notes from the field

No. 24 - Stuck Net

Never get too pleased with yourself -- or so the wisdom goes when working in a world where most things are out of your control. We'd been smoking for the last several days, enjoying good weather, setting the net effortlessly, processing even the big catches with speed and efficiency, getting quite pleased with ourselves when we look up and the net is stuck. Something is in it that's so big it stalls the net reel. At least 10 tons, but of what? The cod end isn't floating behind the ship; the cables run straight down which means it's a load of mud or rock. We can't get near the net -- it's hanging below on a 300 foot bridle and the net itself stretches for another 250 feet beneath that. We're stuck as well as a bit vulnerable to the weather.

Captain Constantine wants to drag the net into shallow water and abrade the cod end on the bottom until it opens up and spills its load. After that preposterous idea is filtered through several translations, I veto it and we drag the net around in circles for the next 12 hours under the assumption that it's mud and will eventually wash out. It doesn't work. We go back to the first plan and start to drag this slug inshore when we lose the whole thing. Two 3/4" steel cables part; they connected the ends of the net bridle to the ship's tow cables and doors, the 2-ton hydrofoils that spread the sides of net open. Both sides break at the same time and away it goes: the bridle, the net, the net sonar, and the roller gear that keeps it moving along the bottom. Gone. And with the horse it rode in on.

But we have backups and spares -- I always have plenty given the cost of ship time. We re-rigged and got a trawl in before sunset the next day; we'd lost 3/4 of a day and some expensive gear but it could've been far worse -- someone could have got hurt. There was nothing that we could have done to have avoided it (short of not being here) and there's no reason to change our tactics. It was just bad luck. So on we go, having fun but never too pleased with ourselves.


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