The Fleet (Nov 24)

Today was an interesting day, for me at least. At some point last night we wound up meeting up with 3 other ships from Don Wong tuna company for a little bit a fleet fishing activities. 2 other helicopters from Tropic were out there too. It’s a novelty item for me since for the last week and a half it has been just us and the ocean, but I guess this sort of thing is common place, the fishing grounds are only so big and these guys are all kind of working together for the same company. They are also competing with each other for the money that comes from filling the holds with tuna.

I also got to see the second type of setting that we do, and that is the kind where we don’t set on a “payow” but instead we find, track and then set around a school of tuna. Considerably more challenging it looks like, and a lot of it comes down to the captain and his experience. There is a lot of watching, waiting for the tuna to come up to the surface to feed. When they do they form what is called a “foamer” where the water gets really frothy and white as they splash against the surface. The bigger the foamer, the bigger the school – common sense. Or so I thought, because we were tracking one that looked particularly like a large school but the captain would not set, he kept waiting and turning the boat and looking for another one.

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Rendezvous (Nov 23)

We set sail late last night for the location of a “payow” that we had visited a day before and had left a radio buoy on. That is a good distinction to make, the type of buoy determines your next few days, and the day before we had placed two different radio buoys and on GPS buoy.

The GPS buoy looks like a serving tray with a clear plastic lid on it and a fat green base. Under the plastic lid, which has the ship name painted across it, are a set of solar panels, a strobe light and of course the GPS transmitter. I’m told they will sometimes set this things out to float for months at a time before coming back to visit. Which makes sense given the nature of what the “payow” is.

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Fish On (Nov 22)

Finally we made our first set today. I say finally for my own sake, as I had never seen it done before. It was an interesting all day process. Yesterday we set two radio beacons afloat on different “payow” (still not convinced they aren’t saying payout considering today’s catch) and the Captain picked one to drift near last night. This morning they released the boats, and started to set the purse seining net around the “payow”. It was probably 0430 when I made it up onto the deck, the sun was still down, all the lights on the boat were off, everywhere the crew moved under the dim light from flashlights, working the net which was unspooling off of the massive stack it had once been at the back of the boat.

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Storm a brewin’ (Nov 21)

Storm a brewin’

The storm gathers all around us. It moved in under the cover of night. The flight deck is covered in the leftover pools of rain water and the growing collection of sea water splashed across the bow as we break the increasing swells. In the distance, in any direction, the darkened sky gets only darker and the streamers of rain, lots of rain, can be seen. Today might make for a good deal of time spent inside. A quick check on the helicopter tiedowns and blade covers and then it’s best to not loiter on the heli-deck – no rails.

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No Really I Insist (Nov 20)

“Only offer something you’re willing to part with entirely.” – Nick Henderson

Funny story, the cook on this boat doesn’t speak a word of English. But I know that if I want to be happy, than he needs to be happy. The other morning we did a fairly lengthy morning pre-flight and work on the 500c before going to breakfast or “cshop-cshop” as it sounds pronounced over the intercom. We got to the galley at around 7am and sat down to rice and fried eggs (the only breakfast option). The cook was not happy, but we did not know this until we were done eating and starting putting our dishes in the sink when he came over.

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Groundhog Day is a real thing. (Nov 19)

We all, ok well – most of us, remember the movie Groundhog Day. I’m kind of stretching the term “remember” to work here because I only saw it once and I was a kid, and I don’t recall much of it except that he kept waking up and it was the same day over and over again. Novel idea some might think, the recreated it in Edge of Tomorrow (I enjoyed the movie) recently. Well I’m here to tell you that it is real.

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The Chicken Bone Theory (Nov 18)

“If the cook is not fat, the food is not good.” –Nick Henderson

I know, some people might think that it is a big arrogant to quote oneself, especially when my readership is still only in its infancy. But I’m thinking that I’ll produce a book of proverbs out here on the ocean, so I might as well start writing them down. In our case, the cook on this bit if plump – and his food is, if you like Korean cuisine, palatable. I can fast promise each and every one of you that after this voyage if we go out to eat I will not be open to any suggestion that involves Korean food, or rice. Any rice. I don’t care where it’s from. I’ve had more rice in the last 4 days than I’ve ever had in my entire life combined. I’m getting handy with chopsticks too – I can actually sort my rice with them, pick up bits of side dishes, it’s like I’m a regular Asian. Except – well, not.

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Operation: Tuna Pilot vs Operation: Iraqi Freedom (Nov 17)

Operation: Tuna Pilot vs Operation: Iraqi Freedom

Ok – it seems weird to even compare the two but I think this will help me explain a bit of what life is like out here. I lived in a small room in a metal container in Iraq, out here, I live in a small bunk, in a small room, in a metal container shaped like a boat. I like it though, it’s cozy. Picture this, me on my bunk, the left side lined with my back pack, small duffel, bags of groceries to last me the month, and then a small shelf at the foot with my chargers for cameras, GPS, laptop, cell phone (you never know when you might need to make a call). There is a thin bit of plywood next to where my head goes – I suppose to provide my face with some privacy and a runner along the side to keep me from being ejected by the pitching and twisting of the Caribe as we cut through the open ocean. I Velcroed my alarm clock to the plywood so I can reach it when I’m laying down, and see the time. It now also serves as a dual purpose clock and nightlight. Cool!

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Routines (Nov 16)

One thing I’m learning very quickly is that everyone on this boat has a routine. Even the pilot training me. He seems to have a pattern to how his day goes. He spends most of the day in the cabin, but I know after lunch he likes to take a nap if he can, and around 4pm he does power walking along the port side walkway on deck two.

The boat crew are the same way, our cook is in the kitchen prepping for about an hour after meal service and the hour before meal service. When he isn’t doing that, he’s either stocking and organizing or asleep on the floor in our cabin. Because I’m an “extra pilot” this leg I’m sharing a room with the cook and the deck boss. It’s pretty big, really clean, and has a private bathroom.

The boat hands and fisherman are always working on something here or there, I’m not sure yet what their routine is. But I’m confidant I’ll figure it out.

As for me, I don’t really know what I’m going to do. I spent most of the afternoon organizing my very tiny living space. Which is comfortable and cozy for me. At 5’7” I’m like a tall Asian standard – seriously, I’m one of the tallest guys on the boat, it’s kind of cool. I may never come back I could get used to this! (That is an exaggeration – I’m coming home I promise mom).

I’ve been putting some thought into my routine. I’m planning on waking up and checking the radars first thing in the morning, and then washing and pre-flighting the helicopter. Do this before breakfast. After eating take some down time to study and write. Then lunch, after lunch, wash the helicopter. Sometime between lunch and dinner move around, work the stairs, climb the ladders, walk around the deck do something. After dinner I’m going to grab my workout gloves and use the steel overhangs to do pull-ups, and the helicopter deck for pushups. Gotta try and keep strong out here.

Of course once we start fishing that routine will change, to accommodate the flying and fishing. But I think it will form a pretty constant mold for my day to day.

One thing is for certain – a routine is not optional, you’ll find one, if you try or not.

The good and bad of Korean food, or getting my sea legs. (Nov 15)

Fresh air, wind, motion, oh my god how will I land in this if this is a “nice” day? (Update: It’s actually not as bad now that I’m doing it.)

Getting my Sea Legs

Today we left Suva, and began to sail to the fishing grounds. Whatever that means, I really have no idea where we are going – I’m on a boat with only a handful of English speaking crewmembers steaming into the open ocean in the Pacific – talk about taking life on at full bore. It has been an interesting day so far, a lot of unique experiences and we’re barely out to sea. In fact just leaving port was a curious adventure, for me. First I discovered that my prized KCCO water bottle was missing, oh god I’d forgot it at the hotel. Fortunately it was only a few moments away from the port. I asked the first officer for permission to fetch it and hailed a taxi. My water bottle is now worth about 5 Fijian dollars more than it was before.

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