Unemployable? Recession got you down?
Here’s a list of things to keep in mind when beginning a new job on a fishing boat.
The first rule is easy: The captain’s in charge. He’s the at-sea version of God. He also is the one who hires you. The hiring takes place at the dock. Sea gulls fly overhead. A barrel of salted lobster bait reeks in the sun. Your resume is not required. Leave your cover letter and your mission statement at home with your girlfriend.
On your first trip, while the fishing boat powers past the jetty, your girlfriend standing on it, waving her scarf, tears in her eyes from the hopeless romance of it, do not tell the captain you know her.
Is the coffee made the way the captain likes it? As they say in Alcoholic Anonymous: get active. Don’t let another deckhand do what you can do. Messing up the coffee and getting yelled at is better than sitting back and not taking the risk at all.
You will never be praised for the work you do. If you think that you have done an outstanding job of standing on deck through the night, gutting and cleaning fish, while a heavy wind blows, brace yourself. You won’t get praised. It’s your job to work the deck. The captain will treat you like a dog. And we all know what happens to dogs that never get praised: they end up with a lower lip that trembles.
The captain won’t praise you so you shouldn’t praise the captain. Or if you do occasionally say, “good job, captain, way to find us some fish,” in the back of your head—the thinking part without sound—call him an asshole. This will feel good in the short term, and is one of the great deckhand truths. Learn the world of difference between thought and speech.
What normally ends up happening is you’ll become an expert at working in silence. The sea already tends to make people quiet. It must have to do with the endless horizon and the longing for home. But with the deckhand/captain relationship the silence tends to be highly loaded. It is the polar opposite of a monk’s silence.
Tip: you never want to run your nose up the crack of a captain’s ass. The trips are too long. Yet often you need key info, such as: when will we be going home; how long is this tow going to be; are we fishing through the night; how long a steam is it to the next fishing ground. All of this info is critical because it relates to all-important sleep. Fishing boats tend to work all day and all night. You sleep when you can. An hour here and there. Rarely do you sleep for more than four hours in a row; often 4 hours is all you’ll get in 24. So sleep information is vital. But if you become too much of the captain’s boy, brown-nosing your way along, the other deckhands will ride you.
A captain doesn’t give a shit about your business degree or backstory. Seasoned captains have worked with enough question marks that, where the help is concerned, it’s all business. Every fishing trip is about putting fish in the hold and going home.
Every guy on board wants to go in. As soon as a trip begins you’ll want it to end. Then you get home and get warm and get laid and get the pay check. If the check is good you’ll go back out and do it all over again; if the check is bad you’ll get back out there and do it all over again. Fishermen are paid according to what is in the fish hold. They are paid a percentage of the total catch. More fish, more money. Less fish, less money.
Don’t name-drop to try and sound more experienced than you are. The captain doesn’t give a shit about your sail to Bermuda or the time you went deep-sea fishing and didn’t get sea sick but everyone else on the boat did.
Understand how to launch the life raft and how to send out a distress signal over the radio. Understand the sense of terror a fire at sea would be: You don’t open up the front door and step out onto your lawn. If you smoke don’t smoke in your bunk.
Get ready to be called every word for pussy. If you are well under 30 then maybe you’ll be able to handle this. If you’re over 30, hopefully, you’re a good cook. Cooks on fishing boats, good ones, are loved by all aboard.
Learn all parts of the fishing gear, how to haul and set, how to mend the net. This takes years. Don’t expect to nail it in a weekend.
Learn and comprehend the basics of standing a wheel watch. If there are only a few guys on the boat or if it’s just you and the captain, then you’ll be driving the boat while everyone else is sleeping. They are counting on you not to hit the rocks or another vessel. Be diligent, use common sense. If an 800-foot tanker is about to run you down, move.
Know the different kinds of fish and the legal size limits of each one. Know loosely about quotas and allocations, intimately how to chip and shovel ice.
You’re fishing to make money not to smell the salt air. If you are smelling the salt air don’t tell anyone else on board that you are doing it—just take in a little whiff, hold it in, and let it out. Namaste.
Learn to tie certain knots in the dark while hanging upside down by a swinging rope while someone throws buckets of freezing water on your face. Half hitch, rolling hitch, bowline, fisherman’s knot, becket. Have these down. Worry about the other knots later. The above knots can save your life.
Work inside your head not the captain’s. If you don’t do this he will own your ass, and every action you do from making coffee to washing off the deck, you’ll feel like you’re walking on egg shells. Another way of seeing this: think of that little space of air around your body. Own it. If you are fixated with the air around the captain then I’d say you’re fucked. You’ll work in fear of making mistakes. Better to make bad coffee than make none at all.