Tales of a helicopter pilot in a tuna boat

Tales of a helicopter pilot in a tuna boat

Alfonso Vega, piloto de helicóptero en un atunero

This is how my brother, Alfonso Vega, will title his next blog to share his experiences as a helicopter pilot on a tuna boat in the Pacific Ocean. Every day he writes a short text of his experiences and anecdotes that he will try to publish as soon as he has access to any type of communication device. Since he started in late November his new adventure to Kiribati, a little island located about 3,000 kilometres south of Hawaii and about 10,000 kilometres northeast of Australia, it was almost impossible to contact him.

He can only be sent an email per week. When the captain receives that email addressed to the “Pilot Alfonso Vega”, he prints it and gave it to my brother. They do not receive all the emails we send and we even had to be about two weeks without any news from him. In his first email he explained the following experience: “Here I’m on this small and dark hole on the boat where I write. The truth is that it is not as bad as I was told it would be. It is true that this is a Korean ship, which apparently is a luxury one comparing to Chinese and Taiwanese tuna boats. My bunk is big enough, in a shared cabin, so I can not complain. As for the food, it is basically extremely spicy rice and other sort of spicy foods. He says: “As I have a really good relationship with the cook, he prepares specially for me non-spicy food, and although he does not speak a word of English, we understand each other perfectly well. I usually spend the afternoon with him in the kitchen while he is cooking dinner and I laugh a lot when he tells me that his favourite dish is monkey brains (as in Indiana Jones, hehehehe) and I tell him with my hands that I will always check what he is cooking…”.

Alfonso Vega pilots a helicopter on a tuna boat in the Pacific Ocean

Alfonso flies with a Salvadoran pilot on a tuna boat named Elspeth. He took his first flight for 15 minutes to get used to the helicopter, but as this is a boat that has a platform that rises up to 5 meters in seconds is complicated to land with the rolling waves punching the ship. However, he thinks that the platform is very well maintained by the mechanic, who is very precise and responsible. After a couple of weeks at the deep sea following an instructional process to adapt himself to the new machine, he felt very comfortable, despite the fact that he had been a few months without flying after the helicopter crash he suffered in Chile. “I love this machine, it is a toy with power, I’m glad I came here and not to other boats which have the Robisnson 44 helicopter, much less potent, specially because in this ship there are many situations where you need the machine to respond quickly and effectively”, he states.

The boat brought more than 600 tones of tuna to Rabaul (Papua New Guinea)

In mid-December the Korean ship was carrying 600 tonnes of fish. Once they filled the boat, they moored in Rabaul (Papua New Guinea), the nearest port to their current location. Apparently, Rabaul is one of the most dangerous places in the world. “From what I have been told, on that port we can not even get off the boat, as it is one of the most dangerous places in the world. Even the sailors are afraid to get off the ship to get some provisions” he says.

He spent those days with the Salvadoran pilot chatting all day, as when the Salvadoran pilot would leave, they would be a long time without speaking Spanish. They left the port sooner than expected, en route to international waters. In Rabaul there was no WiFi anywhere – the only option to get internet access was paying 100 euros in a hotel. Although Alfonso does not want to come back to Rabaul, the most dangerous place he has ever been (and he has been almost everywhere in the world), apparently the next stop will be again in that port, since apparently the ship must renew its fishing license in Papua New Guinea.

Thanks to the ebook he recently purchased, the time passes by easily. He has read more books in a month than the whole books he read before, and he has also organized a schedule to study and do some exercise, especially now that the Salvadoran pilot has moved to another tuna boat.

“Regarding the flight thing, this is not a very good boat, as I just fly about 30 hours per month (compared to others who fly 100 hours a month) but I do not want to risk asking for a change of boat that may bring me to a Chinese or a Taiwanese ship”, he explains, noting also that he is trying to manage with a captain in Bermeo a transfer to their boat within several months.

Soy periodista, con una inclinación natural e inevitable por el Líbano en particular, y, en general, por todos los conflictos aparentemente minoritarios que podrían extrapolarse al resto del mundo. Estudié Periodismo y Humanidades y realicé un máster en Edición de Libros en la Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. Actualmente estoy volcada en el Grado de Estudios Ingleses y soy adicta al trabajo, a la literatura y a la fotografía. Desearía que los días tuvieran más horas para poder poner en práctica todas las ideas y proyectos que sueño en las pocas horas que duermo.