Chapter Four: The “Bright Sea”

Fishermen are an odd lot. Just like with any group of people, they have “cliques”, and you can be an outsider in your own group. Generally, most fishermen back then were alcoholics, but it was forbidden to drink on board while fishing. The reason was simple; you could lose an arm, a hand, or die by being pulled over the deck by an errant line if you weren’t paying attention. But many fishermen that I met back then were also Heroin addicts, which was frightening, as how did they control their “urges” when they fished? I didn’t get answers as I didn’t ask many questions, I was just too shy, and I figured that the information that I got on people was to remain “secret”. I felt honored that the men that I worked with told me anything at all.
At that time, there were very, very few women that commercial fished. I knew of four, besides myself, that were also deck hands, and some of the others that I knew were married and fished with their husbands. It was a life-style. One of the women I got to know was named “Lucky”, and she was a passionate, crazy Portuguese woman, about twenty-six years old. We used to drink together, and she was one of the few people I knew, male or female, that could keep up with me. Although I was younger than she, she treated me with respect, as I was already gaining a reputation for being extraordinarily strong, and a very hard worker. Other than Great White sharks, there was little I was afraid of.
It was Lucky who first clued me into the story with Doc. Later, more people confirmed pieces of the story. It was said that Doc came from a very wealthy family out of Santa Barbara, and that he had only been fishing for about five years. Every couple of years, he would get “bored” with his latest hobby, and then return to Santa Barbara to get himself “clean” from the booze and drugs, then as he recovered a new venture would come into his brain, and he talked his family into financing it. The last one was fishing, and he had actually stayed with it for five years now.
But the years of alcohol and drug abuse were taking a toll on his mind. He was seen doing many things that were odd and scary for some folks, even for fishermen who were pretty odd themselves. Even at that young age, I had a pretty good take on people, and immediately dismissed most of what I heard as pure gossip. But even what was left had me thinking twice about my circumstances. Doc had actually disappeared one day as I was at the showers, taking the boat and leaving. I waited on the wharf for almost five hours, drinking beer and smoking herb with some of the guys, until he finally pulled back into the harbor at almost dusk.
One of the guys told me that he did that often; he would make a phone call, then stomp back to the boat and take off. Speculation was that he was calling his Father, who would deny his requests to send more money. He was supposedly on a tight Trust Fund, and it was a couple of thousand dollars a month. In the late seventy’s , that was a hell of a lot of money. I know we did a lot of cocaine and smoked a lot of pot, so the money sure wasn’t coming from the fish we caught. I didn’t care, and didn’t feel comfortable knowing such intimate details., as long as I got paid, and was able to eat and drink, who was I to question where he got his money?
Lucky had reputedly had a brief “thing” with Doc, and so she had the more “reliable” information. But as I said, I didn’t care, I was concerned with self- preservation at that point. She told me of a couple of guys that were looking for deck hands, and that I should go and talk to them. I decided that was what I would do, after I sobered up. But a strange thing happened. I don’t know what time it was when I woke up, but Doc was standing there staring down at me, and announced that he was going to leave for awhile, and I would need to stay here, in Princeton, the town that was the host to the harbor. I automatically asked him why, and he said that he needed to take off and take care of some business, but that he would be back in a few weeks.
So I decided to pack all my stuff and head out, after all, I knew some folks that I could stay with until I could find another boat, and I had already made my decision. But why did it feel like a slap in the face that he asked me to leave before I could tell him I was leaving? I just wanted the satisfaction of making one good choice on my own, without someone stealing my “glory”. But I guess it is like any job you bitch about; you want to quit, and threaten to with your friends, but when you get fired, you are pissed off! I was embarrassed and hurt, but I didn’t say a word, I just left and told him thanks and see you later, and all the stuff we say to be nice, when I wanted to tell him to fuck himself.
I went to my pals house, and it was a major party house, and they let me sleep in the garage. If you ever saw the movie “Animal House”, then you would get it. These guys partied all the time, and there were always tons of friends crashing there, so I was happy that I would at least have a space of “my own”. I did party with them a lot, and also made some connections with some guys at the harbor, who didn’t mind that I had a dog; everyone knew Moby, and they ALL loved him.
I found out that one of the Furtado brothers was looking for a deck hand. I went to talk to him; his name was Babe Furtado, and he was as Italian as Salami. At out first conversation, he told me that he needed a deck hand that wasn’t afraid to fish, and to take control of the boat because he got sea sick. I was shocked, but I also thought he was teasing me. Lucky had shipped out a few days prior to this, so I had no one to ask, and I sure as hell wasn’t going to ask another fisherman and have him laugh in my face! But then I thought “How bad can it be? He has a big boat, (38 feet long), and it has a good name, so I’ll just got out once and see if it’s cool”. The name of his boat was the “Bright Sea”.
I told Babe that I hadn’t actually fished yet, and Doc had been teaching me some things, but I was eager to learn and I could steer the boat. He laughed and said that wasn’t necessary as he had auto pilot, he needed someone to get him back to shore if he got sick. Although I was baffled, I needed the job, so I said yes and moved my couple of bags onto the boat. It was cool with him that I had Moby, as he also had a dog, an old Basset Hound that smelled like an open sewer system and had eyes that always looked like they were rotting in his head.
We spent two days going over tying hooks, and gaffing fish, and dropping the jigs. He decided that we were ready to go, and with a few bags of groceries, we took off out to sea. As that was all that he told me, I assumed he was going to do the rest, because he hadn’t explained what I was to do once I lowered the jigs, how did I fish? So, at that point I knew he had been teasing me about the “being sick” part of the deal. I was confident that things would be fine, after all, he KNEW I was a novice.
As per usual, when we were running out to sea, or even coming back for that matter, I stood on the side of the boat and, while hanging onto the jig, let my body hang away from the boat, relishing the feeling of flying along the water while the wind blew through my hair. Moby was at his spot on the front of the deck, ears straight up, nose quivering in the delicious salt air. We went on for almost an hour until we hit the fleet. When “normal” fishermen go out, they always go in small fleets, because it is dangerous for a boat to go out alone, especially if you were going out far. Besides, once someone tells of a spot where the fish are biting, everyone wants to get there as quickly as possible.
Once there, Babe started putting gear into the water, and I watched him with great interest. There were things he had forgotten to tell me, MANY things. I won’t go into the details here, but I will explain it to you later. Suffice it to say that he left out some MAJOR parts of the actual setting of the gear. But we had no sooner got all the gear into the water when Babe told me, “OK, I’m gonna lay down now, you watch those tag lines, and if they snap tight, then come and get me”. And with that, he went into the cabin.
Well, this was a trip. I looked at Moby, and he looked sheepishly at me, then I laughed. OK, if this was going to be the way it was…I went to the stern of the boat and jumped down into the “troll pit”, and smoked cigarettes and starred at the jigs. Moby lay down just behind me and we talked. I asked him what he thought about all this, and he looked at me with his wise brown eyes, and basically told me I had chosen wrong. After about an hour, I decided to go check on Babe, to see if he wanted anything.
I found out two things about Babe; the first was that he was a Heroin “junkie”, the second was that he was “sick” from the junk, not the sea. I also suspected that he just wanted to be away from his wife, because he sure as hell wasn’t fishing! I thought “well son of a bitch, I need to move again” . He had his lazy ass dog laying there on the bed with him, sleeping, and babe just looked at me with his sad, sick eyes and said, “ring in the gear, I need to go home, it’s bad”.
How surprised was I? Not at all. I didn’t say a word, but went out on the deck with Moby, and I guessed how to bring in the gear, simply doing in reverse what I had seen Babe doing. Then I went back into the cabin, and slowly turned the boat around and headed back for the harbor. While it was a rush to drive a boat that large, it was bittersweet, as I knew this was a very bad idea. I took a lot of flack for that job, and no one bothered to tell me these things at the time, but his reputation was also as bad as Doc’s, just in a different way.
Once we got back to the harbor, I told him “Thanks Babe, but I think I need to go on a different boat”, and he just nodded his head in embarrassment and walked down the wharf. I waited until he turned the corner, then I also went down the wharf, walked to my friends house, about two miles away, and told him I needed to crash for a few days again. Moby and I just climbed onto the mattress and fell into a deep sleep. Tomorrow I would find a real fisherman, but tonight, I would try to sleep.

Next time: Chapter Five, The “Schematics of Fishing”

© Copyright 2006 Jennifer George All rights reserved.



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