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Miss Marine Operator

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Miss Marine Operator

Postby ericv » Sun Feb 08, 2009 10:57 pm

There was a faint glow enamating through the sight glass on the old dickinson stove, the oil burning away, heating up the galley on a friends vessel I was boat sitting on in the late 80's. A fresh cup of coffee, reading light, good book and that faint aroma known as essence-of-bilge set the scene for a relaxing winter evening. In the background was the VHF, set on Ch 16, a rare hailing call breaking the silence. One such voice was the that of the Lena Point marine operator, nearly always a womans voice calling into the night for the vessel of request. Long before satellite TV or decent radio reception, at times the marine operator channels could provide a respite to the doldrums. This particular winter found a pleasant sounding Lena Point operator calling out for a vessel of which the name caused me to inhale my coffee down the wrong pipe due to a burst of laughter. It went something like this, there was no snicker or hesitation on her part as she called out "Lena Point Marine Operator calling the Flying Sphincter, the Flying Sphincter, the Flying Sphincter, switch and answer to two five, twenty five please. And again and again, just as calm and sweet she repeated the same call to no avail. Throughout that winter Lena Point would occasionaly call out to this vessel of which rumor had was an old gillnetter out of Haines. Alway gave pause for a good chuckle.
Ratz Mountain, channel 26 was just a name, I really had no idea where it really was. All I knew was that once a month we were "allowed" to call out to that marine operator to hopefully connect to a real voice of meaning. It was a respite from the yelling of boss that had a bad case of the piles and his "wife" who screeeched at the crew much to same as fingernails raking down a chalkboard. We were working about 50 or so miles N.E. of Ketchikan in the early 80's, our only contact to the real world was what the float plane pilots would give forth as they heaved, and we caught, the freight being unloaded for our operation. The owner felt for "morale purposes" that he could squeek out a few pennies for us to make that call. "3 minutes" he'd say "or I'll cut the power". The radio, located in an old shed that leaked rain and had the accompaning roar of a hillside notch blasting water near its inner wall added to this acoustic adventure. We were nothing less than indentured servents, toiling away for $300 a month, 12 to 18 hrs per day non-stop (we were frequently reminded that room and board was provided by the owners) Finish the contract and the airfare home was covered, quit early; pay for a charter flight and everything else. So Ratz Mountain gave us 3 minutes of sanity, a mountain we all held in high regards. One particular operator I do believe was somehow aware of our situation and was always most kind and helpful in making that connection go through. The darkest month we had as a crew was when our alloted day arrived and the site was down for repairs.
"Man I just love to hear her voice" said a young buck logger working at Hanus Bay. He went into intense detail of the what I believe may have been an electronic produced voice of the Manely Marine Operator, channel 24, as the call was signed off. It was a voice that had a European sounding accent, all she (or it) said was "Manely Marine Operator clear". This voice and these four words sent this poor kid into a lather every time: "did ya hear that!! Man I'd like to meet her sometime!!" and so forth he'd go. The kid was far from home, on a barge camp that had precisely 2 women on scene to about 60 guys. One lady was the siderods wife, the other was the spouse of the bullbuck, two guys you did not want to cross in any way shape or form. I was working for the Feds and this poor kid was soon after us for maps of the area. I pulled out a USGS quad of the area and he asked, "where's the Manely Marine Operator site located on here?" Come to find out he thought on his off time on Sundays he'd pay this sweet voice on the airwaves a visit. Had to break it to him hard about relay towers and a place far away in Juneau where these operators were really stationed. Didn't seem to faze him a bit, every night he'd park an old crummy on a precise spot on a precise logging road that gave the only shot to the Manelyville tower. He'd call the marine operator to place a call to a non-existant number just to hear that ending voice of "Manely Marine Operator clear" I think the poor kid took a shot from a choker bell one too many times in the past, he was happy but certainly had a few staples in the wires as we say.
So the marine operators are gone, my 2009 tidebook is the first one I have that no longer lists their long gone VHF channels. While technology has wound its way into our lives, at times I must admit I miss those voices calling out over the airwaves. To only hear the one side of the conversation only added to the guessing game of what must have really been said. Babies born, deaths announced, marriage proposals, debt collectors, seductive codes, tirades, laughs, sobs and much more filled the airwaves. Where else could one hear a couple starting out okay, arguement ensue, divorce, silence, pleading, re-marriage and near consumation all in the span of about 5 minutes? Happened while transiting Chatham Straits during my wheel watch. Maybe someday they'll write a book about those who were the operators, the window of our world they must have seen and heard. To their credit they provided a life line to those of us on sea and land, far from home, 24/7 without prejudice or want. "This is the Lena Point Operator calling the Flying Sphincter, the Flying Sphincter, the Flying Sphincter, switch and answer to two five, twenty five.........Thanks operators, the airwaves just haven't been the same since you've gone.
Eric Van Cise, F/V New Hope, Sitka
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Re: Miss Marine Operator

Postby gumpucky » Mon Feb 09, 2009 6:28 am

Great story,
Reminds me of negotiating the sale of my sailboat through the marine operator from the house of the Ample 2nd,Dick Keitel skipper,anchored behind Troller islands.That sale set me up to buy the permit and outfit my own hand troller and get started in the buisness.Drove me nuts for the couple weeks it took to get back to Sitka to finalize the deal.Seemed a bit voyeuristic to listen in on some of those conversations.
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Re: Miss Marine Operator

Postby coastal6 » Sun Jun 14, 2009 5:34 am

We used the marine operator for many years. We were in the Chatham Strait and Frederick Sound areas year-round and it was our only link to town and beyond. I can still hear the distinctly different voices of the few individuals who worked at that very important job for many years. I can hear that Manley Marine Operator voice like it was just a few minutes ago. As much as I'd like to think it was a dedicated British Commonwealth beauty behind that voice, I have to agree that it was only electronically produced. It was exactly the same every time we heard it.
When you are secluded in a remote area your entertainment is where you find it and the marine operator calls were of the finest kind occasionally. And only being able to hear one side of the conversation made it even more interesting.

There is no question that the marine operator was absolutely vital to those of us with no other way to contact the outside world.
I remember that it got to be very expensive to use, but still, when we needed it, it was worth it.
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Re: Miss Marine Operator

Postby Salty » Sun Jun 14, 2009 8:45 am

I will always remember the day Radar Dave in Elfin Cove informed me that I needed to know that many members of the fleet could listen to both sides of the marine operator by programing their radios. I realized that the phone sex, fisheries conservation discussion with ADF&G, and my gear orders were entertaining the Cross Sound fleet. I could hardly face my peers for the rest of that fall without wondering if their always jovial smiles and greeting were in response to the sometimes graphic phone sex I thought was private.
It cleared up the mystery of why certain trollers showed up when I found some fish when the only people who knew my scores were my wife and kids. It explained why Greg Howe already had my hot hootchie when I went to visit him at the Hobbit Hole.
Then I remember the similar look when I informed a fellow troller who often fished near me and was a good producer that he needed to develop a code sheet for informing his wife of his catches because a good number of us were listening to his nightly reports. So, I have been much more careful ever since whether it be via cell phone, sideban, scrambler, 2 meter, etc.
Be advised that there is no such thing as "secure" communications. Whether it be the government or private snoopers the technology is out there to crack even the most seemingly private transmissions. If you are going to say something be sure it is something you can live with your "silent partners" hearing. Years ago in a moment of carelessness on a scrambled frequency he thought was secure one of our top producers communicated to one of his partners the VHF, sideband, and ham channels all of his partners were using. I happened to have a pencil handy. For a while it was quite entertaining and informative to tune into the
"highliners". After a while it got frustrating as I learned that I did best finding my own fish and working with my own group to produce. The information distracted rather than helped me.
Sadly, it also, disenchanted me with some of my peers. We live in a beautiful place, are privileged to pursue and harvest the most wonderful species. The attitude and language by some fellow trollers toward both our product, referring to small kings and coho as "rags" and various rockfish as "scrapfish" dismayed me. The attitude of contempt toward their peers by even some of the guys I most respected shocked me. Group after group often found something critical to say about fellow trollers.
But, listening in also informed me of who the truly wonderful guys in our fleet are. People who genuinely appreciate the place and their business. Trollers who are always communicating to each other the wonder and joy they experience pursuing salmon in SE Alaska. Trollers who are developing and communicating new techniques for both catching and handling salmon. Top producers who are truly humble about the "luck" they have in managing to stumble into the fish time after time. Groups who are collegial and collaborative in sharing information to help each other rather than compete internally.
Then there is the exposure to other cultures associated with tuning in gillnetters, charter operators, and seiners. Trollers generally are saintly in their attitudes toward the resource, avoiding conflict, and working with each other in comparison. While every fisherman and coding group is unique some patterns have emerged for me. Gillnetters are obsessed with whether they are being corked or otherwise compromised in space by their peers. Seiners, because they have to take turns, are totally focused on how much "time" everyone is taking during their turn. Charter operators, in recent years, are stressed by trying to produce within the variety of regulations.
So, I have mostly given up my voyeuristic habits of listening in on others. I leave the VHF and sideband on a couple of channels my partners are using, communicate fishing information via code or e-mail, and tune into Serius radio and KCAW. My wife is much happier and the production has not suffered. But, be advised, the technology is out there to tune into even the most seemingly secure radio communications. Whether you are the "mechanistic" freezer obsessed group, the "good old rednecks", the "drag police", or whatever, conversations across the waters, like the marine operator conversations of old, are not always "private".
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Re: Miss Marine Operator

Postby Baker » Fri Jul 01, 2011 7:25 am

Listing to the SSB so the lod man could listen to HER read the weather...

My fave is Rod on the Flora Ranting about some fishieries guy that didn't dnow sh#@ about what her was talking about to Ernie on the sword. He accidently pushed the flash to 16 button and spent ten minutes on a one way rant while the coast guard tried to shut him down. He didnt live that one down for years...
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