Day One

Welcome On A Fishing Boat!

#Welcome! #fishingboat #fishing #beringsea #alaska #crew #fishingcrew #fisherman #fishermen #people #boat #prison #inmates #faces #tough #unalaska

Strong smell of fish and tough uncompromising looks of fellow fishermen. Most of them had many years on the ship behind them, some of them have spent several years in prison or in the military too. After my first five hours of sleep, it all started by shuttle run between the canteen and the toilet – sea sickness. We haven’t even reached the fishing grounds and I wanted to die already. Almost every greenhorn has to go through this. It can take anything from a few hours to an entire week. Soon after that came my first sixteen hour shift. I felt sick, but the work helped me forget about it. Three days later the last symptoms had worn off and I was finally able to eat normally again.

First trip

For a beginner this is the hardest challenge. Nearly half of the new guys gave up after the first trip during my first contract. During my first trip we fished for Pacific Ocean PerchPacific Ocean Perch. It has sharp thorns along its spine, which are hard to avoid when working with them. If you are working in the freezer hall, believe me: getting your near-frozen hands stabbed is… I never got used to it. Fishing for this type of fish came to be one of the most painful trips I have ever been on, but the money for it was pretty decent.

Over the first few days I worked as a packer, so that I could get used to the daily regime on the boat. Even that was a workout. What was probably the worst for me was being shouted at by the more experienced crew members. They didn’t hold back. But respect must be earned.

accident on a fishing boat, hand cut

This guy was washing fish guts off the buzz-saw in a bad weather. #shithappens #fishingboat #fishing #alaska #beringsea #accident #injury #dangerous #dangerousjob #hell #buzzsaw #saw #crewmember #fisherman

It was about day four when we got our first share of bad weather. The cutter was just washing fish guts off the buzz-saw when another crew member passed him by. The boat swung, and the first thing the other guy grabbed onto turned on the buzz-saw. I heard a scream so I run over only to watch the guy try pull the first fisherman’s hand out of the buzz-saw. He screamed at me: “Push the button, push the button!” As a new-bee I had no idea where this “button” was. The other fisherman let go of the hand and turned the buzz-saw off himself. Meanwhile more of the crew run over and tried to do something about it. I wasn’t of much help as I nearly fainted. The buzz-saw cut off 70% of his hand from the wrist. They sewed the hand back on, and two years later he was back on board with a fully functioning hand. He just lost all feeling in the palm.

Over the following days I tried to take part in different jobs. At the end of the first trip they raised my share from the minimum 1.75 to 1.9.

Second trip

freezer hall worker on a fishing boat

There is – 20°C in the freezer hall, but we sweat anyway 🙂 Work gets even more intense in bad weather – the walls we build out of “fish bricks” can be lethal. #fishing #fishingboat #boat #alaska #beringsea #face #north #northern #freeze #cold #toughjob #dangerous #dangerousjob

During my first trip I showed interest in freezer hall work and so they let me become one of the freezer rats for the second trip. I spent the first eight hours down in the freezer hall and the second eight hours upstairs in the factory. It was a lot to take on for my body. Not only because the work was strenuous, but also because of the temperature difference between the freezer hall and the factory. The temperature isn’t that extreme on sea. The average temperature in the factory was around 0°C and in the freezer hall it was -20°C.

One day we had bad weather and I saw, for the first time, one of my colleagues running away from a wall built from “fish bricks”. Each one of these ‘bricks’ weighs 20 kg – the wall itself can be lethal. Another day, when the freezer hall was nearly full (nowhere to run), the stock started falling on me. To avoid it I jumped on a ladder as my heart nearly jumped out of my chest. Over the next eight hours I tried to push myself into learning other jobs in the factory.

With my new job in the freezer hall my back started hurting more and more. I didn’t notice it while working in the freezer hall, especially due to the intensity of the work – endorphins also definitely played their part. It was during the second eight hours in the factory that the pain became nearly unbearable. I thought – I can’t take this anymore, I have got to go home – but the trip was nearly over. Offload, backload, and time for a rest while returning back onto the sea.

Third trip

eagle in Unalaska, AK

#eagle #dutchharbor #alaska #beringsea #north #unalaska #fishingboat #fishing #animals #nature #winter #animal #northern #cold

About three weeks in I started to get used to the ship’s regime and even put more effort into my work. The back pain was still there. The more experienced told me that this is normal; it’s just because I’m using muscles I haven’t used before, and that my body is going to get used to it. My sport-man ego didn’t want to believe them, but by the start of the fourth trip the pain was nearly gone. By then I have already worked as a flipper, feeder, pan breaker, and to a small extent as a cutter. Without fish in the life-tank or during a small catch I got an opportunity to try out new things. I even tried the job I was the most afraid of at the time – freezer puller. New-bees usually look the same when they work on their first plate freezer. They pull out the first twenty-four kilo pan and don’t know how to turn it around, nor how to throw it on the belt. On top of that it keeps slipping and falling, sometimes on their feet. With that, there are another 119 pans waiting for them, which they should manage to throw over in the next 12 minutes. This is always quite entertaining to watch for everyone else. However there’s usually one other person that teaches them how to do this. I tried this job, but avoided it for the rest of the trip. It was an unwritten rule, that whoever works in the freezer hall doesn’t have to do it. At the end of the trip, the boss raised my share from 1.9 to 2.15.

Fourth Trip

leaving Unalaska on a fishing boat

Finally time to get some sleep! 6 to 36 hours depending on how far the fishing area is. We don’t get to sleep for more than 5 hours a day when fishing (7-20 days). #fishing #alaska #beringsea #rock #sea #north #nature #northern #unalaska #DutchHarbor #winter #mountains #mountain

A new guy joined our crew this time round; he was quite big. He tried the freezer puller job first opportunity he got, of course with the help of a more experienced worker. For a beginner he was incredibly good at it. That was when I realized that this was my fourth trip and I didn’t have a single freezer done. The very next day I told the bagger that I wanted to work as a freezer puller – by myself, no help. He was not very happy about this; beginner + first time = slow. I emptied four freezers (480 pans – 12 tons) one after the other, and the fastest bagger from the crew did not have to wait for me as often as he had expected. I surprised not only myself that day. If there wasn’t for the new guy I wouldn’t have had the courage to try. I also sometimes worked as a flipper, feeder and cutter. I was still about two times slower than the best in these jobs, but I kept improving. At the end of fourth trip I got sick.

Fifth trip

fishing somewhere in the Bering Sea

#fishing somewhere in the #beringsea #fishingboat #alaska #boat #sea #north #northern #trawl #trawler

I suffered from a strong choking cough. The five hours I got for sleep I coughed trough. Every wakeup call was still followed by 8 hours of running around in -20°C. I could not take a day off, if I did, they would send me home after the end of the trip and there would be consequences related to my contract – not worth it! The captain offered me antibiotics, but having weighed it out I thought they would cause more harm than good to my body as I couldn’t just take a rest, not even for one day. I took HALLS cough drops with vitamin C and consumed about nine oranges a day. I worked just as intensively as before, if not more. It was a bit of a paradox, the cough calmed down during hard work. I spent the first eight hours in the freezer hall and the next four to eight hours I voluntarily spent as a freezer puller. I moved about sixty tons of fish a day. I kept waking up with cramps during the night. At that point my challenge was getting upstairs into the canteen from the under-deck to get a banana – apparently they’re good for cramps. One chef used my hopelessness for a laugh and advised me to drink a glass of vinegar. To be honest, having drank that glass I couldn’t even think of the cramps anymore. Too few hours of sleep later the whole cycle repeated again. This felt like the LIFE OF A WARRIOR to me. At the end of the trip I got three bonus shares; the maximum achievable in the factory for a processor. To some beginners this could take around three contracts; I managed to do this half way through my first. This has made my approach even stronger.

Sixth trip

storm in the Bering Sea

#storm in the #beringsea #badweather #alaska #sea #fishing #fishingboat #alaska #north #northern #littlebitofwater #water #waves #bigwaves #nature #wild #deadliestcatch #arctic

At the very start of the sixth trip the sickness finally went away (after nine days). The job became much easier for me after that crisis. My skills improved and I felt much stronger. During this trip we were fishing for Arrowtooth FlounderArrowtooth Flounder. This gave rise to a new position – tail cutter. This man’s job was cutting off fish tails using a knife. Cutting off tails, 16 hours a day wasn’t a walk in the park, but it was mainly reserved for beginners and those who haven’t put enough effort into learning the other factory jobs. I became one of the quickest crew members at this job, and I continued improving at pulling freezers. At the end of this trip my boss raised my share from 2.15 to 3.00.

Last two trips

plane in Dutch Harbor airport

#Flying home after 75 days on the #fishing boat. Back in 3 weeks! #DutchHarbor #DutchHarborAirport #Alaska #mountains #plane #airport #runway #north #northern

I spent the last two trips watching out for deckhand’s job. Whenever I had free time I went to help out on deck. That was the only way to get there. In the factory I wanted to get on the backline. This was however reserved for the most experienced of the lot. At times this job could get brutally intensive. We were sorting out fish from the conveyor belt and throwing it into the bins in front of us. Most of the time I was first up (being a beginner). They made sure to let me know quite loudly whenever I missed something. The fish kept slipping from my hands, and the knife kept falling on the belt. Yet the harder I tried, the louder they got. I wasn’t there that often, only after a smaller catch. By the end of the eight trip there was an accident. The frozen stock fell on one of the fishermen. “Luckily” all he got out of it was a broken leg. After spending my first 75 days on the sea, I returned to Seattle.