22 July 1997 – Part II

(Part of my Gone Fishing story)

Tuesday, 22 July 1997

Day 4 at Sea (continued)

1930 hours SAMOAN TIME (Pacific Time minus four hours)

Location: 1°48’N 173°56’W

Saw one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen, about an half and hour ago. WOW!!!! The colors were spectacular against the scattered cloud layer. WOW! Even had Jean take a picture of me- he used the flash though, so all you will probably be able to see is my white melon!

We only got 15 tons of tuna from the log this morning. Also caught all sorts of other fish. Sharks about two feet long, and yellow tail, which the cannery does not accept.

It was raining miserably, so I was just as happy to stay inside and be thankful that I am not one of the fishermen.

The weather finally cleared up around lunchtime, so up I went to wash all the soot off the helicopter that had been blown on it as we drifted last night. One of the hazards of drifting, so I found out. I will be thankful if we don’t drift much anymore. This is getting to be too much like work!

landing pad

The heli is parked right next to the smoke stacks, so when drifting soot gets everywhere

I guess I was wrong about not seeing another ship at sea. Early this afternoon, we met up with another boat from our group that was headed back to Samoa full of the good stuff. We were given five 55 gallon barrels of speedboat fuel so we now have enough gas to have some serious waterskiing sessions (I wish!).


You are not necessarily alone in the middle of the ocean

As we were meeting the other boat, the chopper was spotting a school of fish about 10 nautical miles out (11.5 miles). So off we went to do a little fishing.

The navigator wanted to show me how to keep track of the helicopter on the bird radar. Of course, the radar scope not only shows birds, big and small, but it also shows waves, clouds and anything else that would bounce back a radar signal. Basically the scope was a bunch of fuzz, with the larger grouping of fuzz being the birds above the school of tuna, and the moving fuzz being the helicopter. It actually is a pretty neat system, showing you the range to target, direction, etc.

We watched this school for about two hours, with the helicopter going up twice. Problem was is that the school was really spread out because there was no bait to bring the fish into one large group. Finally the Captain was satisfied, and we let out the net.

Unfortunately, no matter how much noise we made, the fish all escaped before we could close the net. There was a whale amongst the tuna, so most likely what happened was when the whale made his escape through the net, the tuna followed. Tuna usually aren’t smart enough to do this, so they got lucky this time.

The bad part of this (besides not catching any fish), is that not only does the crew have to bring in the net empty, dinner is on hold until they get done. So here I sit wasting away (again in Margaritaville) as the crew slaves away.

The first two days at sea were fairly uneventful, as we did not fly any fish spotting missions with the helicopter until the third day.

I spent most of the afternoon on Saturday (day 1 at sea) sleeping. I started feeling a little down, so I popped another Dramamine and took a three-hour nap. Got up, ate dinner, and then slept for another twelve hours. I believe that cured me of any notion of becoming seasick.

Trouble is, I haven’t been able to sleep well since. Jean says that maybe it is the phase of the moon, as the moon affects the tide, the habits of fish, and maybe me. He might be right, but the full moon sure looks nice from my vantage point…

When I wasn’t sleeping, I spent the first two days tending to corrosion issues with the helicopter. Removing what corrosion had accumulated on the last trip, and trying to prevent any future damage (good luck!).

I also organized my belongings and tried to get acclimated to my new life.

Sunday was another first in my life. It was the first time I flew in a helicopter off a boat out in the middle of a large pond. We had yet to do a true function check of the newly installed radio, so the captain had Jean and me go for a wee bit of a flight to try out the radio’s range. We flew about 30 nautical miles out in front of the ship- the radio did pretty well.

R22 (5)

R22 helicopter coming in for landing on the Auro’s top deck

Let me tell you though, I sure was depending on the reliability of the Robinson Helicopter to not let me down. Let me paint you a little picture- imagine if you will, a boat that has a maximum speed of about 14 knots (21mph). Imagine Jean and I floating in the Pacific Ocean approximately 30 nautical miles (45 miles) from the boat. Stay with me now as we do the math… two plus hours, all the time being shark bait.

I suppose in an ideal situation, the helicopter would remain upright after it contacted the water, happily bobbing up and down on its floats. The first thing the Captain would see when he pulls up next to it a couple of hours later would be Jean sleeping and me kicking back eating bon-bons and sipping a frou-frou drink. You know, the kind with a little umbrella stuck in the pineapple slice. I would have just finished my third and be happily waiting for the cabana boy to deliver me another.

I DON’T THINK SO!!! You can imagine how sensitive I was to anything out of the ordinary I was during the flight, especially when we were out of the view of the ship. I just tried not to think too much while out in the middle of God only knows where…

I got bored flying above the Pacific blue. I was kind of hoping to see a mountain or a tree- anything to break up the monotonous land (or rather, water) scape.

Next Entry – 23 July 1997

Previous Entry – 22 July 1997 Part I