Wednesday, August 24, 2016
By John S. Mickman
At the end of Part IV, our shrimp fishing trawler, The Sogn, was dead in the water in gale force winds at the head of Deadmans Bay. We had been successful extinguishing the fire which struck the vessel that morning, but no one knew where we were and all our electronics were ‘dead’ because our battery bank was ruined.
After talking it over a little bit, Ron said that he thought all the batteries were melted and useless, but he said he would take another, very close look. I went on deck and down to the skiff to start the motor in case we needed to make a run for it. After pumping the primer bulb, I pulled the choke halfway out, adjusted the throttle to 'Start', and pulled the starter cord. On the third try, the little Johnson engine roared to life and it sounded strong and ready for action. Good deal, I thought to myself. I don't know if we should leave the Sogn, but if we need to, we can. Maybe we'll stay here until the wind lets up, then one of us could make a run to the Alitak Cannery in Kempff Bay. It's only about 30 miles south. In good weather, that would be an easy trip. With the fire out and the Sogn secured to the bottom with the net I was feeling much better about our predicament. I shut down the kicker and went back up to the wheelhouse.
Ron was back up there, and he had a pretty crusty looking 12 volt battery and a spool of electrical wire with him. "I think this battery may still be good", he said. "I hope so, because the rest of them are completely shot. This battery is our last hope for calling in a Mayday", Ron announced as he cut and spliced wire to our VHF radio. His last step was to strip two wires and secure them to each of the poles of the battery with a couple of sheet metal screws. After the wires were all properly secured, Ron told George to turn on the radio. Voila! Radio static began blaring over the loud speaker. All three of us let out our own personal version of jubilant cheers; we were saved!
After we calmed down, George made a distress call to the fleet. "Mayday, Mayday. This is the shrimp trawler, The Sogn. We're up at the head of Deadmans Bay. Does anyone pick us up?", George called out. Almost immediately, another fish boat in the shrimp fleet named the Emerald Island called back to us. "This is the Emerald Island, George. Are you guys OK?" asked Connie, the Emerald Islands skipper. "Yeah", George replied over the VHF. "We're OK, but the boat caught fire and we're dead in water just off the rocks in Deadmans Bay".
"What the hell are you doing way up in there?", Connie the skipper asked, as most of the Shrimp Fleet listened to our Mayday call and conversation. George hesitated and looked at me and Ron. We both shook our heads. He thought for a moment, then called back. "Well, it was too rough to fish today, and one of the guys wanted to do some beachcombing. We came up here where it was calmer so we could get the skiff safely back and forth to the beach", George said with a big grin on his face. 'Good one!'', I thought. None of the three of us wanted the whole fleet to discover this unbelievable, virgin shrimp fishing grounds.
"Well, we're just going past the outside of Alitak Bay. We'll run up there and pull you boys off the rocks in about 3 hours", Connie called back. We all looked at each other with great big grins. This was awesome. The Sogn was saved, no one was hurt and we even had about 30,000 pounds of shrimp on ice in the hold. Way Cool!
While we waited, Ron went back into the engine room with a flashlight to see if he could figure out what started the fire. The galley stove still worked as the diesel fuel was gravity fed from the hollow mast, so I made some coffee and sandwiches as The Sogn rocked to and fro. The waves were continuing to build in the wind and spray washed over the stern rail onto the afterdeck of The Sogn.
About the time the coffee was ready, a soot-covered Ron came into the galley holding a 3" diameter hydraulic pressure gauge. "This is the culprit", he announced. "The hydraulic pressure from trying to lift the net was too much for the threads of this gauge. Look how all the threads are stripped. It blew off the hydraulic line and smashed into the electric panel. An electrical fire must have started, igniting the rest of the engine room." George and I each looked at the gauge with the glass face smashed and the striped threads that had secured it to the galvanized hydraulic line in the engine room. Mystery solved.
When Connie and the Emerald Island arrived, George explained how we used our shrimp net as an anchor. "We'll have to be careful when you tow us off Connie", George said over the radio. As they carefully sidled up to the Sogn, we threw over a hawser, a large towing line. One of their crewmen caught the line and ran it back to the stern of the Emerald Island, making it off on a big cleat.
"OK Connie", George instructed over the VHF. "We need to spool off all the cable from our cable reels before we can get underway. Start pulling slowly; I'll tell my crew to begin spooling the cable off". He then yelled down to Ron and me on the deck to take off the brakes and let go the cables. We each released our brake handles allowing the cable to pay out, slowly at first, then faster and faster as the Emerald Island spun our bow around and pulled the Sogn to safety.
Finally, all our cable was paid out and the cable ends were pulled free from the reel and then through the blocks on the stanchions before sinking to the bottom of the bay. $20,000 dollars worth of cable, doors and net with over 30,000 pounds of shrimp were laid to rest for evermore at the bottom of Deadmans Bay.
They are still there.
* * * * *
While the Emerald Island towed us to the cozy little Kempff Bay Cannery near the outlet of Alitak Bay, Ron got a big pry-bar and we were able to get the dog off of the anchor wench in case we needed to drop anchor. When we arrived at the Cannery, the crews of both boats lashed The Sogn and The Emerald Island together and Connie laid us right up to the cannery dock before continuing on his way to try and find some shrimp to catch. Out of Alitak Bay toward the waters of the North Pacific. We were all glad to see him turn to Starboard instead of to Port - which would have led him back into Deadmans Bay. None of the shrimp fleet discovered our 'hot spot' for two more years...
Later that night, a tugboat arrived and towed us back to our home port of Kodiak. When we arrived early the next morning, Frank met us and helped us tie up at the dock of the cannery; the shrimp unloading crew was ready to go. With moist eyes, old Frank gave us all a hug and a hearty handshake; we had saved his boat and none of the three of us were harmed in any way. But we did have a good story and he wanted all the details.
Soon, Jacob and Mary came down to the boat with my girlfriend Su. It was a happy reunion. Jacob was working on a boat called The Robbie, which was a smaller sister ship of The Sogn. The Robbie was a good boat and they were doing well.
Later on that day, a reported showed up from the Kodiak Mirror newspaper to interview all of us for the story he was going to write and publish. But first, he lined the three of us crewmen of The Sogn up along the dock, in the misty, grey morning, in front of the rigging of our boat which was tied up to the cannery dock at low tide, and took our picture. Pretty cool.
His story began, "'Quick thinking and action on the part of the crew is the only thing that saved the boat', said Frank Tennyson, owner of the Sogn of the fire which struck the vessel..."
That was the truth.
Posted by Mickman Brothers Inc. at 10:24 AM