Living on a boat with five other people is something all my future claustrophobic experiences will be measured against. It’s hard enough to live in such close quarters when you get along with your fellow sardines, but that was far from my case. The captain called us the worst crew he ever had. One new father in his early 20s couldn’t get to the boat two hours late — let alone on time — to save his life. Our skiff man was completely occupied with a girlfriend who wanted nothing to do with him. Then, of course, there was me. The new guy who had no clue about what it took to work on a commercial fishing boat in Alaska.
The work was nasty. It was pure repetition starting every day at 3am. Let the skiff go to set the net. Wait. Skiff closes the net. Pile web while not letting the wind blow it onto your partners standing just to your right and left. Dodge the red jellyfish oozing off the web. Use the hydraulics to haul the catch onto the deck. Repeat. Somewhere between letting the skiff off and piling web, I cooked three meals and drank three ulcers worth of coffee. On good nights we got three hours of sleep.
It was the type of experience about which people say “gives you character.” I can’t argue with that. I can’t explain it, but the entire thing sucked so completely that I have nothing but positive memories of it. The frustration and animosity made the decent moments that much sweeter. Seeing whales breach and working outside for good money is an opportunity most will never have.