Courtesy photo

Fishing boats tied up and anchored on the California coast.

Guess why I'm thinking about being a puller on the salmon boat, the Tina Marie, in a 70-knot gale while the captain lay passed out in his reeking bunk?

This Taoseña, who can't even swim, and first mate Blue, found and safely navigated one of the most dangerous ports on the northern California coast by the grace of Nuestra Señora, whose grace we need - now.

Blue's eyes were incredibly brilliantly blue, his teeth were incredibly rotten, his size was equally remarkable, and so was his Appalachian accent. He advocated for the captain to hire me because I was small enough to go below deck and wriggle behind the engine where he hid his dope. Captains don't have to hide anything, and ours kept his liquor in plain sight and got so drunk that he would sway dangerously over the deep while taking a piss and shouting thickly, "S'four fathoms deep!"

Blue used so much speed that his left leg never quit bouncing quadruple-time to his drawl. Only problem - Blue didn't really know how to navigate. But he could run the radio and keep in touch with our sister ship, The Viking Queen. We only saw her a few times through the driving rain and foaming spray during that storm, once terrifyingly close, but her captain was a seasoned fisherman who shouted our position over the violent din of the storm and is the reason I am still here and love all Swedes.

Blue and I fought that gale for so many hours that it fused into an endless nightmare of desperately longed-for naps that seemed to last only seconds before Blue would be exhaling halitosis into my face and shaking me, hard, when my only desire on earth was to sleep, please God, I don't care if we f---ing sink, just let me sleep ... .

I remember holding onto the wheel when it was my turn and Blue was collapsed in an exhausted coma, and I was alone with a force of nature towering above the boat house like a giant mouth of water about to swallow us, and then we would drop to the bottom of the wave, my belly would sink and I would clench my toes into claws and dig them into the deck.

The waves were so high that the stern rose out of the water into the air and then a wave would hit the rudder and the wheel would spin out of control and I would have to pick myself up, stagger across the pitching floor, grab the wheel again and somehow stare, stupefied, at the compass, a thing we don't have in Taos, and focus, and remember how to read it.

My enjarradora arms burned with the effort to hold the wheel steady, my ears strained to hear the crackling radio over the roar of the enraged sea, my brain ached from desperately unraveling the thick Swedish accent and those life-saving coordinates. I never would have done it without Blue's pills that I knew were "hidden" behind engines, under coils of rope, galley cupboards, even in salmon bellies in iced holds everywhere on the entire fleet of boats.

When it was over the little 40-foot-long splinter of pitiful wood called the Tina Marie had lost a lot of her gear overboard, but the magnificent, terrifying ocean had spared us in her Giant Goddess rage.

Hollow, nauseated from exhaustion, at last we floated on calm waters just after midnight. Blue's pale skin glowed green in the shallow lights of the control panel, he looked me up and down slowly, his voice thick with pity, and said, "Y'all kin getcha some bunk, there now."

Then once again he was shaking my shoulder, but shouting this time, "C'mon! Ain't many women seen THIS here!" And he half-dragged me on deck to watch the sun rise as the Tina Marie floated under the Golden Gate Bridge on an ocean of molten gold.

Salmon boats look like giant insects floating on the water with two poles lowered alongside like wings, dragging weighted lines. Pullers stand in a pit in the stern and run hydraulic gears that control those lines, bringing up 30-pound fish, gaffing them with a huge hook, unhooking them, throwing them on deck behind, neatly coiling the unhooked leader, and bracing yourself for the next one.

All the fish were off the lines, the gears on and dropping the lines back into the water. A hook caught in my finger, and pulled me just far enough so I couldn't reach the gears. I hollered, the captain turned off the gears, slashed open my finger, removed the hook, filled a glove with Clorox, put it back on my trembling hand and said. "Back to work."

Fortunately, Taoseñas are tough.

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