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Winds Calm and Variable

by Mike Florian

Sheltered in the lee of the island you steer the boat out into the westerly and look towards the horizon seeing nothing but stampeding horses within the waves, white foam and green seas. You take a chance today. You have to go out and catch the fish to make a living, to bring home the bacon, to feed the family, to buy new stuff.

You’ve been harbour-bound three days to this gale and storm, listening to the forecast calling for variable winds easing to calm waters. The wild horses on the horizon tell you differently and you point the bow out past the rock piles and into the teeth of the summer storm.

The tiny, seventy-foot boat, with all hands aboard, steams out past the sea lions basking in the sun. They raise their heads and thick necks to watch the commotion as the bow rises and dips in the tide slop. Who is it, crazy enough to go out there? they think, and nestle back into the warmth and stink of the pride.

The boat, the Rubicon, punches on. She takes on water over the anchor winch, spray coating the wheelhouse windows with a layer of salt. You make your way for a good two hours towards the grounds. The wild horses now suddenly upon you turn to green curling seas, building high above the smokestack and into the rigging. The crew hangs on to the galley table, making things orderly and right.

Your chart and sounder say you are almost there. You blow the whistle and give the boys a ten-minute warning. They step out through the galley door and onto the deck and they hang on. One hand for themselves, they know, and one hand for the boat.

The deck heaves and the green, cold seas run in and out of the scuppers. You yell into the noise with spittle running along your face. You yell to be careful and you yell to set the gear, to drop the doors and let the yards and yards of net out past the stern.

The Rubicon pulls with engines screaming and smoke billowing, the gear bumping along the bottom, destroying coral and pillars of weeds as the net scoops up cod and sole. Below is death and destruction and above is chaos and foam.

You tow for a solid hour, watching the sounder for net-tearing crags and stumps. You look skyward and watch the birds living their lives, wings barely kissing the ocean. The hooked beak liver birds fluttering about you wait for a chance to peck at the by-catch thrown over the side. You look at the wonder, all familiar and seen before, and you start hauling back, first the wire warps and next the doors.

The mouth of the sock-like net enters the stern chute. You look astern and the cod end pops up and bobs like driftwood in the following sea. The seagulls attack the end, hoping for a bite before it disappears. You open the starboard wheelhouse door and enter the storm and your breath is swept away. You try to yell but the words are thrown into the water. The boys split the net and open it with a single pull to the knot.

The load of fish spreads out on deck like an avalanche and you see dollars for you and the boys. Somewhere down below you hear the victory whoops and hollers and you manage to add your voice. “Hurry up,”,you shout, “before we’re pushed a mile to the lee.”

The Rubicon heaves and jumps in the gale, now almost at storm force. You try to set one more time before turning away and into cove, but the monster Cats in the engine room can’t turn the bow into the bigger monster of a storm. You turn and go with it, and the net comes up clean and empty, and you spool it back onto the drum.

You’ve turned away now, away from the storm, the wind. With your tail ever so slightly tucked away, you bow to the weather, thankful that you’ll be out there to fight another day.

Copyright © 2013 by Mike Florian

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