National Fisherman

March 5-May 4, 2008 — I've had the slippers I use on the Discovery for a long time. My wife bought them for me to replace my Birkenstocks, because I used to complain that my feet were always cold when I was longlining. So she bought me a pair of Haflingers, made of 100 percent wool felt on a cork sole, similar to a pair of Birkenstocks, but really warm.

I've had these slippers since before the turn of the millennia. I remember the first year I took them longlining, how happy I was that my feet were actually warm. I remember the year I forgot them, and since then I have always had them for this frigid trip.

I took them down to Ventura, Calif., to go squid fishing in 2003 where I certainly didn't need wool felt slippers, but nonetheless that was when my fungus-infected toenail wore a hole in the top of the toe. In 2005 the holes in the toes got so big I decided it was time to get a new pair; in 2006 Maureen bought me a new pair on the Internet, but they were too small so I returned them. I finally conceded to wearing my old slippers until they just fell apart.

On the second blackcod trip in the central gulf, which we started on April 7, 2008, my slippers finally gave it up. That hole in the toe had spread like cancer on each slipper, and the wool felt was clinging to the cork sole by one tiny spot by the ball of my foot. I don't know what held them in tact so long, but when it was time for them to let go, both slippers did it together.

On the first day of hauling the weather was a bit sloppy. It was far from a storm; nothing these slippers hadn't survived a million times before as I shuffled around the galley throwing meals together. But even so, the boat was rolling enough so I had to anchor my foot out and away from me to support my weight on a big roll, and that is when the first one gave way. My foot slipped right through the side and rolled over the slipper, which was no longer beneath my foot, sending me gimping across the galley with the momentum of the swell.

Every time the boat rolled or I pivoted or I came down hard because the rolling boat threw me off balance, my foot would slip out the side of my slipper. Every time I ran back to the stern topdeck to help Mike throw the buoy line and anchors over when we set (I take a break from cooking to do this), I would trip all over the skates of halibut gear that lay behind the wheelhouse door. Continuing back to the stern topdeck was quite a trick with the exaggerated roll up high on the boat. I felt like a gooney bird trying to tapdance.

It became a real hassle, but I figured since my slippers have hung with me for so long, I could at least extend them the courtesy of using them through their last trip. George had seen slippers for just $10 a pair at the hardware store in Seward. In the mean time I braved the seas for the rest of the trip with my slipper-trippers.

Every time I climbed the stairs (which are more like a ladder) out of the foc's'le or up to the wheelhouse, I had to hook my foot upward to keep my slipper from slipping off; going down proved most difficult, and very often a slipper or two would fall from my foot before I reached the bottom.

I had a hell of a time balancing upon the shitter — there is limited floor space, so my feet have to be close together, and when the boat rolled my feet would slip right out the sides. As I shuffled my feet I wound up stepping on the other slipper, distorting any sort of equilibrium I had during this precarious task, and sending me face first into the wall.

When we got into Seward I checked out the slippers in the hardware store and found them to be super cheap made in China pieces of wearable trash. I just couldn't bring myself to buy that garbage; I would rather dance around like a gooney bird.

So I wrapped a couple straps of electrical tape around each slipper, and that held them together for the rest of the season. I planned on giving them an appropriate at-sea burial in Georgia Strait on the run home, but the tape held them together so well I left them stashed on the boat for next year.

If it works, don't mess with it, right?

TO BE CONTINUED...

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