the adventures of a girl, her dog, and two cats.

Monday, June 23, 2014

through my fingers

Thanks to the Grog Knots app (very worth the $4.99) and the related free website ( I can finally tie a bowline! The bunny rabbit comes out the hole, runs behind the tree, and then back down the hole. Voilá! I really want to learn how to tie the Ashley Stopper Knot but I'm still befuddled. I cut this nifty 3-foot piece of line to carry around and practice knots. Much better way to waste time than Facebook.

In other good news, I've been special ordering Full Sail Session Lager from my local liquor store. A great Oregon craft beer and the groovy little bottles fit perfectly in a koozie. And it turns out I am very good at grilling. I know, hard to believe she's single, right? Bahaha!

I worked a full-day charter, up before dawn, waiting out quite a thunderstorm but with rain gear at the ready. Planer boards were replaced by six rods with buck tail lures with pork rind. I baited the hooks, sent out the lines, and brought lines in now and then to clean off the lures. This time the fish were really biting, and we caught several fish, five of which were keepers. I was glad to see the guy having a birthday actually land the biggest one. It's nice to see people happy about their catch.  Slippery little fish kept fighting to get through my fingers, flopping on the deck as I tried to get a hold of them and measure them. I got skewered right through my heavy gardening gloves a couple times by dorsal fin spines, and tried to remove hooks quickly and humanely. I've learned the hard way that any run-ins with dorsal spines or hooks have to be treated quickly with peroxide and alcohol because the germs in the bay infect quickly and aggressively. I still can't really understand torturing and/or killing nature for fun and continue to be surprised at how many people find it entertaining. Nonetheless, because I truly want to do the best job I can, I was actually looking forward to the opportunity to filet those five fish and get practice. But that, too, slipped through my fingers.

One woman complained to the captain that she didn't like how I was fileting the fish, so I got demoted to the helm and the captain had to clean the fish, which he doesn't like to do. I understand wanting it done well and I certainly want to maximize the amount of meat on the filets. I'd only fileted half a fish before and just needed a chance to figure it out. Having several people watching doesn't exactly make it easier. But guys are always more kind, give tips here and there but usually let you learn. Women are mostly awful to other women, hypercritical and always looking for a chance to cut each other down. I tried to just put on my game face and suck it up at the helm.
I spent a couple of days really soul-searching, worrying I couldn't cut it for this job because I went from a tip over 22% on my first charter to 12%. I've got a lot to learn but know more than most folks and have good sea legs. It seemed like a good athletic outdoor job, getting out on the water and making use of my ability to make small talk. It's a sacrifice since I had sworn I'd never piss in a cup for a job and don't think government or employers should be monitoring my personal life. As long as I'm sober on the job what I do in my free time shouldn't matter. But any way the government can weasel into our lives nowadays it will. (This also resulted in an argument at motor vehicles about not having a street address if I decide to anchor out... they insist they must have a land-based address in case the police need to contact me in an emergency... I call BS... they just don't want to do their legwork to serve warrants.)

Anyway, a couple days later I had two half-day charters. Now of course I was really nervous about the fileting. The first charter was a group of young residents from Hopkins. They each wanted to filet a fish, dissected them, and passed around organs. The surgeon was also a fisherman from Florida so he was very sweet and patiently stood by and walked me through it with tips from a surgeon's perspective. But what a riot to have a group tip me very well and want to do the ickiest part themselves! At least now I was better prepared for the pressure of fileting up the afternoon catch. But one of those guys was a chef in Florida for 12 years and wanted to try one himself! So he gave me tips on where to cut to find a little more meat behind the head, etc. I did three, he did one, and another guy tried one. I think especially because most charters never let guests do anything but crank they really like getting to learn how to do things.

Well, I hadn't done as many as I planned, but I had gotten good tips from both surgeon and chef perspectives. Now I'd be ready to impress Monday's charter... But they said "We're Chinese; you know we take the fish home whole!" Ha! Well, I'm not going to complain about not getting the practice on those ones since he tipped me very well and before we were even back to the dock. The next trip out I finally had a group with no desire to do it themselves. I was too nervous to do it underway, but knocked out all five at the dock. I went with Riverboat Bob's style where the skin is never cut clear through at the tail, which gives me a bigger "handle" when skinning and wastes less meat. They were happy with their filets and pleased to leave that task to me.

The next day I did all three while we were underway. They were clearly impressed to see me setting up my cleaning station while we were still trolling (something only charters are allowed to do). I did the first one and the guy watching commented about what a nice job I was doing and was telling the other guys to watch. I thought maybe he was joking but they were just impressed. I laughed and told him I fileted my first fish just two weeks before! No way they'd have ever guessed I hadn't been doing it for years. So from now on maybe I'll tell them I've been doing it since I was a kid.

One Sunday I had a group of six and we limited out, plus since it was now June, we kept a boat fish, too. My first time having four lines with fish on at once! I fileted all 13 while underway. I was kind of traumatized that one of them wasn't quite dead as I fileted him, so I really need to learn exactly where to put an icepick in their brains to pith them humanely. Here's a video of me fileting a fish under way.

Tips have usually been 20% or more, and guests seem to be pleased with the service, despite initial surprise to see a girly-girl as their mate. I'm not paid by the boat at all, so my tips are all I make; that is the standard arrangement for a mate. I scrub the deck, set up all the rods, land the fish, filet them up, risk getting stabbed, hooked, and cut, play tour guide, take out the trash, et cetera. I've studied oceanography and marine biology and share a lot of marine knowledge with guests who want it. I don't have health insurance or paid vacation or the ability to collect unemployment when work dries up. On Father's Day I did get majorly screwed on my tip. As soon as I saw the group coming I knew I was F'd, but every time I hold out hope that the stereotype won't be true and I give them 110%...but in all my time waiting tables and bartending, only twice have these folks tipped appropriately despite being ridiculously high-maintenance. $20. Yep, $3 an hour to get up at 4:30AM, catch these guys the biggest fish they'd seen in their lives, and have to clean a couple in a more complicated way than our usual fileting. Next time the tip will be in my hand before I leave the dock or I just head home and sleep in. If you aren't prepared to tip 20%, just don't go out. Don't go sportfishing, don't go to bars, don't go to restaurants. Keep your incredibly bad karma and spare the rest of us who are working to make a living. (OK, rant over. But never to be forgotten; I've been screwed one too many times.)

Now that the hot weather is here, the stingrays are out in the bay. Although a lot of captains call them skates, they are actually cow-nosed rays, a type of eagle ray. (Rays and skates are not the same; skates tend to be rounder and have wider tails and do not have a stinging barb.) We've hooked four while I've been aboard. I got one up to the transom to cut the line but gratefully he flipped the hook out. The others managed to break the leader...the last one was a big guy when we saw him come to the surface about 40 feet behind the boat. The rays often swim at the surface and their wingtips will break the water. We had seen a few and some charter guests were pointing to what they thought was one but when I turned to look it was a dolphin surfacing, and another dorsal fin was right beside it. Dolphin are sometimes spotted as far north as Baltimore Harbor, but it is definitely rare to see them north of the Bay Bridge as we did a few days ago. Very cool.

I've gotten much better at grabbing fish by the lip, which does just miraculously seem to paralyze them, and at getting hooks out, though I've had a couple tough ones with the hooks. Now whether I can learn how to do this with Florida fish... that weigh as much or more than me and have scary teeth... not sure, but that'd be nice. Florida charter rates are about double those here and I'd enjoy going south for the winter to do that. Even though I'm allergic to seafood and sort of a hippy chick who doesn't want to hurt nature, fishing is the first job in my life I really like. And I actually seem to be really good at it. I just have to show up on any new boat with my K-Bar strapped to my thigh the first day and make it clear that I don't fire warning shots...the first time the captain's hand touches my ass is when I start cutting off extremities. It really sucks that this is the kind of world we still live in.

Now that I've gotten pretty good at the job, charters have slowed down for me. The captain gives a couple charters a week to someone else and there aren't enough leftovers for me to survive on. One charter for me this week and one scheduled for the next. So I'm going back to the dark side and taking a project in DC doing low-end legal muckwork. The project is slated to last three weeks, but they easily end early, so there's really no predicting. I can't even afford the $21 per day it would cost to drive, park, and metro in, so I'm going to try walking to the commuter bus that would be $8.50 round trip, but has limited hours it runs. The car is a piece of shit full of grelims, so I'd be nervous to rely on it for a 40 mile daily round trip to the nearest metro station anyway. The days become long, because an 8-hour workday can easily become 12 with the commute time. That will be tough on the dog in the hot boat with temperamental air conditioning, but I'll try to find a dockmate to give her a quick break midday and check that the A/C hasn't frozen up. She handled even longer days when I used to commute to Georgetown from Annapolis, but did have a whole house to roam (she actually just sleeps all day with the cats) and reliable A/C to keep her cool. Fingers crossed it works out and enough projects arise for me to cover my bills and start getting the boat repaired so I can actually take her out. One thing I've definitely learned the hard way, with the exception of a few close friends, any guy who wants to help me on my boat has an ulterior motive. From now on things I can't tackle all by myself will simply have to wait until I can pay a professional to help me. No more "favors" because those guys all seem to be angling for "favors" in return.

361 days ago was the denaming ceremony for the boat. It was also the day that Max learned how to swim. This evening as I was heading to take pup dog for a quick piddle before bed, Max wanted to follow us. He was getting ready to jump under the life lines and I told him that wasn't a good idea. The boat was far from the dock and the angle wouldn't be good. I was grabbing pup's leash and heard a splash. I guess you knew where this story was going... a dockmate saw it happen and yelled "cat overboard!" as I scrambled to get the fishing net. But before I could even get the net he was already on the dock. Amazingly enough that cat swam to the piling at the bulkhead and climbed right out. He stood on the dock for a while looking sort of confused and then ran inside. I grabbed a towel and dried him off a bit. Always an adventure with pets aboard.

Hunter has now very deliberately peed outside the box three times in the last month. Today it was on the settee. Now I'm very worried about him. The last time he was so pointed about it he was going through puberty and although no one believed me (because he'd been snipped as a kitten), I knew he was telling me something was wrong and I could see him getting the tomcat characteristics. It turned out that my instincts were spot on; one testicle hadn't dropped and was hidden inside behind his intestines. Now he has a growth (the vet said tumor and then tried to revert to "growth" so I wouldn't freak out) on one ear. There isn't any fluid inside, which is a bad sign. Tumors, or uh, growths, on cats are much more likely to be malignant than ones on dogs. I couldn't afford to send the cells for analysis. I couldn't afford the heartworm prevention for the cats and dog. I'll have to save up and see about sending him for surgery to remove as much of the tumor as possible, but it's a difficult location and I imagine they could say he'll lose the ear. My beautiful, loyal, regal King Great Jaguar Paw.

I'm definitely regretting staying in Annapolis. Only three months into an annual slip contract and I'm kicking myself. If I stay until November then the rate would end up being about the same as if I'd been a monthly transient. If I'm not doing yacht brokerage or mediation or something else lucrative that requires establishing oneself, then there's not much reason for me to be here. There's nothing for me here, nothing tying me here, no sense that I belong here. But there isn't any other place I'd be going to either. There just isn't anyplace where I have roots, feel "home." I guess I probably won't ever have that feeling. I definitely wish I had a dinghy and skill at ferrying the dog ashore because getting away from the noise and activity at the marina would be a blessing. I just wish I could've gone on a secluded mooring somewhere. I need some peace and quiet. What a waste to spend so much money on an annual slip contract... all that money and I'd have solar panels, a new battery bank, all my basic repairs and simple upgrades done, a great dink, and be able to live on the hook or on a ball. I need to get my butt in gear and get the boat in shape to at least go on some short three or four day trips around the Bay, get comfortable anchoring, and just get prepared to go... somewhere, anywhere. I just need to go. Before the chance slips through my fingers, again.

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Thanks for reading! Have you had a similar experience you'd like to share? Have a link to an interesting blog fellow readers and I might enjoy? Just want to say hello? Post your comments below. I'm a smart, resourceful girl doing things her own way, so I just ask that folks keep the unsolicited advice to themselves.