Damn the Rules

by Howard Faxon

Tags: Violent,

Desc: Action/Adventure Story: I'd grown up on commercial fishing boats. I'd had my leg cut off, gotten shot and damned near killed. After a turn-around that let me salvage a big factory ship things started looking up.

My left leg stank. It didn't heal after the accident and the infection spread until it finally started destroying the bone. I hobbled into the emergency room hoping they would do something for me.

The first thing the nurse asked was, "Do you have any insurance?" "Nope. American Tuna fisheries has better lawyers than me. Either help me or I'll die on your door step. Your decision."

The rot had gone too far. They cut my left leg off just below the knee. It took over a year of physical therapy to get me walking again after the surgery. They came after me for payment again. "Call American Tuna. Mention case number xx-xxxxx-xxxx. I'll let you guys deal with the run-around for a while. They already bankrupted me."

That set the wolves loose. Never piss off a hospital's accounts recievable department. They don't stop at drawing blood. They go after that pound of flesh nearest the heart too.

The fishing company's insurance company had siezed dad's fishing boat after he died. The port bow quarter was pretty well destroyed but there she was, sitting on blocks. I cried to see her sitting there, half wrapped up in dirty visqueen, helpless and defiled. She'd been sitting on blocks for almost four years since the collision. I'd spent most of my childhood on that ship helping to pull in cold water fish and shrimp. They had to 'auction' off the hulk by law. I bid ten bucks and won. I limped aboard and ran my hands over the woodwork that I'd polished for years. The yard master took pity on me and let me work in a corner of his property unmolested. I slowly, painfully, hauled all the old mattresses and upholstery out to a skip. I didn't have much income but I gradually repaired the gap in the framing members with a welder then patched the hull. I tore down the engine and rebuilt it, restoring the compression. Once I got her sealed up I did odd jobs to buy epoxy paint, flo-coat and spar varnish. I smiled when she gave me a place to sleep out of the weather.

It hurt the hell out of my stub but I worked as a line cook six days a week. It made me enough cash to replace the batteries, buy a twenty pound propane cylinder when it was needed and pay for the electric bill. I ate cheap at work and used the bathroom there to dump and shower as well. After I got off work I gradually re-packed the final drive shaft bearing where it penetrated the hull and rebuilt the rudder gearbox. I replaced the zincs as I could afford to buy them.

Once I finished with the hull I worked a shift running a harbor tug at night. I had the certs and had nothing else to do at the time. I socked away every spare penny.

I got the "Green Dolphin" refloated. It was a heady experience for me. I still lived aboard her as I had no place else to go.

The local ship captains and the harbormasters steered little delivery jobs to me. Just feeling the ship move beneath me made up for a lot. Still, she felt like a ghost ship with just me aboard.

The fuel prices were eating me alive. A seventy-seven foot fishing boat consumes an amazing amount of diesel fuel. I did the numbers on a spreadsheet. I was operating at a loss as a delivery service. I couldn't run the nets without a crew of at least three which meant a payroll and food, so add a cook. I couldn't fish commercially without a license. Even if I could find one available I didn't have the six thousand bucks available to buy in. Even then, there was no guarantee that I'd break even, much less put anything aside to maintain the ship. It was a losing proposition any way I looked at it.

All I could figure out was to sell the boat and buy a smaller one. I'd gotten her into good working order and you could damned near eat off the engine room floor. I'd taken a wire brush to any rust down to the bare metal and painted it over.

I packed up all my personal stuff, the laptop and the food in the galley then put the old girl on the market. Several other commercial fishermen in the harbor had watched me put her back into running order. It was June when a short bidding war topped out at 180,000 dollars which I snatched up. I paid a tax accountant to tell me that if I didn't reinvest that money I'd be in for a major bill come April fifteenth.

I went looking for another trawler, about half the size of the Green Dolphin. I saw a couple Bristol Bay aluminum hulled craft that caught my eye. At 44 feet LOA and with a 14 foot beam they looked pretty sturdy. The boat I admired the most had a power reel on a tower for use with a drift sock or a gill net and a small boom crane to move cargo on and off the stern deck. She guaranteed to be a cold boat with that aluminum hull. The twin Volvos looked to be in pretty fair shape and with a little work she'd make a decent live-aboard as well as a near-surface or near-shore trawler. The big hydraulic pump had a few years on it and the grain of the metal showed on her hull which gave me some bargaining power to drop the price. Once I took title to her I renamed the boat "Walking Liberty". I originally was going to make it Silver Dollar because that's what the hull looked like to me--coin silver; but the name just hung right with me. Besides that's the name of an old silver half-dollar.

Once I had her dry docked I used a MIG welder to add some thickness to her hull then ground and buffed her smooth. It was an amazingly time consuming process to follow the original hull lines. However, once I finished the surveyor came up with a hull thickness of 3/8 of an inch with 1/2 inch at the bow and stern--better than new. I got rid of the mish-mash of electronics in the wheel house and put in a Raymarine chart display integrated with the radar, GPS, digital charts and a high resolution depth finder that made for an excellent fish finder. I made sure that the navigation stack and the autopilot could keep the boat on station since I proposed to work her single handed. There was a duty bunk just aft of the pilot's chair and the stove was just aft of that.

The big hydraulic pump looked to be in pretty sad shape--oxidation had nearly eaten it away and all the pipe joints looke permanently fused with rust. I had to take the ship to a shop to have it replaced. Then I electrically tied it to the hull with a heavy braided grounding strap and attached the biggest sacrificial zinc I could find to the thing. I got that ship insured for her replacement cost and documented the hell out of her so that the insurance company couldn't screw me over. It cost quite a bit to get her surveyed after I'd made my repairs and upgrades. I had a copy notarized and filed along with the insurance policy.

I went out fishing on her a few times and came to the conclusion that she was a goddamned iceberg. I bought a foam insulation applicator. After stripping down the crew space and covering anything sensitive with visqueen & gaffer's tape all the control & power runs were covered by PVC pipe cut in half and glued down. Then everything got a conformal two inch coating of foam that stuck directly to the hull. Construction adhesive was used to secure an interior shell and I painted it. The last step was to screw handholds to the overhead. Believe me, it made a big difference. A few 12-volt fans here and there moved the air around to eliminate any residual cold spots and a little propane powered heater/fireplace made the living space positively cozy.

I figured where to mount a little bitty stacking washer and dryer pair to do my laundry so I could stop using a five gallon bucket and a clothes line. My only other big expense was a new ice maker to keep the catch alive. The holds weren't refrigerated, just foam insulated and stainless steel lined. I had to shovel ice over the fish after they were caught, sorted and dropped into the tanks.

I suppose shrimping and commercial fishing are hard lives but it was how I grew up. I'd go to sleep about one in the afternoon. About eleven or twelve at night I'd wake, have a quick breakfast and motor out to the beds. By three thirty I'd be chumming, dropping the net and bringing it in. I'd open the purse onto the deck and use a long handled gaff to discard any octopus, jellyfish or trash fish by throwing them over the stern. The rest of the catch went into the deck tanks. The stern didn't have a railing because that would damage the net so I had to wear a harness and a safety line. Hopefully by five or five thirty I'd have caught enough to make the day worthwhile and I'd head for the market dock. It took some work to transfer the catch to different sorting bins then call for a cart to take my marked bins in for the morning auction. Out of whatever didn't sell I made a stew for dinner and ground up the rest for chum. Finally, I had to bleach and wash out my sorting tubs and get them back on board. I couldn't call the day complete until I'd filled the diesel tanks, checked the engine oil and filled the fresh water tank for the icemaker.

I had to be a lot more watchful than the factory ships as I fished shallow and the fish moved around. That fish finder was a God's send.

I'd been sailing under the wire for too long and knew it. I'd lived on the water and knew about everything that could happen as well as how to fix it, but I didn't have any paper certifications for fishing to prove it. I wasn't much good with 'book' learning (that dyslexia thing) so I sweated to read those manuals. It took up every bit of my spare time until I figured that I had it down cold. Then I applied for and took the the tests for my new captain's ticket. I'd been eighteen when we'd gotten run down by the factory ship. I was twenty-three when I got my final commercial papers.

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Story tagged with:
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