by Charlie Clifton and Steve Griffing
For a month, the salmon had beeen biting voraciously, steadily attracting more boats as word spread over the radio. Fighting 15-25 knot northwesters when fish were biting was no problem. Dragging hooks through a desert of water with seldom a bite in flat calm weather was wearing on some nerves.
“I'm going in. I can't stand this shit.” A voice came over VHF radios throughout the fleet.
“Stick and stay and make it pay”. A voice of reason countered.
“I need to get my stereo fixed.” Another fisherman chimed in.
“You don't need a stereo to catch fish. You won't make any money on the beach.” Another broadcast from a voice of reason.
Since it provided an interesting diversion this banter went on and on. Someone would invent an excuse to head for port. Someone else would come back with another reason to stay out. It provided entertainment in the absence of fish. Most of the boats were well short of a normal ten day trip. They continued tacking up and down outside the Cape Mendocino “lightship”.
However, a dead silence followed the next broadcast, “Mojo says he will go into the VD and apologize to Tina.”
The Z Squad had a a policy which stated that a vote would be taken to break a trip. “Stick and stay or go and play.” Mojo listened intently to the squad banter as he ran the gear between waves of nausea. It was not a unanimous decision but the squad wanted to see Mojo apologize.
Then the airwaves erupted with squawking produced by multiple simultaneous broadcasts. After three days of talking about it they wanted to see the performance.After a while, you could make out snippets of sentences.
“...puttin' 'em on the boat.”
“...gettin' the hell out of Dodge.”
“....VD at eleven.”
The radio echoed requests from miles away to postpone the apology so that they could see a classic gotcha.
The radio traffic slowly wound down. 30 west coast salmon trollers, from a 32 foot Monterrey Clipper to a 61' 9” Ed Monk design, were steaming for the Humboldt River entrance, the town of Eureka that lay upriver and specifically, a seedy waterfront dive named the Vista del Mar.
The old hangout has fallen victim to the gentrification of the Eureka waterfront,
but in 2010 it's still there.
The first time the crew of the “Victory” pulled into Humboldt Bay and tied up at the City Marina in Eureka, it was a fine April morning in the early 1970s. They had run the 36 foot double ender down from Newport, Oregon for the opening of the Chinook Salmon season.
Looking for breakfast, the two of them were walking across the railroad switching yard toward Broadway when they noticed Eureka's finest flanking their path in a squad car. The cruiser pulled into the yard and stopped them. A friendly officer asked, “You boys new in town?”
“Where are you going?”
“We're looking for a place to get some breakfast.”
“Well, hop in and we'll give you a ride.”
This unexpected show of hospitality was very welcome and the young men jumped right in.
As they headed for the business district, the friendly officer continued, “Salmon season doesn't open for five days. What are you guys going to do in the meantime?”
“We have some last minute chores to get ready and then we're going out early to scout.”
“That's very nice”, the officer said and then became dead serious. “You see that bar over there?” He pointed to an innocuous, one story wooden building on the bay.
“That place is called the Vista del Mar. It is nothing but trouble. Last week a guy was beat up in the parking lot in an argument over a six pack of beer. If you boys know what is good for you, you'll steer clear. A word to the wise... you get me?” For some reason the officer neglected to mention that the VD was the best place to get breakfast in the waterfront area.
“Yes, sir. Thanks for the tip.”
The cops drove them to Denny's and bade farewell.
The two fishermen got out, looked at each other and both knew exactly where they would be headed that night.
The Vista del Mar provided a totally unique entertainment venue. It could only exist in that time and place. The likes of it will never be seen again.
The clientele consisted of loggers, Indians, bikers, hippies, rednecks and, from April to July, salmon fishermen. The attractions consisted of good drinks, loud music, pool, drugs, chippies, fights, fornication and laughs. Yes, there are eye witness reports of a couple doing it on the floor one night. The VD was also the official northern clubhouse of the Z Squad, a band of salmon fishermen with a reputation for being the premier practical jokers on the Pacific coast.
By the late 70's the demise of the salmon fleet and the associated life style was not far off. But none of the crews on the boats steaming toward Eureka were thinking about that. The only thing on any of their minds was that they wanted to be in the Vista, at their favorite table, when Mojo walked in the door to apologize to Tina.
A "mojo" is a fisherman's term for the very biggest of the Chinook salmon. Mojo the fisherman stood 6' 7” and ranged between 260 and 275 pounds. He was 26 years old with wavy, strawberry blond hair and a grin that could make you laugh or scare the shit out of you.
Mojo and his captain, Dildo , had been fishing the 60' “Halo” out of Eureka for about a month. When they first came up from Half Moon Bay, Mojo had gone up to town for a haircut. He fell in love with the girl who cut his hair and envisioned a blissful future. They were a lovely couple.
It wasn't long before a Z Squad boat captain lowcrawled him while he was on a trip, putting an end to an intense but short lived love affair. Disconsolate when he found out, he went into the Vista to ease his pain and drown his sorrows.
Bartender Tina was friend, consoler, and psychologist for the salmon fleet. The Z Squad boys were her favorites and she always gave them special attention. Special attention and consoling Mojo, in this case, consisted of pouring him drinks from noon to midnight.
By that time, he was on the way down so naturally he invited Tina to come home with him. She politely declined. To show her what she was missing, he stripped off his clothes and proceeded to demonstrate the rutting ritual of the male sea lion. In order to simulate the natural environment of a sea side rookery, it was necessary to mount the bar and wriggle along its' length with proper sound effects. “OORT! OORT!”
Patrons seated at the bar helped the realism by throwing beer and other drinks disguised as ocean waves. They were soon joined by customers from the tables. “OORT! OORT! OORT! OORT!” The Vista was transformed into a surging, splashing, barking rookery.
When Mojo awoke, he was 86ed from the Vista, on the “Halo”five miles off Cape Mendocino and dawn was just beginning to break. He had no idea how he had gotten from the VD to the wharf, then down 30 feet to the boat and then into his bunk. Captain Dildo was shaking him awake. (Dildo received his name because a particular lure he favored resembled the sexual aid, not because of any personal traits.)
“Time to get the gear in the water.”
“....ooooh. I think I've dissolved my liver”, Mojo groaned as he rolled out of his bunk and into his boots. He went out and put the gear in the water.
For the next three days, he did his work but it was painful and he was dragging. A few days off would sure be nice.
“I need a rest, Dildo”, he pleaded.
“The fish are off the bite”, he reasoned.
“This is a waste of fuel”, he tried economics.
Mojo desperately wanted a recuperation on the beach. Dildo wanted to grind it out and get in a trip.
Mojo wracked his brain for a way to convince Dildo to head for the beach. Finally the light bulb lit. During another whining radio out burst of “I want to go in “ it struck him. “You take me in and I'll go into the Vista and make an apology to Tina and I guarantee I will make it worthwhile.”
after the Squad vote, a big grin lit up Dildo's face. “Put 'em on the boat”' he said. “We're headed for town”.
As the boats rafted up along the wharf behind the Vista, a curious ensign could be seen flying from the bar's sign above the roof. A pair of XXL underwear was wafting in the light north west breeze, a portent of events to come that night.
By 10 PM, the VD was starting to hit its' stride. Outside, cars and taxis were coming and going. Motorcycles were roaring up and down Waterfront Drive. A steady stream of fishermen were coming down the wharf from rafts of boats all the way down to F Street. The word was out that something was up.
The building itself seemed to throb and pump like a beating heart. The music could be heard blocks away.
Players only love you when they're playing
They say, women, they will come and they will go
When the rain washes you clean you'll know
Inside the place was packed. Tina and Jack were serving drinks so fast they were a blur. Seats at the bar and the tables were full with a standing room crowd in between. The pool table was completely surrounded.
Mackel, the leader of the Z Squad, was holding court at his favorite table. He, Dago, Pablo, Coon, Peterskins, Gar, Dildo and the rest of the gang had ring side seats.
When Mojo appeared in the door way, an uncanny silence descended. Ice stopped tinkling. Glasses stopped clanking. Pool balls stopped clacking. Conversation ceased. The music halted. The fight paused in the parking lot. Time stopped.
His head came all the way to the top of the door jamb. His shoulders reached the sides. He wore a full length, dark blue, woolen top coat that came all the way down over his fishing boots.
He looked straight at Tina behind the bar and recited this poem:
git you got.
My underwear you have.
I want them not.
An' as of this day,
I've come to say,
I have returned
with a debt to pay.
Before Tina could grant him clemency and revoke the 86, Mojo opened the top coat. From the top of his head to the top of his boots was pure flesh and lots of it. Not a stitch of clothing adorned his voluminous hide...... with one exception. Tied around his dangling penis was a bright, red ribbon tied in a bow.
“Your debt is paid. Here's a drink”, said Tina and the whole place broke out in cheers.
The music came back up. The pool game resumed. The fight in the parking lot reignited. Toasts were made.
Stories continued. The building throbbed and pumped. The salmon fleet was in town and the good times were rolling.
Returning brought back a lot of good memories,
Click here for more pictures of the salmon fleet.
The motivation to write the story and start scanning the 1978 slides are due to