Goooood Morning, South Pacific! (Dec 15)

The street was lined on both sides by tall old trees and dotted by cars parked randomly in front of houses on either side of the road. Remnants of cobblestones from an early time could be seen as patchwork beneath the asphalt. Green rich grassy yards with fences gave way to brick and wood Victorian style houses, most painted white. It was dark, as it was late at night, and most of the windows on the street were dark with the exception of a few lamps and lit rooms in some of the houses. It’s familiar to me, but I am not quite sure where we are; and it doesn’t matter anyways. I get out of the drivers seat of my car and walk around to open the door on the passenger side, extending my hand to the woman sitting there to help her out to the sidewalk.

She’s gorgeous, long dark hair that has a flowing wave to it that curls out around the ends just below her shoulders frame her face. Her eyes are large beautiful ovals of green and dominate my attention, accented by a smokey eye-shadow. Her lips have a subtle but present pink lipstick across them and draw my gaze. We walk together up the sidewalk and into the yard of one of the houses, hers I presume and we walk to the door. It’s a scene we’ve all seen a hundred times in cheesy romance films, the inevitable pause at the doorway, the small talk about the evening, the look of longing and desire in the players eyes.

She opens the door and then turns her back to the entryway, as if she had suddenly changed her mind about having me over for the night, it’s a fleeting thought replaced with her giving me a look that all but grabs me and pulls me in towards her. Time slows down, my pulse quickens, I wrap one hand around her hip to pull her closer to me, and the other moves up along her neck – she starts to open her mouth to say something, I eagerly anticipate the words. She looks me deeply in the eyes and says, in a sultry, alluring, voice the wraps my ears in every word.
“Standby Helicopter, standby”

I don’t have time to look confused or ask what she means, the automatic trigger response in my brain fires off like a lightning bolt and jars me from the dream into a pitch black cabin. I blink heavily against the darkness, the edges of sleep still griping at my brain like tar trying to pull my head back to the pillow.
“No way, what? Did that really…” I start to question whether or not that actually just happened, if I actually had heard the alert command through the obnoxiously loud speaker in my cabin.

That’s when I hear my mechanic leap down off of his bunk across the room. Mumbling and stumbling in the dark he bolts out of the room. Nope, this is not a weird dream, this is really happening. I throw my feet over the side of my bunk pushing the curtains out of the way that provide privacy and darkness for sleeping and leap to the floor (mind you, it’s only 3 inches to the floor).

My head is still in the fog of sleep and I scratch the back of my head and can feel the matted and twisted curls of my, now, too long hair and know that today is going to be a hat day. In the dark room I reach for a shirt, anything, the throw on and head out the door to go fly; yanking the tank top I was sleeping in off and tossing it aside I pull out an Under Armour from my suitcase and pull it over my head.

On my way out the cabin door I grabbed up my flight gloves and the buff I wear around my neck and then push through the door. The sun has not even come up yet, it’s only starting to hint at daylight in the far horizon where color has started to blend into the blue and black sky of dawn.
“What time is it?” I ask myself, looking down at the digital watch on my wrist, noting that it shows a reasonably early hour of not even 5am.

“My god, the fish aren’t even awake right now…” I think to myself as I climb the stairs to the heli-deck. It doesn’t bother me, I love to fly and early morning flights and late day flights are some of my favorites. The sun casts long shadows, and the colors of the sky erupt around them; it’s like flying in a fireworks show. The earth takes on added layers of dimension, and object that would seem flat and undefined in the daytime become rich in detail and contrast. Of course out here, on the open ocean, the only thing to ever see is the sea. That, and really cool cloud formations.

My mechanic, a former Air Force crew chief from the Philippines is scurrying to knock out his preflight checks, and I start my walk around. Inspecting for visual indications of damage, or leakage, or corrosion. He practically slides under the helicopter and starts sampling fuel. I pull of my door and walk it over to the storage locker and then clear the blades of tiedowns. We’re a pretty good team, and today’s unexpected early morning sortie is showing how that all pays off under pressure.

I reach into the cockpit and grab my flight vest and toss it over my shoulders, fastening the straps and tightening them down. Then I pull my buff over my head and get it situated around my neck to keep the straps of the Hughes 500 seatbelts from cutting into my neck whenever I turn my head; and climb into the pilots seat.

I strap myself into the seat and pull my flight helmet on over my head, tightening the chin-strap down (I make a note that I need to shave my neck because the strap is catching on errant facial hair). I do one final check with Roxy and fire up the engine, the blades leap to life and my girl is off and spinning. For knocking out an entire pre-dawn inspection and doing all of our preflight checks we actually managed a respectable startup time and in not time the Captain and I were airborne.

If the Captain could hear, and understand, the things I think when we fly he’d either get a good laugh out of them or be pissed. As we’re lifting off of the pad he tells me to circle the boat –so I do- and we climb up to 1000 feet above the deck in a graceful corkscrew over the boat. I think to myself that maybe the Captain just wanted a better view of the sunrise, that softy. Then he gives me a heading, and another heading, and another, and we spend maybe 20 or 30 minutes flying around in the early morning hour as the sun breaks over the horizon and into a waiting cloud bank. A large thunderstorm has been following our boat for two days now just spitting rain and billowing in the distance. We’ve passed through streamers of rain a couple times a day for the last few days and I wonder if it will ever catch up to us.

Then he spots a school.
“I’ll be damned, early bird gets the worm…” I think to myself.

The thing about flying the Captain or first officer around is that they spend most of the time on the radio with the boat, or other boats, yammering on in Korean as loudly as they can. I’ve actually turned the volume down on my side of the cockpit so that I can actually concentrate through the Korean words and fly, and think, and muse on things like the Captain wanting a sunrise tour flight. These cost top dollar in the states.

Sure enough we were the first helicopter in the air today, and we spotted a half dozen fair sized schools during our hour and a half flight around the area, not to mention the smaller less impressive schools. This early approach got him a head start on the other two boats that had been dormant in the early morning hours much like we had, and he had the ship moving at full speed to the nearest of the schools preparing for his first catch of the day.

Which was going fairly well. We’d landed and I’d taken a moment to wipe the sleep from the corners of my eyes and stretch. The captain had scurried up the observation tower to direct the set of the net (which I think he should do from the helicopter – for purely selfish time building reasons) and the crew were all moving about their duties. I decide that, because I’ve missed breakfast (which is just rice so no big loss) that I’m going to at the very least get myself some coffee and work my way down to the galley. With my mug full and in hand I start back up the ladder to my cabin.

Then disaster strikes.

The net had been released and was spilling over the side of the boat like it was supposed to, everything was normal as far as anyone could tell, when all of a sudden a huge portion of the net all in one swift action was pulled off the back of the boat in a tangled, and very heavy clump. The loudspeakers erupted with the frantic yells of the Captain, directing the crew to perform different tasks, the set around the fish was going to be a total loss, because somehow last night when they had reeled in their last set the net had been stacked improperly.

I sipped my coffee. Too hot still.

Crewmen ran from side to side, and back to front of the boat. I couldn’t understand any of the commands being issued but could tell they were working to anchor certain cables and release other cables. More angry Korean yelling on the loudspeaker. The net boat and skiff moved with each command as the Captain, in his tower directed them to slow down or speed up or move here or there.

Another sip of the coffee, still damn hot.

The net was damaged, torn and tangled, and the crew were going to have a long day of fixing it on the back deck. I wondered if that meant I would fly anymore today – I wanted at least another hour and a half, for my purely selfish time building reasons. But if the net is out of commission until fixed…I don’t think the Captain will use the helicopter if he doesn’t have a way to catch the fish.

And still, one more sip of my coffee. Perfect.

As the day wound on and I finished my movie from last night I started to wonder about the net. I’d heard lots of yelling and moving about so I decided to duck out of my cabin and check. It was massive, the rip ran almost the entire length of the net I could see and what was ripped and loose was tangled and spiraled in a spool that looked like a thick dark rope and not a net at all. The crew, the entire crew including the officers and Captain were on the fish deck working to untangle and unspool the net, cutting areas as needed. Other crew moved new packages of net down from the upper deck and they prepared to repair the net. A task that the observer and my mechanic both think will take no less than 3 days from the surveyed damage.

To make things more interesting, our being stationary gave the thunderstorm time to catch up and the deck is now being pelted with sheets of rain, and thunder is rolling in the clouds over head. I made my way up to the bridge to check the bird radar (which functions also like a weather radar) and found that we were sitting smack dab in the middle of a ten mile red blot on the radar screen.

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