A Cold Night

August 10-11, 2008 — We sat on set number two for a couple of hours. While it soaked we dressed our two prized king salmon, cleaned up the deck, and then gazed out into the night at our super-low-tech, super-high-visibility net light made from a strap-on LED headlight shining upward into a cut up water bottle.

We pulled the net around 1 a.m. on Monday, August 11. We had two kings and 40 snaky, skin-pissing dogfish, which we tossed slithering back to the sea after the whole net was aboard. At this rate we might catch eight fish by the 7 a.m. closure, but I wasn’t holding my breath.

We set out set #3 and cleaned the fish and the deck in short order. It was now 2 a.m. and we were tired. Although I designed a pretty good boat for catching fish, I gave no thought to where we were going to sleep at night, or even find shelter from the elements.

Clearly, any sleeping arrangement involved rain gear. The deck was wet with seawater, and dew from the cold night air. There were no chairs, benches, or cushions — only a couple of ice chests and the big, open front deck.

Bruce opted for the ice chests. He was fortunate enough to scavenge up a blue tarp to use as a blanket and keep off the dew. He was also fortunate, or smart enough rather, to bring extra warm clothes to put on during this period of inactivity through this cold night. I on the other hand was wearing only my sweatpants and a hooded sweat jacket. I knew it was going to be a cold night, but I was so focused on making the opening that I didn’t want to burden the operation with an extra bag of clothes just for the sake of comfort.

So there I was, lying on my back in my rain gear on the wet, cold, open deck of a two-bit gillnetter, with not even a blue tarp to protect me from the elements. I convinced myself I was warm in order to catch a bit of sleep, but reality took over when I woke up in convulsive shivers at 3:15 in the morning.

I was freezing. I tried moving around the deck to warm up, but there was simply nowhere to move. I did a few pushups, but that did nothing to warm my feet, which felt like living blocks of ice. I thought about pulling the net aboard just for the sake of it, but I knew Bruce was beat and needed the sleep, so I figured this net could soak a little longer. I was up a creek without a blanket.

Then I remembered the survival suits, which I brought because if ever I might need to use them I’d say the maiden voyage of the Lady Ruth might be a good opportunity. And I was right — and not because we were sinking. These things are designed to be put on fast, and that is exactly what I did. The energy it took to squirm into that thing was enough to warm me up a couple of degrees. Going with this notion, I did a few deep knee bends to get even more blood flowing.

After my heat-generating exercises, that cold deck actually seemed comfortable, because I was now a self-contained, hermetically sealed unit of warmth. I zonked out and fell immediately into some high-power R.E.M. cycles, but again woke up an hour later with freezing foot syndrome.

By now it was 4:30 a.m., and the net had definitely soaked long enough. Bruce was sleeping so soundly I didn’t have the heart to wake him, even though we could be getting slugged with dogfish. I ran through another set of warming exercises and hit the deck for more quality R.E.M. cycles, but by this point I was chilled through, and after tossing and turning until 5:15 a.m. I determined it was time to pick up the net.

The final haul brought us 40 more dogfish, and zero king salmon. I was so cold I hauled the net in my survival suit, which looked pretty ridiculous, but I didn’t care. What a bitch it was picking those dogfish out in those survival suit gloves! When we were done I was much warmer, but still not warm enough to take the suit off until we were half way through the run home.

Thank God the days warm quickly in August!


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