Wednesday, July 5, 2017

July 3: I didn't know fingernails could get sore

This will be a rough post. There will be many references in it to things I haven't had the time yet to write about. I'm really going to try to catch up, but it won't be today.

We fished on July 3 and were surprised by the biggest catch in our family's history of keeping track: 29,513 lbs on one tide! That's a whole lot of salmon for my mostly green and completely hard working crew. They were great - I can't think of how they could have been better, considering that on the biggest tides they've had before this one we delivered 654 lbs. What a shock for everyone.

Of course, it wasn't just a wall of fish that we needed to climb. We got some handicaps. We had heavy weather with southwest winds up to 20 mph and 4' seas. If we have no fish in that kind of weather, we end up tired at the end of a tide. Winds like that do tend to blow us some fish, but they also make it very hard to delivery them to the beach. The risk of swamping is great, especially if we have a big load of fish on board which the winds make more likely. The safest (and most convenient!) way for us to deliver in weather like that is to a tender. But for reasons I don't understand, that's when we're least likely to see a tender. It's an ongoing frustration.

We were fairly outgunned by the combination of weather, fish quantity, and limited delivery options. Having said that, though, I also want to thank Jesse and Mike, AGS's Gehl driver and truck driver respectively, for working so hard to pick up everyone's fish. When we came in to deliver, loaded and taking a lot of water, they worked hard to get the weight off the boat in the order we needed. They were just seriously understaffed.

The New Boat was completely swamped during an early delivery and they didn't recover from it for the whole tide, so we were down one of our workhorse boats before the tide even turned. Luckily, no lasting harm was done. Harry (my brother) recently gave us a vinyl cover made to fit over the brand new powerpack - and it protected it! The brand new outboard never went underwater - though water and mud were everywhere else in the boat. We took the New Boat crew out and put them in the Bathtub for the rest of the tide. No power roller. Argh!

When we went to deliver in the Ambi (photos later), the weight of the fish, the big crashing waves, and the crew's inexperience worked together to take on A LOT of water. We hadn't done the training yet where the crew has to jump out fast and get the boat turned so the bow points into the weather. I'm so grateful David was there to buy his fish for custom processing. He just jumped into the water (in his street clothes - brrrr!) and got that bow turned out. As a result, there was a lot of bailing ahead of us, but we didn't swamp. And as another result, my crew - who may be green but they are smart, hard-working, and willing - learned how to get the bow turned out.

The second time we went to delivery, it was worse. Jesse was determined to help us and get those fish off our skiff as fast as possible, but the waves started crashing over the bow. The more experienced New Boat crew was nearby and rushed over to help us bail and get the fish off. Saved again!

After that, our power roller stopped working. Oh no! Those loaded up nets are so heavy and without a power roller, they are soooo long! My crew was valiant, though. We planned to pick through each 300' net (for the second time that tide) and then pick it up (as the fishing period was due to close at 3:30). But it was taking too long to pick through the net because there were so many fish - the tide was running out too fast and we definitely did not want to be left with fish out on the mud flats! So Chris, Eli, and Tristan started to pull. They pulled with everything they had and little bit by little bit, they pulled all 300' of net with probably more than 5000 lbs of salmon into the Cockroach. That's a roundhaul. Eli jumped out to help push the fish in and I jumped out to push the boat toward the net. What a lot of work and the work only begins with getting it into the boat! Our plan was to leave the Cockroach there where it would be close to the shore and maybe the ranger could tow it to where Jesse could easily pick up the brailers as we filled them. No such luck - too much weight.

We couldn't stop to pick the fish out yet though, because we had another net we were responsible for. We headed out to that outside site which had already been picked twice, so that roundhaul was only 2000 or 3000 lbs and the Ambi is a big boat. But we also finished that one just in time because the stern was starting to drag. We stayed out there and cleared that roundhaul while, I hoped, the New Boat crew was clearing the roundhauls of the other two nets. 1200' of roundhauled nets is a lot to process.

But we did it - boat by boat. First the Ambi. Then the Cockroach. Josh burst my fantasy that they had already cleared the nets in the Bathtub. Ha! One of those nets had been picked twice, so it had only a few thousand pounds, but the other had only been picked once and it had probably twice that much. Here is where the dogged determination comes in. And "boat food" (beef jerky, power bars, fruit cups, and WATER).

While we were clearing the roundhauls in the Bathtub, I realized that the tide had turned. Fish and Game reported that the Naknek River got about a quarter of its escapement goal in that one tide, so they were opening us again that evening. Honestly, we all groaned. Then we started talking about what we could handle. Not another tide like this one! Remember, we didn't have any functioning power rollers for most of this tide. We decided to put out two nets. And we hoped we'd have a little time to rest and eat between the two tides. Picking through the roundhaul, I kept my eye on the tide which I knew had turned and was coming back in. When we cleared the roundhaul in the Ambi, we piled the fish in the bow - probably 2000 or 3000 lbs. It wouldn't be good if the water arrived and the Ambi was so bow heavy. So Tristan and Malcolm marched out there and redistributed the fish.

Even though the ranger was making multiple trips, lightening the load of the Cockroach, it still couldn't budge it and pull it in. Dang. And the Bathtub was even further out with even more weight in it... and we had been stacking the nets we were clearing outside the boat. (There isn't enough room in the Bathtub to keep the cleared nets inside the skiff, but that returning tide can sneak up on a person and we were tired.)

David pitched in with the ranger work and somehow got the Cockroach to move in. Whew! Just as we were finishing clearing the nets in the Bathtub, I saw that the Ambi was about to float and we were nearing the time to set the nets. So my crew headed out with me to do that. But as we walked out there, I decided that if we couldn't do a walking set (if the water was too deep for it) we would scrap that set and just fish the inside site. Then I realized that I was hoping that the water would be too deep for a walking set and that told me that we shouldn't try to fish that site. No one disagreed.

We stayed with the Ambi to bring it in on the incoming tide. As we waited (not very long) for the tide to rise enough for us to move, even with our heavy load, I looked over at the Bathtub we had so recently left and saw that it was surrounded by water. David noticed that too... and he also noticed that the water was halfway up the side and it wasn't floating! So he bravely drove the ranger right into the incoming tide -- up to its floor boards (eek!!) to try to pull the Bathtub to safety. That was a good time for me to look the other way. (I don't watch car wrecks, either.) The next time I looked over, I saw that David as the ranger captain was motoring along with that fully loaded Bathtub in tow. Once it started moving through the water, it had no trouble sliding through the mud. Safe! But Josh and Malcolm were still where the Bathtub had been with our little 6' aluminum boat, Skook. And they were putting something in - maybe just a little bit frantically. I think they were shoving the net that they didn't have time to return to the Bathtub. I looked at my watch. It was 9:31 pm. At least they weren't "fishing in closed waters," which carries a heavy fine. Fishing opened at 9:30.

We walked the Ambi in to where the Gehl could reach it and delivered those bags without having to re-pitch them or any more serious catastrophes. Yay!

We had 15 minutes between tides and we were all exhausted! So were Jesse and Mike who pulled a 24 hour shift trying to get all that fish picked up. Then we went back out to fish the flood just on the inside site. The wind had calmed down! We were relieved. We delivered about 5000 lbs from that site. At the end of that tide at about 4 AM, we decided we could handle two others and we set them for a total of three sites. We got in at about 5:30 AM and needed to be back out at 10 AM, two hours before high water (still without a working power roller!). But the crew was dragging. They were willing, but dragging. We pulled the inside site out of the water just after high water so we had only two outside sites left. ROGER GOT OUR ROLLER WORKING WITH (wait for it) BAILING WIRE!! The throttle had died.

We went through our outside site with the working power roller and had two big bags to deliver. But it was too late because there were other people ahead of us. Remember the zones? We would definitely have been in Zone 4 territory after Jesse and Mike picked up the fish from the people ahead of us. If we'd waited in Zone 3, we would have gone dry and wouldn't have been able to pick up our net using the Ambi. DON'T GO DRY! The New Boat went dry trying to deliver. Sigh.

Feeling good about our functioning power roller and knowing that the other crew was fishing without one (theirs, though it survived the swamping - was that a week ago? - seems to have developed a hydraulic leak), we went over to help them and to deliver the fish from our site to the Bathtub since it can be pulled in with the ranger. All of that brought us to announcement time where we learned that escapement in the Naknek River had reached 750,000 (nearly to the goal), so our fishing was extended for 25 hours. We decided that we were ready for our full set of four sites. We set the net that we'd taken off the inside site on #3 and Josh went in to use the ranger to set the inside site out of the Cockroach, pulled by the ranger.

Still feeling good - end of the day, no roundhauls to clear, tide is still going out and we're ready for the next tide... and we'll get about 5 hours of sleep before that happens!! Josh and David stayed down to deliver. The rest of us were in the cabin eating and planning when we'd need to get out to pick the flood. David and Josh came up to let us know there was a crisis. AGS has suspended buying - at least for this tide, maybe for the next one too. Groan. David, Josh, and Matt volunteered to take the ranger and the two flat-bottomed skiffs out to pick up the nets, two in each skiff. I tried to sleep, but have not been successful. Yet. Remember the New Boat going dry when they had to wait too long to deliver? We need to move that out to Zone 4 where it can safely ride on its anchor until we fish again... tomorrow? The next day? It's 10:45 PM now and we're just waiting for the water to come up enough to move it. We need to call in tomorrow to find out if AGS is buying yet. And that brings us up to date.

The fingernails: picking fish is a fingernail-heavy process. I use a fish pick as well, but I find that my fingernails became very tender yesterday and looking at them, they look bruised. I'm sore down to my fingernails. And I wasn't doing the heavy pulling!

Friday, June 30, 2017

June 29 Finally starting this year's blog

We haven't seen many fish yet, but we've been plenty busy - busier than I remember being preparing for the season (hence a very late start to the blog). It seems like everything was broken or corroded as we came into the season or as we tried to use them: three of our four main skiffs; our two main outboards, our beloved and faithful main back up outboard, and two second-string outboards; the batteries in my loft and/or the solar panels or connectors that feed them; the load tester and the volt meter to test the batteries; the battery or the charging system or the wiring for our flagship skiff; my computer (Fan Error); the brakes on the white truck; the wiring on the green four wheeler; the big 2 KW generator; the treads on the ranger (our mud crawling vehicle)... I'm sure I'll think of other things, but really, I think that's enough to keep us busy. Oh! And my body. Ouch! It must be corrosion from a winter of disuse. Note to self: 10,000 steps.

The broken skiffs and outboards are mostly the remains of the weather catastrophe that ended our season last year. Two of our skiffs capsized at the end of last season (no one was hurt!). I think if we'd been in them, they would have been fine. I've been thinking all winter long about how it happened: why did they swamp? Capsize? How could it have been prevented? They were anchored. I think I finally understand the confluence of things leading to the capsizes.

Our cabins perch on a cliff about 30' high. The ground up here is covered in tundra with an underlayer of permafrost about 2' down. When it rains (and some seasons, it rains all the time) the tundra is saturated and it's like a piece of bread in a bowl of milk. When it's time to go fish, we descend our 30' ladder and walk out onto the beach. Our beach has four "zones:" 1) closest to the cliff the ground might be clay (if the tides have been high and pulling clay and dirt from the cliff) or sand or gravel - early this season, it was peppered with big rocks. That might be 30' wide; 2) next is a zone of gravel and rocks that is about 50' wide. It's a downhill slant to the third zone and usually a safe place to drive if you can just dodge the big rocks; 3) is a sort of super highway of hard-packed sand that seems kind of flat. That's usually a safe place to drive - though it does contain some surprises (beware of the orange rocks!) Some years we have only 10' of that stuff and other years (like this year) more like 25'; and 4) the sticky, slippery mud flats. This is were we can't drive a regular vehicle - it would just get buried in the mud. It's where I slog through chanting to myself, "hips and thighs" as encouragement. This lasts all the way out to the end of the outside sites, almost a quarter mile away from the beach. Some parts of the mud flats are stickier and slipperier than others. We brace ourselves for those. It is a slog to get out to those outside sites. This is usually the safe zone for anchoring but definitely not for driving.

We lovingly call one of our capsized skiffs our Bathtub partly because that's its shape and partly because at the end of the season one year David and Josh used dish soap to disperse a hydraulic oil leak that started on the way in to clean the skiff for the season. When they arrived at the fish camp, they created a bubble bath when they sprayed the inside of the skiff with a high pressure hose. The Bathtub is crucial to our operation because we finally realized that it slides really well across the mudflats. We can tow it, loaded with 5000 lbs of fish, using our tracked vehicle (ranger) or if the mud is too bad for the ranger, we can send a long line through a pulley on the beach. We tie one end to a truck on the beach and the other to the skiff and tow it in. With less than 1000 lbs, the crew can just push it by hand. (I usually fall back from that activity - I think my legs are shortening with age. Sometimes I'll jump into the skiff and they push me too, but that seems just a little too decadent.)

The other skiff that capsized used to be called the New Boat or the New Kid. It was one of our two workhorse skiffs, complete with power roller, power pack, and big fancy outboard. That skiff had its flaws, but it has served us well.

When anchoring, it is very important to ensure that the skiff will ride only over the mudflats (zone 4). Anywhere else and it is in the swamp zone. When we came out to look over the cliff the morning of the equipment carnage last season, we couldn't see the Bathtub anywhere (I groaned, afraid it had broken it's anchor line and drifted away), the Cockroach was pushed up on the beach, full of water, but the New Boat and the Ambi seemed to be riding the storm well enough where we'd left them. It was only when the tide started to go out that we could see the very sad, upside down Bathtub.

For a little background, the Cockroach is another bathtub-shaped skiff that got its name because I unwittingly bought it out from under our lovely neighbors, the Williams, who were trying to bargain the seller down to a more favorable price. I saw the skiff on the side of the road and just waltzed in and offered an amount between what the seller was asking and what Mark (my neighbor) was offering and he sold it to me. I was appalled when I found out what I had done! The Ambi is our fourth skiff and in my mind, anyway, our flagship. It is a bit bigger than the others, especially side to side. It steers like an aircraft carrier that lost its power steering (it has a great big bow) but because of that, it is very very hard to swamp. It's the boat I almost always fish from. It got its name "Ambifisher" because of the years we tried to use it to drift fish in addition to set net when politics all but shut down the set net fishery. Those were dark years. I thought of "Switch-fisher" and "Bi-fisher" but I was worried we would upset people, so we went with Ambifisher.

I think both the Cockroach and the Bathtub were just anchored too close to the swamp zone, might have taken some water in the storm and the extra weight of skiff + water caused the anchors to drag further up the beach, further into the swamp zone and the swamp zone did the rest. We've swamped before, but never capsized and I'm not sure I can explain that, except for the narrowness of the skiff, the high weight of our beloved 60 hp Yamaha Enduro outboard, and the ferocity of the storm. However it managed it, the Bathtub came onto the sandy part of the beach, rolled over, and the outgoing tide just pounded it on the sand and rock, destroying the outboard and tearing off the stern post.

The New Boat's capsize was more confusing. It was anchored plenty far out... and we actually watched it go down. It had spent the summer dragging its anchor so we'd had to chase after it in one of the other skiffs and tow it back home. I thought the problem might be that the anchor had too little chain on it, so the storms we had all summer permitted the waves to lift the boat... and the anchor along with it. To solve that problem, I added about 10' of chain to the anchor line. What I didn't think about was the impact of the bow of the boat not being able to lift so much that it could lift the anchor. To understand it, I put myself in the New Boat's place. What if I were tied to a chair with a hose spraying water at my face? Even though tied to the spot, if I could move my head, I could dodge to avoid the spray of water in the face. But if my head were also locked in place, my face would get wet. When the bow was able to lift, it prevented water from coming in (even while it also lifted the anchor). When it couldn't lift, well, water would come in and that leads to a swamped boat. The other problem with the anchoring was that the anchor was tied off inside the boat so the anchor line ran out over the gunwale down to the chain and to the anchor, again, pulling the bow toward the water. We've anchored that boat that way for years and gotten away with it. But in those years, we didn't have a storm like these... and I hadn't added chain.

The damage to the New Boat could have been worse, but lots of repair was needed. The outboard was spared from obvious damage by the steering console in the middle of the skiff that stood up higher than the outboard. (When the skiff was upside down, the console made contact with the ground first, giving some protection to the outboard.) Roy, the world's best port engineer at AGS (Alaska General Seafood, the processor we fish for), had one of his guys spray down the inside of the outboard giving us the best chance possible for recovery. We shipped three outboards south to be assessed and repaired as possible. We left three here for assessment and repair. I was not surprised to learn that the Yamaha 60 - our favorite outboard that could be counted on to start on the third pull after years and years of probably inadequate maintenance - could not be repaired. If you look back at last year's posts - I think the fateful day was July 21 - you can see photos of the devastation. The Yamaha 40 that had suffered only being dropped was repaired and the shop said the Honda 90 was repaired and doing well. That remained to be seen.

So this year, we've lengthened the line part of the anchor line to 70' per line and the chain part to 30'. As much as possible, we're anchoring from a low point outside the bow of the skiff. I am determined to swamp NO equipment this year.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADFG) manages the fisheries in Alaska to ensure the health of the runs into the future. Here in Bristol Bay (and maybe in other parts of Alaska, I don't know) they set up counting towers where they actually count the number of fish that make it up the river to spawn. They have determined that not enough fish have made it up the river yet to make it wise to allow us to fish. That has some convenience sometimes - we get a chance to clean up, bake bread, fix things, get some sleep, start (and start getting caught up on) the blog, and today, attend a memorial for Samantha Cockrell, a young fishing neighbor who developed "Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy" and later Sarciodosis, all triggered by a simple foot surgery nine years ago when she was 19.

As her mother spoke, she reminded us not to judge when another is in pain. They may be smiling, you may not understand the pain, but it's still real. That reminder hit home with me because several dear friends and one sister struggle(d) with chronic pain. We can't really see it from the outside and we definitely don't want it to be true. Those factors can nudge people to start questioning the experience of the person with the pain and I think that can make it worse. So in Laurie's words, "don't judge."

Thursday, August 4, 2016

July 30 2016: Last post, leaving day

Of all the days of the season, the last day is usually the saddest. That's not counting the few days that have their own reasons for being sad. I always feel like I leave a big part of my heart and soul behind and it feels particularly wrenching when I do it at a full tilt run. Once I'm on the plane, I usually have a moment where I look around and think, "Wait, what did I just do? Separating myself from the oxygen of this place for another 10 months?"

The morning was very busy. We wanted to be off the beach by 9, so I thought we should get up at 5 when it should be getting light. I was surprised to find that it wasn't light yet at 5. That's what it means to be on the downhill side of the solstice. We didn't get any of the boarding up done yesterday. Too much other stuff to do. It did make me realize that I should be sure to have crew members board up their cabins before they leave the beach. Otherwise, it's too much for the rest of us to do. As we were finishing the crew cabin, we found that we were missing some of the wood needed to board with. Ack! It must have been robbed for a project during the season. That is always a frustrating discovery, here in the last few hours. Jeff and I both worked diligently, doing the final cleaning, pulling out the final food from the tundra-ator (did we get it out of the crew cabin too? I know I got it out of my cabin.) Pulling in the propane, the grill, Alex's chairs, finding an errant crow bar over by the stairs (better stash that - don't want to supply the tools for vandalism), tossing down the final garbage, covering the plates, utensils, pots, pans, baking supplies... and hoping for the best.

I can usually board up my cabin alone - all except for the kitchen window because the plywood has warped. (I think I need some new plywood.) So glad for many reasons that Jeff was still here and could help me with it. And also glad that he was still there to do most of the boarding on the other cabins. For the past several years, Jean has been able to come up to help me close and it is a lovely time. We get to hang out, and she is meticulously clean and organized. She would have known that we were leaving too much to the last minute. I did my best to close it as well as we would have done together, but I didn't succeed. It's better than it would have been without Jean's influence over the past several years, but not as good as it would have been if she had actually been here. So I'm hoping for next year.

One big wild card in our departure plans was that Jeff was preparing to adopt an abandoned puppy. It looked like it was part fox, part husky. Jeff was saving a smorgasbord of chicken, pot roast, and probably cheese to tempt and befriend her. When he took me to the airport, he asked if they had a crate he could borrow and ... they did! We went to the general store in King Salmon to get the required absorbent material and the water and food dish (sealable containers would work great - just zip tie them to the grate of the kennel). But at the last minute, it seemed that someone else decided to take her home. Oh well, at least she was going to have a home.

So now it's time to get myself through the grinding of my emotional, physical, psychological, and spiritual gears as I shift into Civilization Mode, where we live by traffic, the clock, and deadlines rather than by the tides, the wind, and our movement around the sun. Overall, I'll tell people that catch-wise, it was a firmly "Good" season, and a pretty bad season in terms of weather and mud. Our catch at just about the median of the last 15 years, and the price was better than we feared coming in, but lower than it was a few years ago. I think everyone made some money, though a lot will end up going to equipment repair and replacement. In the most important consideration, even though my heart still aches for our missing crew members, this year's crew was wonderful and heroic. I would be thrilled to work with them again. So in the ways that count the most and that last, it was a great season. Thanks for coming along with us.

July 29 2016: Last full day to close up and Oksanna flies out

Jeff had washed down and emptied the crane truck yesterday and I cleaned out the cabs and washed down ol' Red and the blue four-wheeler (which I left for Roy). Sarah Y followed on the four-wheeler as we took the the trucks to Eddie's hangar. It was only later that I learned that Jeff hadn't washed the underside of the crane truck, something that I think is important for the sake of anyone crawling under the truck to do some work. So that returned to the list for today.

Other items still on the list for today:
- Pack up all the food remaining in the cabins. Winter-proof the food and take an inventory, while also starting a list for next year.
- Mouse-proof the cabins (food, buckets, containers, pellet-shaped food).
- Scour to find any tools, ladders, or anything else left out, especially if it will help someone get in that doesn't belong there.
- Make sure all lines are in - sitting out all winter will weaken them.
- Take anything up or down the stairs that we don't want to wrestle down the cliff because Bray is on his way.
- Bray called a little before the morning high tide to let me know he was on his way to lift the stairs. I made a dash for the truck parked at the turnaround so we could get the long lines out of the white truck and up the cliff while we still had stairs. We saved out a good-sized length of line to help us up and down the cliff. Tomorrow, we'll put it in the back of the truck so we can use it to pull down the stairs next year.
- Get out the capstan winch so we can use it to position the stairs after Bray uses the Gehl to lift it. That went well - now put it all away, ropes and all.

Oksanna flew out today in the middle of the day, but her first stop was just South Naknek, so it was easy to get her to the airport. We timed it so we were in town anyway, finishing up those tasks.

- Make sure the beach gang is aware of all the things that need to go on the southbound barge. This year, that's 9 bags of 25 fathom lines, one big cardboard tote (with empty propane, empty clear crates (to bring eggs north in next year), two guitars (one is Phil's), my waders for repair with Simms and my life jacket for repair with Stormy Seas, and finally - at the very last minute - the yellow backpack Ben gave me, full of some perishables and some laundry. We'll see how that works out) and one outboard crate with the New Kid's Honda and an outboard stand with two Yamahas.
- Bring back the crane truck and wash its underside; return to Eddie.
- Clean the Carry and leave it with Roy. (He checked the rear gear box and found no water. Yay!)
Still to do: - Put the power tools in the loft of my cabin. But keep out the de Walt power drill and spare batteries so I can leave them with Roy to charge for next year.
- Bring in the generators and any gas or other fuel lying about.
- At the very last moment, bring in the propane from the cabins that are now empty. We were surprised to find the bunkhouse's propane still outside and hooked up. Whoops!
- Collect headlamps as they are uncovered with the disappearing piles of stuff. Remove batteries!
- Pull food out of all bags and boxes and other storage places so we don't have to face it in 10 months.
- Put away common clothing (or it will stay where it is all next season).
- Keep washing dishes.
- Cover pots, pans, cupboards, dishes - anything we don't want to have to wash in the early crush of opening up.
- Arrange with Eddie to pick up the white truck from the airport so Jeff can just drive it up and leave it there.
- I have to pull into my porch for the winter the containers, crates, wagons, wheelbarrows, hand trucks, garbage cans, ladders, grill, was there anything else?
- Fix the padlock hasp on the bunkhouse door. It was torn off in the frenzy to open it in June and I'm not sure where the padlock itself went. Luckily we had a spare. Maybe Matt will remember?
- Whoops! I was going to go over the outboards with John at Charlie's Sports Shop and now there might not be time to do it.
- Board up everything we can, leaving as little as possible for tomorrow. I'm due to leave on the 11:50 with two dogs, two boxes of fish, a hand carry, and a personal item (NOT a ham); Jeff will leave at 6. He's the guy with the ham-carry. The Ambi still needs to be winterized and covered, the battery given to Roy, the fuel tank put away, labeled, and the outboard and anything that might degrade in the weather, covered well.

July 28 2016: Matt leaves in the morning, Austin and Inku in the afternoon

We are getting down to the wire with still a full page of the checklist to address. Some of this had already been done. The buoys and running line were all in. The signs came in today. Jeff had already brought in much of the wash-down system. The Honda hadn't been winterized (though it definitely had been flushed with fresh water). But there was still a lot to do. We wouldn't have Matt for long - he wanted to get an early start off the beach. I know he had plans of taking a shower, but I don't remember if he actually had the time to follow through (his family could probably advise on that one!)

Austin, Inku, Jeff, Oksanna, and I worked hard on the remaining tasks while Austin and Inku were still here. There was still a lot of raingear to put away and inventory (it's important for figuring out what we need for next year), the path to clear before the stairs could come up (and look! bringing up the stairs isn't even on the list. Sigh) and the Space Hut and Bunkhouse to clean up, mouse-proof, and close up.

Finally, the time came to get Austin and Inku to town and to the plane. Then we loaded up all the fish remaining in the AGS freezer, plus the food remaining in our net locker freezer (except for the ham. Jeff really wanted to take that ham on the plane as his "personal item") and got the boxes to Amanda's plant. Sarah N had arranged with her that she would send some of my fish boxes air freight with David's and Sarah's salmon, and the rest - the fish I would eat and share throughout the year - she would put in her refer van to ship south by barge, scheduled to arrive September 1.

I had marked the skiffs themselves with the repairs needed, but still needed to document them so I could make sure that the person doing the repair understands what is needed. I figured if I took photos, at least that would help me remember. Thing 1 to remember: all the skiffs need a long chain and a long anchor line. The ratio is 7:1 so that if the water is 10' deep, we need 70' of anchor line. That should help reduce the swamping. I think all our anchor lines are too short.
This is the stern of the New Kid. I think this step started to tear loose during the season, but it needs to be repaired. If you look up toward the top right of the photo, you can see what's left of the broken steering wheel. That will need to be replaced. The crew spent many hours and many gallons of water getting the sand out of everywhere inside that console. I forgot to note that those holes in the console should probably be patched. They used to have gauges in them, but that's not how we roll.

This view is from above the stern of the New Kid. There are two "dry" bins. This was the one that actually used to stay dry. The cover was torn off the hinges. I was so excited when I saw a bit of it sticking out of the sand where the New Kid came to rest the day it capsized. We recovered it and left it with the skiff. The bin cover on the starboard side also needs repair. It seems to be jammed partially opened.

The hinges tore off the roller and it looks like we lost a pin. I figure this will be as good an opportunity as any to finally move the roller to the other side. That will achieve two outcomes: 1) it's the side we usually need the roller on, given our prevailing winds and 2) it'll even out the weight in the boat, so the starboard side won't ride so low.

It means the clips will need to be moved too. These are what holds the roller in place.

And the hydraulic controls. I don't think any of these rusty fittings will need to be disconnected. I think (hope!) the whole plate will be able to be moved.

Moving to the Bathtub. The stern post used to be here. It was torn off... and we found it! But that air pocket is no longer full of air. In happy news, we ran into Dave Carlson while we were at Katmai. He is the designer and maybe the builder of these Bathtubs. I couldn't think of anyone better to do the repairs. He currently teaches shop in Naknek during the winter. I asked if he would be available and he told me that his brother usually has enough reason to come up to do some welding on Dave's Jade boat. He said that if we can get the Tub(s) up to Ralph's boat yard where the Jades winter, his brother might be able to do it. Yippee!! And he might be able to work on all the boats that need work. I have been concerned about the Cockroach too. It seems heavier than it should. When it was being moved by truck, I noticed water draining out of the upper air pocket. Something is wrong. I asked Dave about that in Katmai and he explained that the way to look for leaks is to pressurize the container a little bit and then walk around with a squirt bottle of soapy water, spraying and looking for bubbles. Sort of the same way we test our propane connection. It will no doubt cost something, but it will be a lovely feeling to be able to count on all our skiffs.

And finally, as I inspected the skiffs, it looked like this "handle" on the Bathtub was beginning to crack. Visions flashed through my mind of pulling a heavy load of fish in from the mud flats, only to have this towing point pull free. Groan. Maybe prevention is the key here.

We still needed to clean the trucks, reunite the anchors with their lines (to reduce confusion next season). And it looks like we may have lost two anchors - two that Roy had straightened were leaning against the cliff the day of our multiple swamps. I pulled one down to give to the New Kid (since she lost hers, along with the extra long chain, out on the mud flats early in the rescue process)... but the other disappeared. I saw one up on the back of the crane truck (which may have been the one that was leaning against the cliff), but it too disappeared before we were able to safely get it into the net locker. I may need to buy an extra anchor for next season. And keep organizing and cleaning up the cabins, and of course, get the stair up - something that Bray will help us with. Still so much to do and we're running out of people and time.

July 27 2016: At Katmai and back

It took us 1 1/2 hours to get to Brooks Lodge and about 8 gallons of gas. It was as if we knew where we were going. And it was really nice to have the map along, so we could look at it and ask each other, "Does that look like this bunch of islands here?"

We were surprised when we arrived that there was almost no beach. The rangers told us that the lake level was extra high because of early snow melt. Uh oh. I don't know what that means, but it probably means something people will have to adapt to.

There are some requirements when visiting a bear preserve. We have done this before, so we knew the drill: all food stuff goes into the food cache and we have to go through a bear orientation before they will let us out traipsing about on the same trails as the bears. It's really pretty remarkable that it is even possible to do this, so I don't have any trouble going along with the precautions. I believe in taking bears seriously.

These first three photos were taken at the same time. They show a few things: 1) way more fish jumping up the falls than I've ever seen before. I don't know if that's because we were actually here way earlier in the day than we've ever managed to arrive before or because there were lots more fish, period, or what; 2) no bears standing up on the falls to capture these fish as they finally make it over the falls. It seems almost cruel - we watched what seemed like the same fish take 10 tries before making it. It's sort of heart-breaking to finally make it on the 11th try, only to be caught by a bear; 3) at the very top of the photo, there is a bear sitting in the water, catching the fish as they approach or fall back from the falls. It's kind of hard to see and I've put a yellow arrow next to it.

Here is a close up of the same bear, with a snack in its mouth.

Zooming back out again, I got lucky with a shot and caught a whole bunch of fish jumping all at once. With the same bear in the background.

Here is Matt's head in front of a new bear that just came out to fish.

And Inku, in front of the same bear.

Here is a little more detail on that bear. It had just been successful and was walking to calmer waters to eat. They take a similar approach to the seals (called "sea bears"). They first strip off the skin and eat that. Makes me think there is something extra yummy or nutritious about the skin.

We came back from the falls and went into the lodge for refreshments -- and saw some of our beach gang friends from AGS! We rested there for a while, trying to decide whether we should rush and try to head back so Davey could go with us and catch his flight, or have him try to get a seat on a float plane. Actually, I don't know whether he actually ever had that option. They may just sell round trip tickets and the trip may need to start in King Salmon. But we never found out because we decided to rush out now.

The building wind (sigh) had pushed the skiff further up on the beach and the sand bar was kind of holding it there. I got into my waders to push it off. The crew noticed a bear down the beach, just on the other side of the float plane. Push harder! The guys from AGS were about to jump into the lake (brrr!) and took a detour to help us get to boat off - a familiar bit of assistance, just no Gehl to do it with.

There was a lot of splash with the building winds... and we were hungry. So we all got into our raingear and we pulled out the propane stove. Austin, the grilling king, took over the task of cooking the polish sausage hot dogs, something that was quite a bit more challenging (in the moving boat, the wind, and the splash) than he expected when he said he needed a grilling challenge. Jeff piloted slowly and carefully to minimize the splash. Sarah Y led the organization of the dogs and sauerkraut, handing around much needed lunch to all of us.

Inku didn't bring rainpants and I had already given mine to Matt (since I was in my waders). So Inku went with the traditional garbage bag rainpant substitute.

It always seems like a long and grueling trip back. We started to have mechanical problems with the outboard. It was acting like it had bad gas and going slowly accordingly. But the gas was all new, we used a filtering funnel to fill it, the fuel system had both an external filter and an internal filter. What was going on? I peered into the tank and saw a puddle of dirty water under the clean gas. Hmm, maybe that would do it. When we emptied the tank this time, we dumped everything into a bailing bucket, including the dirty puddle of water. I'll be darned - it ran better. Somehow, it's exhausting and just like a long car ride, everyone who can, sleeps.

We were watching the map, making sure we were following the same path we took toward Brooks Lodge and we were watching the time, worried about Davey's flight, especially since the gas problem slowed us down so much. But still, we thought that if we didn't make any mistakes, we should get him there on time. OK, just keep on taking left turns around islands and the dock at Lake Camp. It should be... there! Oh. Where is it? There's no opening? We must be one island over. Ok, go around this one and... there! Oh. Not there either. Where are we? The clock is ticking. We're still OK, but we need to figure out where we are and how to get to where we need to be.

We decided to double back between these two islands when suddenly something lifted up the Ambi on the port side with a terrible scraping noise and then dropped us again. I immediately looked behind us and saw the tip of either a huge rock or an island. My blood went a little cold as I realized that just a few inches more and it would have been the end of the Ambi's outboard. Aieee! Then what would we have done? We were in the process of accepting that we had somehow wandered into the North Arm of the lake.
This map shows Lake Camp over to the left. To the left of that is the Alaska Peninsula Highway (the shortest highway in the U.S. and the road between Naknek and King Salmon.) You might be able to make out the trail between the Visitor Center in King Salmon and Lake Camp. I stopped to ask directions at the Visitor Center because I remember us taking the wrong turn once before. Answer: always turn to the left. The black line shows the route we think we took in the skiff from Lake Camp to Brooks Camp. The red line with arrows going the other direction shows the route we must have taken to get lost heading back. We really couldn't believe that we had wandered that far north, but I think that's what getting lost is all about. You end up somewhere you can't figure out how you got there. Austin and Jeff navigated us out and to Lake Camp (thankfully, it was still light - hurrah for an early start!). As soon as we were within range, Davey called Pen Air (yep, they had already given away his seat, but they put him on standby for the next flight). We then contacted Amanda at Nakeen Home Pack where Davey had his fish processed and stored to see if they could meet us at the airport with Davey's fish. We made a plan to dock and Austin, Davey, Jeff, and I would run for the truck, disconnect the trailer and race Davey to the airport so he could get in line to check in.

We were in ongoing communication with Amanda. She was willing to bring the fish up, but as soon as we dropped off Davey, we raced to her place, thinking we could meet her halfway and speed up the process. As it turned out, we got there just as they were pulling the fish from the freezer. We threw it into the back of the truck and raced back to the airport... in time!

Davey got checked in and once we saw that the fish had crossed the threshold into their checked baggage pile, we headed back to get the rest of the crew and the Ambi. Again, Austin and Jeff were the heroes of the trailering process. We tied it down, really weighted the bow (because it was sitting even farther back on the trailer now so the tongue was even lighter), and headed back to AGS. It was with a great feeling of relief that we unhooked the trailer for the last time this season and headed back down the beach, having received Davey's message that he made the standby flight and later caught up with his original itinerary.

July 27 2016: Goodbye David and Sarah; hello Katmai!

I don't think we've ever checked the weather forecast before heading off to Katmai in any previous trip. If we had, we probably would have made different decisions. But this year, we did and today looked like a good day.

David and Sarah were also leaving today, so they wouldn't be coming with us. David and I talked about how to get them to the airport and in the end, we decided that they should just take a cab as the white truck would be pulling the trailer with the Ambi on it and ol' Red finally developed a problem that would need attention: coolant pouring from the radiator.

Looking at the flight information for our other crew, Davey would leave tonight on the 8:50 flight. Jeff was also scheduled to leave on that flight. Yikes! That would mean just me and a few new crew members left to finish the close up. So Jeff decided to postpone his departure for a few days, something I appreciated greatly. Figuring two hours to get there and two hours to get back, Davey would either need to take a float plane back, or we would have to leave by 4 so we could dock by 6 and get his fish and check him in by 7. If nothing went wrong (and that would be a first.) So we needed to get an early start because we also had more preparation to do before we could even leave. We needed to get hot dog buns and ketchup, a new plug for the Ambi (the old one is very hard to use), and fill our five cans with gas, really having no idea how much gas it would take to get there - and to put some extra weight on the tongue of the trailer. The Ambi sits pretty far to the back of the trailer, so we were happy to be able to put many pounds of fuel in the bow.

We had planned to get off the beach by 8 am when the tide would be at 18', the last possible moment to get around the concrete to get up on the beach access road. I got up early and a little past 7, took a four-wheeler to get the truck. The tide was rising, already pretty close to the beach access road. I decided to take ol' Red down to the cabins because if some truck was trapped on the beach until the tide turned, I wanted it to be ol' Red, not the truck we were counting on to pull the trailer. I passed David coming out toward the beach access road in the Carry as I headed down toward the cabins. People were tired and moving kind of slowly and forgetfully, so we didn't get away from the cabins till 8:30. As we headed toward the beach access road, with the tide already kind of high and coming in fast, ol' Red started to act like it was running out of gas. I had just filled it up a day or two earlier, so that seemed unlikely. But I had been smelling a lot of gas, so maybe it had a leak... As soon as it started misbehaving, I turned toward the cliff so it would be as high on the beach as possible at the height of the tide. I didn't really want another swamped piece of equipment.

We had a five-can of gas with us, so we fed some in. Then Jeff found a rock and started pounding on the gas tank as we tried to start it. After what seemed like hours (and was probably more like 15 minutes), with Davey and Matt feeding in more gas and Jeff hammering, Inku got it started. We continued, hoping that we had gotten the trip's mechanical difficulties out of the way. We were definitely too late to make it around the concrete blocks onto the ramp to the beach access road. So we parked high up on the beach next to the access road, hoping it would be safe from the tide while Austin went ahead to get the white truck. We transferred everything to the white truck and we were on our way.

First stop: gas station to fill up the five-cans. Then to the garbage receptacles at AGS (it seems we always have bags of garbage to contribute), then over to the Ambi which we had parked at the freezer plant two day earlier. Load everything in, weighting the bow, find a way to hook up the chains, do the lights work? How about a new plug? Let's go!

We got to Lake Camp without incident. Austin backed the trailer into the water, trying to get it deep enough for the Ambi to float off. But the trailer started to float first and as it did, it began a fast drift in the direction of the river. I guess that's as deep as the Ambi will get, so Jeff pulled it off with the outboard and Austin pulled the truck up and put it away.

Here is Jeff, our brave, confident, and competent pilot, pretty sure he knows the way. We did have a map - something I found and tossed into my gear at the last minute. In a little foreshadowing, I'll say that that was a lucky thing to remember... and we might need a packing checklist for the future.

Austin served as look out in the bow when he wasn't working as navigator in the stern. Inku is standing to his left and Davey to his right. The water was beautifully calm and we made pretty good time.

Sarah Y and Matt, ready for an adventure. Experience has taught these two to be prepared for water.

This is what the water looks like. I think the green color is related to glaciers somehow, but that's really the color we were in. It is clear and beautiful. Nice day for a boat ride, huh?