Saturday, August 29, 2009

My Adventure on the high seas of the Pacific Ocean in a commercial fishing vessel.

When I received the call asking me if I liked boats, I have to say I was floored when i was told my next job was on-board a commercial fishing vessel. What did I know about fishing vessels? And how was I going to pull this one out of my you know what! So I proceeded to book my plane ticket and started making a lot of lists for this adventure of a lifetime! And as the time drew closer and closer to leaving, I have to admit, I was a slight scaredy cat only because I had no idea what to expect!

I was told that I had to be at the dock by noon, cause when the boat was ready to leave, I had to be on it as this was the last trip of the season. Of course, there was no guarantee of when I was getting off, it all depended on “the fish”. Currently the plan is to get me off on Monday, which is the earliest day they can charter a sea taxi to take me to the land.

While preparing for this trip I had to research a few things about this fishing business: they fish about 4 times a year and each trip is between 20 & 60 days long, there is 5% turnover a year in employees (those who do it, like it a lot!), a small “bag” of fish is 40 tonnes.

I landed at 10 am at the airport, was picked up and taken to the Pier. I toured the boat and after 2 hours on the boat, this is what I learned:
- I needed a nap
- the boat is HUGE!
- the people are so friendly, kinda like Island people but different. A huge mix of nationalities (Guatemalan, Mexican, African, Caucasian, philipino, Chinese)
- My private room is opposite of the galley, so when I get hungry I walk 15 feet to eat
- My bathroom has a tub!
- We “steam” out t find fish for 24 hours and then we process 24/7 until the fish are done.
- I will never master my location or where to go on this boat in 4 days!

The first order of business is orientation, which included: location of WHMIS documents, always wear protective gear, zero tolerance for harassment and always remember where the muster point is in case of man overboard. So I’m thinking to myself, do I need to know where WHMIS binder is or my protective gear and where is my muster point!, I don’t even know where I am right now! Needless to say, I had to get extra muster lessons from the 1st Mate, and then I followed the head steward around like a puppy dog so I wouldn’t make a mistake during the muster drill, geez I was nervous!

I was able to settle in after a few hours by taking a nap, eating a few Gluten Free snacks and then finally after 7 hours on-board, when the boat was loaded with goodies for the trip, we finally left the Pier. However you don’t actually realize you’re moving and I certainly didn’t expect this at all. I was sitting in my room and barely noticed a slight wave of movement every now and then, so I decided to brave my way to the deck to see what was going on. We were moving albeit slowly and lucky for me I brought my camera, as the downtown skyline was so gorgeous! I had to manoeuvre my way back down to my cabin for my hoodie but managed to make it back to take a few more pics and talk to the Captain (who, by the way, wears shorts and a t-shirt for work – totally not what I had pictured in my head) He informed me that we are filling up with diesel (450,000 lbs capacity) and should be done in about 4 hours! Once fuelling is done, he believes it will take us 24 hours to get to the perfect fishing spot, 30 miles west.

I managed to stay awake until after 10 pm and from what I could tell, we weren’t finished gassing up yet, but I had taken a half a blue sleeping pill so it could be hazy in my head. I did discover, while getting ready for bed, that everyday they have 4 movie channels going non-stop, so I started watching some al pacino flick and realized I missed the ending, so maybe if I’m lucky I can watch the last half sometime today. I managed to sleep through most of the night, I woke up around 1:30 to some commotion but not sure what that was, the combination earplugs and extra 3” insulation duct taped to the back of my door, make it slightly hard to hear what’s going on!
Today is day two, and we are still “steaming” out to the fishing point at, I’m going to guess, at least 50 knots (which i later found out was 15!). I managed to sleep really well, woke up, had a shower and a fairly decent breakfast. Some examples of breakfast food are: boxed cereal, fruits, yogurt, home made crème brulee(?), milk, juice, coffee, scrambled eggs, omelettes, bacon, sausage, toast, bagels, I could go on but you get the picture, no worries about not having gluten free options! But they also have burgers, fries and broccoli for those coming off the night shift and want a dinner before bed, very strange. And during the day, they always have fruit, yogurt, pop, juice, milk, ice cream, sandwich fixings available if you need a snack.

So today, I assume we won’t get to where we are going for another 10 hours so my plan is to go up to the small conference room and start a documentation review, how fun is that going to be! There is also employee refresher training and then a “factory” cleanup today. Its very Bri’ish to say “factory” instead of plant or processing area. I went up to the deck to see if I could find some whales, but alas I saw none. We are also in an area off the coast that you can still see land on both sides, it’s far away mind you, but I can still see it. I have managed to watch the crew preparing the nets and this is quite the feat. These are all jobs I never new existed and are really kind of neat. It makes me wonder if I grew up on the west coast, would I have ever ended up in this type of industry. It’s quite fascinating to me now.

I MISSED WHALE WATCHING! Crap, I was bummed when I heard that from the bridge. I, of course, was reviewing documentation in a hot room on the 4th level of the bow for 3 hours, while the bridge was watching whales. Darn, hopefully I’ll see then tomorrow. This afternoon we have continued to steam out, estimated time that fishing will begin is anytime between 5 pm and midnight, how’s that for timing and accuracy?! But let’s reflect back to this morning, I was quite excited about the breakfast and the foods I could eat. Then around 9:30 I went to gather the documents I needed and managed to take up the entire table, however within about 30 minutes my guts we’re telling me a different story about breakfast. I decided to run (quickly walk) down the stairs to go get my behind the ear magic bandaid medication that was highly recommended to me and put it on. Oh good, I thought, this should kick in anytime. So I carried on with my work and about every 20 minutes had to go outside for fresh air and a quick view at the horizon. When did I turn into Miss wimp on the ocean? I was fine in the Mediterranean? I thought this boat “glided” through water and you hardly felt anything? That’s what I was told yesterday. Oh no, today, not so great. And I kept thinking when the hell is this medication going to kick in. So after 4 hours of fighting with the nausea in my stomach and the heat of the room, I had to get the hell outta dodge and go to my room where a. it was cooler and b. I could peuk if I needed to. So before I laid down on the bed, I read the directions for the magic band aid behind my ear. And its states “take 12 hours before needed”. WHAT! 12 hours before needed? How do I know I’m going to be nauseous 12 hours before? Not to mention, I don’t have 12 hours to wait to do my job! So I laid down at 2. and by 2:45 it was like magic, my stomach immediately stopped being so angry with me! Thank goodness, so I got up and ate a GF donut and some water. I was so dehydrated, cause any time I even though I was going to put fluid to my lips, my stomach told me something else. So now I’m going to drink some aj and water. I may have forgot to mention, that the swells in the ocean right now are about 10-15’ minimum right now!

Tonight I had salad for supper with sliced cheese. This was about the only option for us GF’ers as the dinner options were pizza (two kinds), tripe soup, whole fish head-on skin-on and bone-in, (I was not in the mood for Mediterranean fish without Pickle or Kevin to de-bone it for me!), pasta and some coconut cream pie. So that’s how I opted for salad and water. I might just make it home pounds lighter and may recommend this type of weight loss to anyone who might want to. I went up to the bridge to see the action and by action I mean the cool computer screens that find fish via GPS and bright red lights! While up there, we heard a distress call over the radio, the boat in distress was out over 200 miles off-shore and we were 25 miles off shore so we couldn’t go help. I found out the next day that the coast guard found a body in the ocean with a life jacket on.

I slept not to bad last night, with no blue pill, just earplugs and the serious rocking of the boat luckily lulled me to sleep.

After lunch we managed to watch them unload the fish from the nets into two of the aft cargo tanks, It’s really neat. I made my way through the entire factory down to the bowels of the boat to see a guy who could pass for “thor” filling bags of fishmeal. I also ventured down into the cold storage area where the finished product is held and they stack boxes onto pallets and then use this overhead crane on a track to move the pallets to the holding area about 15 feet below where we were standing, it was really cool! Who knew there was so much involved to in an on-board fish factory!

I found out on the morning of day 4, that the taxi will come and pick me up sometime this afternoon. I’m excited about going home actually. It feels really cut off from the world being on this vessel. I got to use the satellite phone yesterday and connect with the real world. I haven’t been able to text anyone for 2 days! When I heard I was leaving this afternoon, I got excited to pack my bag and get myself ready for the “skiff”. I decided last night, to take out my behind the ear magic bandaid medication cause it was making me feel off. I read the side effects on the box (dizziness, red eyes, dilated pupils, sleepy) and it said to remove it from your ear if you feel that way. Well I had been feeling that way since I put it on, I guess I need to read warnings before trying it. My pupils this morning are still dilated and I am having issues with lights being on but damn I am so not quesy, which was the whole point. I only need the anti-nausea stuff for about 12 hours I think and then I’m good. I managed to get my sea legs back too, so the hand sanitizer isn’t a necessity anymore!

I’m back on land and can I say thank goodness! Mike and Bill, my skiffers of Miss Raven, arrived around 4-ish and I was lowered down in the orange lifeboat and transported over to Miss Raven. Um, at this point in time can I remention the swells in the ocean (10-12”) and in a large vessel it is not noticeable to me anymore but when you get into a (this will show my age) Jesse-style tug skiff boat (from the Beachcombers), oh my lord can you feel the swells. I figured since I had been on the vessel for 4 days I wouldn’t’ have any issues with seasick, and before I got off, the medic asked me if I wanted any magic-band-aid behind-the-ear for the skiff? And I of course said no, I would be fine (there is no way I taking that stuff again the way my eyes went all wonky, and still are!) My pupils are still dilated, and I’m surprised no one said anything to me. At one point I swear I had no blue color only black in my eyes! Anyway, I made it to the skiff and we set off at 4:15 and our arrival time to Newport (30 miles away) was 7:30. Ok, so I stood up the ENTIRE ride and looked at the horizon. At one point I stopped talking as I had to pierce my lips together, luckily all I did was burp! WE even detoured for a few minutes and at first i was like, please just stay on course and get me to some land! but in the end i was glad cause i got to see HUMPBACK WHALES! So awesome! Mike and Bill got me back to land safely without any "issues" on my end and Mike volunteered his wife to drive me to my hotel. I have to admit, everyone seemed to be really going out of their way for me and I kinda felt like a star! And I was ok with it! And now I’m on land in my hotel and swaying like a drunkard! I managed to walk across the street and eat some superb Halibut at a little restaurant called FishTails and going to settle into my king sized bed. Don’t know if I will be able to sleep in a non-moving environment with no noise? Could be a challenge but I’m up for it. Tomorrow I fly into Portland, then onto Vancouver and finally home to Calgary by 9 pm. Fun. Somehow I thought this should be way more glamorous, but nope, this is it!

I’m pretty sure that is the end of my adventures on the high seas of the Pacific Ocean. I loved it, but sure enjoyed stepping foot back on land again.


  1. WOW!!! AMAZING!!! You're one lucky girl to have such a unique experience. Thanks for the blog, it was like an episode on discovery channel! I feel like I learned so much

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