HANGFIRE "The Wave"
Boat’s rockin’ to refracted swells
In deep sleep this fisherman dwells
Sweet dreams and makin' a wish
I won't be cursin "Radio Fish."
Huge waves from a week full of gales
Hangfire’s anchored tight
to the Egg Island swales
Boats’re pullin’ their anchors ‘n idlin’ away
wakin’ this wore out fisherman to start a new day
Another cup of coffee is poured
then Hangfire’s anchor’s hauled aboard
“Radio fish.” The first thought out of a groggy mind. “Dumbass.” Cursing myself for listening to a report yesterday of a big hit on the “Flats.” I wake knowing I’m breaking a personal rule. I never chase “radio fish.” Those fish have been caught. They are gone. I ignored my rules and ran the eighty or so miles across Prince William Sound.
I was bored and exhausted. The district had been open seven days a week once the bulk of the sockeye were scooped up. Trapped inside the boundaries of the hatchery with marginal “chum salmon” fishing; low price, too hot, bugs, “elephant snot” (red jellyfish), and “humpies.” Humpies. I had a feeling they would be coming in huge numbers this year, I was not in a humpy mood. I only really seriously fished humpies once with a gillnet, when they went from seventy five cents a pound (an abnormally high price) to a buck. That was a one time bonanza, an anomaly. Too little reward for the work with a gillnet, but that’s just me. Humpys or “pinks,” are a seine fish, best caught “en masse.”
A majority of the boats that were here when I arrived last night have already left for the ocean and points east. I anchored a couple hours ago after taking a “shortcut.” The Hawkins Island Cutoff was chock-a-block choked with eelgrass. Hangfire spent a couple extra hours in there trying to get through the channel. The jet, regardless how slow it was running, sucked up huge quantities of the weeds. Much time was lost going through the routine of clearing the impeller.
A couple hours into the ebb tide, Hangfire’s anchor had dug in. The chore of pulling the hook against a hard running current drained more energy from an already exhausted body. The tired mind does not recognize that a pattern or series of bad decisions is progressing. It was not just a bad decision to chase radio fish initially. It was followed by a bad decision to take the “Cutoff” and now, it’s a bad decision to run out the bar in the middle of the ebb with a big swell running. That, in particular, is a very bad decision.
By the time Hangfire is idling downstream, there are only a handful of boats to be seen. Visibility is greatly diminished, the crashing ocean is creating a fog like mist. Two or three boats ahead disappear from sight as they turn east. There is just one boat still visible, blood rushes and the throttle is punched.
One lone boat left in sight
in a corner of the mind
resides a kernel of fright
Up on step Hangfire hops
crashin’ over breakin’ wave tops
“Gotta catch that boat up ahead
n’ ease this feelin’ of forebodin’ dread
“Misery loves company." Exactly the same can be said of fear. A small jolt of fear has Hangfire pushing hard to catch up with the as yet, unknown boat. When she closes within a couple waves, it is plain to see “Miss Stephanie” written in blue across her stern. “Ah! Its Gordon!” A relief to see those powerful twin jets up ahead. Even better, an experienced fisherman to run with. The mind is quickly put at ease, one gets down to the business of navigating and taking each wave, one at a time.
The Egg Island Bar is huge this morning. The tide, nearing maximum ebb is is at loggerheads with an incoming storm swell left over from the previous weeks’ weather. The breaking bar still appears negotiable, Hangfire holds her position, several waves astern of Miss Stephanie.
The two boats ease out the bar, throttled back. The current carries them at a good speed, the throttle is pumped back and forth as the breaking waves stack-up and grow in size.
Followin’ Miss Stephanie out the bar
Hangfire’s GPS says she’s goin’ too far
She’s passed the point
where Hangfire’s track turns east
an’ it looks like she’s headin'
into the jaws of a beast
On the GPS screen, the point where Hangfire would usually turn east shows hundreds of track lines. Miss Stephanie is passing by this point. Gordon is following his own track, which is not alarming, yet. He obviously has his own course charted and he’s sticking to it.
The bar is dicey, the waves continue to grow steeper, are closer together and they are not running in a uniform manner, they are running confused with many “standing waves” tossing Hangfire into awkward attitudes in which she is forced to make quick counter moves. It appears Miss Stephanie is suffering the same abuse.
Hangfire continues to hang back, giving Miss Stephanie room to maneuver, as the waves continue to grow in size. Both boats are darting, weaving and being tossed as they make their way. Hangfire’s doing well. She’s one of the early “Graylings,” thirty feet and heavily built as aluminum jet boats go. The extra weight, even though her fish hold is empty, holds her in good stead through these gnarly waters.
At Miss Stephanie’s bow a steep wave rises
she makes a new move that really surprises
A pirouette as the wave curls
On the wave’s face Miss Stephanie twirls
Not far from where Hangfire’s marks were passed, Miss Stephanie is seen on the face of a very large wave, twice the size or better than what we had been dealing with. She appears to be standing straight up as she approaches its crest, which is just forming a respectable curl.
Miss Stephanie’s bow just kisses the crest when she does an exquisite one hundred-eighty degree spin at the wave top. Hangfire dodges to starboard to avoid collision, I was not confident Gordon was in full control coming down off the wave at such an extreme angle. I had to stay clear. Miss Stephanie blasts by Hangfire, allowing a moment of relief to prepare for the identical move I had just witnessed Miss Stephanie execute.
In that brief moment, I saw the real reason Miss Stephanie was so abrupt in her escape. A very low, white cloud stretches across the entire bar. The image is not real. “That’s not a cloud! It’s a fuckin’ wave!”
Hangfire begins the ascent of the wave Miss Stephanie just flew off. The wave is steep, the crest just beginning to break. The throttle is firewalled. I crank the wheel hard to port, she slides around neatly on the wave’s face when the damn thing breaks underneath her.
Hangfire tumbles out of the turn clumsily, broadside down the wave’s backside into the trough. Instinctively the wheel is cranked back hard to starboard to keep from being rolled over outright.
Goliath stands tall in Hangfire’s path
on this tiny boat he will vent his wrath
One great wave, one small boat
and the will to stay afloat
Hangfire faces her adversary, bow on. White knuckles on both wheel and throttle, she hangs on the face of the wave. She recovered from the fall and powered up the oncoming wall of water. Half way to the crest she stalls, twenty feet or more from its top. Her jet is digging in, full power and a steady helm holds her position. She is sliding to starboard, fast. Her frames shudder at the stresses. She cannot climb the wave.
The wall she clings to is getting steeper as a heavy curl, a massive claw forms above her. Tons of water are about to topple, drive her under and roll her over. An instantaneous hard starboard turn is forced when Hangfire approaches ninety degrees. She narrowly avoids being “pitchpoled” backward into the trough.
"Buns over teakettle" she avoids being flipped
then into the wormhole Hangfire slipped
Down through the pipeline huggin’ that wall
Shootin’ down the gutter like a bowlin’ ball
Hangfire shoots into the fully formed “pipeline.” Inertia holds her tight to the near vertical wall as she begins a hair-raising ride, sheltered from the cascading water while her speed accelerates down the tube.
The helm is cranked over and held, hard to port. This keeps her tight to the inner wall of the pipeline. There is the sensation of skittering along the face of the wave as much as running along it. Hangfire combines the energy of her jet propulsion to the tremendous energy of the wave. She is a thirty-foot jetski in perfect harmony.
She races along inside the waterfall at breakneck speed, the water tumbling off the top of the wave is clear of the boat. Hangfire is marvelous in her performance.
The ride thrills. Fear is not present, it was left back there on the face of the wave where she bolted for the wormhole. Now, there is pure wonderment, riding the pipeline with confidence, like a professional surfer.
Hangfire blows through the cascading veil
freeing herself from the jaws o’ the whale
Down the face of the wave she traverses
captain’s at the helm, makin’ up verses
Hangfire explodes out of the pipeline shooting down the face of the wave, out-running the tons of water trying to bury her. She cuts a course across the wave’s face, traversing back the way she had come.
Ol’ timer’s were very kind to share a technique I should be aware “Back into a big wave
an’ your life it may save”
She descends to the bottom of the trough, her extreme speed carries her up the backside of the next wave where she goes airborne at its crest, crashing down on its face. She is still firewalled as she runs along and down the face of this wave where she meets Miss Stephanie.
Miss Stephanie’s doin’ a new dance
at Goliath she looks askance
Full reverse into the wave’s face
of Goliath the wave she’ leaves no trace
Miss Stephanie is powering in reverse, backing into “Goliath” which is breaking all around her in a foamy mass. A technique I had heard of, but until today, had never witnessed in an extreme, life threatening situation. She appears steady, as she takes the breaking sea stern-on.
Hangfire shoots past Miss Stephanie’s bow into the trough, blasting up the backside of the next wave, over the top, down its face and into protected waters, inside Egg Island.
Miss Stephanie blows by Hangfire, having bolted away from Goliath as it played out. Undeterred, she searches for an alternate route out the bar. Not surprisingly, she finds my tried and true track and disappears into the mist. Hangfire sticks to her trail and finds easy going through small breaks to deep water. She cruises into a sunny blue ocean with a heavy, rolling swell and no fish. Hangfire didn’t catch squat for her trouble. “Radio Fish.”
A lesson’s pounded home this mornin’
an’ best be heedin’ it’s warnin’
When the mind’s tired ‘n needin’ a rest
time for makin’ decisions it’s not the best
An’ by the way
If ya leave those “Radio Fish” alone
‘ ya won’t be cursin’ yerself
all the way home!