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Thursday, December 31, 1998

Working on the P/V Bountiful, winter crab season in Bering Sea

Timeline: Dec 31st 1998 to March 1999. My age: 37. Location: began voyage in Seattle, spent most of time in Bering Sea.

P/V Bountiful
On New Year's Eve 1998 I got on the P/V Bountiful while it was docked in Seattle's ship canal. The Bountiful is a rare type of boat, it catches crab and processes/packages the catch. The boat is owned by Trident Seafoods, which is majority owned by Chuck Bundrant. Chuck invented the crab catcher/processor type boat. I had already worked for Trident in Alaska since 1997 (my 1997 Akutan Alaska story here), and the Bountiful crew had a reputation as an elite tough guy club. I took a demotion from bookkeeping and quality control for the experience.

It almost killed me -working 18 hours a day from 7:00 AM till 1:00 AM, an unheated bedroom, the hardest work I've ever seen, and waves so big they didn't look real. The captain said the waves were 60 to 40 foot for most of the winter.

Everyone on the boat was tough. Except for one guy from Florida who stayed sea sick most of his time on the boat. Then he made a mistake beyond not being tough. He stole money out of his roommate's bag. The captain gathered us all in the wheelhouse, and said he wanted the guy found and he'd be fine with whatever frontier justice happened. The guy was beat up, and fired. Years later I was talking to a deckhand working the boat that received this fired worker. Our boat swung in fast, lifted the guy up with a crane and swung him onto the receiving boat almost at full speed and in rough seas. Petty theft meant this guy's life was in peril till he reached dry land.

There was a seven foot tall Bosnian Muslim, Mohammed Ali, who never complained, and showed up 15 minutes before start time. Think about that one for a moment -we worked from 7AM till 1AM, 7 days a week- and this guy would go to the crab shack at 6:45 and start rendering crab. Another interesting thing. Muhammed was a militant fighting the Croatians. He would take his savings from working in Alaska and go back to Bosnia, buy armaments, and go fight Croatians. He regularly went miles into a enemy territory. I have no reason to doubt the man, his manner of speech and demeanor on the boat was so void of any weakness, including the need to impress anyone or make friends.

Then there was my good friend Hacksaw, a big muscled up street druggie who worked alone in the freezer, no supervision, stacking 5000 boxes of crab, 45 pounds each. He did his job with perfection. I never saw him before or after that stint on the boat, but he was such a good guy I can't write about him without calling him a friend, and truly hope he is doing well.

Everybody liked me except this one deckhand from Hawaii, he was indigenous Hawaiian but not nearly as big as other indigenous Hawaiians I've seen. He pushed me once while we were in the galley for lunch. Others told me was looking for a fight, and would claim I started the fight, hoping to get me fired and lose my end-of-contract bonus. I made a plan to defeat the guy, by being crazy. On my raingear I used magic markers to draw and write little flowers that had smiley faces and swastika eyes, and lots of words about killing. Across my rubber work gloves I wrote "I hate indigenous hawaiians". The propaganda campaign worked, most of the crew laughed about it, and the Hawaiian walked a wide circle around me for the rest of my time on the boat.

In March we had a warm spike in temps, and things were easier for a few days. Then one night around 4 AM we were woke up and asked to come up to the main deck for ice chipping. The seas were rough, and a wave of cold and snow had moved in, laying ice on the boats. It was the most lethal of scenarios for the boats. The F/V Lin-J had just capsized just a few miles from us, and the crew were dead [link], and our boat was coated with ice and prone to the same fate. I got a sledgehammer and started whacking at the ice on the bow of the boat. Every body else was there chipping ice too. The seas were rough, so the boat was rocking like crazy, and there was no secure footing anywhere because of the ice, and one hand occupied with holding a sledgehammer. The experience was interesting.

In the middle of March (1999) the boat didn't need most of the crew, so a lot of us were given a completion of contract layoff. It was an amazing feeling -not working, not being on a boat being slammed around by the sea, not being in an unheated bedroom. I waited with trepidation for the plane to Dutch Harbor, fearful the plane would not get us out of there and by some new whim the captain of the Bountiful would retract our layoff and get us back on the boat for work.

The Grand Aleutian in Dutch Harbor Alaska
The plane did arrive and we got to Dutch Harbor.  The weather was too rough for the big airliners going to Anchorage, so we stayed for a few nights at the Grand Aleutian Hotel, the largest and nicest hotel in all of that vast island chain. It's my favorite hotel I've ever stayed in, and I've stayed in the Penta Hotel in Manhattan and Hotel New Otani in Tokyo, the Grand Aleutian is the one I'd most like to stay at again.

A little historical note: those days I was kept by weather in Dutch, the film crew from the very first filming of Deadliest Catch was waiting to fly out also.

I got back to Seattle, moved into an apartment on 50th Street in the University District, and bought a new Ampeg all-tube bass amp and a small all-tube guitar amp, and began playing my Chapman stick at open mics and improv jams in town. I also played in front of my apartment house.

After seeing thousands, maybe millions, of crab killed I became a vegetarian for the next year. My job had often been a crab leg cleaner, and I stood in front of the crab killers, each crab struggling until the guy pushed it into a rendering thing that tore its whole body away from its legs. I thought a lot about death those 18 hour days in front of the killing.

A month after being in Seattle, one day I was playing my Chapman Stick in front of my apartment, and I looked to west and saw my ex-girlfriend Joanna Miles walking down the street. She was with a guy. We had been a steady couple in Akutan Alaska, she was a biologist working for the National Marine Fisheries Service while I was bookkeeper at the Trident Plant.

We had left Akutan in May 1998. We were originally slated to leave on the same plane to Dutch Harbor, but a change my work duties kept me in Akutan another week. I got back to Seattle -then she disappeared, spending all summer working on fishing boats off the California coast with no phone contact and leaving no postal address. She had left no explanation for me, nor to her brother who I called asking about her. I was distraught, so much so I joined a Christian religion, just to make sure Joanna and I couldn't get back together. Part of our bond was in our belief in evolution, and she with her education in biology the belief in evolution was even more grounded. I was so broken up by her leaving with no words as to why, I responded pathologically.

Months later, after she had spent the summer in hiding, I'm sure reflecting on her own independence, our relationship, and life in general, she emailed me. I replied with my bomb: I was now religious, and I knew she could never live with that. Bye. Ironically, it was my experience on the F/V Bountiful that would reaffirm my atheism and belief in evolution.

Seeing her by happenstance on 50th Street tied off a loose end. We chatted amicably, she admired my new instrument and my playing, she cast a smile at me, as I did to her, and then she was gone.


The author of this blog also has two books available on Amazon. Athena Techne uses some of the autobiographical content of this blog and adds a philosophical perspective utilizing the ancient Greek god Athena.

Athena Techne :: Amazon.com Page



Autistic Crow Computer is a fiction set in Seattle, about an autistic boy and two crows. The book was written for young autistic readers, although reviews by non-autistics have been positive.

Autistic Crow Computer :: Amazon.com Page