The Naked Set, by Glenn Biernacki

There are times when I reminisce about the Naked Set in Prince William Sound. It took place late in the season of 1987, after we had experienced too many breakdowns to count and watched our running partners and their crew members cash in on a strong run and a good price. We finally settled down to finish out our not-so-strong season in peace. Setting off Rocky Point near Valdez for the last two weeks, the late August weather was picture-perfect. It was a sunny currentless grind, not so much work but a pleasant routine. With the pressure mostly off, we brought aboard modest catches of pinks lightly mixed with silvers.

The Aileen, a 32-foot wooden seiner with an attitude, was our home that summer. Living quarters were cramped and inflicted mental damage on us all. The members committed to servitude on this floating piece of history were Erling, our laid-back Norwegian skipper; Stephanie, the skipper's wife who always looked like she should have the Nordstrom logo imprinted on her forehead but in reality was tougher than us all; and Ted, the body-building California boy. Then there was me, the second-year fisherman who had been stuck in the skiff at the beginning of the season and was only now feeling comfortable in it. I knew just enough about fishing to know that we were not having a good season, and that I wasn't the best skiffman in the world.

We were the only ones fishing Rocky Point as the season drew to a close. In fact, our only visitor for days was a tourist vessel out of Valdez which showed up like clockwork at 1:00 p.m. every day. This boat would watch us go through a complete set and the skipper would tell the tourists exactly what we were doing on deck and in the skiff. After a few days of this we were beginning to think we should get paid for our performance, or at least be allowed to run our skiff alongside the tourist boat so the people could shower the natives with change.

One day as our pesky visitors approached, I decided to break from the mundane and provide the tourists with some real entertainment. We had the net out at the time and I called the Aileen from the skiff, conveying to Ted that if he took off his clothes I would follow suit. Ted hesitated but finally agreed when he realized how much this would bother Stephanie, who retreated to the cabin and pleaded with Erling to make us stop.

The vessel soon arrived. Ted was on deck plunging away in only his boots while I was in the skiff clothed in boots and baseball cap. The tourist boat rounded the Aileen and followed the back wall of our net to the skiff. All this time, I could hear the vessel's skipper explaining the dynamics of a seine set: how the skiff holds the net on the beach, the importance of the hook in the net, the theory of plunging ..... and somewhere in there he went completely silent. What was usually a 20- to 30-minute visit was cut short to two or three minutes this day. Stealing a glance toward the silent vessel, I saw many of the elderly crowd on the bow turned away in disgust while the people on the stern, where the bar was located, were snapping pictures as fast as they could.

We never saw the tourists again and we never missed them.

©Copyright 1993 Glenn Biernacki


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