”Steaming” was shot in 2017 during a tropical storm. I was aboard the Fishing Vessel Mary Elizabeth, A 70-ft steel trawler hailing from Shinnecock, NY. The crew and I were steaming (aka Driving the boat) down to Beaufort, North Carolina, and as such “Steaming” seemed a fittingly apropos title.
At first, the trip was delightfully calm, barely a ripple on the horizon and if it was not for the Fisherman’s alarm clock one might mistake themselves for being on land.
For six days we trawled under magical blue skies. Our green boat traversed the same beautiful area, zig zagging and retracing the ground while we fished. After each haul we would adjust position slightly, about face then set in the fishing gear. As it descended downward toward the sea floor the boat would slow. The trailing waves of our wake would shrink and lessen the sole disturbance of this serene sea. Sea and sky melded, and our wake served to distinguish the ocean from a boundless sky mirror. It seemed as if we were floating on the blue heavens themselves.
Dolphins rode the bow as fresh sea air blew through the open wheelhouse door. While we sat on the precipice of this endless tranquility, the unseen forces of nature were sowing the seeds of change just beyond the horizon. As is common in autumn a low-pressure system swirled and developed southeast of us. It raced from the edge of the Sahara to indulge in the Atlantic's moisture and became an unruly agent of chaos. the age-old theme of duality would soon collide with our heading.
So, about that alarm clock- It happened to be the sound of two high powered hydraulic deck winches. Every four or five hours -around the clock- the captain powered them on to retrieve the net And bring in the next haul. If we were lucky, we could finish work early giving us some free time.
the crew and I would quickly escape the dark, cold deck and retreat to the comfort of our bunks. i was forever hopeful that there would be time enough to recuperate before the next haul. But as it seemed more often than not- as soon as I drifted into a deep, sleep deprived coma the winches would roar alive. Time was up, and the next round began. As we scrambled to get our gear on, braided steel wire rounded itself along the drums of each winch. The sheer weight of the gear combined with water resistance made the wire loudly and violently click into place. With each rotation the net grew closer, and the boat shook under the strain. A melody of discord reverberated Through the ship. This was the call to arms, the waking song of sleepy fishermen and the alarm clock without snooze.
After these peaceful, yet long days we finally loaded the fish hold. Below deck we had a 12,000 lb. limit of fluke for the NC landing and the bonuses that came from our due efforts. The usual suspects of the Northeast Sea; squid, porgy’s, skate wings, smooth dogs, butterfish, and Ling. Occasionally we would scrape up a rouge basket of scallops, just enough for dinner. For now we could rest, and we slowly started making our way south. Very slowly, I might add, as trawlers are built for towing power and not speed.
That low pressure system which had been well beyond the horizon became A tropical storm. As we progressed southward into the Gulf Stream the clear skies and tranquil seas transitioned to darker more ominous hues.
The wind whipped into a gale and the subsequent waves grew in intensity. We soon found ourselves traversing a dark sea scape of wind whipped mountains.
The white froth atop the swells slightly resembled snow drifts blown up mountains. The similarities in patterns of the natural world have always fascinated me. I've always felt as if The secret coding of the universe blows in the sands along a beach. Each wind caught grain of sand holds a piece of the coding. And as they fall and refresh the beach, they whisper their quiet truths about the unseen workings around us. Maybe if you gathered them all up you could figure out a thing or two but, heh who has the time for that.
The boat slid up the swells stern first as they overcame us in speed. We happened to be traveling in the direction of the wind, this made for a much safer voyage.
While underway we use a watch rotation, one person is always in the wheelhouse keeping an eye on the instruments and checking the engine room. I happened to be on watch when this image was taken. The radar was blank for miles around and everything was in order. So, I had 3 free hours to myself as the crew slept below. I was dreadfully bored by days of the same Sirius radio channels, so I decided to utilize the time a little differently. This of course, by standing on deck in the driving rain waiting for the perfect shot. It took about three hours to get what I wanted. I was soaked, but I captured the perfect moment. The picture was taken As a swell reared up from the stern/portside, we were heaved upward about 17 ft from the trough and the crest came lurching forward. as this happened a small part of the mountain sized wave hit the Portside and bounced up for the picture. Below are 5 photos in sequence.
The wind & swell direction aided us in reaching Beaufort in great time. One dark night in the wheelhouse I read 11kts as we blindly slid down a swell, a new record. For comparison, the average is 7 kts. We were "surfing" the waves down south.
While on watch a few nights later I had an entirely unexpected encounter. In my boredom I wandered out on deck, and to my surprise a mysterious creature Launched itself right into a fish basket! I wasn't sure what it was, But I would soon find out.
I exchanged watch and went below. When I awoke, the boat surrounded by flying fish and dolphins. The unforgiving, dark-blue North Atlantic had transitioned to a kind, tropical turquoise sea. The sun was shining bright, and the weather was just right. A flying fish must have found its way into the boat the prior night. i caught them on camera, they're awfully quick.
Going through rough weather is something that I’ve always enjoyed - even though it makes work extremely difficult. It gives you a sense of wonder and excitement. it reveals our powerlessness in the hands of forces beyond our comprehension. And most Importantly, Mother nature reveals herself to you when you stand on out on deck. As You are, simply, a mere speckle in the fathomless and tumultuous sea.