The thing that scares Ronald Mehan the most is a man overboard. This is why, after fishing in Alaska for more than 40 years, he knows a fisherman needs all the protection he can get, even divine protection.
“Cook Inlet, for the most part, is not really really bad,” said Mehan, a commercial salmon fisherman at Ocean Beauty Dock. “It does get nasty, but there’s always a potential for problems.”
At any given period during the fishing season, Mehan and his colleagues spend 18 to 30 hours going after salmon. Although known for milder conditions than the Pacific or Bering Sea, fishing Cook Inlet is a dangerous business.
“We could always have a propeller shaft break and open a two inch hole,” he said, “it don’t take very long to fill that boat up.”
After Monday’s blessing of the Kenai fleet, fishermen are confident that every boat will make it back to the dock safely with its fair share of fish.
“I think it’s neat,” said Sam Jones, captain of the Thrasher. “Hopefully it’s better than last year, we didn’t get a lot of fishing time.”
Pastor Stephen Brown of the Kenai New Life Assembly of God wrote his prayer with the traditional Methodist mariner’s hymn in mind. Not only did he ask God to protect every boat, captain and crew member from injury, his prayer encompassed the entire fleet including the quantity of its catch as well as the equipment and technology the industry depends on.
“We pray that every boat captain and crew will be well compensated for their work, that every shorehand and processor will be able to work the hours that will make this industry a thriving industry,” he said, “that every family will be provided for, that the fishing way of life will be preserved for future generations and that your blessing will make us grateful and not greedy.”
Brown said he did a blessing at the Kenai Municipal Dock, but it was so long ago, he couldn’t remember how his prayer went.
“This is the first time we’ve done this in a very long time,” he said. “It’s not strong in our tradition (but) it’s something we certainly support.”
After fishing for king crab in the Bering Sea and herring at Kodiak Island, Mehan said all the fleets he’s been with has done this.
“We’d always did it in the Bering Sea and they do it up and down the West Coast,” he said. “I’ve never in all the years I’ve fished, never heard of them doing it. I thought it would be a good thing to do.”
Christine Mehan, Ronald’s wife, organized the event, which brought Soldotna Mayor David Carey and Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor John Williams.
“(Ronald) said, ‘Why can’t our pastor bless our fleet? It’s just as dangerous and we don’t know what kind of accidents we could have,’” Christine Mehan said. “We thought our fishermen, too, should be blessed publicly.”
Not knowing when the fishermen will be called to action, Christine Mehan said there are days when her husband doesn’t come home at night.
“He lives on the boat,” she said. “They all live on the boat. They come off to take a shower, (but) they want to stay available so they don’t go very far from the boat.”
As she stood in the boat yard with her family and the pastor, she said she felt confident that this would be a good season.
“We got the big guy involved,” she said. “We’re blessed and ready to go.”
Skip Gilgore, who has been the dock manager at Ocean Beauty Dock for six years, said he’d be happy to have next year’s blessing at the dock.
“We would be open to doing it every year,” he said.
Over the years Ronald Mehan passed down the love of fishing to his sons, and all he wants to do is continue that family tradition.
“Hopefully the Lord will be watching over us, making sure my kids are safe and we all come home in one piece,” Mehan said.
Jessica Cejnar can be reached at email@example.com.
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