Boaters and fishermen deal with chains all the time. We all know what an anchor chain looks like, even if we don’t use them on our smaller skiffs. But there are other types of chains that we encounter too.
If you want a day’s fishing to begin with a morning cup of coffee, you might be willing to maneuver your trailered boat through the drive-thru at a chain restaurant. Same thing with that oh-so-delicious box of donuts. Most of us buy fuel at our neighborhood store that’s part of a chain of gas stations.
If you do your own repair work you may have hoisted a boat’s engine with a chainfall, an ingeniously designed apparatus which allows even a weakling like myself to lift things weighing hundreds of pounds. Have you ever cut off a dock piling with a chainsaw? Yep, chains are all around us.
Not all chains are physical things. For example, boats operate under a chain of command. If it’s just you and your buddy on a small boat, that chain is pretty short. But on an aircraft carrier, there are many many links in a chain which originates in the White House and eventually reaches into every corner of the vessel.
Another example of a chain is the chain of events which results in your successful arrival at the fishing grounds. This chain might start with the sounding of your alarm clock, then depend on your success in various steps such as sleepily locating your fishing shirt, hat, sunglasses and shoes, gathering your gear and stumbling out back to the boat dock, getting the boat started, then navigating out to that hotspot.
Like all chains, if any link in the chain breaks, the whole deal can come to a halt — at least temporarily. If you forgot your boat keys in the house, you’ll need to add a link that takes you back inside to find them, resulting in a delay. But if the boat’s motor won’t start or if you fall off the dock while rubbing the sleep out of your eyes, then that day’s chain might be completely broken.
During the last year, boaters and fishermen have found themselves at the mercy of another type of chain: The supply chain. Most of us don’t think much about the supply chain as it busily works in the background to ensure that when we need to buy something, it’s available to us. But when some link in the supply chain weakens or breaks, it can affect the links in our personal chains too.
Remember several weeks ago when a large fuel pipeline shut down and some gas stations bagged up all their pump nozzles? Or a year ago when things like toilet paper, hand sanitizer and face masks were so impossible to find that some people improvised on all three of those items? Those shortages of fuel and supplies were national news stories.
TP and unleaded are not the only things that have been in short supply during the past year. Everything from new boats and the parts needed to keep them running to fishing hooks has been difficult to get at times, and the situation does not seem to be improving.
Ask your favorite boat dealer if he can get enough boats to sell, or enough repair parts to keep his mechanics happy. The answer probably won’t come with a smile. We have encountered shortages on all sorts of very basic things: Electrical switches, fuel filters, fishing rods, braided fishing line, engine parts, and on and on.
I have not seen so much uncertainty about supplies in my memory. Shortages of these items are driven by a combination of increased demand for marine recreation during the pandemic year, and of difficulties in transporting the stuff we demand to us in a timely manner.
A lot, but not all, of the shortages involve supply chains that stretch across the Pacific Ocean to Asia. For much of this year, U.S. ports in California were unable to unload inbound container ships fast enough to keep things moving, partly because of reduced operations at those ports due to Covid precautions which limited the number and hours of port workers.
At times there were dozens or even hundreds of container ships anchored off the west coast, all waiting for a turn at the pier. Some container ships are as big as our biggest aircraft carriers and can hold more than 20,000 containers each.
That is not a misprint. You’ve probably driven alongside a truck carrying just one of those containers, which is big enough to hold your car plus a few more. Can you imagine a stack of 20,000 of them on one ship? Mind-boggling.
Fortunately, those California ports are now making good progress on their container ship backlogs (though it will take months for the impact of having all those ships sitting idle to be overcome).
But now there is a new wrinkle in the supply chain for shipping containers: One of the major container shipping ports in China at Yantian has sharply reduced its loading operations due to a Covid outbreak in the surrounding community. This is one of the busiest ports in the world. It’s not yet known exactly how this will affect our already-struggling supply chain, but it certainly won’t help.
Just like it didn’t help when shipping traffic through the Suez Canal was halted for nearly a week by a grounded ship, or when commercial traffic on the Mississippi River was halted for several days while authorities sorted out the impact of that cracked support beam on an interstate highway bridge over the river near Memphis.
So, what does all this mean for someone who just wants to go fishing? You better have your ducks in a row. If you need something and have the time to find it, you might be OK — but don’t count on being able to pick up important stuff at the last minute. Welcome to the down side of the global economy.
Let’s go fishing!
Capt. Ralph Allen runs the King Fisher Fleet of sightseeing and fishing charter boats located at Fishermen’s Village in Punta Gorda. He is an award-winning outdoor writer and photographer, and is a past president of the Florida Outdoor Writers Association. Contact him at 941-639-2628 or Captain@KingFisherFleet.com.