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Rime Of The Nascent Mariner: Local Fishermen Show Performance Chops At 'Stories Of The Sea'

Ashley Gross
John van Amerongen is emcee of Stories of the Sea and sings songs at the event

A maritime festival taking place in Seattle this week is a good reminder of our city’s strong ties to the ocean. Thursday evening, an event called Stories of the Sea takes place at a pub at Fishermen’s Terminal. It’s like a story slam for fishermen, ferry captains and other mariners. 

For a taste of the event, I tracked down emcee John van Amerongen, who pulled out his guitar and sang his song, "Trip to the Bering Sea," a wry tale about a guy on a crabbing boat for the first time. The young man has an unfortunate encounter with the bait chopper, a machine that grinds up fish.

Well, it's been six years but to order three beers, it takes two hands, you see,

A reminder of my foolish love for life on the Bering Sea

Van Amerongen sings songs at Stories of the Sea. He’s director of marketing communications for Trident Seafoods and used to edit the Alaska Fisherman’s Journal.

He says lots of big, strong fishermen you wouldn’t think of as literary types have something they want to express.

Poems Written On Fish Labels

"I got a poem once from a guy written on the back of a canned salmon label," van Amerongen said. 

Life at sea swings from being really intense – when you’re caught in a storm, or pulling up crab pots – to periods of downtime and opportunities for reflection.

"You’re out there and whales come out to look at you, and so these things are really easy to conjure up," he said.

Some stories and poems leave the audience in tears. But there’s plenty of dark humor as well. 

"Stories where the guy calls his wife and he's getting homesick, but the season isn't over yet," van Amerongen said. "His wife knows where the money's coming from, and he's expecting her to say, `Come home, come home now,' and she says, `Just keep fishing.'"

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.