The Salmon Killers - Part 4
His name was Rocky. Not the kind of guy you might
suspect with a name like that; no, he was not a
cheap boxer touring the farm cities of the Central
Valley, CA. like some character out of the movie,
Bob Lawless, Port Ludlow, WA
He was called Rocky because he was nearly killed on
a wash rock in the middle of the "Jaws."
Let me try to describe these jaws and how Rocky nearly
met his match. The Eastern Pacific shore of North America
has a poverty of harbors. You can count them almost on
Noyo Harbor is too shallow to take on an ocean going
freighter even at high tide. But the Coast Guard does
bring in and out a cutter of over a 100 feet. Forty to
sixty footers are the rule here, and of course, you have
the mosquito fleet. The Pacific is a very mighty,
little understood body of water. Sometimes, in the
summer, when it would be winter in the Southern Hemisphere,
there would be enormous storms originating in the Tasmanian
Sea, south of Australia. Huge waves would be generated and
they would march clear across the ocean until they struck
land on the West Coast of North America. For some, it was
surf's up, and for others, it was balls to the walls,
white knuckle time.
Not only did these waves threaten Noyo Harbor but you
also the swell coming in from the northwest originating
in the Bearing Sea, west and north of Alaska. These swells
were often made much larger by the relentless push of the
northwesterly. In short, this was a bit of a hell hole
most of the time.
There is this crack, one of several, in the high bluffs
along the coast of California, and it is into this crack,
made by the Noyo River over eons of time, that boats must
enter to take shelter from the nasty seas outside. The
problem is that this crack is long and very narrow,
surrounded as it is by ugly, huge rocks, raising their
heads as they do, challenging any boat to come anywhere
near them. This narrow entrance is called the "Jaws" as
if it were part of a large animal ready to devour someone.
Once through the jaws, you have to navigate through a narrow
jetty, the other side of which is the estuary to the Noyo
River, and then about a mile up the river, which can only
be navigated at high tide, you have a small harbor. Now you
are safe until you go down to the sea again.
Rocky, who was generally regarded as being crazy, used to
fish in these jaws because the jaws often were full of fish.
He was hated by the big boats because not only did they
have to pay close attention to the rocks on leaving, but
they also had to swerve around Rocky who didn't give much
of a damn if he were rammed.
You see, Rocky had cancer. A smoker all his life, he had
this hole in his throat, out of which he had to breathe
and through which he had to talk. You were never very
sure of what he said, but you nodded yes, even though
the answer might be no. His voice could be better
understood over the "mickey," a name given for the
CB radio, because he would be amplified.
His voice, though, was pretty much a series of croaking sounds.
What he lacked in his ability to speak, Rocky made up
for in bravery, or for some, it was not bravery, but
stupidity. In addition to all of the other problems
associated with the jaws, there was often thick fog;
so thick, it would be called "barking dog fog." This
alluded to the fact that fishermen would often tie up
their dog to the bow cleat where the dog would listen
and then bark. If he heard another dog barking, he would
set up a furious howl and the captain would pay close
attention in fear that a collision might be eminent.
It was in such a fog that Rocky got completely lost
and a huge wave lifted him up and then dropped him on
top of the infamous rock described earlier. Such an
accident would normally cause any boat to break up
into small pieces and kill the crew, either as a result
of the impact or by drowning.
Neither of these things happened to Rocky nor his boat.
But it was witnessed, and thus he was given the name Rocky
which he wore with pride. He had been a butcher I guess.
And he fished equally hard. His wife, in fear of him
getting killed, would drive the boat for him while he
tended to the gear in the stern. Some days he had a huge
score and would be "highliner," that is the top boat for
the day. I fished alone because I didn't catch enough to
share the money with a crew so I was very jealous of Rocky.
If only I had someone to pay attention to the helm while
I worked aft on catching the fish, I would have been so
happy, so secure, so efficient. Well, at least I would
have been more so, I am sure of that. My own wife was
petrified of the ocean and could not bear to stay in
camp and worry about my return. She would have no part
in driving the boat. She was so upset by it all that
she stayed in Stockton, some 200 miles distant and tried
not to think of her husband. I called her every evening
to assure her that I was safe.
Rocky was a lonely man and everyday, on returning which
was often late, he would dine, shower up, have a few belts
of whiskey, and then he would walk to this spot on the
dock where the mosquito men would gather to discuss the
fishing. They were always very tolerant and respectful
of Rocky, partly because of his handicap and partly
because of his balls.
He was not the only fisherman who was so handicapped. One
of the others, John had a leg blown off during the Big One.
More of him later. ~ BOBLAWLESS
Lighter Side Archive