Working on the Edge: Surviving in the World's Most Dangerous Profession: King Crab Fishing on Alaska's High Seas

Working on the Edge: Surviving in the World's Most Dangerous Profession: King Crab Fishing on Alaska's High Seas

by Spike Walker


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780312089245
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 03/28/1993
Edition description: REV
Pages: 312
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Spike Walker spent nine seasons as a crewman aboard some of the most successful crab boats in the Alaskan fleet. While "working on the edge," the crewman's term for laboring in the brutal outer reaches of the Berin Sea, Spike encountered 110-mph winds, roade out one of the worst storms in Alaska's history, worked nonstop for seventy-four hours without sleep, participated in record catches of king crab, saw ships sink, helped rescue their crews, and had close friends die at sea. He currently lives in Clatskanie, Oregon, and returns each year to fish for halibut in Alaska.

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Working On The Edge


As I pounded the waterfront of Kodiak's Cannery Row in search of work, I stretched my black wool cap down over my numb ears and withdrew farther into the warm, protective folds of my Navy pea jacket. Broke and unemployed, with virtually no experience at sea, my stomach felt empty with apprehension. Huddling against the cold, indifferent winds of January, waiting, literally, for my ship to come in, I tried to imagine what Donny Channel and John Magoteaux, as well as the two men who died, Tom Miller and Tom Davidson, had endured.
Several days earlier, a hard-drinking fisherman in the B & B Bar had told me the Master Carl story. For a bar-stool rendition, it was surprisingly accurate, except that he had the grizzlies chasing Magoteaux and Channel for two whole days. "And the bears would of got 'em, too," he put in finally, "if the Coast Guard wouldn't have come along and chased 'em off!"
I'd arrived in Kodiak with twenty dollars to my name, but I held one ace card. I had the address and phone number of crab-boat skipper Mike Jones. He was said to be a young, heads-up fisherman who owned and ran the seventy-one-foot blue and white steel crab boat, the Royal Quarry. We'd gone to the same college (Oregon State University in Corvallis) together.
"I can't promise you a thing if you come up, Spike," Mike Jones (Jonesy) had told me when I phoned him from Oregon only a week before. "But this I can guarantee you. You're not going to get a fishing job sitting down there in Portland. This is where the work is. There's some real money to be made up here. Right now, my men are pocketing about a thousand dollars a week. And that's fishing tanner crab [a tan-colored spidery crustacean that grows to severalfeet in width, averages about three pounds in weight, and is marketed as snow crab]. The real money is made during king crab season. You wouldn't believe how much you can make, provided you get a job on the right boat.
"But it's tough work. Dangerous work. Dozens of crewmen get killed every year up here. And not just anybody can do it. The crab pots are called 'seven-bys' [seven feet tall, by seven feet wide, by a yard deep] and they weigh seven hundred and fifty pounds completely empty. When they arrive on deck, they may weigh a ton if they're full of crab. You've got to be able to control their swing enough to guide them into the rack [pot launcher]. And you need to be able to do it in rough seas. The weather can really get tough up here.
"If the fishing's good, you might have to work steady for thirty, forty, or fifty hours without sleep, or even a cooked meal. We can teach you enough about knots and navigation to get by, but the one thing that no one can teach you is how to work. You can't wait to be told what to do. You've got to be able to see it, and not be afraid to jump right in and get it done. But you've worked as a logger. You probably already know what that's about."
He paused.
"If you're really serious about coming up, I can find you a place to crash for a few days," he said finally.
Three days later, I flew into the Kodiak Island Airport.
With a one-way ticket in hand, I had caught a flight out of Portland, Oregon. Some fifteen hundred air miles later, my plane had touched down in Anchorage, where I climbed aboard an Alaskan puddle jumper. My journey took me south along Cook Inlet and out across some 270 miles of Gulf of Alaska waters to Kodiak.
It was a sleet-filled night and my plane was late getting in, but Jonesy was there to greet me. He gave me a pickup truck ride into town and left me with one of his crew members, Steve Calhoun, a good-natured young man from northern California. Steve was exhausted from a long day of repair work aboard the Royal Quarry and after only a few minutes of conversation, he turned in.
I was fast asleep in a sleeping bag on his couch when, long before first light, Steve rose and dressed in boots and work clothes. As he walked out the door, he paused. "Here's my key," he said, setting it on the kitchen table. "You can stay here while we're gone. Just be sure and latch the windows and turn everything off and lock up whenever you go out. We should be back in about a week."
With a long green duffel bag in hand, he opened the door to go. It was dark outside. Several inches of fresh powdered snow had blown in across the doorstep. "We've got grocery supplies to store away and a few chores to get done on the Quarry this morning before we leave," he continued. "So, we shouldn't be shoving off until afternoon. When you get up, come on down and I'll show you around the boat."
"Thanks a lot," I said, my voice filled with gratitude.
"Oh, hell, that's all right, ah ..." He groped for my name.
"Spike," I offered.
"Oh, yah, Spike. Anyway, I don't have any trouble at all remembering whatit was like to be broke and trying to hunt up a job on one of these crab boats. No trouble at all."
"Good fishing to you," I replied.
Then, with a short wave of his hand, he lifted his duffel bag and fled out the door. I shuddered as the cold blast of arctic air he had let in rolled across the floor and over me. I thought of the brutal weather, my inexperience at sea, and the sad state of my personal finances, and suddenly a moment of panic and doubt gripped me. I asked myself what could have driven me to take such a risk; to leave family and friends and all the warm familiarities of home to venture into this primitive northern country and compete for a crewman's berth in such a brutal and deadly trade.
I slept hard and long, and when I rose again, the morning was nearly gone. I chose to skip breakfast, dressed hurriedly but warmly, and headed straight for the waterfront and the B & B Cannery in an effort to catch the Royal Quarry and her crew before she shoved off.
Shelikof Boulevard, a street of mud and gravel, wound its way from the center of town along the waterfront to an area commonly referred to as Cannery Row, a strip of processing plants standing shoulder-to-shoulder at the edge of St. Paul Harbor.
With the season already in full swing, Cannery Row was already alive with activity. Everywhere the thriving capitalistic pulses of movement and noise and commerce prevailed. All along the waterfront, one could hear the shrill tooting of the shift whistles, the deep belching sounds of crab boats as their powerful diesel engines growled to life, the hydraulic groan of straining dock cranes, the hum of electricity, and the metallic click of chain links meshing over conveyer-belt sprockets. And there was the hiss of escaping cooker steam, the revving of motors, and the warning beeps of racing cannery hysters (forklifts), while out in the harbor, sea gulls squabbled over discarded scraps, and dockside, cannery workers joked in Taiwanese and Filipino tongues.
To the nose of the pragmatist visiting Cannery Row drifted grim waves of lung-stopping ammonia, the rotting smell of oozing cannery slime, and the unrelenting odors of iodine, kelp, and decomposing microorganisms. Even though I sported an empty belly, those smells renewed my spirit, filled me with a sense of opportunity and adventure, and sent romantic notions jolting through me.
There was an energy here; a boomtown intoxication that can be found nowhere else on earth. There was a sense of optimism and imminent excitement all around; life had taken on a new meaning in these parts. One could see it in the shuffle of the crab-encumbered ships vying for off-loading space along the waterfront, and in the passing faces, and in the quick, restless, straight-ahead way people moved. I could sense an excitement in the tired but grateful faces of the cannery workers as they shuffled home from another profitable sixteen-hour shift. And in the grocery stores, where rich and hungry crab-boat crews bought up every loaf of bread, gallon of milk, and sirloin steak in town, regardless of the price.
I could see it in the crowded streets, where long bumper-to-bumper rows of work vehicles filled every available space and along which dual-wheeled trucks with precarious loads of 750-pound crab pots balanced on their flatbed trailers raced. They were on their way to be unloaded at the earliest possible moment onto their ships, which were tied to the tall wooden pilings dockside.
Their thudding tires pounded a track through the rough, muck-filled chuckholes and launched geysers of ash-based mud out both sides, coating the long rows of parked vehicles from hubcap to door handle with a sloppy goo the color of wet cement. Jockeying for position on the docks, these same pot-toting trucks had hardly rolled to a standstill before their crews clambered atop them. The young men who leapt to untie the pots moved with excitement and vigor. And as I watched, I found myself envying them, the positions they held and the lives they lived, for they had become an integral part of something vital and adventurous.
I'd been part of similar scenes before. Though now still several years shy of thirty, I was there when ambitious men, driven by soaring oil prices, rushed to open up new oil fields outside Morgan City, Louisiana; and I was there when soaring lumber prices lured the same kind of men to plunge, axes in hand, into some of the last great stands of prime old-growth timber in the United States, near Forks, Washington, on the Olympic Peninsula.
As I wandered broke and jobless along the waterfront, I tried to remind myself that I had not ventured north completely untrained. While working in the offshore oil fields bordering the Gulf of Mexico, I had served out an apprenticeship as a deep-sea diver; and during that tenure, I had learned to cut and weld underwater, and how to inspect ship hulls, barge hulls, and propellers.
While logging in some of the more remote camps in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and southeast Alaska, I'd learned how to work around heavy equipment, how to stay out of the bite of a straining line, and a good deal of the common sense of serious labor.
I'd learned that a man could find a niche for himself in life just about anywhere, if he kept his nose clean, his mouth shut, and worked without quarter or need of praise.
Call it impetuousness, or point to the insatiable greed of man, but here in the remote Alaskan outpost of Kodiak, simple American capitalism once again had touched off a modern-day gold rush. Yet this time, the prize was not oil or timber. This time, the nuggets were showing in the tanks of fishing boats returning to port to be off-loaded. During the winter months and into the spring, their cargo came in the form of tanner crab, and during the fall, as spiny red king crab.
Experienced skippers--their giant steel ships ranging from 70 to 170 feet--with the knack for tracking down and boating the milling, wandering, unpredictable "bugs" were said to be grossing as much as one, and, occasionally, even two million dollars a year! And the crewmen working on those elite boats were earning upward of 7 percent of that gross, or $70,000 to $140,000 per man!
Those who had caught the scent of such vast riches let nothing deterthem--not the gamble of a plane ticket north, the cold inconvenience of winter, the fear of the unknown, or harrowing tales of shipwrecks and disaster. Now, hundreds of would-be fishermen were pouring into the port villages of Kodiak in the Gulf of Alaska and Dutch Harbor in the Aleutian Islands on the edge of the Bering Sea. I was no different.
I arrived at the B & B Cannery just in time to wave goodbye to Jonesy as he shoved off from the docks.
Jonesy saw my hurried approach on the dock above him, and poked his head out the wheelhouse window and yelled up at me. "We'll be gone about a week, depending upon the fishing," he called, the white jets of his breath lingering in the cold winter air. "Check with Joe at the cannery to see when we'll be getting back into port. We keep radio contact with them. They'll know when we're scheduled to be back in port."
"Who?" I yelled after him as his ship pulled away.
Jonesy again stuck his head out the side wheelhouse window, pointed to the cannery building behind me, and hollered back, "Joe! Hungarian Joe!"
Standing on the edge of the cannery dock, I stuffed my hands into the warm wool pockets of my pea jacket and watched the Royal Quarry idle out of the harbor. I was still there when the toylike spectacle of the blue and white ship turned the corner and moved out across the wrinkled gray expanse of Chiniak Bay.
Suddenly, the commotion of the waterfront broke into my thoughts.
"Hey, Joe! Where do you want the pallets stacked?" a youngster in bright yellow rain-gear pants called from the steamy entrance to the cannery.
I knew it was Hungarian Joe standing behind me even before I'd met him. He'd been part of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, I'd been told. When several divisions of Russian tanks rolled into his country, he'd escaped into Austria. Dressed in plain greens and browns, he wore a flat-billed baseball cap and answered the rain gear-clad youngster with a heavy, Eastern European accent.
"Joe," I interrupted, "I was wondering if you know how often the Royal Quarry reports in?"
He did not seem to hear me. "Vee have crab to cook now!" he replied. Then he pivoted and hurried back inside the cannery. He wasn't ready to talk with anyone then. I'd catch him first thing the next morning.
I turned back to the water and once again took in the view. On my far right, and slightly inland, I could see Mt. Barometer, a unique and pointed mountain that rose abruptly for some three thousand feet. It stood unchallenged, and greeted all incoming flights at the end of the airport runway.
In the distance stood the long, rugged shoreline of Chiniak Bay. The low-lying country was covered with weather-stunted spruce trees, and its headlands played out abruptly in the form of cliffs at its waters' edge. Inland rose an entire range of steep round-topped mountains with broad bowl-shaped valleys stretching between them. Buried in snow, with bare black rock showing through in places, their treeless slopes offered a bleak reminder that winter was full upon the land.
Behind the gigantic hills near the water stood a range of four-thousand-foot glacier-covered mountains, their tallest peaks disappearing into the clouds. But they looked much taller than that, rising from sea level as they did. As I watched, I noticed how the wind was blowing a haze of powdered snow up and over the mountain ridges. Blown into feathery wisps, it looked like mist rising from a breaking surf.
Ahead of me, across the channel, lay Gull Island, a narrow strip of land--a plateau of rock, actually. Crowned with brown winter grass, raked by an icy wind, and encircled by a lonely gray expanse of sea, the island was accented with a tide wash of rich brown kelp and the plump white-breasted forms of sea gulls taking refuge along the rocky shore.
Not twenty feet from the blinding arc light of a welder cursing his trade, I watched a narrow rainbow-colored strip of spilled fuel oil drift by. Submerged in the depths below it, white-stalked sea anemones as long as one's arm sifted the rich currents. Then there was a submarine flash of fin and blubber, and seconds later, perhaps a hundred feet off, the marble-eyed, mustached head of a sea lion rose from the water. Rich brown in color, its fur wet and slickened, the frolicking creature barked, rolled, then dove again, vanishing behind the cloud of its own breath.
Fatigued from the cold and the travel, that night I hiked back to Calhoun's apartment and crawled into my sleeping bag. I felt thankful to be out of the weather and slept that night like the living dead.
The next morning, I rose before sunup, downed two glasses of whole milk, four pieces of wheat toast, a quarter pound of bacon, and a half dozen eggs, then once again made straight for the waterfront. I still had hopes of stumbling upon a skipper who, like Mike Jones, knew how to find and catch crab, treated his crew in a straightforward manner, and had a reputation for keeping the ships he skippered afloat. It was a high and mighty order, I chided myself, for someone with no experience at sea and with little more than a sawbuck left to his name.
Down on the city docks, I came upon what I believed to be my first crab boat. I placed both my hands on the steel side railing and cleared it in a single motion. Then, standing on her back deck, I came face-to-face with a sign posted on the wheelhouse door. It read FULL CREW. Farther down the docks, I came upon still another. It read DON'T EVEN ASK!
Then I checked Cannery Row for new arrivals and spied the fishing vessel Cape Fairwell tied to the pilings in front of the B & B Cannery. "Do you guys have a full crew?" I asked, calling down in a subdued voice to a crewman working on the back deck of the crab boat. Heavily clad, the young man appeared to be splicing together two lengths of yellow cord line.
Without looking up from his labor, he shook his head. "You're the third person to ask me that so far, and we only got back in port last night." Then he glanced up at me. "But that doesn't mean a thing," he put in. "You gotta just keep on asking. Guys get injured. Guys get fired or move on. The worst a skipper can say is no." Still, being refused struck me as the deepest form of rejection. And when the crewman returned to his splicing, I silently moved on.
For an entire week, I pounded the waterfront in search of work. Each day, I made it a point to stop in at the B & B Cannery and check with Hungarian Joe as to the possible arrival of the Royal Quarry. Then, with the daylight gone and my ambition waning, I'd drift from bar to bar, keeping my eyes peeled and my ears open.
The bar life in boomtown Kodiak was the basic social activity for those crewmen in port. It was an all-night lifestyle in which spirits were downed and adolescence could be prolonged indefinitely. It was a stopgap for the missing loved ones of home, and deckhands readily substituted the blood-warming oblivion of liquor and the wild bohemian camaraderie in their place.
Many of the bars reminded me of museums in which drinks were served. King crab and tanner crab that had been injected with formaldehyde were commonly mounted over the bar; along the walls hung pictures of crab boats, harpoons, nets, buoys, glass balls, and life rings. The legal drinking age was nineteen. Some of the bars didn't even blow reveille until 5:30 A.M. And in the long daylight hours of late spring and early summer, I was told, you walked out the front door blinking into daylight.
There was Solly's Bar (and restaurant), Tony's, The Mecca, The Ships, Shelikof Lodge, The Harvester, The Anchor, The B & B, and the Beachcomber. And I came to know them all.
Shying at first from the drunken commotions I chanced upon, I remained silent and waited for the others to do the talking. Each night, I listened to unrefined men clad in muddy boots, wool caps, work-worn jeans, and heavily insulated jackets speaking in a lingo all their own. They talked with enthusiasm about strange (and therefore exciting) places I had never been: Whale Pass, the "south end," Portluck Banks, the bays of Kajulik and Chiganaga, Afognak Island, Cape Alitak, the Barrens, Homer, Icy Cape, Shelikof Strait, the Semidis, Lazy Bay, Dutch Harbor, compass rose, the "slime banks," and "the mainland." These exotic names, in turn, were tied to anecdotes involving catch totals and crew earnings, stormy seas, and men who had experienced them.
These men spoke a nautical language, one of geography and events gleaned from decades of open-sea experience. I learned of the fierce tides of Sequim Pass, the prop-grinding shallows of False Pass, the dog-salmon runs of Kukak Bay, the deer hunting on Kodiak Island (with a legal limit of five deer per person per season), the elk hunting on Afognak, the bleak loneliness of the Pribilofs, the mind-bending savagery of seasons "served" around Adak (out in the Aleutians), and of adventure in the uncharted waters along the Alaska Peninsula.
So I eavesdropped without shame, and by week's end began to probe with questions of my own. I bought drinks for complete strangers and asked questions until further questioning would have seemed rude, or neurotic.

One night, I stepped out of a bitter cold and into a wild and spirited event at a small, waterfront bar. It was there that I first saw her. She was a good-looking brunette of about twenty or so, a young spitfire of a woman. At the moment, she was locked in an arm-wrestling battle with a boisterous greenhorn who had justflown into town. Unable to ignore his mouth any longer, the young woman had offered up a small challenge. Now an intense throng of hard-drinking fishermen and cannery workers were pressing forward on all sides to get a view of the match, and to voice their support.
The commotion was deafening. A rough-looking fisherman sporting a foot of beard and a gruff voice was cheering her on. "Show him what you're made of, Susey!" he growled, pounding his fist on the bar.
One fanatical female booster screamed, "Come on, Susey! Take him! Pin the bastard! You can do it, Susey!" As the woman cheered, she pounded on the back of a fisherman with one hand, while slopping beer on the floor from a glass held in the other. And as the battle at hand continued, and the young girl named Susey drew closer to victory, she leapt and screamed and her voice climbed into an hysterical shriek.
One had only to look into the greenhorn's face to predict the outcome. And as the amazing vein-popping muscle of Susey's right forearm drove his arm closer to the dark hardwood surface of the bar, his eyes looked bloodshot and his face had flushed purple with effort. Then, with a final gush of exhaled breath, the greenhorn's arm collapsed in surrender and the room erupted. The embarrassed greenhorn fled from the friendly jeering and pats on the back. With his head down, he moved hurriedly through the crowd and out the door.
As I departed, the attractive young woman called Susey, or, more affectionately, Susey Q, was sitting at the bar with a warm glow on her face. She was surrounded by a number of admiring young women. Then with a gentle, feminine flair, she swept the clean brown hair from the side of her face and, with a calloused hand, daintily lifted a fresh cold glass of beer to her lips.
Later that night, I was listening to the music and jamming down straight shots of tequila at the Beachcomber Bar when Royal Quarry skipper Mike Jones appeared. He stole one of my six shot glasses of tequila and swilled it down before I could protest.
"Jonesy, you're back!" I shouted, feeling surprised and delighted to see him. "When did you get back into port? They told me you wouldn't be in until tomorrow! How did your trip go?"
"Well, we've got nearly a full load on board," he replied matter-of-factly. "But we were lucky. We didn't break down, and the weather and fishing were good."
"You've been 'lucky' all season long," I joked, poking fun at his modesty. "In fact, I heard your December king crab season wasn't exactly a bust, either."
Jonesy broke into a wry smile. "How did your job hunting go?" he asked.
I shook my head. "Not nearly as well as your fishing trip," I said.
Then the skipper of the Royal Quarry turned to me in earnest. "Spike, we've got a man on board who just might not work out. Now, mind you, I can't promise you anything in the way of a job, but if you think you'd like to, well, you could go out with us this next trip. It'd be a way for you to learn the ropes and see what it's all about and how you like it. And it would give us a chance to see how you work out."
I could feel my hopes soar.
"Now, I can't pay you anything," he continued, doing his best to be clear about the terms. "And I can't promise you a job, because I have a full crew on my back deck right now. But they're an unhappy bunch at the moment. Ordinarily, that wouldn't bother me; I mean if they were mad at me, that wouldn't worry me much at all. But the problem is, one crewman doesn't seem to be able to pull his full share of the load. That makes for bad feelings on deck. And I don't like to see that.
"Besides, if things went well during your trip out with us ... well ... I can tell you it wouldn't hurt your chances at getting aboard our ship, if and when it does come open. And if things don't work out in the way of a job on board our ship, once you get a little experience at sea, opportunities have a way of opening up for a guy who keeps trying. But you have to be patient. And sometimes you have to pay a few dues first. You have to use your head."
"Jonesy," I replied, my eyes wide at the opportunity, "I'll be ready whenever you are. You can damned well be sure I want to go! You betcha!"
He seemed pleased at my enthusiasm. "I thought you might," he said, smiling again and swilling down the last of his drink. "Steve Calhoun will be buying supplies for us tomorrow morning. Tag along and help him if he needs it."
He rose to go. "You'll need boots, gloves, and rain gear. If you've got any questions about what to buy, talk with Calhoun. He'll set you straight."
Early the next morning, I bumped into Hungarian Joe at the B & B Cannery. "Soooo," he began, "did you hear of zee load Mike Jones brought to us?"
I nodded.
"So," he began again, "you go out with him on next trip. Yes? No?"
When I nodded a second time, Joe's eyes danced with delight for my good fortune.
"But I'm not getting paid," I put in quickly. "This trip is just a test to let me see what it's all about ... and to see if I work out."
"Ah, you vill make it!" shot back Joe. "You must vait and see!"
I nodded again. I always liked people who genuinely wished the very best to others.
"Ahhh, this Jonesy, he know how to find zee crab," he continued. "He one damned good fisherman. He deliver only to us. He come to port and bring all zee ship vill carry!"
I felt encouraged as I climbed down the dockside ladder and leapt down on the deck of the Royal Quarry. Steve Calhoun had arrived just ahead of me, and came out to welcome me aboard. We needed to buy groceries first, then we'd stop by Sutlifs Hardware Store and buy some working clothes and rain gear.
"What size boots do you wear?" he asked. "I have a spare pair you might be able to wear."
"Size thirteen and a half," I said.
Calhoun looked at my feet and made a face. "Damn, man," he said. Then added, "Well, so much for that idea!"
Suddenly, a young woman's voice broke through our conversation. "Hey!Let's have a little less talk and a whole lot more work going on out there!" she hollered. Then she stuck her head out the back of the wheelhouse door and smiled.
I froze in my tracks. My mouth fell open. It was the girl who'd won the arm-wrestling match the night before.
"That's Susey," offered Calhoun, smiling at my look of astonishment. "She's your new deck boss."
WORKING ON THE EDGE. Copyright © 1991 by Spike Walker. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y 10010.

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Working on the Edge: Surviving in the World's Most Dangerous Profession: King Crab Fishing on Alaska's Highseas 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
Loves_to_read63 More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book. It was one of those books that you cant put down and stay up late reading!! I would recommend this book to anyone who loves reading about Alaska and hard yet enjoyable life of being an Alaska fisherman!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Growing up in a fishing community in The Bay of Fundy I could almost relate to this experience . Spike Walker took me to places I was too young to get to on my own (Crab fishing in Alaska ) . I picked up this book just to flip through , but soon found I couldn't put it down . At times I was excited by the money and adventure , and moments later found I was scared to death . Spike made me feel as if I were really there , and sometimes wish I had been . What a great book !!
DGrivetto on LibraryThing 26 days ago
Now that we are in the era of "Deadliest Catch", this is one mans account of the king crab rush of the '80's. An inside look at the trials and tribulations of "Working on the Edge", in the most dangerous situations.
Pamela110 on LibraryThing 26 days ago
Working on the Edge is a true tale written by a commercial fisherman who worked his way up through the ranks, during the epic King crab seasons of the 1980¿s off the Aleutians in the Bering Sea. We all know that you shouldn¿t judge a book by its cover, or certainly the author by his picture. From the picture of the rough-looking, mountain-of-a-man author, I admit that I expected simplistic sentences, heavy on action and minimal on character. It was an unfounded bias, as I enjoyed his vivid descriptions of the people, the feelings, the unbelievable weather and of course, the spirited adventures that he endured.However, there are some books that become even larger than they are because of the moment in time you receive the book, who gave it to you, even the circumstances that surround the physical book itself. Having recently toured Southeastern Alaska, on a boat chartered from two commercial fishermen, I happened to meet another transplanted Alaskan fisherman as a patient in the hospital where I work. He said, ¿If you love Alaska and are interested in the commercial fishing trade, you¿ll love this book. I¿m even mentioned in it! I know all those guys!¿ I sought out the book, and though I couldn¿t clearly identify my new friend in it, I found it to be a well-written book about a wild time in our recent past. Over the years, I kept in touch with my friend and his family, and was sorry to hear recently that he ultimately succumbed to his illness. My copy of this book, passed around my coworkers, with his kind inscription to me inside the cover, has grown new meaning and has earned a precious spot on my bookshelf.
No-Mersea More than 1 year ago
From Kodiak to Dutch Harbor, Alaska, Spike Walker's book Working on the Edge: Surviving in the World's most Dangerous Profession: King Crab Fishing on Alaska's High Seas is a heart-pounding adventure in the occupation of crab fishing. This book will take you on a one of a kind adventure with insights from greenhorns to the most experienced deckhands and skippers mixed with horrifying tales of seas gone wild and the troubles of crabbing. It is a unique firsthand account of life on the edge. Walker's descriptions of life at sea and on the dock are delightful while conjuring up vivid images. It is like you can feel the arctic cold rush through you and taste the salty sea spray. If you are looking for a thrilling read, this is your book. However, it is also a wonderful guide detailing what crabbing is like and provides excellent insights and advice for would-be greenhorns. It discusses the highs and lows of working on a boat, with an emphasis on the dangers and sad stories of the wasteful deaths that happen by accident or careless and rash decisions. There is also a stress on the amount of hard work that goes into a job such as crab fishing and a need for flexibility that comes with an independent style of life. Also, it talks about the extravagance that fishermen experience when they strike it rich on crab populations. It can be a pressure-filled job where word-of-mouth goes a long way into making it to the elite crab boats. I loved the blend of stories from Walker's experiences and those of other crabbers. Also, Walker does an excellent job of explaining terms that the average person who has never been on a crab boat would not understand. It was a pleasure reading this book and learning about this unique, dangerous, and exciting profession. I would give it the highest ratings and would recommend it to anyone who thinks their job is tough. Working on the Edge puts life in perspective and gives a wonderful look into the world of working on a crab boat.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a book I would think about while at work. I could not wait to get home each evening to pick up where I left off. One of the best books I have ever read. The book makes you feel like you are living the events with the crew. I highly recomend this book to any reader!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Its hard to put down. Its composed of many short stories, so interruptions wont leave you lost if you take your time coming back, but I don't think that will happen. If you like the Deadliest Catch on discovery channel, you will love this book. Really defines the history Alaskan Crab Fishing well.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is a semi-autobiographical tale of the dangers and rewards of fishing in both the Gulf of Alaska and the Bearing Sea. Spike Walker recounts his 8 years of fishing for crab, as well a touches on some of the cod and other fish caught in these cold waters. Walker talks about both the highs (the ability to earn $100,000 in four months, in the early 80¿s) and the lows (stories of death, missing fishermen, and rampant drug usage). The book starts when Walker is between jobs and is broke. He calls a former classmate from College who encourages him to travel up to Alaska and ¿pound the docks¿ to look for work as a ¿greenhorn¿. The work is hard and you must be able to go without sleep for a numbers of hours, days. Spike talks about the reality of getting hired. Many Captains do not like to take out ¿Greenhorns¿ as they are not sure what will happen if the person can¿t take the mental stress that goes with days at sea, while sleep deprived. He mentions one story where someone got into a fight in a galley because they didn¿t¿ like the way a guy chewed. As the Captain you are responsible for the safety of all on your boat. You are also responsible for getting the best price for your catch. Walker goes into details on some of the more prominent accidents during the era of his fishing. He spent time interviewing survivors and coast guard personnel to try and determine what was happening and how things went wrong. These stories are portrayed to the reader as some of the ways that make this job one of the most dangerous in the world. You have frigid seas, rogue waves, mechanical malfunctions that are all working against your success as well as mother nature which may cause more than a foot of ice to form on a boat, or hit the boat with a more than 60¿ wave. Walker breaks the stories down by the time he spends on different boats, fishing for different types of King Crab (red, blue as well as Tanner Crab). I thoroughly enjoyed this non-fiction book. For those who love the Discovery Channels ¿World¿s Most Deadliest Catch¿ this book is a must. You will even recognize the name of some of the ships that came by accidents. It is also a great look into the over fishing that happened in the 80¿s and how it came about. Well written and interesting.
Guest More than 1 year ago
One of the best books I have ever read. So discriptive and interesting that I had to restrain myself from finishing the book too quickly. Accurately portrays the life of crab fishermen. Highly reccomended
Guest More than 1 year ago
One of the hardest books to set aside yet even harder to read as you seem to put yourself aboard one of the vessels during its time of live or die situations. I have read all three of his books to date and found that once you read one you will be in a bookstore ordering the others if not found on the shelf. Of the three 'Working on the Edge' gives one a whole new perspective and the utmost respect for those men who risk their lives each time they leave port. I've lost some friends over time in this trade but I have gained a knowledge after reading this book and the others from Spike, as to what they were really up against.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have not even checked my e-mail since I began to read this one. My only regret is that I can't sit down for several hours at a time to read it. I have to be satisfied with one hour shots, but I just can't seem to wait for those one hour shots to come.