Rebel without a cod…
We know only too well that what we are doing is nothing more than a drop in the ocean. But if the drop were not there, the ocean would be missing something. – Mother Teresa
With luck, there will be a handful of experiences in your life that are going to positively change who you thought you were and what you are capable of doing.
I didn’t doubt how challenging it would be working on a fish processing boat in Dutch Harbor. The prospect is gritty and grimy no matter how you look at it. But I like crazy experiences.The money’s just a justification. To most people who do it, it doesn’t sound all that bad of an idea to be stuck out on a boat in the middle of nowhere for a whole winter.
Life lessons began at Pier 91 in Seattle. Boarding a ship of strangers means leaving your prior life on land. Characters get redefined. You cast off, in more ways than one.
Our own tiny universe orbited solely around seafood production and we processed +/-25,000 lbs. of Pacific Cod an HOUR (from fresh fish being pumped onto the boat, being weighed and sent down the line to be gutted, heads chopped off, sorted, graded, loaded into carts, flash frozen, bagged, tagged and offloaded into freezer container trucks) TWENTY-FOUR (24) HOURS A DAY!!
It never stopped. More fish, the whir of the machines, the Spanish electronica, the drama, the paperwork, the tears and sweat and frozen fingers and stories that can’t be rivaled…
Between December and April we processed over 19 million pounds of Pacific Cod on our boat that was also our home.
As The World Turns, so did The Days of Our Lives!
The landscape outside was often snowy, beautiful, bare mountains dotted with WWII bunkers, glorious sunshine, bald eagles, stacks of crab pots, and all things industrial.
But I got to know the inside of our boat a lot more intimately than the islands that surrounded us.
The factory was a crazy maze of machinery. The living quarters, circular hallways full of Xtratufs and doorways that opened into tiny rooms with bunk beds and high school lockers.
Human connections were strong, we couldn’t get any closer. Creatures of comfort and habit, most people sat at the same tables every day for mealtimes. The Filipinos, Mexicans and Africans clustered together, while the deck hands and offload crews stuck together, the engineers way too cool to even eat in the galley with the rest of us, were downstairs. The office staff, were usually in the office.. Smokers, on the back deck.
The laundry room was another gathering place, where the housekeeping manager cooked meals on his electric skillet. I enjoyed a few carne de vaca tacos and Coca Colas between the stacks of washers and dryers and garbage cans full of blue rubber gloves. It was cozy and the food tasty.
We all found our place amidst the chaos, and we hunkered down. We greeted each other warmly and silently cursed the days until our freedom.
I was working for a company that was preoccupied with things like lawsuits and random drug tests. The overly restrictive policies and reckless management, 16 hour work days, unhealthy food and confined spaces, all made it feel how I imagine life in prison is! I laughed a lot. I cried a lot. I hid in my room a lot. Everything was gloriously absurd. We adapted.
Would I go back? I loved the work. I loved the people. But it’s unlikely improvements in management will take place, and that’s a deal breaker for me.
Would I recommend it? I’ll say this: If you can stick it out, you’ll have a family and you’ll know home. You’ll gain a better understanding of different cultures and the commercial seafood industry. You’ll have money in the bank. There’s a lot to be proud of. You’ll have stories to tell. Some things were fucked up- and at times, fucked me up, but it was interesting, and as soon as I disembarked, I felt homesick.
I got to watch bald eagles eat from the hands of my friends, sunrises over the sea, fishing boats feeding the WORLD! We fed the world!