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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
.Setting out to sea is always an adventure. I know of no two days out there that were ever the same. Some days would be so calm that the ocean would be perfectly flat, calm as a street in a small village in upper B.C. on Sunday morning. It could be like that, sleepy, hungover, energy all spent from the previous night of howling and carrying on. Then, of course, she could rage, totally out of control, indifferent, and ready to kill. It was these days that made my hair stand on end and my senses would tune in on everything, alert to sounds and smells and views of this and that. I could even taste fear in the back of my throat as I headed out. But what is the basis for all this scary stuff? The ocean off California is a nice place, is it not? Didn't you know when trouble was brewing and do the appropriate thing?
The answer to the nice place question above is answered yes and no as stated. It is the last question that is of interest here. Didn't we know? The answer to that is an emphatic, No! Weather reports were a joke. I listened to the weather station every day, sometimes three of four times each day. I can't recall why as they were seldom accurate.
In fact, over the years, many fisherman have been sent to their deaths over these same weather reports. Fishermen have complained bitterly about them. The only thing I can guess is that the jet stream comes in like a snake, twisting and sliding, snapping here and there. And because of this, the weather boys predict that the snake will bite here tomorrow, when, in fact, the snake decides at the last moment to slither somewhere else, sending its fangs deep into the flesh of his victims. Victims who knew nothing of its approach and were caught totally unaware, leaving family and friends to mourn their loss.
So many men have died while fishing that commercial fishing has been listed not only as the most dangerous of jobs, but the worst of jobs as well. The pay is low, no benefits, the investment capital is high, and the work is unbelievably hard, lots of sweat, often motivated by a terrible fear that things must be stabilized quickly or the boat and the life upon it would soon be lost.
There is this constant, nasty wind that blows from the northwest, born in the Bearing Sea of Alaska, and pushing the swells on the water higher and higher, larger than houses, sometimes with a big curl so that if a boat should be caught up in one, the boat would pitchpole, that is, completely flip upside down, and sink from the tremendous pressure of tons of water cascading down upon the wretched souls in the boat below.
The coast guard warning flags were a joke. They more or less displayed small boat warnings every day except in August. Sometimes they would warn about a gale, yet the seas would be no different than the day before. I have seen hellacious seas that should have had storm warnings posted and yet there were none, just the same old, tired, and nearly worn out from the ceaseless winds, small craft warning flag. I got to where I ignored both the coast guard flags and the weather bureau. Trusting to your senses and checking on live reports from the men who were actually out there was always the best plan. But even then, you just didn't know. So there was always a certain amount of fear.
Facing fear is often bravery. Facing fear unprepared is stupidity. Thus, I always tried to be prepared in every way I could think of, sparing no expense. We all did. Safety wasn't something you just talked about--it was a necessity you couldn't escape. I always carried the following items, not necessarily listed in their order of importance:
A survival suit which I put on sometimes but not all the way, tying it off at my waist. If I had to jump, I would be ready.
A rocket pistol (12 gauge) with a handful of fresh signal flares. I would shoot these in bursts of three and then wait awhile and shoot three again. I doubt if these flares, shooting into the sky like fireworks, would ever go unnoticed.
An EPIRB or an emergency positioning intermittent radio beacon. When set to go off, this baby would pump out on its own a distress signal to anyone who might hear it, hopefully the coast guard. It had batteries to last for many hours and a strobe light came with it to signal at night. It floated of course and would continue to signal even if its owner were dead.
Five brand new life jackets, taken out of their packaging, and adjusted to fit. I left a couple of these outside the cabin so that if the boat were capsized, I would find them floating near me, again hopefully.
A rifle with a forty round clip. The sound of this honey would be heard at a long distance.
A police whistle, tied to the survival suit, useful for obvious reasons.
A VHF radio, with a supposed range of two hundred miles. This was always set on channel 16, the emergency channel on which you were forbidden to chat with your friends. This was the radio on which you yelled "MAYDAY,"a word taken from the French, m'aidez, which means, " help me." I only used this word once while fishing. In a minute or two a helicopter appeared ready to take us aboard. We were sinking off Half Moon Bay.
Fully swamped, the boat survived but the engine was totally lost. We were quite shaken by it all. We were taking on water from the stern where there was a leak. It filled the bilge but we didn't know this until the deck started to flood. By this time, it was too late, the engine sputtered to a halt and we couldn't dump the water back into the sea.. A large coast guard cutter dragged the boat to San Francisco. My partner and I were quite shaken by this but all turned out well. We had survived.
A CB radio. Same as above but with a range of less than five miles. Very useful, though, as a means to contact friends who would come to your assistance without much fuss, unlike the CG.
A loran receiver. This would interpret radio signals sent from B.C., Nevada and Mexico. Using triangulation, it would tell you your exact position which you could then relay to the CG.
A radar. I had a 32 mile set which was plenty for my needs. Before I purchased a radar, I was again fishing off Half Moon Bay in barking dog fog when there was this thunderous horn sound, a freighter no doubt, but where I didn't have a clue. It blasted again and I thought it was closer. Fear and trembling. I read somewhere that if you are ever struck by a fieghter, don't cower against a bulkhead in a fetal position. I was advised to just relax, sit back and enjoy the show. There would be lots of sparks and things hurled everywhere. So enjoy. It will be the end of the movie for you. Such advise caused me to purchase and install a radar before I left port again.
A signal mirror. Not much but then you never know.
Enough food and water to last for at least a month. Highly unlikely, but if blown off the coast during a storm, it might prove helpful.
A sonar that would keep me off the rocks and out to sea. It is said that mariners do not really fear the ocean; it is the rocks on which you will be broken up that is to be feared.
Charts. I had charts for every location I might be. Nothing like a map when you are lost.
A compass. Again, indispensable when lost. I knew how to use it because I had several courses in navigation.
Binoculars. Very helpful to identify buoys, headlands like points and capes. Again for navigation.
Common sense. I didn't have a lot of this, but I did have some.
You will notice that most of the above has to do with discerning your location. Without knowing this, you are in very grave danger out in the ocean.
Three automatic bilge pumps to pump out any water that might gain the bilge. I was saved once by these as a huge wave came aboard and flooded the cock pit. It was pumped out without my even throwing a switch.
Two fire extinguishers. One in the cabin, the other on deck. I never had a fire. But fires are greatly feared by mariners.
Engine exhaust fan. I did have an exhaust fan left constantly running to get rid of any explosive fumes. Many
boats have been reduced to nothing but small chips by explosion.
I had a horn, required by law, to signal danger to others. I leaned on it a bunch of times.
Lights. All my lights worked for safety at night; I had a big deck light for working at night and to warn others of my presence.
Anchors. I had good ground tackle to keep the boat off of the rocks. I also had a backup in case my main hook didn't hold. These jobs were my brakes.
Many, if not all of these things helped quiet my fears of the ocean. But I never took the ocean for granted.
All these safety items could be useless. Many a mariner has died owning all of them.
 

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bob, i agree with most of what you say. as far as the WX (weather) warning flags at CG stations, they put the up as per forecast from the NWS (national weather service) or NOAA.
I can't believe they are wrong more than they are right thou.. but when they are wrong some mariner usually pays heavily for it. WX fax is carried by all commercial boats in Alaska that fish the Bering, so they get the broadcasts and faxes. I know in Alaska if you're in the Bering you know the storms are coming but its too far to seek shelter or you are fishing/crabbing during certain openings that you are almost forced to to go out during that time. the rest of the equipment you mention most prudent mariners carry but is it servicable... fire extingusher expired, EPIRB battery dead, survival suits in bags or hard to get too, charts not updated with changes, knowing the variation is 20-23 degrees from true north etc , etc, nobody wants to scramble in heavy WX for any of this and find out it don't work.

mike58... USCG (retired)
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
I agree totally with your warnings and safety advice, and I don't mean to bad mouth the CG. It's just that when you are wrong a few times, you lose your credibility with the fishermen. Thanks for your important response.
Bob
 
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