The fire was built, well stoked and burning strong,
Lashing out at the swells that leaped and rolled
To pound the shore with a thunderous roar.
His years, so far from youth and now’s just old.
A gull out in the cold darkness struggles
To utter its word over the wailing wind.
Once, he thought it heard, but then fell
Silent to the seas familiar din.
So strange to find himself on shore;
The sea made him apart of everywhere .
His boat, a companion like no other
Now is set adrift into smoke and air.
It was late autumn, a favorite season,
He turned his back once more to the old sea,
And left the fire to warm the shore;
He had some other place he ought to be.
Out past the lake pitched and rolled,
From her cool breath morning emerged.
Ripples ran the water in purple folds,
Where distant ducks and amber skies converged.
And overhead the same gulls bickered through
The morning’s misty movement. Nets adorn
On cedar racks that glisten with silver dew,
Like a spider’s web in the early morn.
Behind the frame of a wind battered shed,
Through fish-scaled glass, I saw him in mid-chore
Packing nets with strong sea-chapped hands
A seasoned face, like his father’s before.
A sea chantey, I heard him sing aloud —
An old song of whiskey, mystics and men,
Sifted through open eaves where swallows crowd;
A cadence that flowed like waves rolling in.
From the darkened door, I saw him come out,
Stout man clad in stained yellow oilers and vest.
He checked the breeze, and then I heard him shout,
“A wind from the west, today I must be blessed.”
Then disappeared into the tug’s hold
Of his boat that bears, I presume, the name
Of his wife, or some women he once loved —
A man and his boat is love just the same.
To hear the familiar chug within the hull
Of an oil clad Kahlenberg ignite,
More like a dinner call to a hungry gull
Treading the air in indolent flight.
With a push of throttle and hand on wheel,
He steered her toward the horizon;
In his beloved boat with sturdy keel,
A course set for the blooming sun.
It’s in my blood — It is my way,
An old fisherman once had said.
Winds will blow and seas will spray;
This old lake gives to me my daily bread.
In my sturdy boat upon the rolling deep
Where winds will blow and waves will break;
Setting nets — for it’ the fish I reap
Ample harvests from the lake I take.
I am a fisherman— it’s all I know;
I live part on land and part at sea
Where waves will roll and winds do blow.
There’s no other place I’d rather be.
This is a story told by Alvin “Gabby” Anderson of the time he and his crew were caught in a freak south wind generating a big sea. It was January 9, 1971 and they were fishing chubs out of Milwaukee. Gabby had the fish tug Aloha at that time.
A Small Boat, a Big Sea, and a Bottle of Brandy; Far from Home
“It wasn’t that bad of a day to begin with, if I remember right. In my younger days I went out no matter what. It didn’t make any difference; if I thought it was dead calm, it would be blowing fifty ─ it never bothered me. But that day something happened ─ some freak sea hit us on the way home. It came up fast out of the south and one big sea hit us and cleaned the doors right off her; busted them right off the hinges ─ busted everything. She took so much water that she was right down to the rail in the water after it hit. That old Kahlenberg bilge pump clogged up and wasn’t pumping. I couldn’t believe it the stern doors were gone ─ busted in! The port stern door come in immediately when we got hit by that south sea and when she hit, the Aloha leaned so far over that the other door on the starboard side busted in ─ they were both gone!
The pilot house on that boat was in the stern. We had just stepped off the deck to go down and start to dress the fish. We just got down there; Roy Nelson was with Lee (Weborg) and me that day. We all just got down below the stern deck when all of a sudden she hit and I didn’t see nothing but sky and green water. I headed towards the front because everything was in such disarray. It was unbelievable; we had 2700 pounds of chubs on board that day and they were all over the place. I got up into the pilot house by the wheel and everything was out, the radar, radio ─ everything was all wet and washed out. The bilge pump was out. We had the sump pump working, but we didn’t have any side gas powered pump to pump the water out. So somehow Lee ─ I don’t know how he did it, I’ll never know. He got a hold of a pipe wrench and crawled down in the bilge, back by the gear of the Kahlenberg with the shaft turning. He was all submerged in that cold water. He got that wrench on the plug and took the drain plug out of the seacock; pulled the seacock off and got a little piece of screen. He stayed down in that ice cold water for hours and held that screen over the hole so we could start pumping the bilge water out with the engine.
Part of the rules of the road, when you get in a situation like that ─ caught in a big sea, you always have your bow into the seas. But every time we hit a big sea with those doors gone the Aloha was so low in the water that every time she went up on a sea, the water would come in through the opening. We were loosing more every second. I hollered to Roy and Lee, ‘We’re going to loose her this way,’ I said, ‘We got one chance and that’s to get her turned around and go with it.’ It was completely against the rules of navigation. We were heading due north; actually we were just north of Port Washington. I waited for the three big ones; the three bigger seas and then gunned her hoping it was going to work. I just kept heading with the sea; the Aloha had a fan-tail stern on her, you see, and when the seas came by they just blew away from the stern and washed by us. No water come in the side doors either and I had to watch real close by the wheel, you know, that it didn’t swing towards me. Lee must have been down in the bilge for 2 ½ -3 hours. I don’t know how in the hell he did it ─ I have no idea.
After we got it pumped out, we got the boat turned around and headed back for Milwaukee. Funny thing, we had a little bottle of brandy that we got from the fish dealer in Chicago, wrapped in a Christmas box. We had it lying on one of the shelves right across from the wheel in the pilot house.
After we got everything situated ─ I don’t know when this happened, haven’t got a clue, but when we got into the harbor, Roy and Lee were up getting things cleaned up. It was such a mess in there, you wouldn’t believe it. Anyway I looked up to see what was going on, up forward. Here they had that bottle of brandy on top of the rooster tail ─ on top of the lifter ─ wasn’t even a third left in that bottle and it was a big bottle. I don’t know when they came and got it; I didn’t ask any questions either.”
Sheboygan commercial fisherman, Mark Nelson recalled the time when he and his brother, Eric, were out fishing chubs 20 miles out off Sheboygan on a cold northwesterly blow. It was a few days before Christmas in 1986, and they gave an early gift to fellow fisherman Glen Seger and his crew who were stranded dead in the water in Glen’s gill-net tug Islander. This story is told by Mark Nelson and Glen Seger:
"To the Rescue"
There was a time we were out chub fishing and we ended up towing in Glen Seger and his crew in Glen’s gill-net tug Islander. We received a call from Glen that he broke down and was dead in the water. It was one of those nasty days out on Lake Michigan. At the Coast Guard station in Sheboygan, they were clocking over 40 mph northwest winds. There you hardly noticed it, but out on the lake, about 20 miles, you definitely felt it. We had three boxes of nets lifted when we got the call, we were contemplating whether to buoy off, and head back home, prior to Glen’s call. It didn’t bother me any to get off those nets — so we buoyed off and headed to where they said they were. When we finally got to them, they had drifted three or four miles already. It took us almost three hours to get the line to him. The wind kept blowing it, which made it more difficult. It was nasty with that wind and below zero temperature. I don’t know how big the seas were — maybe 15 or so feet. With those big seas, we could hardly get close enough to throw the line. One of Glen’s crew members had to get up on the roof of the Islander to try to catch the line. There was no way in hell anyone should have been out there on the roof in those conditions. He was sprawled out on top of the Islander with a line tied around his waist.
When we finally got close enough — actually to close we damn near hit them. It was a northwest wind and she was really blowing. We should have never been out there that day. Trying to throw that line out of the stern of the J.B. Nelson was almost impossible. I remember Eric was trying to get the line to the guy on top of the Islander. Finally the guy — he wasn’t even looking, he was just trying to keep from being washed overboard, we got close enough and Eric hollered “Grab it, here it comes!” He just about handed it to him, but it blew back. They tried throwing a buoy line with a grappling hook, but he couldn’t … we’d lose the boat in between the seas … we couldn’t see the Islander anymore the seas were so big. We’d be down in the trough and then all the steam, because of the cold air temperature, made it all the more difficult to see them.
When we finally got them the line — a one-inch nylon line, then we tied her off in the stern and began towing them back home. On the way back in, we were quartering into the seas. When we went up on a big sea, the boat became airborne and then we’d drop off the wave and come down hard. All the floorboards on the deck blew out down below when we came down. We couldn’t run the engine at full speed — we had to check her down. The seas were so big when we’d go up on it, the drag from the Islander would almost stop us, then we would be airborne, then we’d drop like a rock. The decks were all blown out — it was a mess. As soon as we started heading in, we began making ice fast. When we came down off the sea, the spray would just fly, and that’s when we made the ice on the boat. The Islander was making ice too, but not as bad as we were on the J.B. Nelson. It took us nearly four hours to get back in to the pier.
Glen finally got the engine going again, about three quarters of the way back. We cut the line and he made it back on his own. There are days like that and you know what you have to do — there’s no doubt, when someone’s in trouble you help out your fellow fisherman. If we hadn’t been out there that day, he would have drifted across the lake to the other shore. There’s no one else who’s going to come out and get you.
Glen Seger gave his account of that infamous day in the teeth of the howling northwester. He had just replaced the engine in his gill-net tug Islander. Glen bought the Islander from Gills Rock commercial fisherman Jeff Weborg in 1977. Seger’s fished the gill-net tug until several years ago (circa 2003) and she now is idle in her slip waiting to be renovated in to a museum. She was purchased by the city of Sheboygan and will be reborn as a monument of the commercial fishery. Glen recalled that particular day:
The time Mark pulled us in that cold day in December, we had just installed a new engine in the Islander. When we bought the boat from Weborg it had a 60-70 Kahlenberg engine in her. My brother Gary and I installed a used 156 hp Cummins diesel engine in the Islander. After awhile that engine went by the way and I installed a 250 hp Cummins diesel in her. It was a nice engine. However, the engine was only in her for two months or something like that. While we were out fishing chubs, one of the wires came off in the control box — a clip thing. It never should have happened. It was bitterly cold out there and blowing like crazy. All of a sudden I wasn’t getting any … I didn’t have any power. I’m thinking what’s going on here? Anyway, it turned out that the wire came loose on the fuel pump, which I didn’t find out until later. The wire controlled the fuel pump and it shut the fuel pump down. There we laid dead in the water. Mark and Eric Nelson came and got us. I stayed in the pilothouse and we tied a line on another guy — around his waist with a life jacket on him, and sent him up forward onto the house. You know if I remember right, it took us a long time to get that line. We had drifted quite a ways by that time. One of the guys I had with me, Holy cow! Was he scared. But, we finally got a hold of the line and the Nelson’s pulled us about half way in. I talked to my brother on the radio with the Coast Guard frequency that reached out pretty far. He was on shore that day and contacted Cummins. He said, “Try the manual override. There is a button on the engine that can override the electronics, which will run it in manual mode.” I did that — she got the fuel and then we took the line off the boat and made it in on our own.