Francis Meyrick

Moggy’s Tunaboat Helicopter Manual Ch.2-D “Other duties? Humping fish? “

Posted on August 2, 2009

PART 2 “Moggy’s Tuna Manual ” “Job offers and job duties “

Taiwanese sailors at work moving fish; some of the most hard-working dudes you will ever meet

Chapter 2 -D Other duties? Humping fish? Taking the watch?
(You want me to do….WHAT?????)

So there you are, young sailor, three days at sea, on your first tuna trip. Congratulations, you made it! Welcome to the madhouse, and a whole New World. The pilot has just departed off for a flight, and you, the mechanic, are back in your cabin making a cup of coffee and wondering why the damn generator light keeps flickering.
A knock comes on the door…

A crew member tells you that you are wanted aft. Bemused, you follow, and you are thrown a working overall and some gloves. You are directed to a pile of fish. Suddenly you realize that you are expected to start humping fish for the next few hours. Oh. You didn’t know that…
Far fetched? Oh, no! It’s happened.
Either that or you get knocked up at two in the morning to take your turn on the bridge ‘on watch’. Ho-hum…

Again,it’s up to you. You may like moving fish. Or staring out over a dark and empty Ocean at three in the morning.
Or operating a winch. But consider this carefully. Of the handful of really outstandingly critical warnings I want to give you in this manual, this is one of them:

The lower working deck is a highly, highly dangerous place to be. Especially if you are a foreigner.

Basically, please believe me, there are several ways you can get killed or injured. Exaggeration? Oh, no!
A ship I was on lost two men dead from the ‘power block’ crashing down. That’s that big pulley-block-thing that weighs a ton and some, and is right up there, above you. Serious shit! That’s happened several times on different boats.

Once in a while, these power blocks come crashing down, killing sailors

I was standing on the upper deck one day, watching the catch come in, and a pulley came crashing down. It was heavy, but it was also under tremendous strain. When it let go, it didn’t just fall. It HURTLED down. It crashed into a hatch, eighteen inches behind an old, weather beaten, wrinkled Chinese sailor. He was looking over the side of the ship at the net coming up. Everybody, I mean everybody, jumped six inches in the air. I jumped six inches. The captain jumped six inches. It was a case of: “Holy Crap! ” There was a huge dent in the hatch.
Everybody jumped. Except that craggy old sailor…
I watched him in awe. With the flegmatic wisdom of five decades on fishing boats, he looked around at the hole in the hatch, looked up at where the pulley had fallen from, SHRUGGED, and went back to looking over the side!
He had seen it all before. He had seen death on fishing boats before. He knew he had narrowly escaped – this time.
He didn’t even cast a glance at anybody else! Just looked back over the side at the incoming net, and went right on fishing…
Awesome! That pulley would have passed straight through him…

The failure of any overhead pulley, cable, or other stressed component may lead to tragedy

I was walking about five yards away from one incident. The ship had just released the skiff. They were launching the speedboat and the two net boats, when a davit failed. That’s a heavy steel fitting that supports the boat. There was a loud crash, and it knocked a crew member violently overboard. I was horrified. Everybody saw it. There he was in the water, crying. Obviously alive, but also clearly in a lot of pain. It turned out he had really hurt his back. Yes, they sent a net boat for him, AFTER they had finished making the set! I was flabbergasted, standing at the rail, sort of helplessly pointing to this guy in the water, while the ship steamed right on in the usual big circle, nets playing out! More important things to do than worry about a guy who has just been violently bounced overboard!
Why do you think everybody on the working deck wears a helmet?

Listen to me,guys. Respect those hard-working fishermen. They are pros at what they do. They know what they are up against. You and I, my friend, we do not. For you to start mixing it down there, untrained, wide eyed and innocent… well, good luck.
I avoid the lower working deck (where it all happens) like the plague. You see the old “Molly’s ladle ” (my phrase) they haul the fish in with? It looks like a huge scoop. There’s a heavy steel ring that supports that ‘basket’, and that alone weights a ton.

Respect these skilled sailors; this can be very dangerous work

Try shift it even an inch while it’s lying on the deck. You won’t budge it. Now imagine this huge scoop bulging with four tons of fish. It gets hauled all over the place. In a hurry. Everybody is always in a hurry. The captain is on the public address, yelling and yelling. Watch closely when a few fish get stuck, and refuse to slide out the bottom into the chute that leads down to the storage area. The operator will then ‘jiggle’ the cables so the whole thing shakes around. All the while you’ll see brave little souls darting around. If that ring hits your skull even a glancing blow, well….

Once I was walking around the lower deck while they were transferring fish from the ‘wet cell’ (filled with sea water) to the ‘dry cell’ (once the fish are frozen solid). There was no set going on, or fish being hauled in. It was just a routine transfer. Suddenly, an excited babble of Chinese broke out. Everybody seemed to be jabbering at me at the same instant. I had time to sort of stupidly say: “Duh? “
The runaway hook on a chain that sailed eighteen inches or so past my face wouldn’t have killed me, but, boy! It sure would have spoiled my whole day.

I asked my boss about it. He phrased it rather eloquently I thought. What, he said, was the minor benefit to the ship of one extra unskilled laborer, compared with the risk of physical injury of the pilot or mechanic, and the resultant downtime of the helicopter? What indeed?
He also suggested that sometimes there can be a bit of jealousy at work here. The slogan “We are all members of the ship’s crew ” sounds fine, and it gets to be used to justify putting the pilot and the mechanic to menial work. But does it really maybe also mean: “We’re going to bring the helicopter crew down a few pegs? “

Most helo crew will never be asked to perform additional duties. However, it does happen,especially, it seems on American ships. I was forever arriving in some port, looking forward to the usual meet up of all the crews in the various bars, and there were the boys on some American ships…. hauling fish. Rough….

Maybe those two words again, eh? Ask beforehand!

Francis Meyrick

Note 1: 4/18/2012

Times change in the Tuna Fields, and maybe sometimes for the better. Here follows an interesting exchange on Facebook. The group is called “Tuna Pilots ” and along with the other group “Tuna Spotter Pilots ” is an excellent place to pick up tips and insights from the old pros.

On April 14, 2012, Tuna Head Brian Grant took me up on the current accuracy of this chapter, as follows:

Brian Grant: Hey Moggy you might want to change the bit in your story about Pilots having to unload fish from American boats. None of the American boats I have worked on have required this – quite the contrary in fact. As one American captain told me when I went to help a guy out one day “don’t help him, if you get hurt none of those idiots know how to fly the helicopter “.

Me: Now that’s interesting. Things may have changed then, for the better. I know my buddies on the JM Martinac did it all the time.

Brian Grant: I got off the Cape May about 10 days ago in Pago, and don’t know of any pilots or mechanics on any boats (certainly none of the Taiwanese, Korean or American boats I have worked on) who unload fish. Typically locals are employed to assist in unloading the boats.

Me: good. Much better. I will add a note/comment to update that chapter in the Tuna Manual. Times change.


Last edited by Francis Meyrick on April 18, 2012, 8:15 am

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