nightmare as one problem after another reared its ugly head. Electrical problems, hydraulic problems, bearings, generators, and the list went on and on. Days turned into weeks which turned into months and it seemed like the repairs would never end.

Zed trying to stay positive after a day of grinding rust

The problem was, we had already purchased the boat and started putting money into improvements when we realized how much work the boat would need. By that time it was too late to back out. The boat was in Alabama and we knew we wouldn’t be able to sell it there “as is.” We had already received and spent two generous loans from a family member and a friend for boat improvements, so walking away from the project wasn’t an option. Our only option was to press forward and try to get the boat in working order and back to the West Coast, where it could start fishing and making us money. After refinancing all our vehicles, maxing out all our credit cards, then getting new credit cards, we were running out of funds. Our home hadn’t gone up in value since we bought it, so refinancing or selling weren’t possibilities. Banks aren’t giving out “start up” loans to new businesses. We started to feel hopeless about the situation.

But every time we started thinking our goose was cooked, someone would step in and help us out. Multiple friends and family members stepped in and loaned us whatever they could afford. Total strangers heard Zed’s story and gave him amazing deals on parts. The owner of the shipyard, Joe, realized the situation we were in and vowed to help us in any way he could. He provided his own time and labor, traded with Zed for parts and supplies, and gave Zed use of his tools.

The Shipyard Crew: Joe Gazzier, Zed, Victor, Kevin, Wayne, Kelly, and Jimmy

Two friends, Rick and Justice, flew down to Alabama from Alaska to help drive the boat around to the west coast. When more and more problems delayed their departure, they stuck around and helped Zed. When Rick and Justice realized the boat wouldn’t be ready to depart anytime soon, they could have dropped it and flown back to Alaska, but they stayed for two and a half more months. Day after day of waking up at dawn and working in the shipyard till night, these guys stuck it out, knowing we couldn’t afford to pay them. They gave over two months of labor and advice and moral support, just because they wanted to help and didn’t want to see us fail.

When the boat was finally ready to depart, we realized that Zed would need to fly home to make some more money. Rick and Justice offered to take the boat as far as they could and they flew in another friend, Mark, to help them make the journey. The three of them drove the boat from Alabama to Panama, through miserable weather, and through the stress and chaos (and near collisions) of the Panama Canal.

Mark and Dora the dog with the deck load of groceries, preparing for departure. Yes, those are giant Mardi Gras beads in the foreground (when in New Orleans... )

After safely reaching the Pacific Ocean, Rick and Mark were out of time and needed to fly back to Alaska, but Justice decided to stay on for the last leg of the trip. Zed flew down to Panama City to meet the boat as it came through the canal, and our dear friend Remo cut his vacation in Switzerland short to fly all the way across the world and lend a hand.

Remo and Justice, Zed's crew, in Panama City

Zed, Justice, and Remo just departed Panama City today on the F/V Robin Blue. They head North, for what will hopefully be an uneventful and “quick” jaunt to Washington State.

This is where she's been anchored for the last week, right next to the shipping lane at the base of the Panama Canal.

The point I want to make with this post is that we have had so many individuals help us out in so many ways throughout this whole process. Some were close friends and family, and some were total strangers, but everyone was cheering us on. I think that one of the reasons for this widespread support is because, essentially, we are trying to realize the “American Dream.” Tired of working for other people and barely paying our bills, we made the decision to take a risk with the hope that if we work hard enough we can better ourselves and become more self-reliant. I think that this struggle resonates with most people in some way or another: some share the dream, while others have been in our shoes and already succeeded in realizing their dreams.

Whatever their motivation for supporting us, I just want to give a great big THANK YOU to everyone who has assisted us in the last few months, whether it be financially, morally, or otherwise. We NEVER would have made it this far without everyone’s assistance. Unfortunately, we still have a long ways to go before we are “out of the woods.” I can’t yet say how this venture will turn out, but no matter the outcome I can walk away from this all with a renewed faith in humanity.

(as Zed, Remo, and Justice spend the next few weeks making their way up the coast of Central America and North America, please wish them safe travels and good weather!)

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!