Category: Sea Stories

Longline fishing video

Check this out, from the Antarctic toothfishery, which was developed about 1990 and has become a big distant-water fishery in the southern ocean using longline vessels fishing with the Mustad mechanized longline system (same system I used in 1981 on Georges Bank with Roger Bakey’s Sea Dog V, when I measured every damn fish he brought aboard and determined that if you took fish with hooks instead of nets you could bring home twice the tonnage and still leave the population intact)

Now this, this is fishin’…….

Coming home

A gazillion years ago when I fished from Chatham we had to cross the bar from Pleasant Bay into the Atlantic. It was (and still is) hairy, especially if it was foggy – and it was always foggy – and a sea was running. The channel shifted daily, sand, tons, being moved, and the course would wind among the breakers, left, then right. The boats fishing from Chatham are small, 40-50 feet, yet those seas could be large. When I was fishing we’d cross the bar. Just beyond was the broken and sunken half of the ship Pendlelton, which in the early 50s had come ashore and broken in half. There was a movie made about it, Finest Hours, recently, which I thought was pretty accurate except the absolute hairiest part of that saga, crossing the bar back into Pleasant Bay with all those men aboard and the storm raging, was sort of skipped. But those of us who fished from Chatham, we understood how hairy that had been.  There are lots of other bars and hairy entrances around the world fishermen must pass, and even ships (the Columbia Bar off Oregon and Washington for example). This grainy You Tube video here shows the Grindavik, Iceland, harbor entrance in January 1991 in a nasty sea and is in my opinion the most dramatic bar crossing on video ever made. My guess is the boat in the video is 110-130 feet long. Just imagine….


The greatest small boat journey ever made?

Shackleton’s trip to South Georgia Island from Elephant Island in the Southern Ocean. But he has competition –  Bligh’s passage after the mutiny across 2,000 miles of Pacific Ocean in an open boat, or Blackburn’s row across the Atlantic after losing his fingers and toes in a blizzard off the Grand banks…..humans have been going to sea in open boats for hundreds of thousands of years, before writing, before history, before legend…what about their journeys? Imagine – navigating an open boat, skin-covered perhaps, along a harsh coast, heavy ice on the upland, great animals, hungry, roaming and looking if they come ashore, forced to find food as they travel, despite danger, facing the cold, the weather, the unknown…..yet still they traveled….and found, and populated, the earth…



Some things never change…..four years ago when I sailed with APL we stood pirate watch all the way from the foot of the Red Sea out northeast toward Oman, going and coming. The situation then was that a ship traveling at 16+ knots was pretty untouchable; it was the slower vessels that were vulnerable. I remember being told, back then, there were dozens of seized ships being held along the Somali coast, for ransom, and that ransom was often paid, with little said about it. Maybe that still happens. By the time I sailed that route they had established lanes, outbound and returning, and some warships were in the area patrolling the lanes in case of attack. But, still, ships are seized, held, and then, as in this story here, released….

Ortho Spiders

When I sailed on an APL ship, 70 day round trip New York to Singapore with lots of stops in between, crossing the Atlantic, Mediterranean, Red and Arabian Seas, Indian Ocean and Straits of Malacca the company produced a one page news summary for the sailors, which was downloaded and printed by the third mate and posted in the mess and common room. One trip the third mate was a young computer savvy kid and he and I stood watch together, way too many hours, and we dreamed up a fake news story for fun. This is what I wrote and then Carl somehow managed to insert into the week’s summary. I think we were somewhere slogging across the Indian Ocean toward Malaysia.

Ortho Spider Alert: Sailors are warned to keep an eye out for a new type of spider that has been reported in Southeast Asia. Apparently these spiders nestle in the valleys between the corrugated sides of containers and then drop onto the ship when loaded into the hold. They prefer dark places and will be found in the bilges, near fluids and grease. First spotted on ships leaving Ho Chi Min City, it is speculated these spiders are a variant of a jungle spider then affected by Agent Orange. They have most recently been reported as far west as the western opening to the Strait of Malacca. These spiders, the size of a small cat, are very fast, gather in groups, and have a paralyzing, agonizing  bite. They prefer exposed skin.

Carl inserted this story on the lower right hand corner of the news sheet and I scattered them about the ship. Soon enough, at mess, talk turned to Ortho Spiders.

“The size of a small cat? Really?”

“They won’t be on this ship, we’re headed toward the Strait, not away.”

“But we were there two months ago. If any got aboard there may be thousands down in the bilges by now.”

I was sitting at the table and I said, “I don’t believe it. This sounds ridiculous. This sounds like a made up story.” I was the guy who wrote the story.

Alex, a Russian AB, good sailor, and definitely Russian, shook his head violently.

“No, Charles, No! These things happen! Believe me!”

Strangely enough, after that none of we sailors wanted to go below to check the voids deep in the ship. Not even me.



You think you have it bad….

On November 30 2016 my wife and I took the Coho ferry from Port Angeles, Washington across the 10-mile wide Strait of Juan de Fuca to Victoria, British Columbia to visit the museum there and a fantastic ice age exhibit. On the way over, and then again the next day coming back, we passed an anchored Hanjin container ship lying about four miles from Victoria, almost in the middle of the Strait, it seemed. The ship was dark, entirely empty of containers, just sitting there. In the late summer of 2016 Hanjin went bankrupt. Its fleet was basically abandoned, owned and leased ships. Some managed to get back to their home port, but others, once discharged of cargo, were placed in limbo. They had crews but no funds, and so they couldn’t berth anywhere accruing charges, no terminal would have them, and all over the world these ships anchored or found a place somewhere to tie up. One of those ships was that ship we saw from the Coho. She had a full crew – 22 people – and they had been on the ship, anchored there, since before the end of last summer, and for all I know she lies there still. She was there Christmas when the crew were delivered some holiday things. The ship they were working on was leased, not owned by Hanjin, and the ship’s owner has been ferrying food to the crew at anchor.

Imagine….you’re on the hook far from land, alone, stores steadily diminishing, fuel being burned for generators, not being paid, unable to get off the ship, with no idea of when you will get home, or get paid, spending each day in deadly routine, chipping rust, repairing, touring the vessel, staying busy, just staying busy. They’ve been there now since early September, and as of Christmas that’s four months, and my guess is the ship is still there, though maybe by now Hanjin has found a godmother to take over the ships and bring them home.

Those poor guys….the Coho doesn’t pass that close to the ship, a few miles away, but I am sure the Coho can be seen from the Hanjin ship, a bright little ferry filled with eager and happy tourists heading somewhere, passing by, probably with no thought or understanding of the prison that anchored ship has become…..