“Learning the Ropes” by Katya

Learning the Ropes

          For my first trip, I needed to get to Ninilchik. It was a Sunday and I went to Soldotna with friends to watch a movie. Around nine, one of my friends got a call from his mom that the road was closed because there was a shoot-out. The cops said that the road will probably be closed until two o’clock in the morning all the way to Ninilchik. The man said there were huge lines of people in traffic. We decided to stay in Soldotna and watch another movie since we couldn`t go to Ninilchik.

We went to watch a movie at ten like idiots we didn`t check at how long it was, and at 12:45, we were still watching. A lot of people called us asking where we were. We sped there the whole time. The driver didn`t stop all the way yet but we already jumped out of the car and ran with dust in back of us. When I got the clearing where I could see all the boats, I was mesmerized. It was so beautiful. All the boats spotlights were on and it looked bright compared to the darkness all around. I started to run again. I didn`t know where Uncle Nicks boat was so I slowed down on the dock. Prokohpy busted out and yelled my name.

“Katya” I see him and run. He`s standing on someone`s boat looking at me with a scorned face that would only be seen on a parent.

“Where have you been?” He asks while we scramble over boats.

“In Soldotna,” I yell over the sound of the boats motors.

All the boats are tied up to each other. The only way to get to another boat is crossing all the other boats. It gets so packed, that some boats are practically on the banks. When we got there Uncle Nick already untied and drifted off a little bit from the boat we were standing on.

“Perfect,” he said when he noticed we came. “It`s almost my turn to drive out.” He threw his rope back to the boat we stood on and the man who owned it, caught it and dragged it to make it closer for us to jump over to Uncle Nick`s boat. I didn`t want to fall in my first time getting onto Uncle Nick`s boat so I asked Uncle Nick to hold out his hand.

When I come inside the boat, it looked unfamiliar, weird even. It was like I was looking down into it and it was very messy. Stuff lay everywhere overcrowding the place. I wasn`t surprised. It`s a man`s boat. It has always been a man`s boat. My grandpa, Uncle Nick`s dad, built this boat, The Favor. He fished on it with his son`s until his son`s began fishing on it. Now they have their own boats and families and Uncle Nick is fishing on it. It`s a cycle. And every boat needs a deckhand. That`s why me and Prokohpy became Uncle Nicks helpers. I threw my backpack onto the pile and went up to the flying bridge.

It`s cool and refreshing up top. I could see all the boats. Uncle Nick steered the boat and Prokohpy stood right beside him. I joined Prokohpy.

“Hey,” said Uncle Nick with a smile when he saw me.

“Hey, so how does this work?” I asked.

“It`s pretty simple.” He started. “All we got to do it drive out. The complicated part is that the river is tiny and the keel is not that wide but long. And the river is not straight but a little curvy and two boats can`t fit. We have to drive out one at a time. If you don`t know exactly where to go, then you’re spending the night on the banks.” He paused to yell at the guy in front of us. “Go faster! I don`t want to get stuck because you can`t drive.” He probably didn`t hear a thing over the roaring competition going on with the boats.

After we were out, we headed to find Uncle Vinni and Danikt. They fish on grandpa`s second boat he built, the Palomnik. It`s much newer and nicer than the Favor. We find them and ask for some sea sick pills for me because I didn`t know how well I was on the ocean. They threw them over and we anchored up behind them. It was too wavy to tie up the boats.

For dinner we made top ramen, easy food. The food we mostly ate. Uncle Nick, the forgetful uncle, brought so little groceries. We only had bread, ham, hotdogs, ketchup, cup noodles, some vegetables, and beans. We lived on ham and hotdog sandwiches, bean soup on days we couldn`t eat oil. We are Russian old believers and we have a strict diet. Out of the whole week, Wednesdays and Fridays are the days we have to eat dairy free food. When we finished eating and cleaned our dishes, we got ready for bed.

“It`s going to be kind of hard to fall asleep,” said Uncle Nick. “Because it`s so wavy the water splashing makes a lot of noise.” But I didn`t care, it was late and I just wanted to sleep. Because I’m special said Uncle Nick, I got the sleeping bag and they got just the normal blanket. When I got into the sleeping bag and they got under the blanket and it became quiet. I heard the plook, plook, plook that Uncle Nick was talking about. But it didn`t matter, I was dreaming in minutes.

At five o`clock, Uncle Nick`s alarm went off. He crawled out of bed and woke me up. But I couldn`t open my eyes out of tiredness. We went to sleep at twelve. Slowly but surely I got out of bed. Uncle Nick needed my help taking out the anchor. I did this every morning. He scrambled to the tip of the boat and I stood on the flying bridge. It became my job to work the controls. His controls were simple: move the lever up, the boat goes forward, move it back, the boat goes back and put it in the middle and the boat is on neutral. As I did that, the rope zipped up into the anchor winch until it changed to chain and the anchor got on the boat.

“You can go sleep if you want,” said Uncle Nick. “All I’m going to do is steer the boat.” I didn`t argue with him. I dove back into our quarters and started making z`s. I always got an extra nap until we got to the fishing grounds.

He wakes me up when we get there because it`s usually almost seven by then. That is when it opens. It is open until seven p.m. everyone waits impatiently until it turns seven. That is when everyone drops their nets into the water and the game begins.

“Get ready,” calls Uncle Nick from outside. He`s already outside in his coat. I hurriedly put on my boots and coat and joined him. I stood on the left side because the controls are on the right of the boat.

“Ok you can throw the buoy out now, and when you’re throwing it out, throw it the direction the wind is blowing”

I grabbed the buoy and dropped it into the ocean the way Uncle Nick instructed to. The reel started spinning and the net sank into the ocean like a rock. But the cork line, the top rope, didn`t sink because it had corks on it that were shaped like ovals that kept the net from sinking. The net sank almost to the bottom. The rope stretched ninety feet on the ocean. The ropes divided the net into three parts and how to know is by the red corks. After we dropped the whole net in and I put on the other buoy to the end of the rope and threw that in the ocean.

“Now we wait for splashers and jumpers,” explained Uncle Nick. The splashers are the fish that get stuck in the net, and the jumpers are the fish we see jumping around in the ocean by our net. That lets us know that fish are around. Getting splashers and seeing jumpers is exciting. The fish splash in your net and you can see dollar signs already. After driving a couple times by the net scaring the fish into swimming the direction of our net, we decided to take out the net because all the excitement disappeared when the fish stopped splashing.

I went in to put on my raingear. I pulled on my raingear pants which turned out to be harder than I thought. While putting my first foot in, the boat rocked from side to side and I jumped around trying to get into my pants. I finally managed to put both feet through and stuff my dress into the pants with a few bruises here and there. I strapped my overall clips over my hoodie, put on my hat, gloves and coat and was ready to pick some fishes. Before we went outside, he gave me some instructions.

“Ok, when I say turn on the hydraulics, you turn on this switch and it will glow red. You have to be careful around this button. It can really damage the boat because it is really powerful.”

He turned on the hydraulics and we went to work. I had a hard time standing and moving with the waves. I kept on either stumbling forward or backward. To make it easier I stayed on my knees because when I stumbled, I couldn`t pick up the fish. It was easier to pick up fish that way, but my knees started to hurt, It wasn`t a win-win. Uncle Nick gave me some tips off how to stand.

“Keep your right foot out and your left foot in and lean on the back and move with the wave.”  It took me a couple fishing trips to get used to it but I finally learned how to move with the waves and not run into too much things.

“Okay Katya, tell me there is fish before the fish gets to the boat.” instructed Uncle Nick.

“Why?” I asked.

“My boat`s hydraulic pump is very powerful. It is equipped to take out the net on 20 to 30 foot waves.”

“Wow” I said, impressed. But Uncle Nick kept on talking not even noticing what I said.      “When you tell me that there is fish, I can set the boat on neutral and that way we won`t drive into the net because when we stop the reel to untangled the fish out of the net. The boat is still moving.” After the little lesson, I spotted a fish.

“Fish!” I yell excited. It is tangled in the net but it was still swimming trying to escape. No matter how hard it tried, it still ended up in our grip of death. It thumped onto the boat still hanging on by its head. Uncle Nick started right away untangling the poor fish.

There is this whole process of how they take the fish out of the net. First find the fish, the net comes in a bunch and the fish is usually somewhere in the middle. He tells me to grab the led line and collect the net. I do as he says. I do it kind of slow. My hands get stuck because my gloves are like oven mitts. We get to it and he flips it over and out of the net so it`s hanging. He immediately takes the net off its teeth, and then the net caught under its gills. Sometimes that is all takes. He slides it over and I put it into the spot where they blocked space off to put fish. That way it won`t be in the way. We repeat this process all over again.

After a long hard day of fishing, it`s finally seven o’clock and no more nets are in the water. Any net still in the water after seven, and the coastguard sees, that means a ticket.

“After throwing all the fish into the fish hole, wash the deck and yourselves then come inside.” That was mine and Prokohpy’s job at the end of every day. We counted how much reds we caught, humpies, dogs, and silvers. We also threw them in different brawler bags to make it easier for the tenders.

The tender is the ship we sell the fish we caught to. People have different tenders. The tenders are twice or three times the size of our boats. We drive up and tie up to it for them to take our fish. But before we tie up to them, we have to make sure the fish hole is open, the brawler bags untied, we are dressed, and ready to go.

“Okay Katya, run to the front of the boat and catch the rope.” ordered Uncle Nick. I run up to the front of the boat and stand cautiously while Uncle Nick drives up to the tender.

“How do I tie it?”

“Remember how I showed you to tie the rope to secure the boat?” I nodded vaguely. We drove up to it and Uncle Nick maneuvered the boat and the worker threw me the rope. I quickly pulled up the rope like the worker told me to and tied it up onto the cleat. All the times that I did this, the rope never untied. When the back and the front are secure, we get to work.

Before they send the crane and the gizmo made specifically for picking up brawler bags to us, this lady comes and asks us how much fish we have of each and for Uncle Nicks permit. After that we begin the real work. We get into the fishing hole to secure the brawler bags for lift off. Prokohpy held the part with the hook. When everything is secure, we get out of the way because the brawler bag is around 8,000 pounds and it would be a bad idea to get stuck in the middle of it. After all the brawler bags were empty, I started washing the fish hole. The lady came back with a receipt and Uncle Nick`s card and we were off.

The workers on the tender were very nice. They would sometimes give us water, pop if we wanted. At the end of the season they gave us a watermelon. I enjoyed giving them our fish.

After a week of hard labor, it was time to go on land. We can only go on land when it`s high tide. Usually it`s early in the morning. Driving in, Uncle Nick is outside on the flying bridge. Prokohpy is usually outside with Uncle Nick and I`m inside cleaning the boat up. It is as difficult to drive in as it is driving out. We drive in and there are already boats tied up to the dock.

“Okay jump onto the other boat and tie us up to it” ordered Uncle Nick on the flying bridge. But the guy on the other boat did it for me. That always happened and I didn`t mind.

“Katya make sure we take everything. Wouldn`t want something to rot.” I packed up our clothes, food that could go to waste into a bag and did some last tidying up and we were off. Stepping off the dock and off to land was the greatest feeling ever. When I walked, it kind of felt like I was still on the boat but I didn`t sway when I walked. It felt even better when I walked through our house doors and went upstairs to my room and my welcoming bed. Climbing under my blankets felt like I was on clouds. It was so soft and free unlike the cramped and hard sleeping quarters on the boat.

There were hard days when I felt like I was going to keel over from tiredness because I haven`t had a decent night’s sleep. But it was fun and a new experience for me and I would never give that up.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *