When people use the expression “over the top,” we usually assume they mean something like “way more than expected” or “unbelievable.” Actually, it is supposed to have come from war days when soldiers in the trenches were sent “over the top” to meet enemy fire.
Many years ago I came up with my own meaning for this expression. Way back about 1986, I was commercial fishing with my husband (Captain Gary). I was tired of spending so many summers alone and thought I’d give deckhanding on a troller a try. Big mistake!
Some people get over seasickness in a few days; some try various remedies until they find one that works; some try everything and find nothing that works. The latter – that was me. I tried all the remedies. Nothing worked. I even tried patches of scopolamine sold as “Transderm” that you put behind your ears. All that did for me was make me nearly blind for three days. My pupils were as big as those of a druggie on acid. No wonder. I found out later that only one patch should be worn at a time. If you remember from my previous post that I’m the girl who doesn’t like to read the directions first, you won’t be surprised to hear that I assumed that because I had two ears, I should wear a patch behind each one. But never mind. They didn’t work anyway. I was one sick seadog for the whole summer.
Still, Mom and Pop got their share of spring salmon.
It was worst when the weather was a bit breezy and the sea was lumpy. I had to learn to function and make myself useful no matter what the sea conditions were or how sick they made me.
On the top end of Graham Island (part of the Queen Charlotte Islands), the seas were not usually as rough as they were on the west coast where the southeasters blew in from the open Pacific. Captain Gary often took pity on me and anchored with the sissy fishermen in the nooks and crannies of the sheltered top end. In the morning, as the sun’s first rays filtered through the cloudy horizon, we headed out towards the west coast. We had to go through Parry Passage, a stretch of water between Langara Island and Graham Island where the tides sometimes ran quite fiercely.
We had a couple of hours of running time ahead of us so it was too early to set the trolling lines out behind us. We’d do that when we got near the fishing grounds. I sat on the bench in the wheelhouse across from the captain at the helm which is like the dash in a car.
I dreaded the onslaught of the lumpy waves of the west coast. We were the first boat heading west through the passage, Captain Gary needing to make up for a lot of lost fishing time because of his wimpy deckhand.
Up ahead white foam danced on the tops of mountainous waves. My eyes bugged out yet another millimeter as I hooked my claws into the wooden shelf of the helm just behind the windshield.
“It’s a bit breezy today, isn’t it?” I tried to keep the whimper out of my voice.
“It’s not too bad.” Captain Gary took another sip of his cup of acidic, stomach-burning black coffee while I held my breath so as not to inhale it and start the nausea quivering in my guts. I loved coffee, but on the boat it was deadly for a weak deckie like me.
My fingernails dug a little tighter into the edge of the helm. “Those waves look pretty big.”
“Nah! It’s just a bit rough in this part of the pass. The tide’s running one way and the wind’s blowing the other. Makes it a bit choppy.”
I must have looked pathetic because he added, “Look! It’s often like this in the pass and once you get out on the other side it’s quite fishable. There might be a bit of a roll, but it shouldn’t be too bad.”
I kept quiet. Swallowed. Nodded ever so slightly. Let out a long soft sigh.
“Tell you what,” Captain Gary said. “We’ll just stick out nose out and if it’s too rough we’ll turn around and come back and fish the top end where it’s calmer.”
” ‘kay.” I breathed a sigh of relief, but the relief didn’t last long. “Holy shit! Look at those waves.”
Several huge waves were coming at us now. Definitely tidal action whipped up by the wind. Up went the boat to the crest of a wave. As it washed away under the hull we were pitched downward at an uncomfortably steep angle, taking a splashing over the bow from the next wave that followed close on the previous one. Up we went again and all the dishes slid around in the cupboards, the coffee pot slid to the other end of the stove, and the soap dispenser flew off the counter. As the crest of that wave passed under the middle of the hull we pitched downward again into the trough between waves. This time we were still pointing down towards the bottom when the next gigantic wave crashed “over the top” of the boat.
We were diving. Fortunately all the windows were shut tightly and the wheelhouse door was closed. So why did I feel like I was in the shower? The front of the boat, by the helm was soaking wet from the water that forced its way into the wheelhouse. My claws had finally dug right into the helm and I stared at the windshield, wondering where the sky was. For several seconds that seemed like minutes, I watched the water wash down the windows – GREEN, GREEN, GREEN – with no sign of sky. At last we bobbed up. I turned to look out the side windows towards the back.
On the farther side of the pass and a little behind us was the Northern Viking, a fine big boat. A quarter mile behind us was the Flicka I, also bigger than our boat.
“I guess they figured if Gary’s going out, it must be okay out there,” he said. Captain Gary picked up the mickey and called the Flicka I. “Hey, Milt,” he said, “I can see your cooling pipes from here.”
For those who don’t know, the cooling pipes are near the bottom of the hull. With each wave, the Flicka I pitched up and we could see her underbelly. After a few seconds of chitchat, Milt said he was turning around.
“Okay,” Captain Gary said to me, “you’ll be happy to hear we’re turning around too.”
The smile I felt coming on was wiped off my face before it could take shape. More giant waves loomed in front of us. Fortunately they weren’t as close together as the ones that had mistaken us for a dive boat, but still, to turn the boat sideways to those waves could be fatal.
I needn’t have worried though. Captain Gary handled the boat like an expert. Timing it just right, he started the turn just after a wave passed the bow and then he gunned the engine and whipped the wheel around. The next wave lifted the stern quarter high and pushed us from behind. After that we were going with the waves rather than against them, and we surfed back to the shelter of the top end.
As we got into waters that were only a bit rough as opposed to violent, Captain Gary said, “Go on up front and pitch that seaweed off the anchor and the deck.”
From outside I called, “The roof of the wheelhouse is just full of seaweed and slop.”
“Wait till we get into calmer water. Then you can get up on the roof.”
I realized then that I hadn’t had time to be seasick during that whole ordeal when the waves were “over the top.”