F/V Morning Light
After the past two days, the act of splashing cold water onto her face held no restorative benefit. Except the absence of salt spray, Bian smirked at her reflection. The woman in her mirror appeared somewhat older than her fifty-three years. Creases and bags around the eyes were more prominent, just as likely the result of sleep deprivation as they were a sign of her age. Decades of sun and wind had coarsened her skin. Once lustrous jet black hair now streaked grey, with a weatherbeaten frizz to which she’d long ago surrendered. The sea had transformed her into its’ own creation.
She checked the time. Fourteen-fifty. In a few minutes, the season would begin properly. She could send the signal, and have her decks cleared of their illicit catch. It had been risky, spending the last two days fishing the churned waters in the hurricane’s wake, but so far, the move had paid off. Not a single Marine Patrol boat had shown, and there’d been no flyovers. The crew were all equally weary, but their spirits held. The preseason catch had been robust. Once China Doll collected her cargo, their work would begin anew.
“Bian.” Darius’ voice over the intercom. “We got company.”
She finished drying her face, then hung the towel before keying her mic. “What do you make of her?”
“Fast mover, on a southerly course. Grey paint job.”
Captain Bian Nguyen only had to utter a single word. “Showtime.”
The F/V Morning Light was no stranger to the act of poaching. Her crew were well drilled in the art of “nautical naughtiness” and the ways to defuse the curiosity of both surface vessels and aircraft. As she climbed the aft ladder toward the wheelhouse, Bian noted the heavy tarp which covered the waiting tuna. Paint work consisting of numerous meter length brown stripes would be read from the air as a stack of crab or lobster traps. As she took to the bridge, her deckhands completed the masquerade by making a show of hauling a trap line. The final accessory to her costume, the placards, had been put into place when they’d begun fishing.
“Vessel to my port beam,” the radio squawked as she entered, “this is the charter boat ‘Slippery When Wet.’ You copy?”
“Five by five, Slippery,” Darius traded glances with Bian. “This is the fishing vessel Mariah P, at your service.”
“Havin’ any luck?”
“Negative, negative,” the First Mate responded. “Hurricane scattered our crab traps all to hell and back. Gonna be lucky if we recover half of em, copy?”
Bian cast a glance over her shoulder, her eye satisfied by the sight of the deck crew hoisting a trap from the heaving seas. The intruder spoke again. “Fair sorry to hear it, Mariah. Got a couple guys chartered us for King Tuna, but considerin’ who they brought with ‘em I conjure won’t be much fishin’ goin’ on.”
Darius trained his binoculars. After a moment’s study, he smiled at the number of bikinis in sight on the charter yacht’s after deck. “Roger that, Slip. Guess it’s good somebody’s gettin’ some, copy?”
The other captain laughed. “Not these two horn dogs. They’re takin’ turns bent over the head. My deckhand’s gonna try’n teach the little cuties to fish so the trip’s not a total bust.”
“Sounds like mighty tough duty, Cap. Seas ahead on your course should even out by nightfall. I gotta get back to it. Mariah P. out.”
“Good luck to you, Mariah P. Slippery When Wet out.”
Bian had studied the radar throughout the exchange. “He’s not changing course. Should drop below the horizon in another ten ticks.” She lifted her binoculars. After a moment’s study, she turned toward Darius. “Looks like they’ve got enough distractions aboard to look at. Let’s drop our veils.”
“Yes, ma’am,” the First Mate hustled from the wheelhouse. Within a minute’s time, the faux crab trap operation was removed, tucked away into its’ stowage. Placards bearing the name “Mariah P” and a false registry number were removed and stashed. Nguyen looked down upon the deck in time to see the pantomime tarp being rolled and folded. The exposed cargo, four thousand pounds of King Tuna, lay secure in eight large ice tubs.
She made the final reveal, switching transponders. Now, if anyone cared to look, the Morning Light was on station, ready to enter the fishing grounds and claim her due.
“Deck’s clear,” he announced, his frame filling the aft doorway.
Captain Nguyen checked the time. “Fifteen-oh-two. Just barely legal,” she smirked at Darius. “I’ll signal the China Doll.”