I hope the year 2019 was a good one for you, and 2020 has started out on a good note for you.
For our fishing community, 2020 began in a very sad way. I really didn’t want my first blog be about tragedy, but I feel compelled to write about it. For me, writing is processing and there is alway much to process when there is a sadness in my heart, and our fleet.
On December 31st, the FV Scandies Rose was lost at sea. Two crew members were found in a survival raft. Five other crew members, including the Captain and his son, were lost at sea. The Coast Guard suspended their search and rescue last Wednesday for the five missing men.
For me, the loss of a fishing vessel hits hard. When I woke up New Year’s Day, and started reading small blurbs on Facebook and news reports, about the boat being missing, my first visceral reaction is to throw up. Literally. My stomach drops, twists, and starts churning. My second reaction is that I want to just sell everything. Boats, quota, pots, equipment, everything. I think, “why are we in this business, why do I continue to send boats out with family and friends onboard, knowing what the risks are? Why?”
As you may or may not know, we lost our first vessel, the St. George, in January of 1992. All six men were lost at sea. Six families, suddenly thrown into a chaos that no one should ever experience. We lost our boat. Pat and I were 30 and 31. The families and we were all suddenly dealing with a loss that even today, is very hard to wrap my head around.
So much comes flooding back when I hear the news of a boat going down. The reason for wanting to throw up…because I know, I know the heartache and the horribleness of the process that happens. The Scandies Rose was lost almost 28 years to the day that we lost the St. George. 28 years does not dull the memory at all. In fact the memories seem to turn into to sharp, alive, vivid emotions.
The Coast Guard searches. Family members and the owners hold out hope that all will be found safe. The Coast Guard calls off the search…As is said, “No joy is found.” The crew is declared lost at sea. The reality of the loss begins to creep in. Nightmares are frequent. The investigation begins. The memorial services begin. You attend services, all the while, still not believing they are actually happening. As owners, the insurance company and attorneys direct you on what you can say and can’t say and to whom. Lawsuits are filed, and in the horrible, horrible end, dollar values are assigned to lives. As owners, having to sign off on that, it’s something that still haunts me, as it did Pat. There is not enough money in a situation like this to even begin to compensate.
Hearing the news about the loss of the Scandies Rose came at the same time that Sean, Zack, and both crews for the Brenna A and the Elinore J were waiting to get on a flight to Dutch Harbor. They had been stuck in Anchorage since the 28th of December because of weather both in Dutch and Anchorage. As the day went on and more details of the Scandies were disclosed, I just felt so much sadness, so much melencholy, so much questioning going on in my head.
Later in the afternoon, I received a text from Sean saying the weather was flyable. They were getting on a plane and hoping to make it to Dutch after a fuel stop in Dillingham. He said he would text from Dillingham and let me know the status of getting into Dutch.
It took every fiber of my being not to pick up the phone and weepingly say, “just come home, just bring everyone home, I don’t want you guys to go. Just come home.”
I did the same thing when the Destination was lost. I just wanted the Brenna A to be done fishing, like right then. I wanted them to forget about the pots, turn the boat around, and just come home. Both of those times, it just feels like every cell of your body is releasing an energy that is screaming, “come home now.”
I remember the first time I flew into Dutch Harbor. It was four years ago when we first started filming for Deadliest Catch. I remember sitting in the cramped seat looking out over the small islands and all that water. It was then I made the connection, really made the connection why when a boat goes down, quickly and suddenly, it is gone. All. That. Water. The Bering Sea can be brutal, violent and a sneaky life stealer.
But I didn’t call.
I didn't call. Why? Because this is our life. It’s what we do. It’s been our family business for 34 years. Pat and I started our business, a year before we were married. It’s always been our life. It’s in our blood. But it’s more than our business, it’s more than our life…It is in the DNA of our children. It is who we are and what we do. We go, even knowing the risks involved. We go, just like everyone else who has fishing in their blood.
So, instead of picking up the phone and telling the boys to come home. I went to the ocean. I put my feet in the water. I prayed for a safe flight. I cried a little. I prayed for all the families who have lost loved ones, and I prayed for the survivors of the Scandies Rose. I talked to Pat. I asked him to keep watch over Sean and the boys as they head to Dutch. I asked him to keep watch over Brenna in Montana, as she makes her own way there. I asked him keep watch over Bri, who was traveling. But mostly, I asked him to keep all those fishing safe. It helped. A little…
Sean, Zack and the crews made it to Dutch and are out fishing now, as I type this. I try not to think about the weather, the water, or the 9 million other things that can go wrong when boats are fishing.
When Sean first started crabbing I told him I would forever envision the weather in the Bering Sea to be 70 degrees and calm seas. But every once in a while when the fear creeps in, I counter it with prayers for safe fishing for all who are working Alaska’s waters, and continued prayers for all those families who have lost loved ones at sea. It helps…a little.
Today, January 8th 1992, 28 years ago the search for the St. George and her crew, was called off by the Coast Guard. It's always a tough day. We always held out hope. You have too. Today, and honestly many days throughout the years, my heart and mind is on the families of the crew of the St. George. Two years ago, I added the families of the Destination to those thoughts. Now, I add the families of the Scandies Rose, sending love, prayers and good vibes to all. But even doing that seems so inconsequential compared to the magnitude of everyone's loss. If you are reading this, join me in sending prayers, good vibes or what ever you have to the families who have lost a loved one at sea.
I just checked the weather for the Bering Sea…it’s sunny and 70 degrees, with a light wind blowing. Ok, not really, but having that vision in my head…it helps…a little.