April was a good month; we spent time seeing new places and learning new things, I’ve started cutting my teeth on some real barge piloting, and I launched the website that I’ve been thinking about launching for the past year. The latter has been especially gratifying because of the women who have joined me to make it a reality. I had not anticipated the impact multiple voices and stories side-by-side would have, and the experience has already exceeded every expectation I had in the months leading up to the launch of the site. My biggest fear was that people wouldn’t want their free time to be compromised, that they would think I was pushy for asking them to contribute. But I’ve found that quite a few women have seen the necessity for projects like this one, and they were very enthusiastic about getting it off the ground. I’m so grateful to them.
More than halfway through our hitch, we are back in Port Valdez at last. We arrived yesterday morning, the first day of May, to flat water and rain which, as usual, intensified the moment it was time to go out on deck and work. We flopped, made our lines fast, tied up at the dock and broke tow. I covet control over the final step in that process, which is tripping the gear after we’ve hung the recovery lines on the barge. A stopper wire is passed through a link in the chain to keep it on deck while we dismantle the shackle that connects it to the socket on our tow wire, and that stopper is secured with a quick-release pelican hook which is shackled to a pad eye welded to the deck. When it’s time to dump the gear I’ve got my hammer ready (some people use a peavey, especially when they’ve made tow and they’re tripping a full shot of chain which is connected to the tow wire – something that’s usually only done when you need to get away from the barge quickly in bad weather). I aim for the ring keeping the pelican hook together, poised for a quick getaway. I swing, connect, and savor the tremendous release of force as the chain crashes over the pin table and into the water. Remember that this 3-inch stud-link towing chain weighs approximately 88 pounds per link; with at least ten links on deck, there is nearly a half-ton of weight flying around that will completely crush anything in its way. Every time I trip the gear I’m afraid it will be my last time, because if I snag a harbor job anytime soon – highly unlikely, but I like to be optimistic – I doubt I will tow like this ever again. I also will never again work on a boat like the Hunter, or alongside an amazing crew like this one. So I do my best daily to exercise gratitude for this experience.
We have less than ten days to go in our hitch now. Yesterday I saw sun and blue sky for what seemed like the first time in weeks; it has rained nearly every day of the hitch and while I don’t have anything against the rain, I wouldn’t mind some fair weather.