I’m guilty of thinking that there was some sort of standard of operating procedures on tuna boats no matter who owned the boat or where it was based. I mean of course there is, a common rank structure and the work is more or less the same, but sociologically each boat I’ve boat I’ve been on has had some very interesting differences. It looks like it comes down to the individual Captain and his interpretation of a dusty never-opened company manual on a shelf somewhere.
So I’m going to try and break down the differences between the 3 boats I’ve been on here.
The Caribe is a Dong Won boat, on that boat the pilot, mechanic, and observer were treated like contractors – which we are, and we were expected to remain totally clear of all fishing work (fine enough by me) and ship based work. When it came to meals we scooped our own food just like any other member of the crew and sat in whatever open spot we could find amongst the crew, and the crew appreciated it if we didn’t come to meals until after they’d gone through – because we don’t work as hard as they do (those are the words of some of the crew I got to know). The pilot, mechanic and observer shared a room and bathroom on the upper deck of the boat. The Caribe is a 32 year old, American designed, built in Alabama, boat.
On the Harvester, a Shilla Company boat, the pilot is expected to take his meals with the officers. I still would scoop my own chow like the rest of the crew but would sit in silence at the table of Koreans while they all chatted in rapid fire Korean around me. The mechanic was the same as on the Dong Won boat, get his own food, sit with the crew, and expected to wait until later in the meal before coming down. The observer would help in the kitchen, I think out of boredom perhaps, but it wasn’t something the crew would wave off like on the Dong Won boat. The pilot and mechanic shared a room on the upper deck just underneath the stairs leading up to the helicopter – practical placement; with a shared bathroom connected to the radio operators room. The Harvester is a 2 year old, designed in Korea and built there, boat.
Lastly we come to the Jupiter, another Shilla Company boat. The pilot is more like a “flight officer” on this boat, and takes his meals with the Captains table, the cook a galley boy prepare servings of the meal and set them for the pilot at the officers table along side chopsticks and a spoon for the soup as well as a mug of water. Out of habit and courtesy I cleared my own place setting when I was finished, unlike the other officers that leave the dishes for the galley attendant. The cook told me to just leave the dishes, but I haven’t gotten around to that habit yet. It sounds as if the observer helps a lot around this boat. The mechanic and pilot aren’t expected to help but do have a bucket of dye packs to toss when making a set – if they’re so inclined. Like on the Harvester the room is shared by the pilot and mechanic and the bathroom is shared with the radio operator.
The typical schedule for me on all of these boats is to get up around 530 in the morning, my mechanic has already been up for 15 minutes and done his preflight and wash-down of the helicopter. I make my way up for my preflight and get my pilots seat set up. Then I wait for the call. We either fly or set or sail, those are the three states of being while at sea. We are either flying and looking for schools of tuna or “payow” or they are making a set.
Some boats will use the helicopter to herd tuna during the set but most Korean boats do not. Some of the Korean Captains have made the call, and it is up to the Captain of each boat if he wants to use the helicopter for herding, to use the helicopter over the nets when making a set. I’ve even heard of some captains using the helicopter instead of the tower to direct the set itself – from the air.
Anytime we aren’t doing either of those two things we are sailing to the next area, close or far, we are almost always moving. Unless we are going to set around a “payow” in the morning, in which case we will sail a mile or two away and drift. Then, around 3am, well before the sun has come up the ship will be relocated back to the “payow” and let its nets out around the spot, all while a boat with high intensity floods pointed down into the water draw the fish up to the surface in a trick of light, mimicking the warm sun tuna so desperately seek to warm their blood.
For the most part, all three ships do this the same. I did see something the other day that was different, when I was flying over a Japanese boat they actually cut loose one of their speedboats and sent it ripping ahead of the main ship to get to the school first. Not sure if they were worried about the helicopter making a dozen orbits over the school they were going for and were trying to claim it, or what, but I’d never seen a tuna school intercept boat sent like that before.
The characters all seem to be the same on each boat. The Captains, the first officers, the deck bosses, the crew, the cook. The first officer on the Caribe was different than the other two though, he has two degrees in computers and coding and had once had a small tech firm he had run with his wife – but when the American economy tanked, so did his company, as many of the contracts he had were with American companies in Asia. When that happened he went back to what he knew – tuna fishing. See, before college he had spent time as a fisherman, and now with his degrees he was able to be an officer. When I chatted with him about all of this, he was sure this would be his last trip, the economy was recovering, and his wife wanted to get them back into computers and code. I was surprised that he wasn’t a career fisherman, that he was here because times were hard in the United States.
It’s interesting how much the global community can be swayed by the actions of Americans. It’s easy to think that we have to think about ourselves first, but the truth of it is that Americans have intertwined the international community into our structure, as a nation. Our decision can’t be selfish, they need to be global in nature because it isn’t just the well being of US citizens on the table anymore.