Ain't Superstitious...by Captain Art

Posted by Sena Wheeler on

Captain Art halibut fishing

Captain Art is Sena's dad. Art broke into fishing on the Cape Flattery, run by his father in law, Lars Jangaard. He later fished on the Alrita for Otto Jangaard, Lars's brother. He finished his career Captain Art of the Alrita. 

 

Ain't Superstitious

When I was breaking in as a full share halibut man I learned about various superstitions. It was obvious that these were long-held beliefs that were not to be taken lightly. Some words were forbidden to be spoken out loud as they would surely conjure up some very undesirable weather. Whistling was absolutely prohibited for the same reason. I learned to never bring a suitcase aboard…bad luck…and besides where would you ever find a place to put it? And for reasons I’ve never understood, I develop some of my own strange beliefs. 
On one particular trip we were really on the fish. Our production soared, catch rates quadrupled and more. At the rate we were going we might expect to hit the near mystical total of 100,000 pounds. This would surely be the biggest trip our vessel, the Cape Flattery, had produced in over a decade and, fingers crossed, we might even bring in more than the Alrita, the much storied and seldom surpassed boat belonging to our skipper’s brother, Otto.
And so, day after day, we landed, dressed and iced approximately 10,000 pounds of fresh halibut. We were ecstatic and we were tired. Baiting, setting and hauling were much the same as we were accustomed to but the gaffing, dressing and icing of 4 to 5 times normal quantities was adding up  We were tired and what little sleep we could find time for became ultra important  Six hours of sleep was considered a luxury and that usually came fast. It took maybe five minutes to pass between putting one's head on the pillow and deep deep blessed sleep. And so what a horrible time for this to happen.  
One of the springs in my mattress had rusted through and separated from where it was supposed to be welded to the crossmember built into the mattress. This rusted mattress spring then poked up through the fabric ticking and poked through my sleeping bag into my back. The obvious solution was to merely flip the mattress over for now and replace it after the trip . The protruding mattress spring would then poke down into the plywood bunk and not up into my back. An easy solution… except for one factor. I knew, I felt, I suspected and I feared that if I were to turn my mattress over, the fishing frenzy that we were enjoying would stop.  Was it an established superstition that I had heard or had I made it up? Should I ask an old timer or would he think I was completely nuts. One thing was for sure...it was keeping me awake. Not all night but surely an hour here and an hour there.  An hour of sleep might not seem like too big of a deal but it's difficult to express to the uninitiated just how much an hour of sleep is worth to the weary fisherman. And worse, the rusty spring was starting to dig into my flesh during the night and I started to worry about an infection or tetanus or blood poisoning.  But still I refused to flip over my mattress because the big fishing just had to hold on for another four or five days and we would have our 100,000 pounds.
 
But then it happened. I suddenly realized I was becoming a superstitious, irrational scaredy-cat. For what reason did I graduate from the University of Washington? To become a cowardly, mindless, superstitious old-timer?  Had I totally lost the power of rational thought? Enough of this nonsense I declared, loud and clear, to myself. Tonight, this mattress gets tipped over, sleep will be restored and flesh will heal. 
 
Do I have to tell you what happened? Don’t you know how this turns out? Have you ever defied the will of Odin, the wrath of Neptune? 
 
The next morning, after six hours of glorious, deep, unmolested sleep I eagerly joined the crew in donning my oilskins, sharpening the dressing knives, chopping the bait and reaching out to grab our first flag and start hauling. At this point we had at least 70,000 pounds under the deck, all dressed and iced and in perfect order. Another 3 to 4 days and we’d be steaming home low in the water and our fish hold full. I caught the flag, quickly untied the bag and flag and started coiling the buoy line. Up and up it came and then WHAM! ... the 50 pound anchor was slung aboard and our fishing day began.  
For the past week the fishing had started hot and heavy. When you’re on ‘em, you’re on ‘em, and the entire operation becomes a blur of flashing knives, fish being scraped and dropped through the hatch one after the other. All day long the gear is getting hauled, coiled and baited and the crew are struggling mightily to keep up with the dressing and icing.  Got to keep up, got to keep up, never stop. Rotate into the galley, eat quickly and get back on deck so the next man can get a bite. The weather had held so the nonsensical superstition that I had suffered with was obviously crackpot.
 
Yes, the weather held…but the fishing didn’t. As the first set came up, the smiles disappeared. Where were they? Had we moved off them? Or had they swam away? We hauled all three sets and we got a few but nothing close to the 10,000 per day that we had been doing.  We moved a bit and...same story. We moved back, same again. After another week we were done. We had a great trip, close to twice our average for the past several trips. And we had, probably, beaten the mighty Alrita.
 
A few days later we were home on our lay-up, and after we had settled up I encountered Otto, skipper of Alrita.
 “I hear you fellas had a big trip“ Otto said.
“Yeah, not bad”, I understated. “How about you guys“?
“Yah, pretty good“ said Otto  “We deck-loaded and sold 110,000 pounds in Kodiak. Yah, a good trip.“
 
I didn’t tell him about my mattress.

← Older Post



Leave a comment