Merry Christmas from the Pacific Ocean! (Dec 25)

I’m going to keep this one short, I’m cueing up The Polar Express on my laptop to watch since it’s family tradition, but today is Christmas and I wanted to share a brief post with you all. I’ve got to remember to thank my friend Whitney (source of about 3 TB of movies) for having this in her collection.

When I was leaving to get onto my plane to come out here my mom, at the very last moment, handed me a gift bag stuffed with cards and other wrapped items and told me to stash it.
“Put this in your bag and don’t open it until Christmas.”
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Flying Fish and Zombie Kills (Dec 24)

We aren’t just catching tuna out here, that isn’t the way the ocean works. When we cast our nets inevitably we will get some other species of fish. With the exception of some fish the crew deem not worthy of eating, which isn’t very many, most of the by-catch gets carved up into sashimi or into filets that they later dry in the sun. I try and eat a little bit of each fish they carve up, each new fish they carve up, so that I can say that I have tried them all. Fish is fish for the most part, I love yellowfin tuna sashimi though, but I knew that before coming out here. There seems to be one kid who is the “go to guy” for fish on the deck. He’s always working the nets right next to the fish chute.

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Nick Henderson and his Airborne Telephone Service (Dec 23)

Do ship to ship radio communication problems have you down? Are your fellow Captains just not receiving you? Need a lift in your transmission capacity and your spirits? Look no further, I give you my very own Airborne Telephone Service! That’s right, for just a bit over $13 per minute you can make all the small talk you want on the radio at 1000 feet above your own ship! The other Captains will have no choice but to hear your every word. The best part? You’ll be able to hear them too! That’s right, so step on up, sign up, and hop on in.

Now, you may be wondering what I’m going on about by now, please allow me to explain. This morning I did my usual flight with the Captain during our first set. I say “usual” because the last three mornings we’ve made early sets, and promptly the Captain and I have gone up for a flight looking for the next target. After we landed the rest of the set went like normal, catching fish and tossing by-catch back into the ocean.

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Something About this Morning (Dec 22)

We were drifting all night, waiting to set early in the morning on a “payow” that had shown a particularly large amount of fish on the sonar two days earlier when we found it. The raft and buoy themselves were covered in shells and sea life, and we could see fish swimming in and out around the slack net that was weighted and hanging below the raft. That was always a good sign, the more bait fish we see at the surface, the more prize catch will be deep below.

I got up early to see them set on the “payow” like I normally do because I think it’s fun to watch. It’s like black ops tuna fishing, everyone is in their masks (to protect from the sun later in the day) and moving silently around the boat deck. Occasionally the captain radios out a course and speed correction based off of the sonar indications below. The net tender boat has been rigged up with a portable generator and a pair of super powerful shop lights and is already in the water.

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The Haze (Dec 21)

I’m not sure what is causing this haze we’re in but the sky is so obscured it reminds me of central Washington this summer when I was flying there during all the wildfires. Visibility out here is normally unlimited or nothing at all, the two extremes. It’s like the weather, it’s either nice – or it’s not. But today is different, it’s really nice, but it also kind of isn’t.

On the deck the crew are working hard, we made two sets today and they haven’t had much of a break between the two. If you look up the sky seems blue, and it certainly is directly overhead – blue. Around the edges there is a warm orange vignette to that blue, and it’s a confusing visual because it seems to come from nowhere, go nowhere, and is both there and not there.

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Things Are Looking Up (Dec 20)

We’ve been in the Solomon waters for a few days now, it feels like, and we’re having a whole lot more action than we were having in Tuvalu. The schools are back, or more accurately, we’ve caught up to the schools and that means more flying for me – which is more than ok in my book.

I’m starting to get a feel for the Hughes 500C which is nice for me, as a pilot. I like to have confidence in the machine I’m flying. I felt that the R44 (which I was flying for the last few years) and I were a very capable team, and I really love the 44 I think because it’s a solid, reliable and capable helicopter. Now, I know there are Robby haters in the crowd but I’m sticking to my guns on this – the R44 is an awesome machine. Anyone who says otherwise hasn’t flown one, or at least flown it enough to realize what it is capable of.

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We’re in the Solomons (Dec 19)

Well, more or less. Yesterday the Captain decided to make the move from the Tuvalu fishing grounds to the Solomon fishing grounds because there just wasn’t any tuna where we were. Later I found out that the entire Dong Won fishing fleet had already made that move, so it sounds like our Captain was gambling on one or two more big schools behind the fleet – it did not pay off. We’ve been at sea for almost two weeks and have less than 200 tons of tuna on board.

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NFR (Dec 18)

NFR is the code we use when there is “No Flight Required” and I hate making these entries in my weekly and monthly log. If I had my way I’d wake up, eat breakfast, go to the helicopter around 8 in the morning, fly for two hours, then after lunch do the same thing. Instead, today, NFR.

So what do you do on a day like today when there is NFR? This is where coming prepared with a hard drive full of movies comes in handy. This is where having computer games, or cell phone games, or a good book is essential. But don’t be a recluse.

Make sure you emerge from your cave of comfort and air conditioning every now and then to mingle with the crew. Joke with them, chat with them in broken English, but for the most part just make sure you smile and laugh and look confused when they say something you don’t understand.

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The Loudness of a Dull Thud (Dec 17)

The Loudness of a Dull Thud

I can hear the hull smashing against the waves outside, the bow cuts through the swells with a dull thud. A thumping noise that you might think doesn’t sound too bad, but then I remember that I am literally the furthest person away from the bow and if I can hear that dull thud all the ay back here in my room than it means that we’re knocking our way though the ocean in a fist fight between the bow of our ship and the swells ahead of us.

The entire room has been rolling and twisting all night and into the morning, I think to myself that it is a good thing I don’t get motion sickness because I can feel and almost see the entire room moving around me. That would mess with someone’s gut I think. A quick step out the door onto the upper deck reveals it drenched in a mix of rainwater and ocean spray. The dull thud is louder now as we buck against another wave and I watch as a shower of salt spray and water spills through the air and across everything on the back deck.

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It’s Not Always Sunny (Dec 16)

The last few days we have been in the middle of that storm that had been chasing us. It caught up and jus didn’t go away. That is, until today when the clouds seemingly started to lag behind us. Then the intercom went off. The Captain had called for me to come to the bridge. Something told me that he wasn’t asking me up there for beer. Sure enough as soon as I arrived he looked around at the sky around us and then turned to me and asked,
“Ok for flying?”

I glanced quickly at the bird radar, which I had learned to use as a weather radar and noted that most of the red clouds were behind us, and that we were sailing into what appeared to be a relatively clear screen. A glance out the windows told me the same thing, that the sky ahead was clear and so I gave him the thumbs up. It wasn’t raining anymore and they were hungry for a catch. So was I, I need them to do about 100 tons per day if we’re going to make it back to port in time to celebrate NYE on dry land. I wasn’t worried about Christmas on the boat, that was more for family anyways, and I had my gifts in my suitcase still tucked away from mom and dad.

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