05 November 2009


while browsing wikipedia, i came across an article about the completion of a cruise ship the size of rhode island -- the MS Oasis of the Seas. calling it a small city understates the sheer mass of the thing. at 1181 feet in length, it is three times as long as the fishing ship on which i worked during the summer of 1982, off the coast of alaska. the MV All-Alaskan, aka the Blue Zoo, served as a processing and storage intermediary, taking on the fish in season (salmon, for instance) from smaller fishing boats, processing the fish in assorted ways ranging from simple gutting to full dressing out, depending on the demands of the buyer, then casing the results in hundred-lb. strapped boxes and placing the boxes in the freezer hold. later, those same cases of fish were sold to, and transferred to, korean and japanese freighters. it was a complex and dangerous operation. work shifts were twelve hours a day, seven days a week, and worker safety was not a high priority on board. worker appetite was taken seriously, however -- i ate four large meals a day, but worked it all off, speed-gaining in muscle mass in my back and shoulders and arms, losing nearly all my body fat.

in such an environment, fatigue and injuries can lead to flaring tempers, not an inviting prospect when the tools of the trade included razor-sharp filleting knives and assorted hooks and mauls. fights were officially frowned upon, and could result in summary dismissal and being put ashore for the state highway patrol to pick up. but it was a big ship, and much went on unnoticed -- arguments, sexual liaisons (it was a coed crew), the sale of marijuana and alcohol.

my time on board began at kodiak island, and ended in bristol bay near dillingham. there are too many war stories to include here. a vivid, colorful summer, the entirety of which was spent wearing long johns and seeing my breath. the tales of instant wealth turned out to be urban myths. i only cleared a few thousand $$. but the experience was worth it.

as for pleasure cruises, i think i'd prefer a windjammer barefoot cruise in the caribbean (though that particular company has gone out of business, the concept is terrific). i've always loved old sailing ships, and the chance to be both passenger and deck hand would be fantastic. sign me up !!

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