Salmon on My Mind Chapter Eight -

Meet Francis Caldwell!

Francis Caldwell has published hundreds of magazine articles and 10 books. Awards include the prestigious Enos Bradner Award, the Northwest Outdoor Writers Associationís highest award for outstanding journalism, Several 1st place awards for Excellence in Craft from the Outdoor Writers Association of America and the Northwest Outdoor Writers Association.

After serving in the Navy during WW II he resolved to never go to sea again, then spent forty years on boats in Alaska. Francis moved to Ketchikan in 1950, when Alaska was still a Territory, and lived in Ketchikan and Sitka a total of seventeen years.

Mr. Caldwell has traveled almost everywhere in the state, from Point Barrow to the Alaska Peninsula. Now that he's "swallowed the anchor", he hangs out in Port Angeles. That's about as close to Alaska as he can get without actually being there.

Frank Caldwell

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Old 04-22-2009, 09:26 AM   #1
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Default Salmon on My Mind Chapter Eight

Chapter Eight
Tragedy At Chasina Point

The Second Oldest Profession

“Commercial deep sea fishing dates back to the upper Paleolithic era, when later Cro-
Magnon man rather skillfully depicted fishes and scattered the likeness among great animal of
the hunt on the walls of his caves in the south of France and Spain.

“In the western world, the true history of commercial fishing begins with the Egyptians of
the Middle Kingdom, its rise set at about 2000 B.C., when chiseled inscriptions and the written
word record the catch and sale of fish from the Nile and Northern Sea.” (Robert Browning,
Fisheries of the North Pacific, pg. 357, (1974) Alaska Northwest Publishing Co, Anchorage)

The new arrival was Larry Pawsey, a Tsimshian Indian fisherman and seine boat skipper.
He and I hit it off right away and soon became good friends. If I had herring in my
net and he didn’t, or vice versa, we’d share. A short ways up Clarence Strait from Grindall
Island was a salmon trap. One day fishing was slow at Approach Point. Larry pulled up
close and said quietly, “I’m going up and fish the trap site. Want to come along?”


“Don’t say anything. Just slowly move up the shore a ways, then act like you’re headed
into the anchorage.”

This was my first close-up look at a floating salmon trap in operation. I was impressed
by the size. The watchmen were anxious to talk and invited us in for coffee. Larry knew one
of the two. They’d baked biscuits for breakfast and offered us the left overs, with plenty of
butter and jam. Then they gave us chocolate cake. We peered down into the heart of the
trap. A school of salmon were swimming around inside. Very few kings could be seen.

We fished close to the lead on the down current side. Almost immediately Larry
hooked into a salmon but lost it. With the tide running away from the lead we could fish
up close, and that’s where the salmon were. We soon hooked and landed several kings, but
they were not very large. Since the current was strong enough to work our herring, Larry
tied the bow of his skiff to the lead and shut off his engine. “No use wasting fuel. Let the
current work the baits,” he said. I had the problem of climbing over the cabin to tie up,
but solved that by simply running a line through the cable, then back to where I could
reach the other end. If I needed to chase a fish, I let go the bitter end.

We spent an enjoyable afternoon, and before quitting hooked several small coho, the
first I’d ever seen. They were ocean bright, with silvery sides. Since they were not worth
much, we released them.

The next day Norman joined us at the trap. We had a chance to get acquainted. He
told us that he’d ran the Spook up from Puget Sound with only a road map of British
Columbia. He’d became confused in Wright Sound, turned up the wrong channel and ran
a long ways before realizing something was wrong.

Fishing tapered off at Grindall. Blackie said he was going to move south to Chasina
Point, at the entrance to Cholmondeley Sound. Blackie had seined around Chasina Point
and thought it would be a good location for kelping. About 5,000 pounds of iced fish were in his hold when he decided to leave.

The wind was calm, the ocean flat and it was getting dark when the Diamond T arrived
off Chasina Point. Instead of going into the regular anchorage, which is a short distance
west into the sound, Blackie headed for a location behind some rocks and islands right at the point itself. As long as it didn’t blow, he thought this exposed location would be closer to the fishing. We had all followed the Diamond T, except Norman. He had contacted fish poisoning and was going to town to see a doctor.

After the anchor was down I tied alongside Lloyd’s boat, which was laying on the port
side of the Diamond T. The tide was high. The other boats were either lying on the other
side, or trailed behind. Everyone was tired and went to bed.

About daylight I got up and went outside to relieve myself. To my astonishment I
could see bottom. I rushed across Lloyd’s boat and into the wheelhouse, where Blackie
was sleeping, and shook him awake. “Blackie, there’s a rock under your boat!”

Blackie was excitable by nature. Still half asleep, he stumbled out barefooted in his
underwear, peered down, saw the rock and shouted an oath. Then, without walking around
the boat sizing up the situation, he rushed inside, hit the starter, threw the clutch in forward
and opened the throttle wide.

The shallowest part of the rock was directly under the forefoot and he drove the boat’s
bow right onto the rock.

Twenty foot tides rise and fall rapidly. Sleepy, half naked men were swarming onto the
back deck by now, wondering what happened. They rushed from one side to the other, trying
to see what was underneath the boat. Blackie threw the clutch in reverse and opened
the throttle as far as it would go. Almost immediately, the Diamond T began to sway and
list. But she refused to move because she was hard aground by the bow.

“What are you idiots standing here for,” Blackie screamed. “Everyone get in your
boats and pull me off.”

We hooked onto a line off the stern and everyone pulled as hard as we could but the
vessel didn’t move. It was already listing alarmingly.

The guys ran their boats back alongside and rushed into the fo’c’sle to salvage their
belongings. Lloyd left his skiff tied on the port side again. I was drifting around wondering
what to do. Lloyd and Tom rushed out onto the deck with arm loads of clothing and
fishing gear and tossed them into their boats. This angered Blackie. He began cursing them
because they though only of themselves. Larry was the only one still helping Blackie trying
to figure out how to get off the rock.

By now the boat had taken a severe port list. Suddenly the boat rolled to port, pinning
Lloyd’s skiff under the guard. I think the weight of iced fish broke the starboard bin boards
and the weight suddenly shifted. Lloyd arrived with his arms full of belongings. I’ll never
forget the look on his face when he saw his beloved boat being smashed beneath the seiner.
He dropped his load and leaned over the side. I moved in with my boat and got a line on
the stern of Lloyd’s boat

“Cut your lines,” I shouted. Lloyd didn’t have a knife. By the time he found one, his
boat was nearly hidden beneath the Diamond T. I tied to the stern of his boat, payed out
about 50 feet of towline, and opened the engine wide. When my heavy boat hit the end of the line Lloyd’s boat slid out from under the seiner with a lurch. The only damage was to
the red and green running lights on the bow deck and the hood of his big outboard. Still
dressed only in his long johns Lloyd jumped into his boat.

“Whew! That was close. Frank. Thanks a million. I don’t know how I’ll ever repay
you,” he mumbled. “I would have been heart-broken if I’d lost my boat and all my belongings.”

“You’ve already repaid me,” I said.

The others scrambled into their boats. Blackie was yelling and cursing in the pilothouse.
Larry kept a cool head and told Blackie to call the Coast Guard, then he too jumped
into his skiff.

I heard Blackie yell, “Mayday. Mayday. The Diamond T aground at Chasina Point.
We’re sinking. Mayday.”

The vessel’s bow was high and dry and the boat was lying nearly on her side by now.
Seawater hit the hot galley stove and the house filled with steam. Blackie rushed out the
side door of the wheelhouse covered with soot. He was still in his underwear and a pathetic
sight. He joined Larry in the skiff. They moved away just in time. The Diamond T had
by now filled with water through the hatch and slid stern first into deep water. She slid off
the rock and sank with only her mast sticking up!

No one spoke. Everyone stood in their skiffs staring at the mast. Bob was in Blackie’s
skiff. Blackie was with Larry. It’s a terrible thing to see a boat sink, especially when you know
how important it is to the owner and his family and so many people’s possessions and thousands
of pounds of hard-earned iced king salmon on board.

“Did the Coast Guard reply. Are they coming out? “Larry asked.

“They didn’t answer. I don’t even know if they heard me.”

A light rain began falling. By eight o’clock I was hungry. I fired up my stove, made a
stew pan of coffee and began frying hot cakes. I figured the others were hungry too so I
fed them, one at a time.

Blackie was so distraught he refused to eat. He kept moaning he didn’t know what he
would do now. How would he feed his family, make payments on his house and boat? It
was sad to see someone lose everything, even his billfold containing several hundred dollars.
Finally I convinced him to drink some hot coffee, then eat a hot cake.

About noon a Coast Guard bouy tender appeared. They hove to half a mile out in the
straits and sent a small boat in. There was nothing they could do except take the survivors
on board, trail the skiffs behind, and head for town.

I was out of business and several hundred dollars worth of fish to boot. As I motored
across the straits it occurred to me that I’d just learned a valuable lesson. Catching fish and
getting them into the boat was only part of the process. One still has to get the fish to market.
Over the years I knew of many vessels that sank with halibut or salmon in their holds
and became complete losses. Sometimes their crew went down too. I drilled this fact into
my crewmen who were on wheel watch. “There’s no paycheck until we get these fish to
market and unloaded, so if you get sleepy, or are unsure of our position, wake me,” I’d caution

I moored at my spot in Thomas Basin. The following day, Larry showed up. We
talked about what had happened. He said Lloyd, Tom and Idaho had decided they could-
n’t make any money this late in the season because the pinks and cohos were showing up
and would grab the herring before the kings. They were going south.

Then he said, “Frank, I admired the way you pitched in over there at Chasina. I doubt
if you can make much money fishing around town now that the kings are mostly gone for
the season. I’m going to be running the Harvey O for Independent Cannery and I’d like
to have you fish with me.”

“Larry, I know nothing about seining.”

“You’ll learn. I’ll teach you to be my web man.”

I laughed. “What’s a web man?”

“You repair holes in the web between sets. We have to go to George Inlet Cannery to
hang the seine before we go fishing. By the time we get through you’ll know how to mend

“I’ll have to think about it. Talk it over with Ole Fosse. Can you give me a day to
think it over?”

“Sure. No problem. The rest of my crew are already hired.”

After talking it over with those concerned, I decided to go seining. Within a few days
I found myself on the deck of a 50-foot seine boat headed for George Inlet Cannery.


‚ÄúLife should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming "Whoo hooo! What a Ride!‚ÄĚ

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