"All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible." ~ T. E. Lawrence
Here’s the third installment of the novel I’m working on that’s set in Alaska. My little bro, DJ arrived in town last night so this weekend will be full of adventures to share later. Happy Thursday to all!
Finally, the day of their departure arrived. The crew was awake by three in the morning and during the next two hours they donned their gear and prepared the Raider. They were well underway with the morning tide and now Ross stood at the stern with a mug of steaming coffee. A wave washed against the bow and mists of sea spray filled the air. Ross breathed in deeply; this was what he had missed when he was away. It was late in the morning, nearly ten o’clock before the cloudy sky hinted of sunlight somewhere above. Some people hated this place with its wintery darkness and low cloud formations. They called it depressing. But to Ross the region was untamed, truly the last frontier, and in this aspect was a hidden magic and beauty that few had seen or understood.
Hank came up from below deck muttering and griping, already bored with the view. Ross curbed his annoyance with the complaining greenhorn. Water as far as the eye could see and clouds from horizon to horizon. Hank was here for the money and to him the Aleutians were some miserable islands with a few tiny villages scattered about the chain. He didn’t know or care of the volcanoes and geysers that existed just below the frozen tundra, the crumbling remains of World War II structures, or the ancient native dwellings preserved and hidden from untrained eyes. For him, the days would pass with agonizing slowness. Ross thought about the coming weeks. If Johnson is complaining now, he’ll be reduced to a pile of diapers by the time the season closes, he thought.
They had arrived. Hanson’s steady navigation had directed them to his spot. He always went further north than the other crab boats so that his harvesting area would remain known only to himself and vaguely to the crew. NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association) was forecasting a storm for tonight. At the helm, the skipper listened intently to the weather reports. He was concerned for his crew, but weighed the risks and the endeavor they were undertaking. When his men had signed on they had known the hazards. He pressed his lips to the golden crucifix on the chain about his neck, crossed himself, whispered a prayer heavenward, and returned to his GPS monitor.
The storm did come. Ross and the six other crew members already were dropping pots at marked checkpoints on the navigation grid with a winch. Hanson was at the helm directing and tracking their positions with the GPS. The wind had been blowing at thirty knots for most of the day but it gradually picked up speed to fifty knots with even stronger gusts. Captain Hanson assigned the remaining two crew members to chip ice off of the sides of the Raider. Each wave that crashed upon the deck quickly froze into a slick sheet.
As first mate, Ross was charged with overseeing the deck, thus he had a sense of responsibility for the other crew on deck and especially for Hank. Johnson didn’t know what he was doing and required specific instructions when the first few pots were set out. He complained of the cold after three hours of working. We haven’t even started, Ross thought with frustration. The wind blew with a fury and snow and sleet came down sideways. Thirty and forty foot waves threatened to overturn the Raider, but they pressed on. All of the deck hands had long ago lost feeling in their limbs. They were torn between praying that time would pass quickly so they could warm up and eat below deck, and hoping that there would be enough time to pull all of their pots before the storm worsened. The work was more dangerous as they became numbed and tired. The deck and equipment was covered in thin layers of ice. Waves washed onto the deck and iced over as well.
A particularly great wave hit the Raider from the port side. She tipped precariously and the crewmen started to slide across the icy deck. They reached out furiously, grasping at lines and rails. Ross looped his arm around a piece of deck railing and distinguished Johnson slipping past him. With his free hand he snatched Johnson by the back of his collar and held on like a vice. His frozen fingers ached painfully. Finally the vessel righted itself. The crew returned to work at their various stations as though nothing had happened. All except for Johnson, who stood rooted to the deck as though in a trance for a long moment, dully watching those around him scurry about. Ross barked orders to get the next pot off into the sea but Hank made no movements.
“Johnson, get the hell going”, Ross bellowed at him and swore. He didn’t have time for this green kid to take up deck space.
Another huge wave pounded the port side again, washing up onto the deck. Again the deckhands made a dash for something to hold to. The Raider groaned in protest of the ocean’s forceful grasp and struggled to level her deck off. Ross strove to maintain his grip as another briny wave drenched the deck crew. The tendrils of salty water reached out as though to pull him into the swirling maelstrom that surrounded the Raider. He watched helplessly as the same wave wrapped around Johnson and drug him over the side. In a desperate attempt Ross reached out and his hand met briefly with Johnson’s. His wet grip on Johnson’s slick wrist was weak and he could only watch as the deckhand was ripped out of his grasp. Once again the vessel managed to level off. Slipping across the wet deck, Ross did a quick head count and then ran to the railing where Johnson had disappeared. Hank was gone. Another hand, a seasoned vet named Eric Perry, was missing too.
Ross looked around wildly, and shouted “Man overboard.”
Hanson had a front row seat to the fiasco and had already taken measures to get the men out of the water, as soon as they could be found. Ross and the rest of the crew were peering over the railing around the Raider, floodlights aimed at the dark, churning waters. Even with survival equipment on, the men could only last about fifteen minutes in the frigid sea. As it was, they weren’t wearing survival gear and wouldn’t live for more than a few minutes. Seconds passed like long, grueling hours in tense agony as the men diligently watched for their comrades. Ike Carter, the engineer yelled above the storm’s cacophony. The crew started to throw lines out to a man floating in the ocean and he was hauled aboard within the minute. It was Perry. He shivered uncontrollably and the signs of hypothermia were unmistakable. Another crewman rushed Perry below deck to warm him up while the rest of the hands maintained their search for Johnson. The skipper had radioed the Coast Guard as soon as the men had been washed overboard but they would never arrive in time. It would be up to the Raider’s crew to find him. They circled the area and kept lookout. Even after half an hour of looking and after a Coast Guard cutter and helicopter had joined the search, the men were unwilling to give up their vigil. The surrounding vessels had been notified to keep watch but didn’t report any sightings. Perry was sent to the Coast Guard cutter for medical assistance and Hanson reluctantly called off the search after an hour. The crew returned to work with heavy spirits. The rest of the long day passed in a blur for Ross. He worked like an automaton.
By the time the pots had been hauled in and the Raider was filled with the catch, it looked like they would have a good return on their king crab. No amount of Alaskan gold was worth the price the sea demanded, Ross thought bitterly. They dropped their catch off at a processing plant located in St. Paul, one of the nearby Pribiloff Islands. As soon as a check was signed over to the Bering Raider, they began the return trip to Dutch Harbor.
Upon their return to port that night the crew of the Bering Raider could be found congregating around a small table in one of the many dingy bars in town. This particular bar had a rough reputation throughout the state. Seamen from other vessels had gathered at the bar and filled the small, dismal room with their raucous laughter and occasional eruptions of profanity. Some were here to celebrate a successful season, others to lose touch of the hard and callous lives they led. That was why Ross had come. Tonight he would drown out the memory of seeing Johnson get swept overboard, and yes, he intended to forget, if only for tonight. He didn’t join the rest of the crew at a table and instead sat alone in a quieter corner with his liquor and macabre musings. His mind began to systematically recall other painful memories and shove them away. The barmaid tried to flirt with him but he rudely ignored her and she soon left him alone.
Two hours and almost a fifth of whiskey later, Jared was thoroughly hammered. Captain Hanson had assigned himself as their designated driver. He had a way of watching out for his crew and maintained a respectable air. They made it back to the boat and their bunks without incidence. Of course some of the men couldn’t hold their liquor that night and in the morning all of them were hung over. The smart ones refused food, downed a cup of coffee and several tablets of aspirin.