The Wounded Gull

by Miguel Lanigan, August 20, 2013

Our boat was tied up to the commercial dock at Half Moon Bay where I sat on the engine room hatch-cover tying trolling-gear. Looking up from my work I saw a seagull trailing a wing in the water just off our stern.

I’d seen it earlier stealing baits off dock-fishermen's lines. During one of his line-larceny swoops, his wing got entangled in mono filament line, and in his fight to free himself, several wraps got wound tightly around the elbow of his right wing. New to commercial fishing, I was still influenced by my East-Coast sensibilities and took pity on the poor creature: I stuck an anchovy on a small three-ganged hook, flicked it over by the gull and hooked him. He was furious, as well one might expect — first the wing, now this. He gave a pretty good fight for a bird that didn’t have a wing to fly on.

I secured his head with a towel, removed the hook from his beak, and set to work using nail clippers to snip bits of deeply embedded mono filament out of the wing joint.

Rafted off to us was an old-time fisherman who had a different opinion of seagulls than this newbie. He came out of the wheelhouse, lit up a cigarette, and stood watching me tending the wounded bird. “Son-of-a-bitch,” he said aloud, “the hippie's fixin' a shit-hawk!” Solo fishermen, I learned, get in the habit of talking to themselves. Over the ensuing years I had some wonderful one-person conversations with myself.

In those bygone days, commercial guys took a shotgun to “shit-hawks” that followed their boats and swooped down to snatch baits off their leaders. So, the sight of me — the new-guy, hippie-fisherman from Virginia, playing Dr. Killdare to a shit hawk — struck him as bizarre.

Ignoring Maurice’s comment, I kept ministering to the poor creature till all the wraps were snipped out. I pulled the repaired wing back against his body and carefully — that meat-tearing bill can do you quick — put him back in the harbor and gave him a little good-bye shove. We watched him swim quickly to safety under the pier.

Maurice gave me a head-shaking look, then, to my surprise, invited me on board for a beer.

Gladly — I accepted.

I stowed the gear I’d been working on and climbed over. He pulled a beer from the fish hold ice and handed it to me.

I hoisted the beer and as I drank, I did a slow survey of his antennas mast: CB, RDF, FM, Loran, radar… He had the package. His boat was neat, organized and clean — a good sign the guy was a serious commercial guy, not some wannabe fisherman from over the hill playing the part, a part-time wisherman.

Most solo fishermen put a lot of thought into organizing their boats, treating them like the tools they are. Their creed: “A place for everything, and everything in its place”. Seeing my inspection of his “tool” he asked if I’d like to see the wheelhouse.

“Absolutely.” I said, and followed him through a short door into a cabin built for a short person. Maurice, who stood five-foot-five, had the boat built to suit his own diminutive specs, and I, being six-one, was permanently bent over at the waist with my shoulders bumping the overhead.

Like the back deck, the wheelhouse was clean and well organized: indicator dials were grouped in logical order; radios, radar, RDF, and Fathometer were handy and well secured. A beautiful fishing machine, but no way could I ever fish such a Lilliputian boat.

Being claustrophobic I quickly left Maurice’s diminutive wheelhouse and we finished our beers on deck.

As for the seagull, I don't know his fate: Perhaps the wing worked and off he flew like the ending of a sappy Jonathan Livingston Seagull story; or perhaps some meany smacked him with an oar; I only know that for the next few days I didn't see a dead seagull floating in the harbor. So, who knows? ¥¥

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