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Fishing Boat

One in a continuing series of a wandering man

"I need a job."

The boat owner looked up at me for a long time. "Let me see your hands."

I put the backpack down carefully against the pier and held out my hands.

"You're no fisherman."

"No, but I'm strong and work hard."

The man looked at me as he took off his dirty Mariners hat and ran a dirty hand over the back of his neck. "You know mistakes kill you here."

"Yep."

"Well, my mate is in Juneau with his girlfriend for a couple weeks."

"That'd suit me fine. I need some money and I'll be moving on." I looked him square in the eye holding his inquiring gaze. He held my gaze and we stood there sizing each other up.

"Okay, let's try it tomorrow and see whether it works out. If it doesn't, we'll part ways. No harm, no foul. That okay?" He turned to return to his rigging but quickly turned back. "How did you get here anyway? The ferry isn't due for two days?"

"On the supply barge. They let me ride from Petersburg."

"That's a hard way to travel."

"Its okay. I've got what I need in my backpack."

He looked at my backpack and again sized me up. The cold water lapped against the hull in rhythm - slap...slap...slap... as the day turned to twilight. "You got a place to sleep? I got a bunk you can use here on the boat. It'll smell like fish but you'll be dry and the bears won't bother you."

"I'd love it. What do I call you?"

"Ted Hansen. But call me Ted. You?"

Later as I lay back on the bunk, I thought about the last week. Seattle seemed so long ago. Simpler is better. The slow rock of the boat was punctuated with the sound of the fenders rubbing against the dock. Am I looking for something or running from something?

 


With the morning light, I felt the boat rock as he stepped aboard. My feet were on the deck before Ted stepped in the cabin.

"Morning, Captain."

"Well I didn't expect you to be up. Most aren't."

"I signed on to work. Thanks for the bunk."

"Well, I took out the galley on her to make room for fish, so coffee is in this thermos. Lunch will be a ham sandwich."

He showed me around the boat, a converted '46 wooden tug. After explaining what I would be doing, we cast off. This wasn't like sport fishing - no rods and reels. He said the day was slow, but I found it difficult to keep up. Bait up. Set the lines. Retrieve when the tattletale bell indicated a salmon was hooked. Club the fish and place carefully in the hold. Lather, rinse, and repeat. I wasn't near Ted so there wasn't much talking. Still, the day went fast and I didn't have time to dwell upon the past. As we returned to port, he explained that we still had to clean the fish. It made for a long day.

 


"Good morning, I didn't expect to find you here. Most quit after the first day. Especially when they get as wet as you did. Everything dry last night?"

"I've got spare jeans but my tennis shoes are still wet."

"There my be some old boots in the locker. See if a pair fits."

The day was much the same as the day before. We quit a bit early. Ted explained, "I thought we'd pull the crab trap. You worked hard, you deserve a good dinner."

We took the skiff out to a float. Pulling the rope was hard - slick with algae. The skiff rocked as I leaned over to grab the trap frame. As I grabbed it, a tie wire went through the palm of my hand. I struggled to hang on through the pain. There were some nice crabs inside. After rebaiting with the salmon carcasses, we motored on back to the dock. As we walked to his cabin, "I've got some ointment to put on your hand. It's easy to get infected up here."

In his cabin he offered me a beer and served himself. We shared lies as he made dinner. As I spread newspaper on his old wooden table, I asked, "Have you always been a fisherman?"

"Hah. I was born in Chicago. I suppose you would have called me a hippie. My wife and I moved here with romantic notions. Alaska seemed an unspoiled paradise." We cracked and ate crab. He cracked another beer, "Sure you won't have one? No? In any case, we ended up here with some friends. Seemed romantic at the time. Emily left after a couple years. It is a hard life up here - not for everyone. The town folk think I'm too mean to leave. But the truth is, I like the quiet." He had several more beers as he told fishing stories. When he started to get sad, I decided it was time for me to hit my bunk.

The next days were much the same though he didn't talk much.

Sunday was a day off. I walked the mile to town to do my laundry in the laundromat. With all my clothes in the washer, I walked through the door that connected to the store / bar. In small town Alaska, you need to wear many hats. Rosie’s was a combination bar, general store and laundromat.

"I'll have a beer."

"Say, aren't you the highliner helping Ted?" the proprietor asked.

"Yeah, I guess I am. I didn't know I was local news."

"Well, when you have lived here all of your life, nothing goes on that you don't know about," she replied.

"You've lived here your whole life?"

"You hard of hearing boy? I said I was." The other patrons looked over at the two of us.

"What was it like back when Ted moved here?"

"'Bout the same as now," Rosie said, opening another beer. "Time doesn't change us here. No internet, no cell phones, no nothin'. Just us, the ocean and the forest. Even the bears don't change. Only the salmon move on."

"No wonder Ted's wife left, it must have been lonely."

"Well, she left sort of, but not because she was lonely," she answered.

"See she and Ted had a daughter, June. When June was about two, she got sick. Ted was sure she would get over it. We don't have a doctor in town. Just Bob over there with his army first aid training. There were no heliflights back then. June died. Pneumonia, they said. Emily took it hard. One day, Ted came back on the boat to find Emily in the bath. The red water had overflowed and was over the cabin floor. Ted buried her and burned his cabin that night."

 


The next morning, Ted's regular mate returned and I prepared to move on.

"Bye, skipper. Thanks for the opportunity."

"I didn't expect much, but you turned out okay."

"I'm sorry about Emily. They told me the story at Rosie's."

"Well, dying is easy. Living is hard."

That was the last I saw Ted.
 

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