Moggy’s Tunaboat Helicopter Manual Ch. 3-F “Herding (2) “
Posted on September 18, 2009
One ace deck helper
PART 3 “Moggy’s Tuna Manual ” “Handling your helicopter “
Chapter 3-F HERDING (2)
When I started herding, I was on my own in a Bell 47, with not much of the faintest clue as to what was going on. Rather unexpectedly I noticed a Hughes 500 twenty yards away, hovering, looking over at me! That surprised me so much that I never saw the skiff boat coming off our ship. That in turn meant I didn’t position myself properly in relation to the fish and the set, and the next thing I was hovering at three feet smack bang above the foamer. Exactly in the middle of the set. I unintentionally and very efficiently drove all the fish down and out of the set, and the Hughes 500 (who was a friend of the captain, and had dropped down to help) gave up and flew off in utter disgust, probably shaking his head and muttering words to the effect of:
“Stupid! Damn those first trippers! ”
After I landed I got yelled at. I took it personal, and I got upset.
Having now done plenty of herding, with different captains, different styles, and two different models of helicopter…
I have long since given up taking it personal.
To maybe give you an idea… Imagine a guy is holding a cigarette between his lips. He wants it ‘lit’. In a hurry of course. The only ‘light’ about is a guy holding a bloody big blow torch. To further complicate things, the guy holding the blow torch is half blind, and there’s other crazy guys moving around the room, coming very close to the guy with the blow torch. One of these crazy guys, a real runner, is really moving very quickly indeed, coming close to the chappie with the blow torch. And the chappie with the blow torch is nervously trying to keep an eye on him!
Veteran Tuna Heads, with long experience herding tuna, will have no problem recognizing the characters depicted.
The guy with the cigarette between his lips, wanting it lit, carefully and delicately, is the captain. Or the ‘Fishmaster’ as the Taiwanese like to call them. Lighting a cigarette is really quite a delicate, skillful job, involving a bit of ‘finesse’.
Well, it’s the same with getting fish to move the right way without spooking them so they dive or scatter.
The dude with the blow torch…? That’s you, my friend, in your helicopter.
You’re half blind, because you’re low to the sea, four to eight feet, you just can’t see as clearly as the captain can (or thinks he can). You’re trying to hover the damn helicopter and not earn your ‘Submarine Tuna Head’ certificate, and, hell, you can’t read the captain’s mind! The guys moving around distracting you are the net boats, churning up the sea in the hope of scaring the fish away from the ‘towline’, and the ‘runner’ who is really bugging you is the lunatic in the speedboat! They are always certifiable maniacs, who don’t realize the danger to themselves (those speedboats can flip over, and have frequently killed the drivers), they nip behind the helicopter, past your tail rotor, with utter disregard, and they’ll bounce six and eight feet out of the water just for the hell of it.
Now, buster, go light that cigarette!
(sigh) It’s a tough one!
No place for the faint of heart…
Either way, at the end of the day, you might find the honorable Fishmaster puffing away contentedly on a cigarette, beaming at you for a job well done. Alternatively, you will find him red faced, mad as hell, blaming you for everything.
Now: if the guy with the cigarette will talk to you, ( “left a bit, stop!… right a bit… “) you can at least try and hold the blow torch so you don’t burn his whiskers off. Not to mention incinerating the cigarette. If he won’t even talk to you, or just mouths unhelpful abuse…
I got really fed up after my first few weeks. I have a chapter later about ‘defusing situations’, and a certain amount of dry humor is a good ingredient. The captain fell into this habit of yelling at me:
“Your head STUPID! “
“Your eyes NO GOOD! “
It was all my fault, and, heck!, I was trying so damn hard. It starts to get wearing after a while.
One day we were standing on the bridge, after another herding rodeo experiment-disaster.
He asked me crossly: “You know your problem? ”
There developed the following exchange.
Me; “Yes! “
Him: “What your problem then? “
Me: “I have THREE problems. My head STUPID. My eyes NO GOOD! “
Him: “What your number three problem? “
Me: “My face! “
Him: “What wrong with your face? “
Me: “My face UGLY! “
And with that I stomped off. He kind of knew I was pulling his string, but he wasn’t quite sure what was going on….
But he never said anything again about my ‘stupid head’ and my ‘no good eyes’!
Well, when men are at loggerheads, they should either walk or talk. I chose to talk. I collected all the information I could, and sat down with him. He sensed my determination, and he responded. Soon we mutually agreed on a whole system of ‘standardized’ verbal commands he would use, and I would know exactly what he wanted. His English at the start was poor, but it improved rapidly. I was learning Chinese, and having lots of fun. I was eventually to collect some 500 words of Chinese in a note book. We both learned, with lots of drawings, lots of sound effects, a pocket computer dictionary (brilliant device for Tuna Heads)… we really started to work out a system. And it worked. What really impressed me about that captain was his memory. He would learn a new English word once, never write anything down, and just remember it! And use it casually and correctly. I tried to follow suit with Chinese… I couldn’t. I had to write things down. The Taiwanese word for “good ” is “How “. Like you would expect a red Indian to say it. “No good ” is “pooh how “, and the ‘pooh’ is what a puppy does in the wrong places. My notes therefore would look something like this:
good = how (red Indian)
bad = pooh how (puppy shit)
bad = saitee (as in ‘play’)
dangerous = waychen (way as in road, chen as in sjen)
strong wind = fong tai-tah (as in ‘ping-pong’)
a lot of birds = ento niaiow
a lot of fish = ento yuu
no fish = meo yuu
some fish = yuu den den
psychopath = sentinpjin
food’s up = tsuh-wann
stupid = pun-tann
enjoy your meal = how-tsuh
(monkey = HAW-tsuh) (be careful….!)
In this manner, it is possible to learn quickly. It kind of quickly became hilarious. We might be having some dry, semi sarcastic exchange and he would say “Stupid Paddy! ” with a straight face. I learned the word for ‘psychopath’ (sentinpjin) and found the perfect opportunity to use it for the first time. Of that, later…
Later in this chapter I go into details, but suffice it for now to say he could direct the helicopter forwards (so many meters), left, right, backwards, up, down… the helicopter response was instantaneous, we used standard phrases, and…. it had some good results! Occasionally… spectacular. Mostly… indifferent. But it worked, tolerably well. Most of all, he was pleased.
When the customer is happy, the probability of a long lasting pay check is high…
net boats at work
It all had its funny moments of course. There was the day we had a long tow line, in other words, a large (as yet) open area, for the fish to escape through. But we had a hundred ton inside the set. I was real busy trying to keep them in. Next thing:
“Moggy! Landing! “
I was amazed. I had grown in confidence and skill to where I unhesitatingly queried the order.
“Oi! Fish inside! Why landing??! ”
Back came an angry reply:
So I said to myself: “Well… sod. ” And landed.
The reason soon became apparent. There was no point in my flying any longer, because the set was not going to be closed for a long time. The fish were going to be twenty miles away and still laughing!
What had happened was that in his concentration on controlling the helicopter, he had neglected his primary duty: to control the blessed boat. (We pilots commit a similar faux pas from time to time)
From his position behind the helm, microphone in hand, he had been hanging out the window looking at me, and overshot the skiff boat!
That meeting between ship (after she has steamed around 360 degrees) and the skiff boat (the initial anchor point for one end of the net) is the critical point at which the circle is closed (apart from the tow line). It is here that cables are transferred, and the long process of winching begins. When the captain screws that up, everybody can see it. Including any boats in the area. Big loss of face! In sheer temper, he had slammed the engines into reverse, a risky move, and, you guessed it…
TCHOMP, TCHOMP, TCHOMP…..
…neatly chewed up the chains with the screws! Ouch! Ships have accidentally rammed their own skiff boats doing the same sort of thing. I witnessed one such accidental ramming occur nearby our position. They lost a sailor out of the skiff boat. I was sent over to look for him, but,sadly, we never saw him again. He never surfaced.
Yes, Life and Death on the open Ocean. If you stay long enough, you will witness it all. Including the loaded body bags, stored, (where else?), in the temperature controlled fish holds. Where sailors toil, still, with the body of their dead comrade a few yards away. When you are on a foreign tuna boat, be it Taiwanese, Korean, Mexican or South American, it is important to remember that different cultural values reign.
Death is no stranger in the tuna fields. Believe me. Life goes on. Fishing goes on.
Death in the Tuna Fields
We used to joke at what the fax message to our companies would probably say if one of us pilots got killed.
“Please send new pilot! This one no good. He is dead. Thank you.
Once you’ve seen loaded body bags, it’s hard not to gaze into the fish holds on your own ship, shudder, and wonder if you’ll ever be lying there, dead as a door nail, neatly zipped up, covered in salt and frozen into the bargain.
I’m afraid quite a few tuna pilots, and their observers, have met that fate.
Dozens and dozens, over the years.
Including some of my friends. One of whom, I personally introduced to tuna fishing, my boss, and his first tuna job.
A great guy, everybody liked him. With his signature sandals and his long white socks, there was something of the school boy about him. He sent this fax message, about three months into his first fishing trip.
This is a great job, the best paid I’ve ever had, and ironically, after twenty years of flying, I must say this is also the easiest helicopter job I’ve ever had….
I remember passing it to my boss, and grimacing. I had a bad feeling about it. That night, I mentioned it to my girl friend.
It stuck in my mind. I wasn’t comfortable with it.
A few weeks later, he was dead. And his observer. Killed instantly. His helicopter was an unrecognizable wreck.
It made me sick at heart.
I didn’t have the heart to even take photos of it.
When I think of the guys that didn’t make it back, my determination to finish this manual is refreshed.
Still, despite the occasional f….up, and the occasional chain-wrapped-around-the prop fiasco, this was a brilliant captain. He caught a lot of fish. The two previous pilots had lasted only one trip each, and hated the guy, but I kind of really ended up positively liking him – after a while! He was a hard taskmaster, but very smart, very open to new ideas, mad keen to catch fish, and mad keen to fully exploit the potential of the helicopter. A good customer! He could talk, and he could listen. You could ask him questions, and argue with him. There was no ‘this is the way, and that’s final’ attitude. There were times I could have cheerfully throttled him. But when he retired, I was sorry!
I flew with another captain who had a very similar style. Iron control of the helicopter. Position controlled down to the meter.
“Moggy! OUTSIDE 10 meter! “
Again, a good catcher, great to work with, demanding, but a great customer for my employer.
He loved his helicopter, and always flew himself if we went searching.
If you contrast this with working by yourself, with zero help or guidance… Some guys love it, and wouldn’t have it any other way.
They will say that if you can’t do a good herding job by yourself, that you are simply not a good tuna pilot.
I’m skeptical. I’m not proud, and I’ll take all the help I can get; plus if the captain feels he has ‘control’ over the helicopter, and it increases his satisfaction with the job being done, then you are pleasing the customer. In the final analysis, that is the determining factor.
Don’t be surprised if sometimes you get sent over to another ship to herd. It will usually be a buddy of the captain’s. Chances are you will receive no voice commands. You’ll be on your own. It’s a chance for you to shine, and a chance for your captain to show off his helicopter. Afterward you will however rarely hear much feedback. Unless it went badly. I wonder sometimes how this often happens: if they catch a hundred ton, then the other captain takes the glory. If they ‘skunk’ and catch nothing, you may brace yourself for getting the blame!
Sometimes their expectations of the helicopter are unreasonably high. They expect the pilot to perform miracles on his own. That’s a good recipe for incinerating that cigarette!
Below I set out some of the specific (basic) commands I have worked with, and some of the experiences.
“Port side ” (move to your left)
“Port side five meter! “
“Starboard side ten meter! “
“Inside! ” (move closer in towards the set)
“Inside ten meter! “
“Outside! ” (back off!)
“Outside twenty meter! “
“Go towline! ” (go to the tow line, guard the tow line)
“Skiff boat! ” (go to the skiff boat)
“Number one buouy! ” (no 2, no 3) (they will explain to you where they are) (The larger ‘marker’ floating balls equidistant anti-clockwise around the circle of the net)
“Go up! ” (to 500 feet, circle the set, and look where the fish are) (and report to him)
“Hovering! ” (come down from 500 feet, and hover)
“Hovering skiff boat! “
“Starboard side ship! ” (go to the starboard side of the ship and hover)
It worked okay after a while, but each captain has slightly different preferences. My first captain was all happy about it, because for the first time he said he felt he could really control the helicopter.
It seems odd, but often captains will NOT make the effort to learn even these basic commands. But they are the customer, and you have to follow along. You can suggest, but that’s all. Here is another example in this manual of an area where you are cordially invited to form your own opinions. I don’t care in the least if you flat out disagree with me, as long as you understand the issues. That applies to many of my statements. I’ll make ’em, and I will not pussy foot about. Sometimes I may come across as slightly brutal. But all I want is to give you, the reader, every chance to ‘visualize’ these scenes and situations before you waltz in yourself, all wide eyed and innocent…
That is how people get killed…
When I went to another ship, again I had a captain who liked to control the helicopter. The only problem was he used HIS phrases, and we had some spectacular misunderstandings. Thus one day, I thought he said:
I backed off a bit. Away from the set. Maybe he thought I was scaring the fish, and likely to cause them to dive.
(Huh?) I backed off a bit more. Seemed to me I was too far back already. Still, if that’s what he wanted…
“Moggy!!!! OUTSIDE!! OUTSIDE!!! “
(double huh??) (I backed off some more…I’d be over the horizon soon…)
When his voice rose to hysteria, I backed even further outside! And further, until he was apoplectic!
The mystery was solved later. Over a cold beer. What he had actually said was: “AFT side! ” He had wanted me to move close to, and just behind the ship, and there I was, backing up over the horizon. Try as I might, in the coming days, to remind him that “Aft side ” and “Outside! ” sounded awfully alike, in the heat of the (fishing) moment he would forget.
That was fun…
But again, I ended up really hitting it off great with this captain. He was also a truly excellent fish catcher, one of Taiwan’s finest, and he loved his helicopter. He was under no illusions though that he was working with a blow torch. Sound travels very well under water. The sound of a turbine is high and shrill, and I think it can spook fish really quickly. More easily than a piston helicopter. Some pilots disagree!
This captain would watch the fish and me like a hawk, and at the first wrong signs from the tuna, his voice would rise up shrilly, “OUTSIDE! OUTSIDE! “, which meant “back off, you’re scaring the fish and they’re diving! “
He was also a charming man off duty. I had a great cabin, all to myself, and his chief engineer, who said my skills were good for his earnings, made sure I was well supplied with goodies. Great boat. They are not all like that!
Some captains don’t like it when the fish get too close to the net before the ‘purse’ is closed. The net is barring their escape if they don’t dive. But the bottom is still open. The captains want to keep the fish away from the ‘wall’ of nets, so they don’t take their cue from that and dive. So then I would get:
“Moggy! Number Two buouy! Outside twenty meter! “
He would want to see if I could drive the fish away from the nets without driving them nuts so they would dive deep.
Some optimist, you might think.
The tailspin is a herding manoeuvre guaranteed to raise sarcastic comments from many pilots.
And many helicopter owners! Basically, when you spin the hovering helicopter around, some captains like the extra racket the tail rotor makes. especially on a Hughes 500. My first captain loved it. I tried to make him happy, although there were times I wondered where the ‘herding’ stopped and the ‘air show’ commenced!
The shark’s mouth -Roger’s amazing art work!
In a Bell 47 or an R-22 you are so limited on power… don’t even dream of it unless you are one up and light on fuel!
The big thing then is ‘wind direction’. And ‘rogue waves’. Rogue waves have tripped up so many herding tuna boat helicopters, and have been a factor in so many crashes, that I devote a whole chapter to it. For now we will just deal mainly with ‘wind direction’, and mention ‘playing submarine’ (a whole new thrill) only in passing.
If you start whipping around doing three or four consecutive 360 degree spinning turns in the hover…. you’re asking for trouble. You are going to get dizzy. You are low. You may ‘lose the vertical’. That’s bad. That means your tail rotor at times may be whipping down to close to the waves. If that sucker even touches… there is evidence (stories by survivors) that the resultant forces tend to roll the helicopter instantly along the longitudinal axis. You won’t jusy yaw. You’ll roll as well. Nasty. Very nasty.
If you must ‘tail spin’…. and I confess I did it, but I can’t say I liked it a lot… the best way is just one rapid 360 degree turn, starting into wind and terminating into wind. The weather vane tendency will tend to stabilize you.
Stop after the one spin-turn, check all’s well, and then go again. If it pleases the customer… it may be worth it, but you need to think about the stress on the machine. In a Hughes 500 you are stressing some very expensive parts! Also, if something quits, you are poorly placed to deal with it. Reaction time (before you hit the water, from four to six feet) is measured in milliseconds, and what a mess to have to deal with. I would never offer to tailspin. And I wouldn’t mess with it for fun either, in case the captain saw it, heard it, liked it, and asked for a permanent inclusion! In my case, yes I did it, but I maintain I got stuck with it because some previous pilot had done it. That’s a poor excuse, I’ll admit, and honestly, low level tail spins have no place in the repertoire of the mature, defensive helicopter pilot.
I had a long conversation about this one night with a Bell47 Tuna Head. He spins, but is ready to pop it into the water at a moment’s notice if things go wrong! If he loses rotor rpm, he just lands. He reckons he has been in the water dozens of times, and regards it as no big deal in a Bell 47. I for my part, totally disagree. He has more experience than I have, more years in the Tuna Fields, but, that said, I have never had to drop in the water, due to mismanaged rotor rpm during herding.
I would regard it as a real failure on my part if I did! It’s a good recipe for hastening corrosion, especially on a Hughes 500, where the skids corrode really badly. You want to be in the maintenance hangar, and listening to the comments from the mechanics, as they busily scrape away and treat the corrosion blisters! Not a nice job, and a long, tedious one. And your employer isn’t stupid! If one pilot comes back after six or eight months at sea with little or no corrosion on the tubes, and YOU , young sailor, come back looking like you park your skids in a solution of concentrated salt every night… they will know! And it’s not just the skids. The salt spray will go everywhere.
There is yet another reason to be super cautious. If you spin around, faster and faster, you can get into some situations where the efficiency of the tail rotor is reduced or even lost! Think of some of the turbulence you’re generating, and some of the vortices and the odd angles of attack! Is this a smart area to start experimenting in, I ask myself? (see Note 1)
The next step up, intentional water taxying, beats them all.
The first time I saw a fellow company pilot pulling that trick, I couldn’t believe my eyes. How anybody can deliberately water taxy a helicopter around the Ocean beats me. No matter how calm the surface is, or appears to be. Remember, you can get some long swells, that only come through maybe once every thirty seconds, but they’re not small. The occasional ‘rogue wave’ will come out of seemingly nowhere, may or may not be associated with a distant micro burst, and will really get your attention when you’re in the hover, never mind actually on the surface. It’s easy to get pre-occupied with the fish and their movements, and turn your back on the incoming swells. I soon learned to pause every so often, perform a ninety degree pedal turn, look to see what was coming, and only then go back to my herding task. You kind of develop an internal timing mechanism, you know when it’s time to look, a few seconds later you lift up, over the swell, and then back down on the backside of the swell. And here is where -many- accidents happen.
People forget to look.
They become engrossed. Next thing, they bury a tail rotor in a swell…. in a fraction of a second normality turns to confusion and white bubbling terror…. and now you’ve just earned your free Submarine Tuna Head Certificate. If you do go herding, and you do learn to check behind you periodically to see what’s coming, well, sooner or later, it might take months, but sooner or later, you will see a rogue wave bearing down on you. All the other swells, say, have been a modest four to five feet. All of a sudden, this ten to twelve foot plus grizzly is waiting to snag your tail rotor. And that is when you’ll quickly lift up higher, in some surprise, and probably think:
“Oh! So THAT was what Moggy was talking about… ”
The late Steve Hoffman, owner of the now defunct Hoffman Helicopters, once showed me a furious fax from a pilot, who was absolutely livid at being ordered by his company to ‘cease and desist’ from his habit of water taxying. He had a fine turn of phrase, and the paper positively had scorch marks. I wish I’d kept a copy of it. He listed his -impressive- qualifications, and he had a lot of helicopter time, plus a bunch of Tuna Fields time. He also reckoned he had hundreds of hours water taxying!
Well… settle down a second, is what I would have said.
What’s the object of the exercise?
To earn a good salary, and try and keep the captain (the customer) and the folks back at base (The Boss) happy. Why get so angry? Why the fury? If the company doesn’t like it… simple. You tell the captain. If he gets angry, you smile politely and suggest he contacts your company….
There’s a good old saying about the relationship between employee and employer.
“He who pays the piper calls the tune… “
For some reason, many helicopter pilots, in all fields of helicopter endeavour, have great difficulty grasping this concept.
I wouldn’t have been water taxying in the first place, but if ordered to stop, hell, no problem. That’s what bosses are for, making decisions, and that’s why they get the big bucks. (and the ulcers, high blood pressure, and -often- a strong dislike of pilots)
So why sweat it?
Before ‘experimenting’ with this, I would recommend firstly that you don’t. Secondly, if somebody tells you what a great idea that it is, then maybe you should check with your company first! You might discover that it’s a sacking offense! In my company it was. And, frankly, for good reasons. But again, note that there are helicopter pilots who would vehemently disagree with me. Absolutely, categorically. “Moggy doesn’t know what he’s talking about! ” That’s fine. This manual only tries to offer you the different view points.
Three final comments:
1) I got my A+P license before I ever went tuna fishing. I went to Cheyenne Aero Tech for 13 months. I’m very glad I did.
As a pilot-mechanic, I was firstly making $7,000 a month (in the 1990’s), but I also had much greater insight as to what was going on with my machine. I wasn’t a helpless pilot relying blindly on somebody else to keep me alive.
One of my experiences was in the hangar in Guam. After one return (one year at sea) I was told to remove my compressor, and disassemble it for inspection. I did so, and the internals were pristine. The frequent compressor water rinses I had done (as per orders) had done the trick. The Boss came along, had a good inspection, and gave me an attaboy!
A few days later they were doing the same thing on another machine.
The story came out different. The internal corrosion was really highly alarming to see. Way beyond limits. The contrast was startling. That machine had only been out six months or so. It required an expensive, unscheduled compressor overhaul. The mechanic got fired! The poor pilot of that bird had no idea about the terrifying, corroded scrap whirling about in his engine, waiting for the appropriate moment in space and time to let go in spectacular fashion…
2) After herding, I always performed this routine:
* the helper put the belly cable on, and secured the four tie down straps.
* once that was done, I locked down the controls, and got out.
* with everything still turning and burning, I got the fresh water hose. (You MUST have fresh water on the helideck!)
(believe it or not, some morons were ‘washing’ their helicopters with SEA water)
* then I sprayed water all over the aircraft, rinsing away salt spray
* I would waft a fine spray of fresh water (not a steady concentrated stream!) repeatedly into the inlet
* I would also liberally spray fresh water all over the turning tail rotor, and the main rotor blades.
* I used a lot of wax. And WD-40. And Triflow. And elbow grease. I like to think it shows in the photos…
3) Here in the Gulf of Mexico, as part of training, I’ve had the sheer pleasure several times of auto rotating a Bell 206 down to the water, landing, and doing a bit of water taxying around the place. Great fun.
You feel just like a schoolboy raiding the Fat Lady’s orchard.
And they actually pay you for it!
However, this was, firstly, onto fresh water. And secondly, a protected, non tidal, seaplane landing area on an airport.
It worked great, it was a terrific confidence builder, and, yes, it’s fun-fun-fun.
But… I firmly maintain you do not want to be doing that stuff out on the open Ocean.
Intentional water taxying… is for the birds.
Note 1: I refer you to the excellent “Helicopter Aerodynamics ” by R.W.Prouty. On page 120, he says:
“The problems of operation in the vortex-ring state were first discovered on main rotors, but tail rotors may get their share in conditions such as right hover turns and left sideward flight (for helicopters with main rotors turning counterclockwise). Not all helicopters experience these troubles, but for those that do, a common symptom is a sudden increase in the turn rate, referred to by some pilots as “falling into a hole “.
He continues the discussion on page 152, of which I will quote this phrase, that maybe points to the salient point:
“Maintaining a right hover turn is one thing, but stopping it is quite another… “
“If a helicopter makes a right turn fast enough so that the tail rotor operates beyond its vortex-ring condition, stopping the turn with full opposite pedal can be a traumatic experience for the tail-rotor drive system. ”
Last edited by Francis Meyrick on March 5, 2010, 5:16 pm