Last week, National Fisherman Assistant Editor Melissa Wood wrote about the halibut schooner exhibit “Highliners: Boats of the Century” that opened on Saturday at the Center for Wooden Boats in Seattle.
It reminded me of when I was driving a forklift at Seward Fisheries in Seward, Alaska, taking carts of halibut from the unloading dock into the plant. Every boat that came in, I was asking for a “chance.” In college I’d read too much Jack London and drank too much cheap red wine not to recognize the potential for an adventure when I saw it and these boats had it written all over them.
Then one morning a couple guys from the cannery came screaming up to the Quonset hut where I was living in their old beater of a car: “You’re on. They’ll take you!” they shouted.
One of the crew on the halibut schooner Attu had gotten himself wrapped up with one of the Seward lovelies the night before, and no one could find him. So his stuff went on the dock and my gear went aboard.
But about two-thirds of the way out Resurrection Bay, the skipper started feeling guilty, turned back to Seward and eventually found the guy — and didn’t leave me on the dock.
Thus began several years of halibut fishing, all but one year on schooners. I never saw it as a regular job — every trip was that adventure I’d been dreaming about.
Like the time we were fishing near the Pribilof Islands and decided we wanted to take a short break from fishing and go into St. Paul for a drink and something to eat. So we anchored up, threw all the gear out of the ancient wooden dory that was on top of the house, swung it out over the side and started to lower it to the water. But it had been forever since anyone tried that so the rotten line on the boom parted, the dory dropped into the water, the plug popped out of hole in the bottom of the dory and it started to sink.
The vision of booze and a break from hauling several thousand hooks a day was too great, so a couple of us jumped into the sinking dory, shoved a rag into the hole and started bailing. Eventually we rowed the couple hundred yards to shore and spent the afternoon on St. Paul.
I’d never been ashore on the Pribilofs before that, and I’ve not been since, but the way I got there was a most interesting way to go.
The crew of another halibut schooner would tie up in Sand Point (a port in the Shumagin Islands) at night, and if they’d been away from land long enough, they would drift off into the dark and go “peeping.” Nope, we never did that.
Halibut schooners are the best sea boats in the North Pacific and Alaska, and the Attu was as good as any. Unfortunately, a number of years after I left the boat, a substitute skipper got lazy when going into a small bay and drove the Attu onto a ledge and broke her back. There she still lies.