July 14: While at dinner with my friend Phil, I had the joyful pleasure of catching sight of my nephew Rhett and Savannah, his fiancee. I knew they had been in town, driving taxi, but I hadn't seen them... until I looked up to see them waiting for their take out dinner and looking over at me. I was so thrilled to bump into them, even if it was late in the season. Rhett reminded me that his birthday was the next day, so of course, we made a plan for them to come down for birthday cake - chocolate chip orange cake, of course. After that slice of heaven, I received a text from the crew that the Friendly Ranger died out on the mud flats (that did not help the digestion of my chicken philly sandwich one little bit). They added that they towed it in to the beach and pushed it up above the tide line, awaiting the next move. Whew and groan. But no need to end the evening which included a tour of Silver Bay. I am not usually a person who wonders how special effects are made or how bridges are built or how the internal combustion engine works. So I didn't start out curious about how Silver Bay does what it does. In all the years I've fished for AGS, I don't think I've ever asked for or been invited for a tour of their processing plant (though I am plenty familiar with the mug up room). So at first, I was just going along with the tour to be polite. But it was fascinating. I don't want to reward the kindness of the tour by disclosing the secrets to their success, but I'll just say that it was a marvel to see; it was exciting to learn that they are experimenting with new processing strategies; and I was happy to see our fishery moving forward. I gave quite a bit of thought to the ranger, wondering whether we should get it fixed, again. Even I had to acknowledge that we had come to the end of the season's big tides, so we weren't going to need it to bring in a big push of ebb fish. We would bring the nets in with the skiffs; we could bring the buoys and lines in with the skiffs as well... but in the end, we decided to go ahead and get it repaired. Better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it. July 15: After checking the gas tank on the ranger and finding it low, David, hoping that his mechanical genius had finally paid off, sent Roger and Jeff on a quest to be sure that the problem wasn't just that the fuel was so low that rust chips were blocking the fuel line. It wasn't. So they loaded it up with and on the crane truck, took it in to AGS to wash it off, and took it up to Pen Auto. As a side note, I heard later about the tenacity of our mud from talking with Marc. David and crew thought they had washed it thoroughly, but Marc still had to wash it more thoroughly still. I think that as a side business, we should be looking for industrial applications for that mud. It does NOT come off or out. David Duke, the Hawaiian guy, came to stay with us, accompany us on our end-of-the-season adventure, and check out end-of-the-season setnetting. He didn't know that he also came so we could celebrate his birthday, which, like Rhett's, was today. Though we didn't celebrate it till Saturday. He was also trying to put together a significant supply of homepack. He knew that Ralph, his captain, would come through with the homepack fish he promised, but he was looking at a big empty freezer back home, and a long winter. So he asked us for additional fish that he could buy or trade for work. And he does know how to work! We didn't really need the extra help, but he was such a pleasure to have around, it seemed like a good bargain. On his first day with us, we pulled out some homepack, put a knife in his hand, and started to process our evening catch until pretty darned late.
July 18: Swamped again! I woke up early and when I saw the Bathtub edging up the beach, pushed by the tide, I realized that I had made a mistake when I decided where to anchor it. I had known the night before that we weren't planning to fish the flood, so I should have anchored the Bathtub out deeper, instead of letting it brave the tide through the Swamp Zone. There was a strong wind, but I thought it would be OK since the tide would turn soon and shouldn't come up much more; it would just be a little hard to get the Tub back into the water after the tide stranded it high on the beach. Will I ever learn to hear the warning when I say to myself, "It'll probably be OK"?
When I next looked over the cliff a couple of hours later, I saw that the tide had come up another three or four feet in that last 90 minutes of the flood (it isn't supposed to do that! My mom said!), swamping our valiant Bathtub. It produces a very sad and bad feeling to look into the skiff and see just the top of the power pack's air cleaner and hydraulic fluid reservoir poking up from the brakish water it is sitting in. Oh no!! And that was the powerpack that served faithfully in the Ambi in 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012. Powerpacks in the Bathtub don't last long because they ride on the deck, elevated just a few inches... and the Bathtub is prone to swamping. I raised the alarm and within just a few minutes, all hands were tackling the problem, recovering the items that had floated out of the boat, cleaning or replacing the fuel, checking for water where it shouldn't be in the outboard, and removing from the boat the gallons and gallons of water that had filled it.
We had planned to pull in the nets for the last time this tide, using the Bathtub. Scratch that plan. I thought we should take the New Boat that had returned, all clean and ready for the trip, but my David really objected because it would get all dirty again. So we decided to use the Grayling. Ulp. While Roger, Jeff, and Jake were ministering to the Bathtub and its outboard, we used the Grayling to go through the nets for the last time of the season, and pulled the nets into the boat. David really is a masterful skiff driver. And we got another 30 salmon or so. I'm glad to have the additional salmon; but worried about processing them.
When Jake - or maybe it was Roger - told us that after they made sure that the outboard's fuel line had only fuel in it, they pulled the cord and it started!, we thought we should send a letter off to Yamaha suggesting that they might want to keep making outboards like that one - which is almost 20 years old!
Emma Hill and her traveling companions, Mark, Eric, and Chad called us from the end of the Beach Access Road so we could come collect them. We had decided to bundle them into raingear and bring them along on our mission to bring in the buoys and anchor lines.
Friday, August 22, 2014
Wednesday, July 23, 2014
Another short post without photos yet. I just want to reassure friends and family that we got there (details to follow), stayed there (more details), and returned whole and unharmed, but not unchanged (lots more wet details). As a preview, our tradition is to take off (rather brazenly) missing a crucial piece of information (that we don't even know we're missing), and then somehow cope with the outcome and so far, anyhow, come out whole. Rohan just reviewed the highlights of the return trip: *Stopping in the village of Iguigig where the kind people allowed us to replenish our supply of gas ($107.10 for 15 gallons) *Drifting lazily down river while Jake tried out his new fly rod (he caught a rainbow trout and accidentally snagged a big grayling) *Heading the wrong direction up a certain creek... without paddles... for a while *Recovering to the right river but the clock is running out on the outgoing tide *Getting caught (semi-voluntarily) on a sandbar... for hours, thinking it would be 1 - 1.5 hours... and when the tide continued to drop for 4 hours after we expected it to turn, we began to wonder if a zombie apocalypse had occurred or someone took the moon. *Once it started to come in, it made up for that lost time in the flood, flooding much faster than we see out here in the fishing district. When we could finally float, we drove through the confluence of rapidly incoming tide and outgoing river (yep, that equals whirlpools!) while trying to avoid whales (while it was light) and as darkness descended (and, because of the storm between us and our destination, darkness hammered down around us as we ran into the storm), trying to see and then avoid buoys and nets while keeping the water and the people and stuff on their respective right sides of the boat. David did great at the helm, coping with all those conditions and trying to keep everyone as safe and dry as possible. He was successful on the first goal (safe) and I think the second goal (dry) may have been a bit too much to ask, given the conditions (despite the fact that unlike last year, everyone got into raingear early). As I recount who did what, I find that overall, the New Boat crew was most active and I think this is probably because they have been working together all season and everyone knows his/her part in helping the New Boat get safely from Point * to Point # through Rough Points !*!?! with David at the helm. Sarah took over for David before we decided to dally on the sandbar and acted as his additional eyes and ears afterwards when the going got really rough. Jake once again served as excellent navigator and spotter. Rohan found multiple ways of pitching in, including helping with navigation, and facilitating communication between helmsman and navigator. Jeff and Roger were standing by to help in any way needed - Roger travels prepared with knife, flashlight, and knowledge. Jeff travels prepared with mightiness. AJ, confident in the crew, actually managed to get a nap during part of the trip home (an enviable ability!). David Duke led us in a game of Ninja on the sand bar and eagerly took over for me as a (more effective) spotter after I took a tumble in the bow of the boat when I tried to move just as a big roller hit. And Carbon, despite having what I think is a case of the End of Season Crud, also took his turn standing watch in the bow. And that's just the highlights of the trip back. Details and photos on the trip up and back will follow.
Monday, July 21, 2014
Argh! Another postponement. This time we've been busy with a storm that swamped the Bathtub, completely drowning the powerpack (restored with significant uncertainty by Roy) and leaving our beloved Yamaha 60 undeterred (where can we get another of those?!) Bringing in the nets, buoys, last of the fish, trying to keep the fillets we've made and sealed from walking out of the freezer without us. And now on Monday, we're off to explore the mysteries of the Kvichak River, destination Kokhanok and if that takes too long, Igiguig. It is a sorry thing to know about myself that somewhere deep in my psyche, I biologically believe that the world is flat. That's what my stomach thinks. Luckily, I have a downright adventurous crew that makes me prove my stomach wrong over and over. I'll report back - with photos! when we get back sometime on the 22nd.
Friday, July 18, 2014
We have been fishing, rescuing a dead ranger, saying goodbye to friends and family for the season, welcoming a new honorary crew member from Hawaii, seeing my nephew!!, preparing homepack, beginning the closing up process, planning how we'll attend Fishtival, and preparing for this year's end-of-season trip adventure. I have many more details to report and photos to post, but I can't pass up this rare opportunity for a full night's sleep. I just wanted friends and family to know that this gap in posting is not ominous - we are all well and happy. We even got to spend a few hours at the Red Dog tonight watching a rare performance by Wendy Lee and Todd!! Dancing! I'll write more soon...
Tuesday, July 15, 2014
We are always looking for fresh produce that will keep for months in our conditions. In early May, we shipped up 20 lb of sweet potatoes, 50 lbs of red potatoes, 50 lbs of sweet onions, 50 lbs of fuji apples, and a few butternut squashes, acorn squashes, and kabocha squashes (which hold for a long time, but intimidate me!). I wasn't involved in packing them for shipping, but David, Sarah, Rohan, and Jeff put layers of newspaper between them and packed each type of produce in its own box. Once they got to the cabin, we've just stored them in my porch which is usually cool... except when the weather is hot. All the produce did really well. The crew also unpacked them and I understand there was some early loss, but not much. They discarded those before they got to the cabin. Just today, we ran out of apples. The last one was a little bit soft, so we just put it in pancakes. We still have a few sweet potatoes, and most remain unblemished and delicious in our herbed mashed sweet potato recipe (mmmm), the remaining squash are still firm (though the acorns have turned yellow and red). The red potatoes have not started to sprout (though by this time in past years, some of them had), and only a few of the onions were a little moldy. We also just ran out of those. Last year, it seemed that about half of the yellow onions arrived moldy. The produce man told Jeff that the sweet onions store better, and so far, that seems to be true for us in these conditions. Rohan mentioned that it seems to depend on the batch - sometimes yellow onions keep better, sometimes sweet onions do. Next year, I think we'll bring the same things, less a few of the squash, plus about 20 lbs of onions and maybe 10 lbs of apples and see if next season's conditions continue to be friendly to produce on the porch. Even though I have a great preference for being down at our cabins instead of in town, I have to give credit where it's due. As we emerged from the conex after finishing the processing, we stepped into this scene... and me without my camera. But as he so often does, Roger saved the day with his, so you too get to see the beauty that washed us at the end of the day. And AJ mentioned that he had seen a rainbow as he was running fish from the conex to the freezer, not realizing the part of his job description is to alert me to such phenomena because I love to see them. Our friend Phil is fond of pointing out that we are all "Bristol Bay millionaires." What more could we ever want?
As boats start pulling out of the water and the yard at AGS starts filling up, I begin to feel the melancholy of the end of the season, even though it is weeks away for me. Harry, Makenzie, Ev, and Hannah will leave soon and having already eaten their celebratory dinner at the D&D came down the beach to join our farewell dinner in their honor and in the honor of the Goat Roper crew, Phil, Tom, and Trevor who will also leave soon. My crew is still fishing the day-into-evening tides, but Rohan and I needed the ebb to get ready for dinner. Jeff replaced us both. Hmmm. We made the salads and the cheesecakes. What more is needed for a farewell dinner? I just paused here for a minute to read The Sentimental Fish, the lead article in the Summer 2014 Wild Alaska Salmon issue of Alaska Women Speak. It was written by our very own Makenzie. I found it to be so moving: beautifully written, poignant, and in so few words conveys such depth and breadth of feelings - describing my own feelings about this time of the season better than I do. Really, it's more than "describe." It's like she picks verbal snapshots that, when taken together, are like a plucked guitar chord - a chord that elicits a feeling. Because that's what her article does: it does describe, so that the reader might grasp what she is talking about, and the images that she weaves together also create an emotional chord. I'm so proud (and comforted) to share this melancholy with her. And how fitting that she and Ev are both moose, Palmer High School's mascot, because...
Sunday, July 13, 2014
Fishing remains strong and we continue to split the crews. David's crew is managing the night tides (without any help from us) and my crew is managing the day tides, with occasional help from David's crew. These photos are from July 11.