Snow Goose - part three

I know that everyone is anxious to hear the tales of me and the sixth graders, but I have to fill in the back story a little bit first.

Seals. Mammals with luxuriously warm fur that you are not allowed to club over the head to get at it. And you aren't allowed to shoot them either. Clearly those laws were made by people who never expected to reel in a fourteen pound salmon and ended up looking at a severed fish head.

That's what happened to me one halcyon summer day. Every year we rented a cabin on Orcas Island, which where people are talking about when they say island paradise. Rain clouds separate to go around Orcas Island on their way to saturate Bellingham. The fish head incident took place in the West Beach cove.

It was a lovely August afternoon and were just putting around in the boat, finishing off the beer and waiting for dinner when something bumped my line. A couple seconds later, we knew I had a strike. The reel starting whizzing as I gave it line. Jerry started the engine because we could tell this one was going to run.

It was big. Ralph thought it might even be sixteen pounds or more by the way it took out line, I let the reel sing as it sounded into deep water. Then I had to reel in the slack fast as it came up and changed directions. We followed that fish for fifteen minutes. Then, stillness. We thought it might have tangled the line in the kelp, but then I felt the fish shake its head and it took off again. Clearly this was an eighteen pounder or more, swimming toward the boat. I reeled in as quickly as I could. Jerry cut the engine, and Ralph leaned over the port side, net in hand.

You know how the story ends. From here on, I will refer to seals as sea rats.

But the Snow Goose isn't used for fishing so sea rats are just another frolicking, furry ocean friend to its crew. They might look cute when their bobbing their heads above water with their big black eyes, but once one crawls up on a log their charm vanishes. They look like giant, furry slugs with two paddle arms sticking out of the middle of them. Maybe I should call them slug rats? And there were plenty of these gluttons swimming around the day of the field trip, gobbling up salmon, crabs, and I wouldn't mention this to the children on a boat, but they would probably eat them too.

So, after leaving the marina, the Snow Goose engines were turned off so we could drift silently around near Whatcom Creek outlet while the children looked for signs of life. They were told to be quiet and just look, which remarkably, they did. I figured they were wondering what was supposed to happen, so I helped out by pointing to a heron that sat on a piling. Then they got the idea. Stuff lived out here. Birds, fish, and several slug rats. Wasn't it fun to see stuff living? After five minutes or so, thinking the point made, the engines started again and we putted into the bay.

At this point, the children separated off with their assigned teacher. I was with Flor because Ryanne informed me that I should stick close to her. My guess is so that she wouldn't have to answer all those tedious questions about what she had seen and done. I was there to see for myself, and she wanted to make sure I was paying attention.

Our first station was in the boat's cabin. We would talk about how much oxygen is necessary to keep fish alive, and where that oxygen comes from and so on. We were almost finished when a little girl was sent down to 'sit' because she wasn't paying attention to her teacher. Randy, introduced earlier as the math teacher, came to sit beside her to find out if she wanted to participate or just sit alone and shunned for the rest of the day. I think she relented her carefree ways and rejoined her group after we changed stations.

Meanwhile, the group I was with headed for the back of the boat to do some hands on experiments with some very expensive-looking scientific equipment. The children would do the experiment by themselves. The stainless steel capsule would be lowered ten meters into the bay with nothing anchoring it to the boat except sixth graders. I hoped that the equipment was well insured as I watched one pair of tiny, eleven year old hands feed out the line.

But wait, my editor just informed me that I haven't given enough information about exactly what the Snow Goose is. Sorry about that. Let me check their web site.

Okay, so, the Snow Goose was originally built as a private yacht. It is sixty five feet long. Hmm. Here is an alarming detail. It only has two, eight person life rafts. For those of you used to lakes or rivers, that might not alarm you sufficiently so let me add that Bellingham Bay is too cold to swim in. You sink and die long before anyone can fish you out. Which is why all the local sharks are bottom feeders. Even with a life jacket, the best that can be hoped for is a recovered corpse. I'll have to research these fields trip more carefully before I set out again.

But I bet the boat and its equipment is very well insured.

Nancy Sherer