SPRING FEVER :: Preparing for our annual migration
Lynnette Wright, Eshamy District - Prince William Sound
As we hurdle headlong into an April that won’t let go of winter, anxiety levels rise exponentially alongside the excitement and anticipation that the fishing fleet feels in spring. Around town as the snow continues to fall, the population is rapidly increasing, the streets are bustling and the harbor is beginning to refill. Nets need to be hung, boats need to be brought online and launched, groceries and gear need to be purchased, ordered and strategically packed in manageably heavy totes. Every year our operations get more streamlined, a little more organized, more concise, and yet departure always comes in a bustle of last-minute organized chaos. So much to do and so many things that cannot be done, packed, or loaded until the very last possible minute. Looming behind all the prep work is the daunting reality of transporting our entire fleet of skiffs, crew and gear 60-miles across the mostly open and unprotected waters of Prince William Sound.
As the years have gone by, the migration has gotten easier. The endless treks up and down the docks with totes in hand and toddlers strapped in packs on our backs have transitioned to fewer trips and more hands. Those toddlers have become pre-teens and teens, and as such are now our favorite, most experienced, and relied upon crewmen. Loading boats is so much more streamlined, many hands make light work as we all know. Launching the skiffs and leaving the harbor has gotten simpler. Instead of making sure our toddlers are asleep and leaving in the wee hours of night so we can somehow finagle skiffs and boats out of the harbor, our boys are cruising the skiffs out to open water and helping us tie up our tow-lines. The transition and departure has gotten much smoother, but the crossing still feels like Everest in the distance. We won’t breathe fully until we see our favorite beach clearly in our sights.
For days we will watch all possible weather sources for an agreed upon perfect window. We need calm seas for a sizable stretch of time. Enough to carry our vulnerable flotilla safely from one side of the sound to the other.
When all weather sources agree the time is right, we will scramble to get out of the harbor and underway as quickly as possible. Rounding that first corner and leaving the sight of town behind we take in a deep breath… and won’t really let it out until we safely drop anchor in our quiet cove. For the next twelve or more hours we grip the wheel, eyes peeled, constantly scanning the horizon for any possible sign of angry water. One eye devoted to the boats bobbing behind us, one to the charts, calculating the time and distance to the nearest leeward cover, a quiet cove, an island to hide behind…just in case. Reality is, we are beyond vulnerable during those hours.
Ever at the mercy of the wind and waves, far from shelter, like a hermit crab crossing a vast beach without a shell. Should a squall kick up, there is nowhere to hide. Should a line come loose, a bilge quits working in the rain or rough water, a load shifts too much, we are nearly helpless. Though now with 12 years under our belts, two tow boats, and older more capable kids, we are beginning to feel ever-so-slightly less so. Every season, more capable, less limited. Our summit less daunting as the years go by.
MEET THE AUTHOR
Lynnette Wright is a third generation commercial fisherman, aspiring writer, and full-time mom. She began commercial fishing in 2003 and became a set-gillnet permit holder in the fall of 2010. Along with her husband and growing children, (and other family/crew helpers) she and her family fish a total of three set-gillnet permits in the Eshamy district in Prince William Sound. Two of those sites have been in her family since the 1960’s and the cabin and property from which fish-camp is operated is privately owned by her maternal grandmother and her children, making it a true family heirloom.
Lynnette treasures the strong undercurrent of family that underlies her entire fishing experience. That bridge between past, present and future makes it incredibly special. In addition to that, deep family connection, the excitement of fish in the net, the peace of a quiet moment alone on the vast ocean, sunshine on the beach on a day off, and the freedom and simplicity of life at fish camp is what keeps the whole family coming back, even more than the fish themselves.