Longliner harvests the sea for the tables of Texas
Grateful makes no pretensions as a thing of beauty; she is not a yacht. Such grace of form as she has is in service to her function, and her function is to catch a lot of fish.
The owner’s mother suggested the name, and it suits the philosophy of the boat’s hard-working crew of five or six fishermen.
“We’re fishing with our hearts, and we’re grateful for every catch,” said Mike Moates, who serves as “deck boss,” aboard Grateful.
Grateful’s configuration on deck is typical of Gulf fishing boats, with a wheelhouse near the center and a cabin extending aft, housing the rudimentary galley, head, shower and four berths. A fixed steel awning extends forward from the cabin to protect the crew from rain and, more importantly, from the violence of the Texas sun.
The hull is a Thompson Trawler, built in 1978 of 1-inch thick fiberglass, her owner and often captain, Bill Owens, said. The basic 65-foot hull, delivered with deck and single Caterpillar diesel engine, has been a popular basis for many adaptations, including cruising yachts, and it has proved a sound vessel for offshore fishing.
With little sheer and wide straight bulwarks, she has a sweeping flare to the bow and keeps the sea well. She can face whatever the Gulf might throw at her during a two- to three-week voyage offshore.
Side riggers mounted at the rail are secured to the mast, to be lowered at sea with a “fish,” a kind of triangular hydrofoil, to dampen the vessel’s roll in a seaway.
On the foredeck, a large hydraulically powered reel holds the miles of eighth-inch, 1,000-pound test monofilament line that is central to the function of the boat. Grateful is a “longliner,” and this is the long line.
Capt. William Quezada, a 30-year veteran of the fishery, explains how it works. It’s not simple.
“We take the mono from the reel and lead it aft through a series of blocks under the shelter deck to the stern,” Quezada said.
There, it’s attached to a red buoy and a sinker that will rest on the bottom, and baited hooks are clipped to the line as it reels out, one every 10 or 15 feet, for 5 miles or more.
“We leave it to soak while we go on far enough so that the lines won’t tangle, and set another one,” Quezada said. “Then we go back around and reel in the first line through a block set on a spar across the shelter deck.”
The hooks are unclipped and the fish — grouper and tilefish are the target species — are unhooked, gutted and thrown down into the iced hold. The line is baited and set again, and Grateful goes back to reel in the other.
On the fishing grounds, 70 or 100 miles from shore in 50 to 100 fathoms of water, the cycle is repeated 24 hours a day, each man working 12 hours on, six hours off, around the clock. In the time-honored tradition of fishing, they work for shares in the return on the sale of the catch, so each has a direct stake in the success of the voyage.
A successful voyage might result in 20,000 pounds of fish sold and offloaded at Katie’s Seafood Market at Pier 19 in Galveston, and the crew is paid. From there, the fish is sold on site, or distributed to restaurants and retail stores throughout the region.
“I’ve worked on crew boats for an hourly wage,” Moates said, gesturing to the oil service boats across the channel on Pelican Island. “You know what you’re going to make, and it’s a whole lot less work. But it’s boring. Nothing to do but watch television on the run out to the rigs.”
The work is hard, and it’s dangerous. Commercial fishing ranks high on the list of the most hazardous jobs in America. Moates’ hands attest to this, with a thumbnail wrenched off and several deep wounds from fishhooks in various states of healing.
“It’s not for everyone, and there’s a thousand ways to die out there, but I love this work. And it feeds our families,” Moates said. “Still, I sure hope my kids don’t take it up.”