Ok this one is for those of you thinking of heading out to the tuna fishing world. I took a few days and put together a short (60 page) guide based on my experiences in the fishing grounds as a tuna pilot. There is a port guide at the end of this that IS NOT complete, as I only made it to a few ports. Link is attached, download and share.
If you are a tuna pilot and want to contribute to the port guide let me know and send me a write up!
No, I don’t mean in the kitchen. The last few days the Captain has taken to doing an early morning flight, just before the sun comes up over the horizon, not that it has done us any good so far. The tuna schools don’t seem to break the surface until the sun is well up in the sky and the surface temperature of the water has started to come up. Well today we had a few more things to look at while flying. Four other tuna fishing boats were nearby, so we went to have a look.
The Kitchen is Now Open
Apparently even in the middle of the ocean and thousands of miles away from the nearest port there isn’t much job security. Today I had a passenger to transfer from our boat to another boat, the ships cook. Well, former cook.
Last week I could hear the Captain going on in his stateroom, yelling about something, and I couldn’t understand a word of it. Later when I was chatting with the Yansa and Sumansa they told me that he had been yelling at the Cook. I couldn’t believe it, the cook is a nice older guy about 56 years old, polite, friendly, even taught me some Korean. As for the food – I’ve been happy, we get a little bit of everything, Japanese style, Indonesian style, American style, and of course Korean style.
I transferred to this boat, the Shilla Jupiter, on the 6th. It had already been at sea for a week at that point and when I came aboard I eventually got around to asking the fisheries observer how much tuna we had onboard already – the answer was that in the week they’d been sailing they had caught almost 100 tons of tuna, but a little less than 100 tons. That night for dinner they performed a ceremony to ask the god of the sea to fill their nets. He must not have liked the sacrifices.
Now it’s been two weeks since I came aboard and we’ve caught around 200 tons of tuna, in small batches, and seen no schools at all. Every flight we’ve come up empty handed except for finding a payow on one. That was fun, we were flying and searching for the payow – the Yansa (2nd officer) was searching through powerful binoculars out the right side of the helicopter. I was every now and then searching out the left side of the helicopter between instrument scans. On one of these occasions I spotted the raft (payow) over my left shoulder, I keyed the mic and said as much over the intercom, and banked left to get to the payow.
I set myself up for a nice descending pattern down to the payow, that would allow me to keep it in sight the entire way down to it. Once we got over the water the Yansa climbed out onto the pontoon with the gps buoy in hand. I maneuvered the helicopter over the payow, concentrating intently on steady smooth movements – very aware that 150 pounds had just shifted away from the CG centerline of the helicopter and was hanging onto a pontoon. As we got closer Yansa directed me with hand signals left and forward a little more. The rotorwash splashed up the ocean surface, slightly behind and left of the helicopter telling me that I was still in a headwind. Once the buoy was out and the Yansa climbed back into his seat I slowly moved away from the payow a bit to make sure the rope wasn’t lashed over my pontoon float and then climbed out and away into the wind.
That was it, that was the one moment of excitement in all the flying that has been done out here this trip so far. Large circles over empty patches of water, with only a few birds or whales in it, punctuate each flight before we land – shaking our heads with the disappointment of not having found anything. It’s easier for me, I’ve only been out here two weeks however the crew, the crew, they’ve been out here almost a month with less than 300 tons of fish to show for it, and this boat has larger holds than my last one, 1100 tons worth.
The Captain, with each day, has grown more reclusive from the crew. He takes his meals in his stateroom and rarely ventures off of the upper deck. The cook still sets a place for the Captain at the table, but the officers and I have grown used to the notion that he isn’t coming down to join us. Once the cook sends a tray up to the Captains room the (typically better prepared) food set out in front of his spot is fair game. We take servings of fruit, and spring rolls, and other sides from the platters that will otherwise go unconsumed. His kimchi is often fresher and better seasoned too it seems like, maybe it’s just psychological – taking from the dishes reserved for the Captain makes the food taste that much sweeter. I don’t know.
Today however he finally reached wits end, two payow had checked out with no fish near them. The flights around them showed nothing to indicate there was a payow school feeding nearby somewhere. He began to yell and scream at his officers whom he had assembled in his quarters. I didn’t understand a word of it but my room is just down the hall and the berating carried well through the wood panel lines corridor. The observer, who stays across the hall from me, stopped over to chat.
“The Captain is very angry” the observer said.
I just smiled at the comment and asked “what gave you that impression”. We both laughed, but the yelling continued. We gathered that he was mad about not finding any fish, it seemed he wasn’t going to shoulder that failure on his own shoulder, and was lofting the weight of it onto the men that manned the observation tower and sonar/radar. If I were a Korean pilot and part of the crew I may have also been in that room. Thank god I’m not. I don’t like getting yelled at, and I’m not in the Army anymore.
Speaking of the Army, I found something interesting out last night over an exchange of hard drives, movies, and Soju. It would seem that every young man in Korea has a two year obligation to service in the Army. Conscription like that is a notion I support for our country as well – it would solve a lot of the social problems in youth these days if they had to serve for a few years. Anyways, moving away from that social commentary, these Korean youth have an option though, if they don’t want to serve in the Army they can serve in the fishing fleet as “Sumansa” (3rd officer) or “Yansa” (2nd officer) for a commitment of 3 years. So it’s either two years in the Army making nothing, or 3 years as an officer on a fishing boat making money hand over fist. The Sumansa on this boat hates it here, he told me, but didn’t want to serve in the Army. They are all of course swayed by the money too – but it sounds like none of the junior officers really truly wanted to be fishermen. Interesting.
You would think – back to the story – that the Captain would do the sensible thing and tuck tail back west. He’d made the decision to come this far east based on bad intel from another Captain. The whole fishing fleet went west to the Solomons and PNG following the tuna, we went east speculating on the chance to hit it big on a late push of Yellowfin in the migration. We gambled, we lost, lets call it a day and go join the fleet. For awhile it looked like that is what we were doing, our bow was cutting west and we were on our way. When all of a sudden the Captain ordered us South, and then back East again. His gut telling him that we were going to miss something big if we didn’t stay.
So we’re south of the last area we were in, and pushing back East, 3 weeks in and less than 300 tons on board with 800 tons left to go. I think this will be a long voyage. I did get a good chance to observe the economic principal of “Supply and Demand” demonstrated out here. You see, they’d been at sea so long that anyone with Soju or Whiskey had capital in the form of the booze. The other day we stopped at a bunker ship and refueled the Shilla Jupiter, and the ship also brought on 28 cases of Soju and a dozen cases of beer. Suddenly all that bargaining power crumbled into nothing. Let that be lesson to you in life and finances alike – if you have a commodity of value, don’t waste it until its value has gone up, but once it has – don’t sit on it either, because eventually it will not be worth anything.
Today was one of those days that you know you just aren’t going to fly during. The crew know it, and the officers know it because the boat is moving from one fishing ground to the next on the chase of what has been lately elusive tuna. In the high seas you aren’t allowed to fly and the net has to be covered with a tarp.
I spent the morning outside with the helicopter, nearly an hour climbing around it, poking and prodding and inspecting just to get a really good sense for the machine I was flying out here. I worked out after that, in the sun of the day it was a hot workout also. I took regular breaks to head down into the galley and top off my water bottle with cold water from the filtered system. I must have drank nearly 4 litres of water over 2 hours.
It has been a few days since my last post dedicated to The Roaming Pilot specifically, I’ve been working on something else. I had a lot of people on facebook asking me for tips and pointers or guidance on the tuna pilot thing, some even asked me to write a guide. So – that is exactly what I am doing, writing a guide. I plan on posting excerpts here on the blog until it is finished, because I’m still new out here and learning. But, truthfully, once you’ve got the system down, everything else becomes more of a routine.
In the last two days we’ve relocated from the Solomon fishing grounds to the Tuvalu fishing grounds and may wind up ending this voyage in the Tarawa fishing grounds depending on the fish that we catch here. So in those two days I’ve penned, well typed, almost 60 pages for the guide and in that process I’ve eaten a lot of ramen.
You see ramen for me is something I’ve always loved, it’s that delicious noodle treat that is a staple in the Asian part of the world. Being on a Korean boat is no exception and they have tons of ramen for the crew to eat when they are hungry for a snack, or in my case when I skip a meal like breakfast. You see I’m all burnt out on the rice and fried egg option that is the only breakfast option here but I’m not burnt out yet on ramen. Given how much of it I ate during my University days I’m not sure I can burn out on ramen – I lived on the stuff.
So sometime shortly after breakfast is served and cleaned up I head down to the galley, usually in the company of the Observer and my mechanic and we grab a pot and get set to make ramen. You see here, on a Korean boat in the Pacific ocean, you don’t just toss the noodles into a bowl of hot water and eat them – making ramen is an art form.
You have to doctor it up, like we used to doctor up the meals in our MRE’s in the Army. Grab a clove of garlic and smash it under a knife, toss that in with some chili powder and some vegetables, stuff like that. Sometime you’ll boil and egg with the noodles and serve them with egg, and once you’re done go to the plastic containers of side dishes like kimchi and whatever small snacks the cook has made, and scoop some of that on top.
I’ll never make ramen the same in the United States when I’m home from this trip, I just don’t think I’ll be satisfied with a basic package of noodles and seasoning packet anymore. I’ll need to doctor up my ramen and make it a gourmet treat.
One final thought, I think a ramen house that’s open after last call at the bars would do great business as a drunk food for people. Like Pel Menis in Alaska did. That stuff was delicious.
Today was my first real day of flying for the Shilla Jupiter. The first flight of the day was run of the mill, except that instead of flying with the Captain or the First Officer, the Second Officer is the designated passenger on this boat. Not sure if that is a Shilla thing or if that is something to do with this Captain and First Officer. I keep using “first officer” in these posts because it’s familiar to me and what I naturally write, but for anyone coming out here he’s actually the “Chief Officer” and they call him “Chosa” on the Korean boats. “Yansa” is the second officer, “Bosso” or “Bosson” is the deck boss. Anyways, back to the day…
After today’s transfer and demo flight and getting settled into my accommodations my mechanic and I fashioned a shelf for my bunk so that I could have a place for my laptop. The rest of the day was spent not doing much, as there was no need for flying. They closed the tower (observation and fish spotting) early in the afternoon as we transitioned high seas (no fishing operations allowed) into the Solomon fishing grounds.
I walk around the boat a lot without any real idea of where I’m going partly to kill time and partly to get out of my cabin and get some fresh air. On one of these walks I noticed they had spread out tarps and placed bowls and bowls of fresh fruit out on the main deck. They’d also wheeled a oil-drum BBQ out onto the deck also. It looked like we might be celebrating something. I snapped some photos of the spread but the centerpiece is most worth mentioning. At the center of all the fruit and soju and rice beer, was the severed head of a pig – on a plate. A delicacy in most Asian nations, it’s not a common dining table addition in the United States. Continue reading “The Sea God…King…something (Jan 6)”
In my post for January 1st I wrote about how you need to be flexible to do this job. I would stress even more the importance of that now. On January 3rd I wrote that I might be transferring at sea to the Shila Jupiter and that came true yesterday. The Captain of the Shila Harvester is apparently one of the older most senior captains in their fleet and every time he starts a contract he browses the helicopter pilots out there, looking for ones he knows and likes to work work with and if possible snaps them up.