My forklifting experience got me the opportunity on the front dock, but I did not do any forklifting for some weeks. A young man named Chris was the other new addition brought on because he came from Maine, as did Gil, the crew chief. We were brought on and in the first days we were tested.
We were sent down into the ship holds of every boat. We went down with the team of Mexicans or Philipinos and Chris and I didn't get a break or a boat off. We were sent down into the thousands of pounds of stacked halibut and black cod and rock fish and the thousands of pounds more of ice, and we had to pitch and shovel it all out into the heavy metal totes and buckets lowered into the ship hold by crane.
Your joints felt like they were being torn apart, your fingers and wrists ached, you got ice in your boots and your toes went numb, your back hurt from being hunched over in the tiny ship hold, but you kept pace and pitched fish into the bucket and then you broke the solid ice with a chisel and you sweated and shoveled it out.
Gil told us after the first day to come back in the morning at 8. Another day of pitching and shoveling in the holds and we were told to come back again. Then one day we had five boats and we made seven trips down into the holds and it was after dinner, after 13 hours of brutal work that day, that just Chris and I were sent into the final ship hold, a tiny, narrow hold containing halibut mixed in with the dangerously prickly-spined red rock fish.
There was slush and fish guts up to our knees in this hold and we had to dig down into it--unable to use a gaff hook-- feeling for the prickly rock fish, or feeling for the chin of a halibut. The work went slowly, but there was the feeling that this was to be the final test, that this day and this last ship hold would get us confirmed.
Our raingear covered in fish guts and slime, our clothes sweated through completely underneath, our rubber gloves torn to pieces by rock fish spines, fingers and hands burning from the pricks, we had the hold cleaned out and came out after 10 pm. Nobody said anything to us. Then Gil said we were on tomorrow at 8 am. Keep coming in at 8 unless someone tells you otherwise, he said. In the first few weeks that was how it went on the front dock crew.