The Purge (Dec 4)

Today is our last day at sea before arriving in Tarawa and I now get why everyone has been in such a good mood today. Just like when flying into another country you aren’t allowed to bring in most fruits and vegetables and meat products, definitely not meat products. So began the purge, and it didn’t just mean food items.

Men who I would occasionally spot smoking a cigarette here or there, were going through an entire pack at a time, not wanting to pay taxes on their duty free smokes from Fiji, and all the alcohol that was purchased at sea from the resupply ship, that had to go too.

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The Officers Club (Dec 3)

I have been thinking of a way to describe the way things work on this boat that would make sense to people I know back home because just saying that the flight crew isn’t part of the crew-crew, and only answers to the Captain seems a bit simplified. So, falling back on my military experience I’ve actually gone ahead and assigned everyone ranks on this tub, so here it is.

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Make it or Break it (Dec 2)

Make it or Break it

I’ve been training on the Hughes 500c ever since we left port in Suva, Fiji on the 15th, while now here we are 17 days later, and I’ve logged a few hours between the missions and I can say that without a doubt – this is not the way to do it. There is something to be said about real world environment and training experience, but the amount of effort it takes to get the boat captain to approve a training flight has made it almost impossible to get much real flight time in.

I do the starts and compressor washes, and I’ve done a couple dozen landings and takeoffs on the deck of the moving ship, learning to time my approach and set down with the stability of the ship. We even worked on some hovering using the helideck as a reference. All that is left is learning about placing a buoy and navigating back to the boat and my course of work will be done, just in time for Jose to head home and for me to take over here as the pilot.

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Vivid Food Dreams and the Politics of South Vietnam (Dec 1)

One thing that has been interesting out here is that I’ve noticed my dreams are far more vivid and detailed, the memory of thiem lasts far longer than when I was home. Perhaps it’s my mind trying to cope with the perpetual ground hogs day that I’m living out here, giving me an escape to better places. The other night I dreamt of a pastry shop, in a mall somewhere. It was a large store painted in warm tones, and the glass case was filled with the wares of the trade. Outside its doors it was connected to a large courtyard done up in faux brick and iron fences, with table to match, against one wall a film was being played – old movie, grainy washed out colors, something along a beach I think (the movie).

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I take it all back (Nov 29)

Ok well may be not all of it, and not even close to most of it, but what I do take back in quick order is my statement a recently that I would celebrate when the tuna escaped the nets. My brief flirtation with being a tuna sympathizer has passé because now those little scaled escape artist bastard fish are costing me more time spent out here in this barren ocean.

Yesterday we made two sets on two schools that both managed to escape in short order, bringing the count up to three schools in a row escaping. Now by my count, if we had caught all three of those schools we would be one reasonable sized catch, not even large, away from pointing our nose to port and headed in to drop off this load of fish.

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The Great Tuna Escape (Nov 27)

The net boat is off the back of the Caribe with a slam, and the net and chains attached to it begin to follow, the clink of links slamming on the deck as they spill over into the blue ocean. The Captain is up in the tower watching the school of yellow-fin zig left and right; the water frothing and foaming around their fins as they break the surface, they’re running, and the crew is too. It’s all a calculated risk for them, the captain, letting out the net boat means a few hours at the least of pulling net in for his crew if the Tuna escape – but if they close the net in time before the tuna get out than they get a big payday in the form a $1000 p/ton tuna. Or more.

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It’s a little bit like Prison (Nov 27)

I’m very good at research, it’s something I pride myself on – that certain skill that not everyone has, or some people even loath. Before I buy a product, go to a new restaurant, pick a flight school, and in this case pick a job – I do a ton of research. The thing about being a tuna pilot is that there is a surprising lack of information out there.

One guy, “Moggy” or “Molly” I can’t recall, has a pretty comprehensive website with page after page of information, but if you talk to certain people in the industry they are quick to attempt to discredit the man. So you can’t help but take what he wrote with a certain amount of skepticism. The more I’m here though the more I realize that, for the most part from what I remember he was right on the money.

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The Drift (Nov 26)

So here we are in the middle of the ocean just drifting. The engine is humming with life but there is something wrong. We aren’t moving, and we haven’t moved now since last night. The crew are either hidden away getting much needed sleep or working on busy work tasks from the officers. They added an impressive set of arm rests and fashioned a cushion to the chair that the captain uses in the control booth for the fish deck. We’re just drifting, no alarm or urgency from the crew, the Engineer and his oiler have been working for 11 hours, and most likely will be working 13 or more hours too. So we drift. The ocean is calm, the chop of the swells has reduced down to almost non-existent; the surface is deep blue and smooth, almost like a lake. The sky is bright blue, and polka-dotted with white puffy, cotton ball clouds for as far as the eye can see; the kind of clouds that look really pretty and puffy and nice, but don’t do a damn thing for providing any sort of shade or protection from the sun. So we drift.

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A Tradition of Tuna, maybe (Nov 26)

Sashimi is a universal word. Especially on a Tuna boat, it doesn’t matter where you are from, you know what sashimi means and you celebrate every time someone says it – because they won’t say it unless you’re about to eat it. There are crew on this boat that don’t speak the same language as anyone else – hell we have one guy from Vietnam – and he knows what it means.

I don’t know if it is tradition, or if everyone was just starving at the end of the day but I had an interesting experience tonight after our Captain made a late set on a small school of yellow fin tuna. I know my sister would be excited about that, she loves yellow fin tuna, she orders it every time we go out for sushi in the states. Anyways, this set was particularly ill timed, as the crew had spent the entire morning working a 300 ton catch, and the rest of the day on the ready as we chased schools around the fishing grounds. They hadn’t had anything in the form of downtime all day and you could see they were tired.

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Walking on the Walls (Nov 25)

Trying to walk on a boat that has 300 tons of tuna hanging off of the port side is a lot like trying to walk while drunk. In fact doing anything on a boat with 300 tons of tuna is reminiscent of a drunken stupor. The boat keels over about 30 degrees and everything not nailed down goes with it. A lesson I learned on the first set, but that our cook – who presumably has far more experience out here than I do – learned it the hard way when half his kitchen slid off to the port side of the room. Two trash cans slid first, crossing behind him, then a few trays and plates, a bottle of oil (which only made things worse after that) was last to make the trip – greasing things up thoroughly.

You would think that while the crew are busy with the catch it would be a good time to get the basics out of the way, like a shower and perhaps some laundry. I thought that, and the verdict is – not true. In the shower, all the water pools on the wall (which is strange to write) and obviously can not reach the drain, leaving you with a shower that has a line of water about ankle deep across the far side just waiting for the boat to level out before sloshing around toward the drain. The laundry machine has similar problems. It works, but it makes a god awful noise when the boat is on its side.

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