Wednesday, February 29, 2012

You don't have to like it, you just have to do it

The way the sea affects different people is interesting.  I suppose some of it can be chalked up to the simple notion, 'this isn't for everybody'.  It's basic.  There is an attrition going on here with some of the crew.  And there are some people who aren't going anywhere, but approach their job with little enthusiasm.  The reality is that no one has it easy on the boat.  The captain probably has it pretty good and the foremen and a few other muckity mucks have it ok.  Everyone, however, is working 16 hours on and 8 hours off.  They call it 16 and 8s.  It's actually 16.5 and 7.5s.  Whatever.  The point is, this isn't a dream boat for most of us and is by no rational measure a life of luxury.


See how I emphasized the 'but' there?  It's all a matter of perspective and mental discipline.  If you come onto the boat and tally your hours at the end of everyday and compare it to the best job you've had in the real world and blah blah blah then you are one thousand percent going to fold.  Coming out here and living like this with any part of yourself back in civilization is gonna be rough.  To deal with this, you've gotta take an inverted approach.  Things have to be seen differently.

For one thing, even though the hourly rate doesn't always add up, I guarantee that at the end of the trip there will be more money saved than if one were out in the world eating at McDonald's.  On our best day I think we made five hundred dollars.  On our worst, we made zero.  So there you go.  After a few weeks at sea there's a few thousand there and more to get.  No biggie.

I think the more important shift in attitude that needs to take place for those of us who haven't been on a boat before is one of self discipline.  If you aren't taking the time spent here mastering yourself and honing your toughness, then you're missing the boat, so to speak.  A friend of mine who's been working with me down in the freezer came with a different attitude the other day.  She was all down and mopey about the situation.  Before that, she'd been one of the toughest people here and eagerly tackled every challenge.  I asked, "Who do you want to be when you get home?  Do you want to be the person who endured months of torment for a few bucks?  Or the independent person you've been becoming who can do anything that's put in front of you?"  Snapped her back to reality a little bit. 

The real reality is that you can't let your mind eat away at itself.  Once that slippery slope is trod upon, forever will it rule your destiny.  That's Yoda talking.  Can't argue with it.  We all live inside of our minds.  We have to run a tight ship in there, so to speak.  Gotta win the day.  Gotta win the hour.  Gotta win every moment.  Even when it's hard.  We like it because it's hard.  Everyone who's stepped in the freezer with the exception of Ice wench and Valentine has folded.  Pumps me up.  When the daffodils are going through the motions sorting fish, we're low crawling on the deck in the freezer hold looking for frozen fish eyes to eat.  We cough up pneu;monia and grab another bag.  And we get stronger.  There's no easy way out, there's no short cut home.  You don't have to like it, you just have to do it.  Friggin country club.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Falling in the boxolator

There is way too much to cover right now.  For one thing, it might not be wise to post about the mutiny I have in the works when the boat people have access to my stuff.  So, before anyone gets too excited and hauls me away, I'm at least 20% kidding about it.  I mean, come on.  Could I really find a place in China to sell the fish?  And could I really get wenches on any number of islands in the Western Pacific to come along for Admiral J-Cut's Privateering party?  And do you really think I'd scrap the millions of pounds of steel and the factory on board in Indonesia for pennies on the dollar and still walk away with millions?  It's preposterous.  I'd have to gain the friendship and trust of at least ten crew members and take advantage of their military training.  I'd also have to learn where the button for the gps transponder in the wheelhouse is labeled 'ACS'.  There's no way it could happen.

Fun thing about this mutiny is that it had a little mutiny of it's own.  My peeps decided they had some ideas of their own.  Wanted to turn my mutiny into some Mickey Mouse club shenanigans.  Ain't gonna happen.  And then, when I had the factory guy make me a steel eye patch-yes, I made my own of a colored and cut paper cup and strap for some ear plugs and like five people copied it-my number two turned on me.  Tom, the Swede who fabricated this thing of beauty gave it to Yeoman Tiny to give to me.  Well, once Tiny held the reigns of power he started to get a little power drunk.  Sigh.  So, I gave promotions all around.  I was captain J Cut, named after the machine that beheads the fish.  In order to mollify Tiny, however, I had to promote him to captain Tiny.  So I'm admiral J Cut now.  Whatever.  It's not like it's the United States Navy or anything.  My director of Piracy is a Somalian.  Enough said.  Lord Pillage is a former cage fighter and Commander Tor, named after my dad, is a former Air Force MP.  His training should come in handy.  Captain Tiny is a Tongan who comes in around 325 and has hair halfway down his back.  Think Troy Palamalu on steroids about five years out of his playing career.  Only bigger.

The mutiny is on the back burner for now, even though there is dissention in the ranks and the timing is probably about right.  We're gassing up for some fishing and could probably go anywhere in the Pacific.  But don't worry about that.  The boxolator is the reason for the nightmares tonight.

We are doing offload, which is about as bad as it gets.  Fact.  The way it works is we take the 800 metric tons, or roughly 2 million pounds of frozen fish and load it onto a machine.  The machine is called the boxolator.  It's a vertical conveyor belt on steroids with metal paddles that sends the boxes up and out of the boat.  It's a fucking death trap.  It sounds like a rabid lawn mower with a loose blade.  I fell in.  And you're not even supposed to stick your hand near it.  I fell in it.  I then commando rolled out of it with the quickness of...I don't know.  Seriously though, In one deft motion, I fell, rolled, crapped myself, hit my steel toes on the paddle, and got out.  Took maybe a half second.  For sure not safe.  At all.  That's all I got.  That and everyone who comes into my freezing domain quits.  The lone girl is now my freezer buddy.  Poor thing.  She doesn't stand a chance.  She's actually pretty tough so we'll see.  Still, she doesn't stand a chance.

And for those of you keeping track, of the nearly two million pounds of fish that was in the hold, I put like half of it there.  My hands look like I tried to finger blast a garbage disposal.  Still here.  No big whoop.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012


I'm way too tired and have far too little time to be writing.  But I have to give a shout out to perhaps my favorite person in the world right now.  Before anyone gets too upset, understand that my world consists of the 50 or so souls on this pitching, rolling, and sometimes yawing vessel.  In the freezer I have a new friend.  His name is Valentine.  Allow me to introduce him...

Valentine is a Mexican.  He is of the stock that makes me proud to be Californian.  I know that sounds snarky and silly.  It's not meant to be.  What I mean is that I appreciate the Mexican laborers.  The one's I have known have been in California.  Valentine is a cut above.  First of all, he is a hard worker.  But there is much more to it than that.  He also works with a smile.  It seems that he lives life with a smile, and that he has been for quite some time.  I can't speak for the others who work with and around him.  As for me, he makes me want to work better.  He makes me want to be a better person.

I was hovering at about a nine today for about an hour.  That's a mere 6% of my day.  Anyway, about the time I was ready to mentally collapse for a bit I sang the Rocky theme song to myself.  And I thought of Valentine.  No lie, I asked myself what Valentine would do.  And upon considering it, decided that I could do the same thing.  The Rocky theme song was a really big help too.

But apart from these mind games I play with myself to endure the day that include a role model, there is a simple goodness that I perceive in him.  Since hanging with Valentine, I've called on my God.  I wondered if Jesus looks at us as I look at Valentine.  This isn't to say that I can look at anything like the King, but rather whether the compassion I felt and overwhelming love resembles the most compassionate one's.  I nearly got emotional just considering the humility and goodness of this man.  Valentine. 

A few days ago, someone wore his rain gear.  The guy who did it isn't a bad guy or anything.  It was just a misunderstanding.  But Valentine's response was "I need to get new rain gear."  He said it in the most gut wrenching way.  Just talking about it multiplies my sympathy.  This may be rambling and incoherent, but I had to give my buddy his due.  He will probably never know how profound his impact on me is.  What gives me comfort though is the promise.  The promise that the meek will inherit the Earth.  On that day, Valentine will be a king.  And to me he already is.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Freezer Rat

They're running a friggin country club out here on the Bering Sea.  16 hour days?  Yawn.  -20 degrees F in the freezer for those 16 hours?  Pfft.  It's like Caddy Shack our here.  And we have a guy who's the ground hog.  And we have the African All Stars.  And we've got a few unhinged Russians.  And against all odds, there's a Hawaiin looking guy with a red neck accent.  I can't make this up.

So I jumped on the freezer hold gig.  They call me the freezer rat.  "Are you a friggin rat or a mouse Watts?"  Tony bloomfield.  I'm a rat.  Actually, I promoted myself to Ice God today.  That's how I feel in the bowels of the ship, below the water line and in the frigid hold's dim flourescent lights.  My rapist looking mustache has even ceased to freeze over.  I'm immune.  Apart from the beginnings of pnuemonia, I feel pretty good down there.  The freezer suit is warm. 

I gotta thank Rich.  The sea has called.  The days are long.  We haven't made money yet.  It's gross in the factory.  We are elbow to elbow with the people we bunk with.  And it's awesome.  The sea has an appeal that is other wordly.  Whether or not I'll become immune, or it's novelty will wear off, I don't know.  But pulling into Dutch Harbor the other day, or more accurately, about two or three hours out, I saw a sight.  It was only a few islands.  But they were literally beyond words.  When I saw them I didn't try to describe it.  It just was.  The only way I can really put it is like this: Following the sun in our rickety boat looked seriously like Lord of the Rings wehn they went to Elfville or wherever it was they went.  It was just a moment. 

I'm a freezer rat.  Loving it.  Seriously, we better get paid soon though.