CHINOOK — He was learning the ropes as a deckhand during his first season at sea.
Juan Albelo Martinez died on Sept. 3, a few days shy of heading home after months of fishing for albacore.
He apparently lost his footing and fell overboard while trying to untangle a line. He was 38.
Richard “Pat” Patana hired Albelo Martinez as a deckhand on his 54-foot fishing vessel. He started in June, pulling fish from the water and hanging or stacking them in the boat’s blast freezer.
Patana, 63, said he went in after Albelo Martinez but couldn’t pull him back on deck. It was a while before help reached them in the ocean a couple hundred miles from Ilwaco.
They usually spent a couple of weeks on the Summer Breeze before returning to shore. After the accident, Patana sailed alone, making the day-and-a-half-long trip to bring Albelo Martinez home.
He said he wakes up at night, wondering what he could have done to prevent his death.
The U.S. Coast Guard is looking into it too. Petty Officer First Class Levi Reid said it’s routine to investigate any accident that resulted in a death at sea. It does not indicate wrongdoing or foul play.
Reid said there are fewer than five deaths at sea, on average, in a year in Pacific Northwest waters.
When Albelo Martinez first came to work for Patana, he thought the younger man had a lot to learn. Patana soon decided he liked Albelo Martinez because he hadn’t done the same kind of work before so he didn’t have bad habits. He wasn’t one of those young guys who want to do it their way either.
Albelo Martinez, an experienced forklift operator and cranberry farmer, didn’t talk much, he watched and learned, Patana said.
“I had high hopes for him and he pretty much exceeded my hopes,” Patana said. “He understood we were out there to work and catch fish and get those fish on board.”
He was a fast learner and he worked hard, Patana said. A deckhand with those qualities isn’t easy to come by these days.
“Most people think hard work kills you,” Patana said. “Guys like Juan, they look at grizzly old guys like me and they think, ‘I could do that.’”
Patana often lets his deckhand sleep in because he gets up about an hour before daylight. Albelo Martinez was the one waking Patana up in the morning.
“He was a proud guy,” Patana said. “He didn’t want to be someone who was only doing part of the job.”
Being serious about his work didn’t stop him from joking around. On days when they weren’t catching much, Albelo Martinez would tell Patana he’d be so broke by the time they got home, he’d have to ride a donkey around town if their luck didn’t change soon.
Albelo Martinez liked to call his family before he went to bed at night. He leaves his partner of 20 years, Lourdes Sebastian Salvador; his daughter, Ana, 20; and son, Juan Manuel, 15.
Donations can be made for Lourdes at any Bank of the Pacific branch.
Patana is organizing a barbecue dinner and auction to raise money for the family. He’s looking for volunteers who can help and anyone who wants to donate items for the live and silent auctions. He can be reached at 360-957-0841.
The barbecue fundraiser is scheduled from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 11 at the Chinook School Gymnasium.