Weeks In Review: Life on an Alaska Seine Boat

As we settled in for the night, the two of us reminisced about our recent experience. Well, at least I reminisced. It was, after all, part of my calling. I was the one with the book. It was my job to write the review.

Alaska State Ferry, enclosed sundeck at dusk

For me, the sheer exhaustion struck deepest. We’d worked 13, sometimes 15 hour days, with hardly a break. This was young people’s work and I was no longer a teenager. And even if I was younger, two months of that would have taken a steeper toll. I imagined the crew of the Investor with that same bone-tired ache at the core of their beings. I could see them losing their edge to the point that only rote repetition got them through the day.

In my case, that feeling was offset by the excitement of salmon pooling in the net — sure signs of a big haul. That and moments of communing with our ever-stunning surroundings: the deep fjords with eagles soaring above us; the seals barking as they gobbled their share of salmon; even the jellyfish caught in our nets. But I was a short-timer. There’s only so much scenery one can appreciate when the work horizon seems infinite.

K.’s review, on the other hand, focused on our skipper. She’d fished commercially with her ex-husband, so she had certain expectations. She was looking for discipline and unmitigated drive; our skipper was laid back, almost devil-may-care. In other words, she was used to a skipper like Mark Coulthurst. Our skipper was not Mark Coulthurst.

But he sure did know where the fish were. And there was a sharp edge beneath the surface, as evidenced by his less than playful response when the farm boy was too cautious in approaching the oil tanker. It probably didn’t matter either way. The reality of my exhaustion soon overtook me. If I’m tired enough, I can doze off anywhere. And so it was that my review was interrupted by sleep.

Alaskan Bar, Cordova; its sign is intentionally upside down (copyright San Francisco Chronicle)

The voyage from Valdez to Cordova takes five hours. Our ship sailed just after midnight, which put us in Cordova early the next morning. From experience, K. knew the town would still be sleeping; we’d be lucky to find somewhere to wait it out.

Only one cafe was open: the one nearest the Cordova terminal. We would get breakfast and linger over coffee. Many cups of coffee.

Copyright Leland E. Hale (2018). All rights reserved.


Order “What Happened In Craig,” HERE and HERE, true crime from Epicenter Press about Alaska’s Worst Unsolved Mass Murder.

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