February 27, 2015

Tuna Seiners

We so rarely see the old style tuna clippers any more, so I was quite surprised to see the Chac Mool in Ensenada.  Last time we were down there, all we saw were wrecks and very tired ships.  This time, there were great signs of revitalization at the port.

Here, with the chopper on its deck, we have the Chacmool, (also spelled chac-mool).  It’s a term used to refer to a particular form of pre-Columbian Mesoamerican sculpture depicting a reclining figure with its head facing 90 degrees from the front, supporting itself on its elbows and supporting a bowl or a disk upon its stomach.  The Chac Mool is a tuna boat the way I remember them. 

San Diego was the home of the tuna clipper.  Before WWII, most were independently operated and fished the giant masses of tuna that swam just off our coast.  During the war, the Navy chartered most of the San Diego tuna clippers, but after the war the size and range of the ships grew.  From iron men fishing off the sides of the boat with poles, the mechanized winch, to the power block that allowed the ships to evolve, the ships are still changing.  

Powerful smaller boats now slide down the rear ramps.  They spread giant nets which are gathered up by small speed boats.  The nets are pulled on board by the power blocks, and everything is guided by modern electronics.  On decks cleared of antennas and machinery sits the helicopter. 

Today the fish have moved to the south Pacific.  The boats, men, and many families packed up and moved to American Samoa.  Portuguese families that don’t fish still live in my neighborhood.  Many driveways have red and green marker lights, and facades have small shrines to the Virgin Mary.  Portuguese Hall still has marvelous Festas, and there are still wonderful ceremonies where whole families take part, in special costumes, year after year.

San Diego has become a shrine to the old style tuna fisherman while the schools of tuna now shrink in the South Pacific.  Word is that tuna has been seen again off the California coastline.

Photo C: Undercurrents 2014

  • Himself:Worked, shopped at Costco, watched West Wing.
  • Me: With G’s help, brought up the little suitcase, laid out clothes for the weekend, and packed some small stuff.


  1. Interesting piece of history I didn't know, both the tuna and the background on Chacmool. Have a great weekend Mage.

  2. Interesting tale of the tuna fishermen and their ships. Now you got me wondering what a chacmool looks like?

  3. Interesting how nature seems to redefine itself in many ways...the tuna have probably found a better place to habitat.

  4. "Sorry Charlie, only the best tasting tuna get to be Starkist"

  5. My father in law was the captain of one of these boats. The other was the Kukulkan. I believe they were made at the same time because they referred to them as the "twins". I also remember them saying that they were the largest in the fleet?
    I dont remember all of the details... it's been quite a while ago. I CAN remember going down to the dock and waiting for them to come in. So exciting and always a happy time when the men came home!


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Peter in front of a wall sculpture. We were invited up to Peter Knego’s home to see the latest installation.   Abstract flat ...