A collection of blogs and musings from the people that work at the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum - Florida's Finest Lightstation.

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On the High Seas

Posted by: Brendan Burke in LAMPosts

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Two of our past interns, Karson Winslow and Lindsay Jones, have become mariners of sorts since their departure from LAMP. Karson is on the S/V Soren Larsen out of Auckland, New Zealand and Lindsay on the M/V Ocean Phoenix out of Seattle, Washington. Read below to see where they work and where their work has taken them…

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Kason on the left wearing her official Soren Larsen duds.

Karson Winslow came to LAMP as student from Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia and was employed as an intern for the summer and part of the fall of 2007. Her departure in October led her straight from St. Augustine to Auckland, New Zealand to board her ship. The Soren Larsen is Danish built and was laid down in 1949 in Nykobing Mors and is a brigantine rigged sailing vessel 145’ in length (sparred). Although she is officially flagged in Colchester, England her homeport is Auckland and her recent career for the past decade has been sailing the southern Pacific offering working cruises for paying passengers. Built by the Soren Larsen & Sons shipbuilding company she was originally launched as a Danish trader carrying loads of timber, grain, and other general cargo. Her life as a trader lasted until 1972, very late for a sailing vessel to still be plying the waters as a merchantman. However, dull life was over and after being saved from the breakers yard her new cargo was movie stars.

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Working in the rigging.

Movies that starred the Soren Larsen include: “The Onedin Line”, “The Count of Monte Cristo”, “The French Lieutenant’s Woman” and “Shackleton”. Other notable roles for the ship was her position as the first British flagged sailing ship to round Cape Horn since 1936. This was in 1991, fifty-five years since the Union Jack had battled the notorious rough cape. Now, she serves as an excursion vessel sailing long distance trips carrying a small compliment of paying passengers who live as the crew, hauling sails and making the ship work for them. Currently, the Larsen is on a cruise exploring the South Pacific which includes port of call like: Vanuatu, Fiji, Easter Island, the Cook Islands, Tahiti, and many more charted-but-unknown isles throughout the Pacific archipelago.

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The Soren Larsen is brigantine rigged, note the square rigged foremast and the gaffed mainsail.

Karson is the ship’s cook and also plays a role when needed to help tend the sail rig. The overall crew size is twelve, including the captain. The Soren Larsen is known as a working tour boat where the paying clients act as part of the crew for their voyage and is highly regarded for this. Her touring is also quite dynamic as they put in to all sorts of exotic ports which cruise ships never get to and explore the surrounding with local guides. There are some great videos to see of their experiences if you go to www.youtube.com and type in “Soren Larsen”.

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S/S Ocean Phoenix

Lindsay’s boat is quite a bit different from the Soren Larsen. She picked a high latitude to work in as Seattle was her port of departure. A factory ship, the Ocean Phoenix is 680ft in length and is the mother ship to a small fleet (6-7) of stern trawlers fishing the Bering Sea. Lindsay arrived in Seattle in late May to be trained as a biological observer working for Premier Pacific Seafoods Inc. However, the Ocean Phoenix did not start out as a factory ship. In 1964 the American Mail Line laid down this vessel as the Oregon Mail, a break-bulk vessel. Break -bulk vessels were built to haul cargoes of non-uniform sizes and have largely been outdated by modern container ships. However, the US military maintains a merchant fleet of break-bulk carriers to haul diverse ranges of munitions, equipment and other materiel. In 1972 she followed the trend of the day and was converted into a container ship, where no longer were cargoes palletized or loaded loose into compartmentalized holds but sealed in twenty or forty foot containers we are familiar with today. When converted, her name was changed to the President Kennedy and operated as thus until 1989. Over the course of a year, she was again transformed into her modern appearance as the Ocean Phoenix and took on the new name. When this happens to a ship it is a drastic change as the superstructure (all of the above-decks space) has to bee largely gutted and modified to house a workforce of over 200 people. Similarly, the hold spaces are divided up into factory and storage units. The processing floors contain fine tuned machines which perform every operation from fish gutting, filleting, processing, and grinding, depending on the needs of the company and the fish that are being taken-on. Her overall displacement is 17,845 gross tons.

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Steaming at Night

The Ocean Phoenix is a highly complex mechanism. From their fleet of ‘catcher’ boats, they take on 15-20 deliveries a day weighing about 55 tons apiece. Getting 55 tons of fish onto the boat is a dangerous and complex maneuver completed by relatively few people but requires a great amount of skill and ability. The Ocean Phoenix trails a hawser behind her for the catcher boat to pick up. Once this is done a codend is attached. A codend is the fish bag on the end of the trawl net which catches and holds the fish and can weigh as much as 55 tons! The hawser is reeled in onto a giant windlass and the codend slides up and out of the water onto a ramp and then down onto a wash deck where the fish can be released onto the deck and into scuppers which direct the flow of fish into the factory. Lindsay’s first job begins here.

As a biological observer one of her duties is to sample from the codend. A major problem with industrialized fishing is bycatch. This is simply the problem of catching non-targeted fish which are of little to no value to the catcher but will nonetheless be killed in the process. Fishermen and fisheries scientists have devised multiple ways to limit the amount of bycatch from different types of fishing. The turtle excluder we have on display here at the Lighthouse is a fine example of bycatch elimination. No longer are sea turtles drowned in shrimp nets in the numbers they once were. In fact, the shrimping industry has been one of the most problematic types of fishing to eliminate bycatch from. Want to catch a shark off St. Augustine? Follow a shrimp boat. The sharks follow these guys like a pack of dogs, waiting for the trash fish to be thrown overboard!

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Docked at Dutch Harbor, AK

Back to our story though. Lindsay would wade into a torrent of fish with a large plastic tub. As the net was emptied she would sample from the catch to then record species and percentages of non-target fish. Many of these sampled fish would also be taken below to have their inner ear drum (called an otolith) removed so fisheries biologists can estimate age and chemical contamination from the sample. This work is messy, slimy, rough, cold, harsh, and back breaking. A haulback could happen at any time during the day since the factory operates nonstop and rough weather infrequently stops work. The Bering Sea, as many of us have seen from the television show “Deadliest Catch”, is no pussycat and has chewed up many a ship and swallowed the crew. Even in the summer months the water is cold and the wind often high, covering all on the weather deck in a freezing spray. Heavy foul weather gear is necessary and this encumbers the workers trying to load the fish into the boat.

Like Karson’s boat, the Ocean Phoenix (called the OPhoe, pronounced ‘O-fo’, by her crew) pulls in to some pretty amazing ports. While these port calls are infrequent since the OPhoe is unloaded at sea onto tramp steamers the scenery is pretty amazing when they do get close to land. The two most common ports are Dutch Harbor (the fishing part of the city of Unalaska) and Akutan. This second village has a year-round population of about 250 but swells to over 400 during the summer due to migrant labor in the Trident fish factory, the town’s only employer. Akutan is located in the middle of the Aleutian archipelago and was founded in 1978 as a fur storage port for the Western Fur & Trading Company. It has a deep-water terminal suitable for deep draft vessels such as the OPhoe and takes on thousands of tons of fish products for shipment to distant ports. The OPhoe’s main product is surimi, what we know of as crab with a ‘K’ or imitation crab. What doesn’t get made into surimi is made into fishmeal, a high oil content paste widely used in industrial applications, fertilizers, animal food, and cosmetics. Fish oil, resulting from fish paste production is stored in bulk tanks and can be filtered for use as a fuel in the ship’s engines.

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As you can see, Akutan is a bustling Aleutian metropolis.

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Engineers aboard the OPhoe.

The OPhoe fishes year-round, only stopping for repairs or to unload product and take on provisions. Like most fishing vessels time tied to a dock only costs the owners money and the crew makes very little. When fully loaded, she’s often unloaded at sea into a tramp steamer bound for a local port. However, sometimes the OPhoe steams to Japan, the world’s largest consumer of surimi, when her hold is particularly full and a season has just ended.

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Note the SALH pennant flying from the bridge of the OPhoe!


Enjoy the pictures here, they’re all courtesy of Lindsay.

Photos of the Soren Larsen are courtesy of: http://www.sorenlarsen.co.nz

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Lindsay's last day on the Ocean Phoenix. Taken from the sea plane that whisked her back to Dutch Harbor.

Comments (3)

This is really cool stuff, Brendan! Thanks for giving us an intern update . . .

This is a wonderful update! Neat to know they were out sailing.

This was a great write-up on the Ocean Phoenix. Very nice to see. Do you have other pictures of the OP? I was the medic on the phoenix for eight years. What years were you on her?

Thanks again.
Mike Cyra

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