28 Days of Hell or "the Best Weight Loss and Wallet Stuffing Diet story"

Copyright Alan R. Henderson April 20, 2013

It was September 29, 1981. I hadn't had a job in over a month. In Alaska you have to pay rent and utilities in advance and I had paid October's bills, but was down to my last $50. It was Tuesday night and I decided I could afford to have a only couple drinks at the bar, then I was going to have to eat rice and drink water until I could find a job. I arrived at the bar and started nursing my first beer. After a short time a young man came in with a new cast on his broken arm. He was mad as hell and cussing up a storm. He told me he was supposed to go fishing the next day, but would have to sit out the season. He was fuming. I decided my life wasn't nearly as bad, so I bought 2 shots of Jack Daniels and proceeded to try to cheer him up. After about $25 in drinks an older man came into the bar a really gave the young man hell, because he was screwing up the fishing trip. This was the captain of the boat that was going out the next morning. The captain asked "where am I going to find someone this late?". The young man looked at the captain and said "Alan here is out of a job, is a big guy and probably wants a job". The captain looked at me and asked "are you ready to work your ass off?". I told him "I need a job and I will work as hard as you like". The captain said "Probably not hard enough, since you're a greenhorn, but what can I do?". He gave me no idea exactly what I'd be doing, but I didn't care. Anything to make some money.

The next morning, we flew to Dutch Harbor and boarded the "Coastal Glacier". Note - I am not exactly sure if this was the boat, since my memory for names is so bad. It took 24 hours to load the vessel of supplies, crab pots and bait. We had around 120 pots on the ship. We then set sail into the Bering Sea toward St. George Island. It was a nice eleven hours sailing under beautiful blue skies with calm winds and seas! I was so excited I hardly slept.

Here starts the 28 days of hell!
My job was to do whatever the other crew told me to do without complaining or backtalk. During pot placing - grind-up bait and load the bags, put bait fish on lines, crawl/reach into the pots to hang the bags and bait, help close the pot, repeat 120 times. During pot retrieval - have bait ready for the pot once it is emptied of crab, stand by the rope coiling machine to make sure it the rope was coiled properly, help sort the crab into tubs, drag tubs over to holds and dump crab in, take tubs back to sort table, repeat, bait the pot, repeat. In between strings - get cigarettes for crew, get food and drinks for crew, cook, cleanup, clean toilet, again anything and everything they ask. During icy conditions - use sledgehammer to break up ice and then shovel ice over/off the boat. This happened 2 times and was tens of thousands of pounds of ice each time.

We put down around 100 pots in several lines and then slept for 8 hours for the first and last time since leaving Dutch Harbor. I woke up to 20 mph winds and 15 foot seas. A pleasant day on the sea, according to the crew. From that point on I was sea-sick every day. We would typically work for 16-20 hours each day. Ooccasionally if the weather was really nice (40 degrees, 5 mph winds and 5 foot seas), we would work for 36 or more hours loading a fast as we could to get as many crab in the boat as possible.

Staying sick most of the trip, I ended up lossing around 30 pounds (wow...I wish I could do this today). I tried hard to work thru the seasickness, but it wasn't easy. The guys on the boat were pretty good most of the time, but hazing still happened at the least expected moments - Bait in my boots, bait in my jacket pockets, bait in my bed, bait on my head. Around the 25th day, I finally was able to start eating and my celebration dinner was.....bait.
I don't remember how much crab we hauled, but it was more than I thought possible. The last 2 days on the boat were, unloading the crab and preparing for the next trip, which they decided I wasn't needed (or wanted). Finally after 28 days of hell and with everything done, the captain handed me an envelop. He apologized for giving me such a small check, but reminded me I was just a sick-greenhorn. I didn't open the envelop until I was on the plane ride home. I was just happend to be able to pay my bills for another month. I was figuring on getting a few thousand. When I looked at the check, I couldn't believe it. It was for $1000 per day for a total of $28,000 (no taxes taken out). Even though that was a huge payday, there was no way I was ever going to do that job or any like it again!

I am however happy to have had another great Alaskan Experiences.

Notes -
Text in italics is sidebar information about Alaska and Alan's adventures.