We aren’t just catching tuna out here, that isn’t the way the ocean works. When we cast our nets inevitably we will get some other species of fish. With the exception of some fish the crew deem not worthy of eating, which isn’t very many, most of the by-catch gets carved up into sashimi or into filets that they later dry in the sun. I try and eat a little bit of each fish they carve up, each new fish they carve up, so that I can say that I have tried them all. Fish is fish for the most part, I love yellowfin tuna sashimi though, but I knew that before coming out here. There seems to be one kid who is the “go to guy” for fish on the deck. He’s always working the nets right next to the fish chute.
When the Captain or the deck boss, or the crew, see a fish they want they make a subtle head nod to this kid and point out their fish. I’m sure later there is a secret handshake and password to get the cuts from him. He scoops it up and takes it over to clean. Every now and then he gets on that is still alive and he has to kill it, and I’ve seen a few different techniques. The most preferred method by the crew is to just toss the fish onto the deck hard enough to stun it and then they cut the gills. He tried that but this tuna would not go down without a fight, and kept jumping around on the deck. Finally, he pulled a move straight out of the Walking Dead, he grabbed the fish with one hand and held it down and looked into its face and with one sift jab of his knife he plunged the blade into the skull and brain of the fish, which anymore was just triggering automatic reflexes. It was a zombie kill, clean and clear. I’ve decided to add this kid to my zombie apocalypse team. (Note: I use the term “kid” here because he looks young, in actuality he’s older than I am)
Anyways, the thing about drying your fish filets is that you need a place to do it, that is exposed to a ridiculous amount of sunlight, clear of any exhaust or other fumes, and perhaps a bit windy. Normally they rig up a place on top of the rope stacks on the upper deck but today for some reason they decided to use the heli-deck. Which I get, it’s perfect really, why wouldn’t they use it? Oh that’s right, the giant blue Hughes 500C is probably going to be a problem. Giant in relation to fish filets, not in relation to a Huey or Skycrane. I tried to tell the crewman putting the fish on the net out there that if I had to fly there was a very good, strong, chance these fish-jerky slices would get blown away.
He did not listen. Sure enough it wasn’t a few hours later we had a flight come up. I went through my regular motions, got the helicopter fired up and ready to go, and then as soon as the Captain was in his seat and strapped in I began to pull collective and lift off of the deck. Wouldn’t you know it out of the left side of the cockpit, as we turned around to pass behind the boat and head on course, there were fish filets strewn about the entire heli-deck having landed every which way. If that wasn’t a clear lesson on why you don’t put fish filets out to dry next to a helicopter, I can’t think of a more clear one except maybe a second dose of the same thing.
Which came later, when I returned to land. You see the crew recognized that their tasty snacks of dried fish had been blown away under the sheer force of wind moving beneath my rotors and, once I was clear of the deck, had scurried up top to rescue their fish. I mean, surely they would move them below, surely? Well don’t call me “Shirley” – imagine the look of disbelief on my face as I came around the left side of the ship and lined up to my landing spot when I saw the same fish had been restacked on the drying rack same as before. Except this time it had been moved closer to the stairs. Which is sound logic maybe, for my pick up and takeoff path. What they failed to realize was that by moving the drying rack closer to the stairs that also meant it was closer to the edge of the boat, and directly underneath my rotors on approach to landing. We all know, we pilots all know, that landing a helicopter in a 12 knot sideways hover to match a moving ship is a relatively high power operation. The amount of downwash from the increased pitch angle of the blades was more than enough to flip fish filets through the air, off the edge of the boat, across the heli-deck, down the stairs, everywhere.
Two of the crew, a deck hand and the deck boss, were watching from the upper deck, taking pride in the fact that they had moved the fish filets to safety from the helicopter. That pride quickly turned into panic as they watched their snacks fly through the air. By the time I was shut down they were already moving around the heli-deck gathering up fish filets and restacking them onto the drying rack (just a frame crisscrossed in string). This time though, they moved the entire rack down off of the heli-deck and put it up on the rope stacks on the upper deck (below the heli-deck) where it should have been in the first place. I don’t think I’ll have to worry about flying fish anytime soon.