Wow friends, we really can't believe it's the third week of June. We always joke that June needs to be 60 days long... 30 days to enjoy the generally calm seas, and 30 days to spend time picking berries, catching up with our fleetmates over coffee, and formulating a plan for the coming summer season.
Since we hopped on here last, we wrapped up our dinglebar (lingcod) season, and ran our boat south from Yakutat to Sitka. Our trip south was considerably slower than our trip north was - it took us 34 hours to run down from Yakutat to Sitka. That's ten hours longer than it took us to make the run up from Sitka to Yakutat! On a good day, we chug along at 7.5 knots (roughly 8.6 miles per hour), but on our run south, we cruised at only 5.5 - 6 knots (about 6.4 mph). Have we mentioned that--even on the best of days--we're not breaking any land speed records over here? Our Detroit 471 engine is pretty fuel efficient, but fast--she is not. If we really want to torcher ourselves, we'll calculate how long it would take to steam to the fishing grounds in a car rather than on the boat. In the case of Yakutat to Sitka: a theoretical vehicle on a theoretical highway that doesn't exist would've shaved off a cool 30 hours...
We had a few factors working against us on the run south: the first being the current. Generally, the current runs "up" the coast (to the north / west), so on our trip down, we were running against the flow. We also encountered a little weather. Nothing nasty, but just enough wind and swell to take our already measly pace down to an utter crawl. Since it's just the two of us, Caleb and I generally rotate four hour shifts at the wheel, with Caleb taking the most dreaded shift of all: the midnight to 4 a.m. shift. Though we're both committed coffee drinkers, coffee doesn't settle well with either of us when the weather picks up. We've found a strict diet of popcorn and bubbly water to be the most tummy taming.
Upon arrival in Sitka, we offloaded our lingcod and rockfish to be sent to the lower 48. Fish are hoisted out of the fish hold, up to the dock in a plastic tub called a 'trayco'. They're then packed into huge cardboard boxes called 'fiber totes'. Each fiber tote holds about 1,000 lbs of fish, and takes up about the footprint of a pallet. Fiber totes are loaded into freezer containers, and barged from Sitka to Bellingham. As of this morning, our fiber totes of lingcod and rockfish should be in Washington! After offloading, we swung by the fuel dock to top off the tanks before tying up back in the harbor. Up in Yakutat, #2 diesel runs about $5.25/gallon - so needless to say, we took just enough fuel in Yakutat to safely make the run down to Sitka. We still took close to 1,000 gallons of fuel in Sitka, which hurt - but it hurt much less at $2.25/gallon than it would have at $5.25!
Since arriving back in Sitka, we've spent the majority of our time turning over the boat from lingcod gear to salmon gear, tinkering with small projects, and swapping winter stories on the docks with fisherfriends - all while still being mindful of social distancing. As the rest of the country seems so be getting back to normal, COVID is still very much on the forefront of Sitkan's minds. As of this morning, we have twelve cases in town, and though we're not shut down, most stores are mask-mandatory. It doesn't sound like much, but the stakes are pretty high here. In addition to selling our bounty to you lovely folks, we also belong to a seafood buying co-op in Sitka, called Seafood Producers Cooperative. The co-op still purchases the majority of our salmon - as well as facilities all our shipments to Washington - and one outbreak would shut the whole operation down. In the event of a plant closure, hundreds of fishing families would be unable to sell their catch to the co-op they belong to, placing a huge financial burden on our costal community, which is already bleeding from the lack of tourism. We are treading lightly over here - trying to get business done, but not pretending it's business as usual.
Summer salmon opens on July first, and then it's "game on" until mid-October. We're looking forward to hitting the ocean, and settling into our summer grind of long days and plentiful salmon. Hope you all are safe and well!