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The bullride

PostPosted: Sat Feb 23, 2013 9:33 am
by yak2you2
The bite was hot, but I couldn't go. Oh, I could drive out there, but I'd never be able to fish it. East 30 was just to much for my little boat. So, I'd found a quite spot, calm and safe, but generally not very productive. It was an interesting drag usually, you could put 20 fathoms out, and almost have a pole tip over the boulder strewn beach. At the end, was a long stretch of wash rocks, set in place to guide your way, like stepping stones. I'd picked up a decent king a ways back, but nothing on this end. As I neared the mark I'd made when I'd caught the first fish , I caught another one, bigger this time. And so the day was progressing, every couple of passes I'd scratch a king out of the little town meeting I'd stumbled out to. It wasn't much, but at this steady pace, I'd make a meaningful day out of it.
I caught a big one, the spring pumping had stirred me out of a daydream. Pulse quickening, my senses acute, I was focused on the hunt now. I barely even noticed if at all, that the winds had died out to an eerie, breathless, calm. After cleaning my recent catch, I had just sat down in my chair, when the radio crackled to life. A very young newly wed fisherman, with a bride at home even younger than he was. The long hours away from each other while he fished made her lonely, the calls were frequent. I enjoyed ease dropping on boring days if you want to know the truth. Not that there was anything steamy, or pointed toward fish, it was just refreshing to listen to the way people so young talked to each other. It reminded me of how it felt so long ago. Today though, the conversation started out very differently. There was an immediate sense of urgency and deep concern in the young girl's voice. As soon as they'd switched off of hailing channel, she fairly blurted into the radio, " are you ok!!" After a long pause the young lad came back, "uh, yeah, why wouldn't I be?" With only a slightly reduced tone, the girl came back, " well, I'm looking out the window, and it sure looks scary, there's HUGE white caps in front of our house, and the trees are whipping around everywhere, are you sure your ok? When are you coming home??" The lad came back, "hey I got a fish here, I gotta let you go, I'll call you back soon."
switching off the radio, I remember being puzzled...I knew the house the young couple lived in. About 5 miles away toward the South West of where I was, it was as protected from the east as where I was. I knew the girl wouldn't know how to exaggerate the conditions she'd described, even if she'd tried, I just couldn't get my mind around how. I opened the door and walked out on deck, still dead calm, this was the first I was aware of it. I remember thinking it even, "hmmm, the winds have died out to nothing. Crazy girl, she must be describing a charter boat wake or something, but she said the trees were shaking violently??" I don't get it . And right then, almost as though I'd whistled for it, it came. The first little gust of Southwest wind hit me. It wasn't much, just enough to texture the water, and give me a little shiver. I went back inside. I was fully exposed to the Southwest where I was, but I didn't hold much concern. I also was less than 15 minutes run from safety at the 25 knots my boat could do. I remember mulling all the new information over for a few seconds, But I discarded it just about as quickly, and went back to thinking about how to conjure another big one up out my new little lucky spot. It happened that I was just coming up on it, and sure enough, the spring began to pump. I walked out on deck and began to crank for him. By now the SW wind was filling in, I had maybe 15 knots, with gusts a little higher. Not anything special, but it WAS making it more difficult keeping myself off of the nearby rocks with one side up and the other side down. I got the fish, put the wire back out, and had just turned the boat around to run with the wind back over my spot. Much calmer running with the wind, I'd stepped back into the house. The radio was abuzz with different fisherman talking to each other, most of them talking about jockeying and turning into it, it still hadn't penetrated my thickness, the trouble I was in. Then again, what happened was so unexpected, there really was no way you could have prepared for it. Nearing the end of the rocky reef, running along with the wind, I got my first real warning sign. A massive gust came rolling up the channel. I could hear it whistling through the poles and rigging, and feel it laying the boat over. Not long afterward, the chop began to build immediately. I decided then and there, that I was going to spin around and troll my way back up and in out of the exposed spot I was in. I began an orchestrated turn, which it always is on a boat as small as mine with 20 fathoms of wire trailing over either side. If you wern't careful you could easily cross the wires up making a huge mess, or worse, get one in the prop. It took me quite a while of working it just to get it spun around and facing back into the wind, and in that time, it filled in even more, and things were getting fairly ugly. By now it was probably 30 with higher gusts, water black, and white caps rolling through here and there. Time to go. These three words are what a little boat guy lives by. I got out on deck and pulled a wire into the boat, as soon as I did, it unbalanced the boat, and the wind caught me and was pushing me towards the rocks. I know perfectly well how fast the bottom comes up here, and today is not one of those days I want to be snagged on the bottom. I put the wire back out, and ran inside to correct the course. I repeated the drill a couple of minutes later, only to arrive at the same outcome. I considered trying to turn and run with it, which would have made it easier to pick the gear up, but I didn't want to go through the fairly concerning turn I just made all over again. I was alone, and I just couldn't steer and pull in the gear at the same time. I only had to make it about a mile I thought, before it should be much calmer, I can do this, I'll just troll out of it. Big mistake. less than 5 minutes later, I was genuinely scared. I have fished commercially my whole life, and I don't scare very easily. The gusts had steady built by the minute, and the odd thing was, they wern't really gusts. They'd hit like one, but they didn't subside. It was more like a steady incremental increase. I had my little kicker motor off and pulled, and was running on my big motor, this in it's self was no small feat. As I looked out on the water now, I knew, I'm in trouble here. The wind was probably steady 40, with gusts well over 50. There was no way I could pull the wires before I was pushed up on the rocky beach. I looked over at it. Less than a hundred yards away, it was now a boiling, thundering tempest of breakers crashing into boulders. I was mortified of getting a wire in my main motor prop. I'd be dead in less than a minute. I contemplated running out and cutting them off with my cutters, but things had gotten bad enough now, where I dare not take my hands off of the wheel, not even for a second. I applied power to the motor, which gratefully lifted the wires back and away from my prop, and settled in. It was time for a fisherman to experience a bullride. Every bit as rough, and no less terrifying. I looked out the window on what had been a fairly serene sight not more than 15 minutes ago, now looked like the gates of hell. The wind had increased to a steady 50, with higher gusts. There was at least a 5 to 6 foot chop, stacked right on top of it's self. The Mai Tai was holding her own, but this was every bit the max of what she could take. I kept enough power on to keep the nose up, but it was all I could do. If I gave it anymore, the pounding became so violent I was afraid of breaking something, and inevitably, it would cause the bow to dig in, and the dark green water beneath the foam would wash up around the windows. Thinking back on it, I was scared bad at this point, but I didn't realize it then. Kind of shell shocked, I was sort of operating on instinct. Waves were breaking on the bow, and over the widows hard enough that I could imagine one breaking through. Only one other time in my life had I ever felt this way in a boat with windows. For the first time in my life, I was considering putting on my survival suit. I didn't want to even consider the prospect of trying to make it through the maelstrom that the boulder beach had become, but the options simply didn't exist. No one, not the Coast Guard, not a fellow fisherman, could have saved me. If my ride sunk out from under me, I'd be on that beach, in less than 5 minutes. Thinking back on it, the padding would have been nice for tumbling through the rocks, and the floatation factor might have helped too, but this fight would be won or lost, long before hypothermia in the water was a factor. For this reason, I decided that if it came to it, I'd grab my survival suit, and try to hold on to it, so I'd have something warm to put on on the beach, if I made it out. I simply didn't have the time to fight the steering and put the suit on, but at the time, I would have given a lot better odds that the boat was going to go down, than make it. By now the scene outside was amazing. Though it was absolutely terrifying, and I hope to never relive it, it was surely one of the most amazing experiences that will ever take place in my life. The sea now looked like one endless river bar, covered with breakers as far as the eye could see. White streaks of foam ran with the wind. I've seen these foam streaks before fishing on bigger boats when I was a kid, usually it meant you were in trouble. I needed a plan, and I needed one fast. There was a little bay about a mile up from me. It wasn't much, but I could maybe tuck in there and be able to get the gear in. I don't know how long the bullride went on, seemed endless to me. Steer this way, steer that, throttle up, throttle down. Thrashing bucking, most of the time the view out the window was like being under a waterfall and looking out. My mind had long since gone numb, I was in robotic, fight for your life mode.
Eventually, I made it into the little bay, and things eased up a little. I was somewhat protected from the waves here, but not the wind. I was being driven back into the bay at an amazing clip. I decided to put her into neutral, If I was going out to haul the wires in, I didn't want to have to share myself with the duty of trying to keep the wires out of the prop too. In neutral, I was sailing along faster than the speed I normally troll at. there was no screwing around. I was cranking on the gurdies liker a madman. When I came to a spread of gear, I'd unclip it and throw it over my shoulder on the floor. Didn't care about the mess, mind still numb and in self preservation mode I'd have thrown them over the side if it would have made things any easier. Though I didn't even hardly slow the pace down at the time, it was at this point that a funny thing happened. with the boat in neutral, reefing gear like a madman, about a 15 lb. king came up on a spoon. The irony of catching a fish in all that madness was lost on me at the moment. For all the hell that my world had become, things were calm and placid in his world. I didn't even reach for a gaff. I simply hauled him up to the boat and slung him over my shoulder too, like some of the old time trollers I seen do cohos without a gaff. I unclipped him and got a glimpse of him slithering and flopping madly in now what was a complete disaster of a deck. water, empty fuel cans, tangled fishing gear, whatever was loose, was a chaotic tangled mess.
The relief of finally getting the gear aboard and at least now being able to make a fair fight out of it was amazing. I never really realized how much drag my rigging had in the air. Just the gusts of wind going by while I was at a stand still would lay the boat over enough to cause concern. By the time I was done, the backend of the little bay was looming precariously I had drifted close to a mile in almost no time at all.
Now, having the full capability of my boat back, and the relief of not having to worry about killing the motor with a tangled wire, I could focus on getting out of it somehow. I inched my way up the beach, there was a little mink trail here. In between the waves breaking over the rocks, and the tempest just off shore was a little stretch not much wider than a highway that was relatively calm. I followed this up to the point of the bay that had been my protection. Looking out into the bigger bay, was intimidating. I didn't want to cross it, but I didn't have any options. The little bay was keeping me alive, but only for now. There was no way I could get an anchor to hold in it, so then what? Drive around until I ran out of gas? I didn't know how long of a blow I was in for. I had to go back out into the maelstrom, thats all there was to it. At least by now, all I had to do was cut acrossed it sideways, and didn't have to take it full on the bow anymore. So I headed out into it. I vaguely was aware of the sounds of tubs sliding around, and my dipnet crashing down from the deck cover, but I didn't even turn around to look. Once again, I don't how long it took to get acrossed the channel to safer waters, everything was a blurr of action and reaction. All I know is, a very looong time later, I came limping into my stall and tied up. Standing there on the solid dock by my boat, the gusts still felt like they could blow you off of the finger and into the water. I climbed back aboard and began to untangle the mess. First it was my knees that began to tremble. Then, the spasms crept all over me. As the adrenaline of the moment began to fade, and the logic of what I'd just narrowly escaped began to set in, I began to shake rather violently and uncontrollably. I went in the house and had to sit down for a while. I turned the radio up, and began to listen in to the other fisherman still out fighting it, and began to worry for them. Eventually I calmed down enough to clean up, I couldn't get off of that boat, and away from the water fast enough. Mother nature had just slapped this old fisherman around good, and taught him a lesson about who is REALLY in charge,,,anytime she wants to be.
Never in my whole career as a fisherman have I seen the weather change so fast, or so violently. Odd part about it was, by the time I drove home, it was already dying out. I picked up the shovel and knocked over trash can on my deck and went into my nice, safe, little house. About an hour later I poked my head back out the door, and everything was dead calm, like all of it had been a very bad dream. I remember thinking it, I wonder if the fish are still hanging around my lucky spot? I laughed at myself, and shut the door.

Re: The bullride

PostPosted: Wed Feb 27, 2013 9:48 am
by Drew
Thanks Yak. I enjoyed that a lot.

Re: The bullride

PostPosted: Wed Feb 27, 2013 10:56 am
by SilverT
Same here. I meant to say so earlier. A similar storm took several small boats out of Port Angeles several years ago. They said it was a nice day and it came up in about 20 minutes. Glad you're still with us.


Re: The bullride

PostPosted: Wed Feb 27, 2013 11:53 am
by Abundance
I enjoyed your story too. I think we can all remember times that a good day turned to almighty scary out of nowhere. Some stay in your memory longer than others though. I recall the most vividly one particular time coming back from Affleck Canal in January after deckhanding on three week shrimp trip. We got our gear aboard by just after noon, the weather sunny and crisp. About halfway across Sumner Strait, the the wind came from the south at around fifty knots. I am sure that many of you have seen Sumner in a southerly storm, and know just how lethal that place is. The waves came up to twelve foot vertical in an instant, and built up from there as the storm intensified. A shrimper had capsized and died in lesser circumstances just a few weeks earlier. We just had a 38 foot wooden boat with 140 or so shrimp pots deckloaded on top of it. I can just remember my knees knocking as the boat would bury itself into the waves, and come out again, over and over. We lost several strings of gear, as the waves and wind pulled them right off of out deck. Then it got dark, pitch black. It is amazing how much comfort daylight brings, but when you can't see anything, but just feel the sickening rise and fall of the seas, your imagination starts to get the better of you. After a point, though, you realize that if you were going to die in this storm, you probably would have already. You just go numb, hoping that absolutely nothing gives out during the last half of the run to shelter. I think we finally got into Warren Cove a bit after midnight, but we couldn't sleep. The williwaws coming off the peaks around the cove defied our best attempts to anchor, so we had to keep the engine on and jog into the wind all the rest of the night. Dawn is a long ways away from midnight in January. It seems to take forever, and staring into the inky blackness with hundred knot gusts trying to roll the boat over and icy sleet coming at you like bullets doesn't make it any better. At the first hint of gray light in the morning, we took off and headed for Sea Otter Sound. Obviously we made it, but the massive, steep ocean swell from the storm made it questionable. I have made the Black Rock to Whale head crossing in 18 foot seas once, and 22 foot seas another time, and they weren't as scary as that. That was the last time we went shrimping in Affleck, although I have seen Cordova Bay almost as bad that time of year. It took me a full year before I could take any kind of seas without a feeling of dread coming over me. I think that we all have a few scary storm experiences. It comes with the territory, but it is where we get our best stories.

Re: The bullride

PostPosted: Wed Feb 27, 2013 10:20 pm
by Salty
Great stories you guys, thanks for sharing. Hope I never have another bad storm experience. But, you saw the picture I took of the Morgan this September. Seems like it was like that every trip.

Re: The bullride

PostPosted: Thu Feb 28, 2013 11:16 pm
by JKD
I've had my share of wild freaky rides after flat calm water and while reading Yak's description of his adventure, I was reminded of the chapter "100-Mile-An-Hour Wind in June" in Al Brookman, Sr.'s book "Sitka Man". Sometimes all Hell breaks loose with no warning and reminds you that you can have the very best of equipment and still have a "confidence-check" when flying spray and green monsters completely obscure everything around you and the roar of the wind drowns out the sound of your screaming 6-71. No thanks.

Re: The bullride

PostPosted: Fri Mar 01, 2013 1:50 pm
by Kelper
I had just gotten the Kelper, about 8 years ago; which is a 19' Pacific Skiff with a 90hp Honda. I was very green to how the weather and tides worked around Noyes Island, and boy did that get me in trouble. It was a lovely day, in late May, and I decided to go kill a few kings. I started fishing my way away from town, and the next thing I knew I was fishing out at Little Roller on the outside of Noyes Island. I had taken my black lab Dietrich with me, for good luck. Caught a few nice kings for the freezer. It was around 10am and I noticed all of the boat had left.. except for 1 Waterfall charter boat. Just as I was getting ready to leave, I noticed a breeze picking up from the south..coming over Addington. Weird, as it had been flat calm all morning. I pointed my bow towards shaft rock and started towards Cape Addington at around 22kts. A gust of wind came flying towards my boat, and slammed me hard.. I thought for a second and turned the boat around. Ain't no way I'm going around the Cape if the wind is kicking up! I knew my option was Cape Ulika. The ride in front of Roller Bay wasn't too bad, as the wind was just starting to come over Noyes Island. My heart rate was quickening, as I knew something "big" was about to happen. The Waterfall boat passed me and the Capt gave me the signal to stick close to him.. He apparantly knew something that I didn't.

I expected flat water on the other side of the Cape.. But as I turned the corner in relatively flat water at Cape Ulika, was was greated with a fiece, unrelenting wind. The gale screeched across the water, blowing the tops of the steep chop. I couldn't believe it. I looked inside the Cape to the anchorage to see if their was a place for me to put on my mustang suit, and nope.. no calm water.

I followed the white splashes in front of me, made by the Waterfall boat. Most of the time I'd just see spray, but once in awhile I could actually see the boat. I kept my hand on the wheel, and made a steady 15kts down towards Steamboat Bay. As I got in front of Steamboat, the wind really picked up. As you might know, the wind absolutely howls out Steamboat on a SE gale. I managed to get to incarnation.. I was shaken, but feeling confident that I'd make it home. The Waterfall boat decided to head up St. Nicholas Channel.. I was inclined to follow him. I was planning that if I could make it to Port Real Marina, then I'd be able to head to the beach and put on my Mustang Suit and wait out the gale.

Boy was I wrong.. Upon going through Pigeon Pass, i was greeted with one of the strongest winds I've felt in SE AK. By now I had lost the Watefall boat. I just couldn't keep up. I never imagined in my wildest dreams of how torn up Port Real was.. Water tornados ripped across the water.. If I went slower than 15kts, the boat would begin to turn.. I contemplated cutting the canvas off of my T-Top, as it was acting like a giant sail in the forceful wind.. Nope, I was going to keep going.

I found flat water on the backside of Ignace Island. I jumped up front and grabbed my mustang suit. My dog, who had been hiding under my console during the entire battle, came out and was very happy to be out of the wind. I thought about it, and decided to head back to town. I was cold, and hell, I made it this far.

I started to regret that decision at about when I passed Ignace Rock.. I can't say for sure how big the waves were off that rock.. but I've never been in bigger on the inside waters. Then I got scared. The wind and the waves were making it difficult to keep my skiff pointed towards Cape Cambon, on St Johns. I could see flat water, I just needed to get there. Finally I got my timing down on the waves.. I kept my speed constant, and rode the big waves up and down. Finally I was on the flat water on the W side of St Johns.. Still had some water to cover to make it home, but I made it back to the harbor in one piece.

When I got back to town I went down to JT Browns.. Lynn told me that the airport in Ketchikan reported winds of over a 100mph, and AK airlines couldn't fly. I didn't doubt her one bit.

Re: The bullride

PostPosted: Sat Mar 02, 2013 8:56 am
by Salty
Great story Kelper, I seined in 68 at Cape Ulitka and we unloaded over 10,000 pinks from a dry seine hold into brailer bags many nights in the Anchorage there. I have not been back since I started trolling in 74.
I hand trolled in a 19 foot Reinell for 3 years in the late 70's. I know the feeling of hanging on to the wheel with one hand, the throttle with the other, and hoping that outboard keeps purring. I remember jumping off the boat when I finally made it to a dock, tying her up, laying down and kissing the boards.
I can't believe the charter guy would leave you? I would have stuck with you the whole way, not just for your safety but mine too.