Ed Einarson worked as a fisherman his entire life. I don’t mean for that to sound like an epitaph. There’s no eulogy to be written for Ed Einarson because the old fisher is still alive. Thankfully. This is about his boat, the Martle. The Martle was an old ship but sturdy, built from Washington state timber in a Tacoma shipyard in 1938.
There, that’s the epitaph. Stamp it on a headstone and drop it in the sea.
In 1981, Ed was in Newport, Ore., considering buying the Martle. During the war, the dealer told him, she’d fished sardines off the coast of Big Sur, and later she’d gone after rockfish off Oregon. She’d even drug off Vancouver Island before it was closed to the American fleet. Furthermore, the boat was famous—there was a blown-up picture of her, high-centered on a rock at low tide, teetering precariously, and it was hanging on the wall at the Sourdough Bar in Ketchikan, Alaska. Ed knew the Sourdough Bar, as any fisherman would, and he recalled seeing the picture. A righteous place on those walls constituted fame. He looked her over. Ed was shopping for a purse seiner—a boat to catch salmon in Alaska and Washington—while the Martle‘s deck was rigged for shrimping and crabbing. It would have to be converted. Also, she was shorter than most of the newer boats, barely over 60 feet, and narrower, too—16 feet 6 inches. The wooden hull might have warned him of future problems and costly repairs as well. But whatever his hesitancy, Ed bought the boat for $100,000. A good deal. He drove her north to Squalicum Harbor in Bellingham, where she was an old-school girl docked alongside the modern fishing fleet. Some of the other boats, with their impenetrable steel hulls and cavernous fish holds, were nearly twice the Martle‘s size. But the Martle wasn’t the last boat from the old school, from the days when Bellingham was host to the Pacific American Fishery, the largest salmon cannery in the world. There were other boats still around from those days, and even some from before that. When the fishing seasons began, each boat left Squalicum Harbor as hungry as the next, all of them captains of a dying industry gone to make their living along the western shores of North America.
Through the years of use, Ed learned to trust and understand his boat. She had more years on her than he did. While his crew members came and went, the captain stayed; he discovered the Martle‘s nuances, the feel of the throttle, the wheel. Oil-slicked tools in hand, he came to know the engine, a pre–World War II Detroit diesel. He learned to steer the boat through rough weather by trial and error, which is the only way. By daylight and darkness, with impossibly tall waves exploding across the bow, he passed storm after storm in the tophouse, his knotty fingers steadfast to the spokes of the wheel, steering toward distant blinking lights. And always they made it through and the water settled and he went out fishing again.
Such is the life of a fishing boat captain.
For 22 years, Ed Einarson owned the Martle, a relationship admittedly longer than any he ever shared with a woman, and then, in the fall of 2003, she rolled over in an unforeseen windstorm and sank. I was there. What gets me most about it is that for all the remote ocean the Martle saw in 65 years, from the sheer cliffs of California, where she set for squid, to the jagged ice floes of Dutch Harbor, where she potted crab, she went down close to home, here in our harmless little Puget Sound, our protected little slip of seawater, so narrow and unthreatening that it dares you to skip a stone across it. And at the place where the Martle sank, you could look half a mile across the water and see houses on the shore. Fucking houses—with people inside, wearing slippers and watching television. The Martle fought against the storm, rolled over with her crew, and disappeared beneath the waves. I wonder now if anyone on shore happened to have been watching the small ship succumbing to unbeatable powers of wind and weather. I wonder now if anyone saw.
I’m not a fisherman, at least I don’t claim to be. I’m a deckhand. I work on someone else’s boat, the Marshal Tito, doing what is needed, what I’m asked, cleaning this or stacking that, and I do most of the cooking. It’s only the captain who could be legitimately called a fisherman. In three seasons’ work, I’ve learned enough to make a guess at where we might catch something, but that’s all I’ve got, a guess. A good captain can read the blank surface of the water for what’s underneath. A good captain studies and considers tide books, nautical charts, fathometers, wind direction, rain clouds, radio reports, jumping fish, his lucky shirt, intuition, and countless other things before he orders the net to be set. And a good fisherman always casts his net with the same vigor, sport, and hope of any angler working the bank of a river, no matter how exhausted he and his crew happen to be. Because he loves it. As a crewman, I feel guilty. I sleep a greedy average of four hours a night to the captain’s two. The captain wakes early to run up and down the shoreline in the lightless blue predawn, scanning the water for those arcane giveaways that tell him which way the schools are running and where the gathering places are. Then, always in the last seconds before the sun breaks, just about the time I’ve got a cup of coffee in one hand and a rolled cigarette in the other, the captain gives the signal and the skiff drags the net out. We start our day. A good fisherman knows how to catch fish. I don’t.
Or hell, maybe it’s all luck and persistence. Who’s to say?
The Marshal Tito is the second boat I’ve worked on. The first boat, the Lizzie, was a wooden boat as old as the Martle, one which I didn’t trust my safety to and rightly so, and in lieu of dredging up bad memories I will only say that I spent an awful summer aboard her. I didn’t make any money and swore I’d never go fishing again.
But of course I did. When the opportunity to work aboard the Tito arose, knowing that it was a better boat and a better crew, I took it. I left my job, my apartment (my girlfriend stayed behind), and my twentysomething Seattleite existence. I went to work in Alaska. We left Squalicum Harbor at 12:01 on a Saturday morning in early June. (Maritime lore deems that leaving home port on a Friday spells certain doom.) We went to where there were no telephones, no televisions, and no Internet, no newspapers. No social concerns. Nothing but work, purpose. Always a job to do. Never time to feel lost, even in unfamiliar surroundings. It’s about as close to Zen as you’ll ever get.
In the fall, I had the chance to work on the Tito again, this time fishing for chum in Puget Sound and delivering our fish out of Ballard. I moved back into my apartment, with its partial view of the skyscrapers downtown, and heard traffic sirens for the first time in three months. I heard television laugh tracks. I heard madmen howling obscenities on Olive Way at dawn. I only went out fishing two days a week. My calm little Zen world was cut to part time. The crew changed; I was the only one left from the summer. And we had newspapers, for fuck’s sake. One of the new crew, Larry Willison, a 60-year-old ex-hippie who looked like old Hemingway, railed on and on about whatever idiot thing the president had said or done that week. I had to listen and be reminded of it. We, the rugged rapscallion crew of the Marshal Tito, argued the misunderstood brilliance of Paris Hilton and listened to college football games as they were played in the real world not 20 miles away. It sucked. Where was my geographical and cultural isolation, my floating planet of four, my comfort in rubber boots? Some days, I could even see the tip of the Space Needle way off on the horizon. Everywhere you looked: people on ferries, people in sport boats, yachts, people in their houses on the shore. The presence of civilization changed the fishing experience entirely. I forgot that Puget Sound was ocean at all. After the first couple of weeks of fall fishing, I got bored. I began to feel tired.
No Weather At All
Then it got cold, almost overnight. On the morning of Tuesday, Oct. 28, I slipped on the frost lining the Marshal Tito‘s wooden deck. We were docked in Ballard, and I carried my bag, packed for three days. I knew we’d travel the first day, fish Hood Canal the second, then return to near Seattle to fish Vashon Island the third. Aside from Larry, the second new crewmate was Tim Bueking, a 29-year-old who lived with his wife on Lummi Island near Bellingham. Tim knew what he was doing, and I respected that. I remember Tim was smoking a cigarette on the back deck when I showed up. We said hello. It was around 9 a.m. Jim Zuanich, the captain, was deep in the engine room, wearing grease-smeared coveralls and lying on his back with a wrench. There always seemed to be some pump or belt that needed tweaking. The diesel itself, that which sat square in the belly of the ship, was about the size of a Volkswagen Beetle. Beside the engine room, in the bow of the ship, was the bunkhouse, called the fo’c’sle. A short metal staircase went up from there and led to the galley, which contained a small table with built-in benches and a refrigerator on one side and a sink with running water, counter space, and an iron-clad diesel stove on the other. One door led to the captain’s stateroom, one to the phone-booth-sized head, and the third led out onto the back deck, where our net was rolled tightly on a 10-foot drum. The steel mast rose 40 feet from the lower deck, and the boom rose at a 45-degree angle beside it. The power block hung loose at the boom’s apex, a half-ton steel carabiner that swung like a pendant whenever the boom was moved. To get to the tophouse, you climbed a ladder affixed to the wall, walked across a small platform, and slid open the door. The exhaust pipe rose from the top deck, 12 inches in diameter, an empty black hole like Tom Sawyer’s bottomless pit, always breathing out a fine mist of charcoal smoke. When I arrived on the boat that morning, Jim came
out of the engine room and climbed up into his wheelhouse. We let loose the lines. Our boat passed through the Ballard Locks, and we left Shilshole Bay behind, moving north toward the entrance to Hood Canal. I remember it was cold that morning, but nothing else. No reason to be concerned. There was no weather at all. I started a pork roast in the oven around noon, lay on the bench and read a while, got tired, and finally crawled down to my bunk and shut my eyes. The heavy diesel vibrated through the door, as always, clouding my thoughts and putting me quickly to sleep. We drove north as the wind began picking up.
Captains pay close attention to weather reports, which are updated on a special radio channel. The morning report for Oct. 28 predicted northerly gusts of 10–20 knots—standard fare for Puget Sound. An afternoon update revealed the severity of the situation, and many boats chose to wait out the storm in their harbors. But the Marshal Tito left before the update, as did the Martle. Ed followed behind us, as boats often travel together, and we drove quietly north along the Kitsap Peninsula’s eastern shore, past Point Jefferson, the town of Kingston, and Apple Cove Point, heading for the entrance to Hood Canal. It was just past Kingston where the swells began rolling into the two boats with increasing strength and regularity. Still, both captains were perfectly calm. Jim had owned the Tito for 20 years, and most weather didn’t worry him.
Ed traveled with an experienced crew. His first mate was Mike Paul, 38, who’d worked all over, from Puget Sound seining to crabbing in the Bering Sea. Mike had worked on the Martle for 10 years and held a close trust and friendship with Ed. Mike’s wife, Shuree, 25, had worked on the Martle for the past three years. Together, they spent their off-seasons backpacking in remote parts of the globe, often visiting Shuree’s family in Thailand. Finally, there was Jerry McKinney, 29, also a veteran of the industry, who had worked for Ed the past three years.
At 2 in the afternoon, the Marshal Tito ran about a half mile ahead of the Martle. The slate gray corridor of water had broken into whitecaps. A level stretch of peninsula ran to our left, and the Everett shoreline was to the far right. The two boats were traveling into the wind, as well as the rising waves. This was an assurance to both captains, as it is easier to ride up a wave than across it. However, the two boats rode into the waves differently: The Marshal Tito had tanked down outside of Shilshole, and 35 tons of seawater filled our fish hold, serving as ballast. We rode low on the water and crashed solidly through the waves, spraying water in both directions. The Martle, on the other hand, was not tanked down. This was not dangerous, and it was a conscious decision that Ed made. The Martle was narrow, drawing 9 feet of water, and Ed preferred to ride on top of the waves. Thus, the Martle pitched high with each set of swells, which weren’t huge but arrived close together. Ed, Mike, Jerry, and Shuree all stood in the Martle‘s wheelhouse, shifting their weight with the bounding sea, staring into the sudden gusts of wind that blasted against the glass windows, threatening to break them. Of everyone, Shuree was the only one to show concern. The crew assured her there wasn’t any problem.
And indeed, hugging the eastern shore, there wasn’t a problem. The Martle could have bobbed over those swells all day and night. But ahead, at Point No Point, where the shoreline curved west and around the tip of the Kitsap Peninsula at the entrance to Hood Canal, things would be different. This was something of a convergence zone: The northerly wind would be met with a northeasterly coming through Admiralty Inlet. This meant waves hitting them from two directions. Furthermore, this was the place where north-south tide currents running through the Sound crossed with the east-west current that drew water in and out of Hood Canal. The short stretch between Point No Point and Foulweather Bluff, about four miles, was something of a whirlpool. Ed’s father had once lost a boatload of fish there because the rough seas had skinned them as they thrashed in the hold. The meat had to be thrown away. Ahead of them, Point No Point’s red beacon blinked in the darkening afternoon.
Jim radioed Ed from the Marshal Tito. “Hey Ed, how are you doing back there?”
“Perfectly comfy,” Ed responded. “I’ve seen this old girl through some terrible weather.”
“Well, all right,” said Jim in his casual manner, “because I’d hate to have to turn around in this and pick you out of the water.”
“Don’t worry about me,” said Ed. “We’re all right.” Both captains chuckled as their boats drove into the oncoming waves. This was the last radio contact they would have.
Tossing Like a Cork
My bunk on the Marshal Tito was short and narrow with a low ceiling, shaped not unlike a coffin, and the only comfortable position I’d found was lying on my back with my hands folded across my chest. Shelved against the bow’s inner wall, my body rose and dropped with the boat. I had a curtain. On the head-side wall, I’d taped a few pictures that reminded me of things I missed: my girlfriend and me, in San Francisco; my family; and a curling photograph of my car, a 1979 VW van. I lay in darkness and dozed in a half-sleep.
When the swells became fierce, I was thrown from my bunk. I landed hard on the matted floor.
Upstairs, I heard things crashing in the galley. I pulled my boots on quickly and rushed up the stairs. Fucking chaos. I barely managed to catch the television and VCR as they plummeted from a high shelf. Cans and dishware rushed side to side on the table. All of my spices, oils, and cooking wines had broken free and rolled across the counter, along with the microwave, which I barely saved. Every 10 seconds, my entire world made a 60-degree shift. Eventually, everything just crashed to the floor. I swore at the wreck.
It took half an hour to pin everything down. Jim and Tim were upstairs in the wheelhouse, and Larry was asleep in his bunk. At his age, he could sleep through anything. When I’d secured the galley, I crawled toward the back deck to smoke a cigarette, sitting in the doorway. The Marshal Tito has a high, steel bow, about 10 feet off the water. The waves, as we went into them, crashed over the bow and sent frothing water down the length of the boat, about a foot deep. All of the lines we stored on the bow were washed like trash across the back deck. But I wasn’t scared. The actual possibility of danger just didn’t cross my mind. Perhaps the sight of the black-and-white Martle tossing like a cork behind us gave me relief. I knew that boat; I’d seen it the summer before up in Alaska. If they were all right, then so were we. I was astounded, sure, but rather than worry about sinking I daydreamed about it, about going down, and in my fantasy I saw myself alive and well, entertaining a group of friends at a party, sixth drink in hand, telling them the story.
“When things got real hairy, I just climbed up the mast and shook my fist at God and yelled, ‘Is that all you’ve got? Is that all you’ve got?’
“Well folks, I guess it wasn’t.”
Everybody laughed. Right there in my stupid head.
About this time, a freakish thing happened. I saw a seal in the water. The seal’s slicked, gray head bobbed tiny and it struggled between 10-foot swells. Waves toppled over it. The head appeared again, right beside the boat, the body swimming furiously. I’ve seen a hundred seals in the water and don’t think much of them, but this one, I swear to God, we looked at each other. I stared into its black eyes. It gave me a bewildered gaze. What are you doing here? It was scared.
Point of No Return
By the time they came to Point No Point, the winds were hitting the Martle at 60 mph. All of a sudden, it was serious. Shuree was freaking out. It’s all right, be calm, they assured her. We’re going to get through this. But then, making the turn around the point, three big swells in a row hit the Martle from the side, jolting her and sending her off course. Ed went to reduce the throttle and steady her, but the throttle didn’t respond. He moved it up and down. Nothing. The Martle had been crippled by the hit. If he’d known what was coming, he wouldn’t have gone past the point, but now, stuck in forward gear and unable to turn around, Ed had to drive forward, through the rough water. Still, the throttle had failed before, and the captain knew what to do. A second throttle switch was located on the back deck, behind the galley door. He sent Mike running down to man it. For the next while, as they drove toward Foulweather Bluff, through the worst of it, Ed shoved his head out the window and yelled commands in the howling wind, hoping Mike heard. Up! Down! Waves pounded the Martle from two directions. Soon the down throttle failed as well, and all Ed could do was to push her harder, revving the engine past stability. The floor was rising and dropping, throwing them across the cabin. Shuree was crying. But Ed had faith in his boat. And no time to be scared. They went forward.
He didn’t want to lose her.
And then, with his hands gripping the wheel, she felt funny. She wasn’t responding like she should. That was when he knew.
The Martle had come to the flashing light buoy at Foulweather Bluff. Not half a mile from land. There were houses on the beach. Fucking houses.
A giant set of swells rose and arched toward them from the port side.
“Get in the skiff, Jerry!” Ed yelled.
“Are you serious?”
“Damn right I’m serious! Go!”
Jerry turned to escape. Shuree was already out the door.
The Whale’s Spine
Tim jumped down from the upper deck. He shoved his frame in the doorway.
“Get up! The Martle rolled over!”
He was yelling through the din of the storm. The words were unreal.
“Get up! Put your gear on!”
I was lying back on the bench. My eyes shot open.
“The Martle rolled over! Get your gear on!”
In two steps, I pulled my rain gear off a hook on the wall and pulled on the bibs. As I put my arms into the jacket, I realized that we were listing. The galley floor was tilted at about 30 degrees and seemed to be slowly dropping. I ran out on the back deck, holding onto ropes so as not to get blown off.
In the wheelhouse, Jim was yelling a Mayday into the radio. At the same time, he was trying to turn us around. A 180-degree turn in fierce weather is one of the most dangerous maneuvers you can make. Instinct says to turn up the crest of a wave, but Jim knew not to do that, that there isn’t time; the angle of the wave combined with the natural list of turning will roll a boat. Instead, he slowed down and started turning toward the outside of the wave. The boat tilted anyway. He held onto it, hoping to pull through.
On the back deck, our fish hold was covered by a large, removable hatch door. If we had known the storm was coming, we would have bolted the hatch with metal plates and half-inch bolts. But the hold was unbolted. As the boat listed with the turn, the ballast water in our fish hold sloshed to the side. It rose up and blew one side of the hatch right off of its narrow ledge. In front of me, a thousand gallons of water flooded out and were lost.
Tim lunged across the deck and landed with his two boots on the hatch, stamping it down. “Turn the water on!” he yelled.
We hadn’t lost more than the top fifth of the tank, but it was enough to make us dangerously unstable. The ballast water moved side to side, collecting momentum, ready to roll us. Jim was still trying to turn us in on the swell. Tim opened a small, circular hatch cover, and I shoved the deck hose inside it while hanging onto the guardrail as waves washed over my back. If we didn’t get the ballast even, we would sink. That simple. But the hose wasn’t going to do it, the flow wasn’t enough. Larry, seeing us, hurried downstairs to the engine room, where he turned on the fish hold’s refrigeration system, the wash-down pump, in a sense turning on the bigger faucet inside the tank, and the water began rising faster.
For the first time, I looked across the frothing waves and saw the Martle. She was inverted. I saw her hull’s long arch rising out of the water like the back of a whale. My God, I thought, there were people on that boat.
What if we were next?
And then, perhaps sensing the panic in my eyes, Tim looked at me and said something I’ll never forget. He said, “We are not going to die today!”
Afterward, I’ve regretted finding that statement so damn funny, so melodramatic, so absurd. Because at the time, it seemed entirely reasonable that we were going to die, or at least roll, and so I thank Tim for being the hero. Somebody had to do it.
Tim jumped off of the hatch and retrieved a coffee can full of bolts from inside the galley. I dropped the small hatch cover back on and locked it, then crawled across the writhing deck to the large hatch. I began fitting the bolts into the threaded holes, barely keeping my balance on my knees. I tightened them all with a crescent wrench. Larry came out and helped. Our hold was hopefully full by then, balance regained. I got to my feet and grabbed the skiff’s painter line, which ran across the deck. We were nearing the overturned hull of the Martle. Her gleaming steel propeller stood freakishly out of the water. I didn’t see anyone. A feeling of immense doom sank in. I’d never seen dead bodies before. I was totally unfamiliar with actual death.
Down With the Ship
When the Martle was beaten by the waves, she began falling over on her side. Jerry and Shuree hurriedly waded across the deck to the skiff, an 18-foot aluminum boat tied to the stern. They pulled themselves in. The Martle rolled over some more. Ed stayed in the wheelhouse, throwing out survival suits while water was flooding in the windows and door. Mike grabbed a knife and swam to the skiff. Jerry reached down and pulled him up. As the Martle‘s stern went down, it took the nose of the skiff with it. Mike used the knife to cut the painter line and set them free. Ed managed to get out of the wheelhouse. He stationed himself on the tripod, where the mast and boom meet. The crew on the skiff hollered for him to come, but Ed couldn’t swim—he stood frozen to the sunken tripod. The boom held itself straight out, barely six inches off the water. Forty-six degree water came up to his armpits, draining what heat and energy his body had left. Somewhere in the cacophony and chaos, Ed saw that the exhaust pipe still coughed out fumes; the old Detroit was still running, deep inside the boat. He realized it with a sense of pride. Then she finished her roll. Ed’s foothold was lost. For a minute, he was haplessly treading water as best as he could, his feet kicking futilely like pedaling a bicycle underwater. A produce cooler popped out of the water and he reached for it, but the box just rolled like a beach ball, and he let go. Perhaps at this point, he could no longer hear the crew trying to help him, reaching out. He lost track of them in the hard, howling wind, the crashing water. A wave came over his head and jammed him down.
And then, as Ed went under, a miraculous thing happened. His old girl floated back up for him—one last favor. His feet caught their balance on her guardrail. She rolled him out of the water. He managed to climb up the stern on his hands and knees. The crew in the skiff inched their way toward him, but the waves tossed the small boat up and down several feet at a time. Ed reached for them, drawing what strength he could, but it was like trying to climb aboard a mechanical bull in midtoss. Finally, Jerry threw a line and Ed grabbed on. Together, the crew pulled the captain aboard.
Red Sky at Night
We were close. I saw no one. Nothing. As if they’d all been in their bunks when she rolled and nobody had made it out. I was sure that was what had happened. I followed Tim to the skiff. It was held just behind the stern, thrashing on its line like a wild horse.
“I’m getting in!” he yelled.
Tim made a leap and landed inside. He pulled a knife from the box and made as if he meant to cut her free, to go round up the people in the water, none of whom we could see. And then, as Tim yelled instructions to me, which I couldn’t hear, and steadied the serrated knife on the line, the Martle‘s skiff rode out from behind the upturned hull. I shouted and pointed across the water. We saw two people in it. This meant that two people were lost. Tim didn’t cut the line. He stayed in the skiff, ready to pull them aboard. But their skiff couldn’t get close to us. We waved them in, and they came within 300 feet and gave up. It was hard to get a good look at who was inside. Even if we had pulled them right alongside us, we couldn’t have gotten them into the boat. It was impossible. They would have missed the jump and been crushed between slamming metal, then drowned. Instead, someone motioned that they would just follow us: chug into the wind until the storm settled down. Jim saw them and began turning away from Foulweather Bluff. We listed and shook again.
Above me, the boom had come loose. Not entirely, but some. The 2-ton giraffe’s neck crashed side to side with a loud clacking sound, and the half-ton power block slam-danced above my head, the block stretching the length of its safety chain with each swing. If it had broken off and fallen, which does happen, I would have been dead.
Our skiff line had loosened itself as well. As our boat turned, the painter line suddenly swung to the port side, catching my armpit. I was pushed over the rail, but I held on to the line. My calves hooked onto the side of the boat. Water ran under my back and splashed my face and neck, running down my coat. Then the line swung me back. I stood where I was before. Tim came to the front of the skiff and reached out his hand. There was no way he’d be able to make the jump now, not with the bouncing bow line and the added distance.
“Stay there!” I yelled, unable to reach the distance.
“I’m coming!” he yelled back.
“Don’t jump!” I waved my hands in front of my face. Tim put one boot on the rail and made ready to leap.
Halfway over the lip, he stopped himself. He never would have made it.
Now I saw a third body in the skiff behind us. Three. That still meant at least one person lost.
“Stay in the skiff! I gotta go!” I yelled. I doubt Tim heard me. I ran back across the deck, hanging on to various lines so I wouldn’t slip. I climbed up the ladder and braced myself behind the wheelhouse, ready to pound on the door and tell Jim if he went over. I was hopelessly watching the Martle‘s crew, as well. They would ride over two or three swells and then suddenly disappear behind a fourth. Each time I lost sight of them, I expected the worst. How that little skiff could stay afloat in such water was beyond comprehension. But it did. Every time it disappeared, the skiff appeared again. It looked like a steel bathtub shooting a rapids. We drove past Foulweather Bluff and headed toward Port Ludlow, about three miles away. The rescue wasn’t over; no one was safe. Not by any means.
Then Tim signaled me from the skiff. He waved his arms and pointed at something ahead. It even looked like he was smiling. I poked my head around the wheelhouse. The sun was setting, making the whole western sky burn, a nuclear-red horizon dotted by a thin field of popcorn clouds, halos behind them. The fact that it was the most astounding sunset I’d ever seen had nothing to do with what had happened, of course—I mean, it would have been something to stop and admire regardless. But here, in this situation, I quietly hated it. Because this fucking beautiful sunset seemed to be saying, Sorry folks, just kidding! The colors burned themselves out, and then it was dark. We came into the calmer water around Port Ludlow just as a Coast Guard helicopter arrived and circled, shining its spotlight down. I waved a weak arm, caught in the beam.
The Martle‘s skiff finally managed to pull behind us, and we helped lift them aboard the Tito. There were four of them aboard. Nobody lost. They were cold and shaking. We hurried everyone inside our stove- heated galley and brought them blankets and dry clothes. Nobody said much. We didn’t ask what happened. After a short while, a Navy ship appeared, a tall, gray cruiser that sent some sailors over in a black rubber craft with a mounted machine gun. They pulled alongside. A guy standing on the bow reached out. I gave him my hand, and he shook it confidently.
“Lt. Pete Johnson, United States Navy,” he said, like he’d come to make the rescue.
“Uh, hi, I’m Steve.” He put his hands on the rail and pulled himself aboard. Lt. Johnson hurried to the galley to see how everyone was doing. They were fine.
I waited out on the back deck, unsure of anything, a bit numb, imagining all the different ways people could have lost their lives that day but hadn’t, and questioning whether this was worth it, just to make a living. One of the guys from the Martle came outside. He seemed fine. He said his name was Jerry. I was smoking a cigarette, and he came over to me. He was wearing a shirt that I gave him. He said, “Hey man, got a smoke? Mine sank.”
I had to laugh.
The Perfect Roast
We didn’t make the TV news. The Associated Press ran a couple of sentences the following day about a 58-foot fishing vessel that capsized in the mouth of Hood Canal, saying that the three-man crew took refuge in their skiff until they were picked up by the Coast Guard. It wasn’t exactly true, but it was close enough. I guess these things don’t really interest anyone unless someone dies. A fisherman losing his boat doesn’t count for anything. Whatever the case, the big story on the nightly news concerned the Ivar’s restaurant in Mukilteo, where waves shook the floorboards and lifted them several feet. The patrons ran for their lives, many holding their drinks and plates. I heard, and maybe it’s true, that a woman stood outside, holding a plate of Dungeness crab. Her eyes were wide, like she’d just come from a circus. “It was the perfect storm,” she said, proud to have witnessed it, the butter dripping off her chin.
That night we continued on our way toward the following morning’s fishing grounds, about seven miles down the canal, across from the Navy’s Bangor submarine base. The roast I’d started that morning came out perfectly. I drank a beer.
When Ed last saw the Martle, her rudder rose like a shark’s fin out of the water. He turned his head and let her go. The wreck floated ghostly like that for a while and then disappeared beneath the waves. She drifted back toward Point No Point, sinking. The crew of a fishing boat passing at dawn didn’t sight her. It’s guessed that the Martle rests on the clay floor of Puget Sound, somewhere in 200 feet of water, never to move, never to rise.
Her captain used the insurance money to buy another fishing boat.