Sunday, July 13, 2008

Fish Counting

It's three thirty in the morning and I'm running up on a fisherman's
gear. He's set it at the eastern edge to Georges Bank, a gradient that
in a few miles slopes down from a relatively shallow 60 meters to over a
thousand. His pots are about a mile apart but by the dozens they look
much closer on the radar screen. It's pitch black out; the growing moon
having set by now, and there isn't a single strobe on any of the high
flyers. I had been printing out all the T&P notices for our charts in
the back of the bridge and hadn't noticed the gear's appearance on the
radar until right before we were on them. The lookout obviously hadn't
seen them either in the darkness and hadn't been checking the radar,
something I encourage, especially if I'm immersed in paperwork as too
often is the case in open ocean.

I don't like to run over fishing gear, especially when it's set offshore
and on our side of the pond. If it's been strung across a traffic
scheme, or in the entrance to a channel or breakwater it's another
matter. But if I can I'll take whatever precautions to avoid stringing
hundreds of dollars worth of line, pots, radar reflectors, and strobes
across the bulbous if I can help it. Fortunately I have the advantage of
a xenon spot light the former owners had nicknamed the "Icebreaker".
After switching this on it became eerily apparent that we were about to
bear down on a buoy so I quickly switched to hand steering and with the
rudder lever under one hand and the toggle for the light in the other I
wiggled through the mine field for the next half mile and passed clear
of the gear.

The fisherman, whom I thought was conked out, saw the searchlight and
inquired if I was a research vessel or someone else with a tow behind
me. He was glad to hear I wasn't and I was glad to learn he was bottom
fishing. It's nice when the fishermen actually call you, and even nicer
when they speak English. It's almost impossible to raise a fisherman in
France or Japan or Korea on the VHF.

Shortly after we had sounded Georges Bank did the sun start to rise. The
water was glassy calm, the wind still, and the sky mostly clear. It was
another great sunrise at sea and soon the light was hitting the water
and making apparent how shallow the depth was. With the first fishing
boats we began to see more birds and then the Dolphins. As if they were
just starting their daily commute they swarmed towards our bow, one
school after another, getting a push from the bow wake.

I was quite excited by all the dolphin because for the first time I
actually had a field guide on the bridge from which I could pick these
guys out from their 25 species of cousin. It's hard to get a good look
at them from 80 feet above the water as they leap out in pairs and trios
but I could tell that they were beaked which narrowed down the choices.
I also could see they weren't spotted or yellow so I got it down to two
of the most common cetaceans, the stripped or the bottlenose. One good
glimpse through the binoculars and I could see the stripe running from
eye to tail and had it pinned.

Next came a whale off in the distance which was only about thirty feet
in length which I decided was a Minke whale. The third mate later said
he had seen a few the night before sticking their heads out of the water
or siphoning. A little later I spotted a long finned pilot whale getting
his breakfast along with the dolphins. Thinking I had just about had my
fill of whale watching for the trip I was pleased when along came a very
large, probably a meter in diameter, sea turtle who seem somewhat
distressed. His head was extended a little ways out of his shell and
angled down while one flipper was paddling him around in circles. When I
went over to the bridge wing to watch him pass down the side I saw what
was causing his discontentment. A dark, finned and lengthy fish was
circling just beneath him which could only have been a solitary shark
looking for his breakfast too. I wonder how their encounter ended. It
was apparent the turtle had had a long life to grow that big so it
probably wasn't the first shark she had contended with.

We are now approaching Cape Cod. The captain has decided to change our
voyage plan having me put in a few extra waypoints to take us ten miles
off Martha's Vineyard this evening so the crew can get cell phone and so
that our T.V. receiver will have better reception. Crew welfare is
always a priority, if you have the time to kill that is and we've had
plenty to kill this trip. Our service speed outpaces the rest of the
fleet with an amply powered B&W down below, so we've been running at a
reduced RPM for most of the crossing. This will become standard now as
our fuel consumption is cut sharply by slowing just a few knots. We are
also going to be taking the C&D canal from now on, the cost of pilots
being cheaper than the extra miles going around Cape Henry to get to
Baltimore. This is better for the bottom line, good for the environment,
and great for the pilots but shitty for the old man's beauty rest.
That's the job though so we won't complain too much about it.

We should be taking our pilot at Ambrose at 0500 tomorrow morning and
begin the discharge by 0800 starting another onslaught of a coast. I'm
all fired up for it. Well that and trying to get my hands on an iPhone.

1 comment:

  1. My how the fish counter emerges in all of us! Glad to hear you are back on our coast. Very much enjoying your posts - have been reading every one. Keep up the good work.