“Well, That Was Fun.”

“Well, that was fun,” said nobody, ever. Oh wait, what?You weren’t there? Let me explain.

Lori French (pictured above with her husband, Jeff) has been the proud wife of a commercial fisherman for more than three decades, and strives to educate the general public about the fishing way of life and how seafood gets to their dinner table. She has held positions with various organizations, including of Central Coast Women for Fisheries, the Morro Bay Commercial Fisherman’s Organization and the Morro Bay Harbor Festival.

First off, I’m the Super Glamorous Fishwife of the Old Man of the Sea and I feel the need to share our world of commercial fishing. I formerly wrote for another fishing magazine, but then they decided to embrace ocean wind energy. That didn’t sit too well for me, so I basically stopped writing for them. So basically, we have some catching up to do. 

(Let this be a lesson: do not tick a fishwife off, especially one with a big mouth, ‘er I meant pen, or keyboard.).

Now where was I? Oh, that’s right. Dungeness crab season in California.

First, we had a season start delay which is turning into the new not-fun normal, and then California Fish & Wildlife threw a new one onto the fire—50% gear reduction below District 3 (don’t even get me started on that one).

So, the Old Man of the Sea and the Young Cowboy (our neighbor out on the ranch who’s a ball of energy and loves commercial fishing) prepped for crab season and then sat, waiting for the whales to clear out.

Once the whales moved on, the crappy weather moved in. Of course.

Their first trip was “*&^%$#@ing rough,” but they caught some crab and made it in. The Old Man of the Sea did mention at one point there was talk of survival suits (the sound you hear is me raising his life insurance policy).

On the way home, the Old Man of the Sea started having problems with his vision. He casually mentioned it the next morning as they were getting ready to sell crab, and again as he moved a ton or so of chicken feed for me and again when he reattached the roofs to my chicken coops that had taken wind damage.

I talked to our regular eye doctor, and he worked in the Old Man of the Sea. Based on the Old Man’s description, he diagnosed an abrasion on his cornea.

When it didn’t get better, the Old Man of the Sea made his own appointment with the specialist. That should have been my first clue that something was serious, but I was preoccupied with the weather and my chickens and my job. The Old Man of the Sea has never, and I do mean never, made his own doctors’ appointments in 44 years.

So, Monday morning dawns with high winds and rain. I mean, rain! As in the type of rain we don’t normally see. We’d already had about 10 days of rain, so things were kinda squishy.

The Old Man of the Sea headed into town—San Luis Obispo—and called me about an hour later. By now all hell had broken loose, and things were flooding.

“I have a detached retina and they are doing emergency surgery at 12:30.” 

“Okay I’ll be right there.” 

This was about 11-ish. My first clue that this was going to be a nasty drive, the ponds above us were overflowing into our pond and our pond was overflowing into the avocado orchard.

So, I headed down the road and about a quarter-mile before the area where the creek crossed the road, there was no road. The creek was flooding. Okay, deep breath here. I did what any other sane fisherman’s wife would do: drove through the rushing water, about a half-miles’ worth of three-feet-deep rushing water, and made it to the other side.

I was saying some not-really-nice words as I noticed our neighbor’s orchard was underwater and journeyed on. In the meantime, my best friend called me—she lives further down the road, and I hadn’t reached her place yet. Their orchard was flooding. Their barn was taking a direct hit. I told her where and why I was going into San Luis Obispo, and I’d keep her posted.

Near the bottom of our road, I had to stop, our local horseshoer’s house was flooded. I mean, flooded. He and his dad were trying to rescue his farrier trailer. His little boat was floating. I just looked at him and he gave me the thumbs-up sign and yelled “it’s all good.” Clearly it wasn’t. I continued with the promise of helping out when I could.

I assumed I was in the clear once I got onto California Highway 1. You know what they say about assumed? It makes an ass out of you. Yeah, well, that was me. I was driving in the southbound lane on Highway 1 when I noticed logs floating in the northbound lane. Wait, what? A bit further, the flood waters were coming over the median wall and the southbound lane was rushing water.

The traffic was stopping, and the little car ahead of me did a U-turn to drive against oncoming traffic. The car next to me happened to be some new-to-the-area friends. They shouted at me, asking what I was going to do and in the next split second I made my decision to go for it.

I figured the edge of the road would go first and if I stayed away from the water rushing over the median I might just make it, so I drove on. This was probably not one of my smarter decisions in life and I figured if I made it the Old Man of the Sea could yell at me to his heart’s content. If I didn’t make it, well, then he’d have to figure out his coffee pot on his own.

When I got to the other side, I unclenched my white knuckles and got out of my truck to take pictures. My new friends made it across and all the others on the other side didn’t take the chance. BTW, there were no highway patrols or sheriff’s deputies there yet.

As I hit the outskirts of San Luis Obispo the Old Man of the Sea called.

“Where are you?,” he said. “I just hit SLO, you should see the roads!,” I replied.

“Okay, well they canceled the surgery today,” he said. “They closed the surgery center because of the weather.”

A while later, after more consulting with the doctor, we attempted to go back home. Highway 1 was now officially closed as was any route into Morro Bay, so we turned around and had lunch and attempted heading home again.

No luck, all the roads into Morro Bay were still closed, so I went Googling for a hotel. Score! I did feel pretty sleazy checking into a local hotel with no clothes or toothbrush, but the Old Man of the Sea just happened to have his boat bag in the back seat of my truck, so he at least had clean underwear.

My next goal was to locate a phone charger, so after tucking the very stressed-out Old Man on the bed with a TV clicker and a football game, I went shopping. Shopping involved water (me), peanut M&M’s (me), phone charger (us), a bottle of whiskey (him). Now don’t get any ideas here, the Old Man of the Sea really isn’t a huge drinker, and the store didn’t have any single beers.

Back at the hotel I poured the Old Man of the Sea a shot and handed it to him.

“I don’t need a drink!,” he said. My reply: “This isn’t about you, this is about me, and I need you to have a drink to calm down.”

He drank a little bit, and the shot of whiskey, a large chocolate milkshake, onion rings and a polish dog had the desired effect of chilling him out so he could sleep.

And now for the other side of the story. Since the Old Man of the Sea couldn’t miss this eye appointment, the Young Cowboy got a temporary crew: Mike, another neighbor from a couple miles up the road. He’s a backhoe operator who likes to sport fish.

When I found out Mike was going, I nagged the Old Man of the Sea to get the work vests off of our Langosta II and onto the Fishy Business and then I texted the Young Cowboy and Backseat Mom-ed him to wear the blasted things. I’m good like that. And I’m 95% sure I would have had his mom’s approval to nag him, but I didn’t tell her because she doesn’t need the extra worry.

They took off for Half Moon Bay where the weather was a bit better, but still not great. The Old Man of the Sea watched the Young Cowboy on AIS all day and they texted and talked in between. The Old Man was two steps beyond nervous because of Mike’s inexperience (the Young Cowboy has several salmon seasons under his belt, but this is only his second crab season).

Back in the fall, the Young Cowboy had told Mike that his only goal this crab season was to outwork the Old Man of the Sea. Mike laughed at the time. Needless to say, with the newly diagnosed detached retina, the fact that the Old Man of the Sea had been doing everything he wasn’t supposed to do with a detached retina, and the Young Cowboy out running gear in dubious weather, well, I needed him to have a shot of whiskey.

The doctor had rescheduled the Old Man of the Sea’s surgery for the next morning. I had spent most of my night figuring out if I could get home, feed my hens (I have around 1,000 of them), change my clothes and get back into SLO before his surgery, while arranging to get his truck home, also.

When dawn came, through the magic of text messages and friends, I figured I could do it. I made it back into town at a dead run and got the Old Man to the hospital. We found out the doctor had spent the night at the same hotel, as he also lives in Morro Bay.

The surgery went well, and the Old Man of the Sea is now on the road to recovery with some pretty harsh restrictions: no driving, has to keep his head down, no looking up, no heavy lifting, no more crab season.

The first words he said on the way home were “Damn, I can’t even see to back seat drive.” Backseat driving is one of his special talents in life. We’re 17 days out and he has cabin fever. I’m still driving him around and he has figured out how to backseat drive, so the surgery didn’t slow that down at all. It’s going to be a very long three or four months until salmon season.

P.S. The whiskey bottle hasn’t been touched again, but I’m thinking about it, and I don’t really drink.