Saturday, July 30, 2011

July 30: Season's goodbyes

This is my least favorite part of the season. Though I sorely miss the people I leave behind when I go fishing and am eager to see them again, some important part of me feels at home in the mud, on the cliff, in the wind (and even under water sometimes) in that part of the world as it does in no other. Still, even if that part of me can't actually be at home all the time, it is a great gift to know what home feels like and to be there for part of the year.

I cherish the time alone at the beginning of the season and at the end of the season as well (even though I miss the crew greatly). This year, I got to experience the joy in sharing the end of the season with an old friend (not that she's old!) Because of Jean's help, a few of things were different: 1) I'll be able to return to a clean cabin, probably rodent free, and I'll be able to find things; 2) closing up was a far less stressful experience; 3) I got to live side by side with an old friend; and 4) we were early to the plane.

After taking the crew and all the salmon to the airport on the 27th, we were too danged tired to stop at AGS to wash down the new four wheeler and the trucks. Instead we went back to the cabin to do some of the work waiting there, catch up on the blog and maybe get some sleep. We should have pushed ourselves through the tiredness, though, because by the time we got to AGS on the 28th, the water down on the dock was turned off. Dang. That'll be OK for the trucks because I can ask Eddie, who will work on them over the winter (and there's plenty to do on all of them) to wash them down. The new four wheeler, though, will sit there under a patina of salt over the winter.

Roy let us use the shower and laundry facilities in his bunkhouse, so we spent the afternoon doing that laundry, trying to change the oil filter on the Ambi (no good - had the wrong filter), and when we couldn't do that, we just tried to keep the winter off by using tarps and bags to protect the outboard and any plastic or rubber parts (like the steering console, the throttle control, the fuel lines). Maybe it'll be stored inside.

We hadn't been able to get one of the generators going so I took that in as well to ask Roy to have a look at it. He is very good to us - he stopped what he was doing (I think he was on task # 1076 of a 10,000 item closing list) to walk through the steps of figuring out why it wouldn't run. 1) Is it low on oil? It has an auto shut off if the oil gets too low (thankfully). 2) Is there goo in the carburetor? (Turn the little screw that releases whatever is at the bottom of the bowl through the tube - is it rusty water or gas?). 3) Unscrew the bolt under the bowl to see if it's full of sea monkeys (it was), but that didn't explain it. 4) Take off the cover that goes over the spark plug and look at it (is it wet with gas?). 5) Realize that you didn't check the most obvious thing: is it out of gas? (Yes. I was mortified. But I did learn steps 1 - 5 and will endeavor to do them in a different order in the future.)

We returned to the cabins with clean laundry (to carry up the cliff without getting it dirty again - no stairs) and tackled cleaning the top of the cliff of the materials used to bring up the stairs (pulleys, wire rope, other line, shackles, chains...), securing the stairs in case the cliff erodes a lot, and finishing the final sweep of the crew cabin (there are the graham crackers!), the bunkhouse (there are the missing headlamps!), Lynnie's cabin (sorry, Jake - you left your mom's yummy cookies and Jeannie and I felt we had a responsibility to them), and Debby's cabin (there's the lower unit oil, the hacksaw, my hammer, the tool bucket, the shackles...), before finishing boarding the windows, installing the padlocks, and boarding over the doors. It's a big job, much easier with help.

I went back into town and didn't get back till it was dark and the tide was high. Hugging the cliff as I picked my way along the beach back to the cabin, I worried about not being able to find "our" cliff face. Those stairs were a great landmark. Happily, I noticed our neighbor's fishing sign seconds before I saw a large shape bounding out of the dark on the tide line into the beam of my headlights and away from the truck. Of course, it was a bear, disturbed by the truck. And I admit that I was disturbed by the bear. I tracked its path as well as I could in the dark and saw that it bounded up the cliff between the neighbor's site and ours. Uh oh. I was planning to do that myself (except maybe more by "mincing" than by "bounding"). So I pulled up to the spot where we mince our way up the cliff and considered how to avoid further surprising the bear (and endangering myself). I decided on a preemptive surprise and honked the horn several times before getting out, headlamp in place, and purposefully making my way to the cliff belting out a stirring rendition of Delta Dawn, a belt-able song made popular by Tanya Tucker... in the 70s(?). The ascent and the trip back to the cabin were uneventful. Whew.

The 29th was spent cleaning up and packing up my cabin. The potential tools of destruction are now stored in the loft, along with about 6 sleeping bags and other bedding, and sleeping pads; the dry goods are stored in translucent or well-labeled plastic containers (that lemmings won't be able to chew through); the cans of food that won't suffer from losing structure by freezing are in other hard containers with rice thrown in to absorb moisture and prevent rusting due to condensation; the mudroom/porch is clear and organized; the shackles have been opened and oiled or discarded; the disused outhouse was completely dismantled; the blue glove liners were collected from all over and either washed or just dried and put in the laundry for the spring. Even though we weren't done and we had much food to finish eating, we decided to go to the D&D for a farewell dinner. It was a good decision, though it did nothing good for our schedule. Once there, the woman waiting on us said she was told to ask to see my driver's license. Huh? For hamburgers? She said she heard that I looked like a model in it. ??!! You bet!! (I thought briefly of taking up going to bars just for the chance of showing it off, but realized that no one would actually ask me to show it. More airplane travel? Actually, it's probably more a comment on the gap between my Naknek appearance and my Seattle appearance (on a good day) than on my Seattle appearance. Sigh.)

This morning we still needed to deliver our leftover food (some bacon, potatoes, milk, mayonnaise), create a board for one of my windows (drilling holes to match the holes in the cabin wall) and board all the windows, close up and bring in the propane, take down the Internet antenna, bring in the solar panels (except the 5 attached to the roof), empty out all water (except the big water jugs because it's nice to start the season with water, and water that came from the clean fall pipes rather than the dirty spring pipes - but I don't want to find dead lemmings in it in the spring, so it calls for care), cover cooking tools... We were off the beach by 10:05. Once I moved my bags to the edge of the cliff, Sage went over to sit by them. I think she wanted to be sure we wouldn't forget her.

Closing up takes a steady pull. Living with the tide puts defined beginnings and ends on tasks. Some tasks (like setting the nets or fishing them) require the tide to be in so that's the time frame of those tasks; other tasks (like working with the anchors or anchor lines) require the tide to be out so that's the time frame of those tasks. Others require certain offices to be open or support staff to be available. "Closing up" doesn't really have those limits. It starts when the nets come out of the water (except that David got us started earlier than that this year) and ends when the cab is taking us to the airport. For me, there's about a week between those points. For others, it's a matter of 1-3 days. I don't know if I'm relatively slow or relatively fussy - or maybe we just have more stuff.

The final photo in the sequence is the view from the window of the plane on our return to find Seattle still reliable in many ways including its beauty.

People have asked me how the season was. Several factors go into that computation:
1) crew health and welfare (max points - no injuries)

2) fishing productivity and price (this gets a solid "good" and if it's compared with others' season, that score goes up. We did miss an opportunity on that 30 MPH tide that we sat out (and could have fished), but I still value factor 1 more, so even though it turned out to be an overly cautious decision, no regrets). I learned today that we were competing with many drift boats that had come up from Egegik when that district closed up - that means the available fish are divided into more nets, accounting for this year's lower catch when compared with last year's catch in a comparably sized run; overall profit is related to this factor, but I don't really know how this worked out yet

3) weather conditions and other freight trains (challenging - I learned that this season set records for the consistency of the level of wind. I heard people say that the wind that caused our boat to swamp so many times was 45+ MPH. I bought an anenometer. And we had a lot of equipment problems - Roger plans to learn more about mechanic-ing (yay!!))

4) crew courage and competence (max points - whatever challenge came their way: weather, equipment, nearly impossible round hauls, exhaustion, cold, they faced it with good cheer, mutual support, and growing competence. The only exception to this broad claim has to do with cabin conditions. Euwwww. I think there's room for improvement there. I want them to think "ship shape" in living conditions, or at least no new life forms.)

5) interpersonal relationships (max points - it seems that each person was crucial to the season's success and everyone was supportive and cooperative through the whole season, no matter how tired or hungry or cold they were. And they were hilarious. At the end of the season, I asked for social security numbers so I could send W-9 statements at the end of the year. I noted that last year, I got a phone number instead of an SSN for some of the crew members. Hugh, with a perfectly straight face, asked, "Is there a difference?" Jeff, looking earnest, asked, "You just add a 1, right?" Even as I was grieving their imminent departure, they disabled me with laughter.

So overall, this season gets an A. Crew factors are weighted more heavily in my computation than fishing productivity and profit. And the negative points accrued by the challenging conditions factor were entirely overcome by the crew's courage and competence. Challenging conditions don't matter is the crew is equal to them and this crew was greater than them.

Thanks for the company this season (and Llyra, thank you for the cookies! They were delicious and I kept forgetting to tell you so. I even got to eat more than I should have (being the one to pick up the mail)). It was a pleasure reporting in.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

July 27: Naknek time

How can it be so long since I posted something? On the other hand, how did so much happen in just four days?

*Got the Ambi into Naknek Lake (OK, so maybe Chris had to come up with the idea of tying it off to the last cleat on the dock and driving the trailer out from under it. Everyone else thought, "Yippee! We're on our way!!" I thought, "How will we get it back on the trailer?")

*Drove it around for a while - got to have an up close visit with a bear on the other bank. (I think Roger got some good photos and I saw that Chris got a photo of the crew taking photos of the bear. But I didn't have the time to harvest others' photos before they left. I'll try to remedy that...)

*We had every intention of taking Sage and even took her for this trial run. But then I got to wondering why I thought it would be OK to bring her, and I called. It wasn't OK. Nor was it safe for her... and probably not for us, either. So that morning, we worked hard to find a place to keep her safe and comfortable enough for the possibly two night camping trip. Once again, we were rescued by Roy.

*Went to the Red Dog and danced all night!! It was so much fun. It's so late in the season to learn that I have a crew of dancers! And singers! Now, when Hugh has a request, if I remember, I make him sing it. On the way back from Katmai, Evan, David, Hugh, and Jake sang us home. Billy Joel's got nothing on them.

*Picked up my very dear friend of 40 years (40?? When did that happen?) and packed her into the Ambi to travel 25 miles through the wind and rain to Katmai. I was on frequent bailing duty. Most of us wore our rain gear, but we didn't have rain gear for our sleeping bags. We reduced the wind's impact by hugging the coast most of the way, making the trip more tolerable (it's tough to make our way through an anticipated vacation, drenched and cold), and longer.
Here they are. As much as possible, they tried to sleep. That's Hugh under the tarp with the blue rain pants sticking out. Jeff is napping on ... something. Jake, Roger, and Evan are manfully taking the spray that regularly drenches them. Jean, as always, is being a good sport. Chris is napping sitting on the dog kennel that contains our backpacks instead of Sage, wrapped in a tarp instead of rain pants (oversight). David is doing his best to keep the spray out of the boat, but with the wind we were in, that challenged even his skill.

*On our arrival, the rangers told us to store as much of our food and gear as we could in the main food and gear cache's since the campground's were pretty full. It turns out that they weren't full and perishable items (like the hamburger we'd planned for the second night's dinner) is discarded from the main food cache at the end of the day. Dang.

*But never fear - we had lots of extra food because the food that had been packed to go on the southbound barge (the canned good that won't freeze well)... went to Katmai with us by accident. It was Roger who finally figured out why we had so much food with us. We had enough for 9 people for 30 days. That knowledge made me feel better every time I heard a funny sound in the outboard. The clear and beautiful water of Naknek Lake is probably potable (despite Roger's fear of intestinal parasites), and we had plenty of food. And, it turns out, Chris and Hugh can probably build a fire on the water, using only water. But the extra weight of the southbound freight did make for slower going, and encouraged a bit more spray into the boat. We took a break during our trip there - warm up at a fire, roast some hot dogs, do a little exploring. The water is this clear throughout the lake.

*This brave crew set up our tents and when I realized that I was torn between taking them to the lodge to warm up and fixing dinner for them, I decided to spring for dinner at the lodge's buffet - achieving food, dry, and warm all at once. And this crew made it worth it. They ate pounds of pounds of food. Each. And the food was good. After Jeff got seconds, we overheard Chris explaining to Hugh that he needed to get a new plate each time he went to the buffet line. I looked at Jeff and Jeff looked down saying, "I hoped no one would notice. But how am I supposed to adapt? I use the same plate without washing it for three weeks, and now I'm supposed to use a new plate for seconds in the same meal?" (He was exaggerating, really.) We were so exhausted, we didn't even make it up to the falls to see the bears on our first day there. Chris and Hugh went back to the campground to make a fire. (How did they do that? It was raining and everything was wet.) Jeannie and I dried our sleeping bags over the fire.

*Next day, we eventually made our way to the falls - after the crew ate breakfast: 36 eggs, four cans of black beans, and four lbs of Chinese sausage (with none of the grease poured off. Well, everyone but Hugh made it to the falls - Hugh wanted to fish. And fish he did. He even caught 7. But didn't get to keep them - sometimes because they were snagged other than in the mouth and sometimes because when the bear approaches, the fisherman is required to break the line. Sigh. But the fishing was successful. In fact, Hugh did better than the bears on the falls. Here are some photos with Hugh, Jake, and Chris fishing, and an interested bear, watching. Seems to me that prospects of actually keeping a fish under these circumstances are pretty slim.

*We saw many bears - including one that charged another on the trail right ahead of Jeannie and me as we walked from the campground to the lodge. That's an awesome site. Nothings seems to stop a bear, or escape it. So I think the best hope is to be not at all interesting to one.

*Several crew members seemed to be succumbing to a cold that's been going around. We decided to visit the Bay of Islands and if a good camping spot presented itself, camp; otherwise, head back home. The Bay of Islands is beautiful and deserves much more time than we gave it. But we didn't fall off the edge... and we didn't find good camping spots - Chris noted that the flat spots looked like they were probably swamps and would be alive with mosquitoes.

*As we were heading back for Lake Camp, David drove slowly so Jeannie and I could cook without stopping the boat (we didn't want to be trying to get the boat on the trailer in the dark). We cooked the bratwursts and polish hot dogs, and some chili, followed by s'mores. All on a moving skiff (though not moving very fast). The return trip had much calmer weather... and we even saw the sun!

*Driving slowly gave us the chance to note the trees on one of the islands seemed to be steaming. It made sense to all of us, considering how wet it had been and now the sun was out. We went in for a closer look (David is a spectacular tour guide) and found that what looked like steam was really a spire of mosquitoes, erupting from each tree. Aieeee! Run away! Run away!
If you squint at this photo you'll see a little dark smudge above each tree - it's not steam.

As the sun came out, spirits rose (except in the stern of the boat where they remained serious and nautical about their navigational responsibilities. There was some question about Evan's qualifications to navigate given the poor luck of his wandering ancestors. And we do note that he is the only one in a life jacket. Ahem.) The bow crew celebrates the appearance of the sun as only those from Montana can truly appreciate. See why I love this crew?

David had estimated our time of arrival and he noted that this detour has put us completely off course and should not be counted when evaluating his time estimation. "That's right," Evan noted, "We are completely off course. Course is over there," he added, helpfully pointing a few feet away.

*Arriving at Lake Camp (remarkably quickly ... and close to David's time estimate), David was able to get the boat onto the trailer without the use of the capstan winch. Yippee!

*We dropped off the boat, picked up Sage, and staggered home, collapsing into bed by about 2 am.

*Slow start the next day - we still needed to winterize the Ambi, do some laundry, start winterizing the vehicles, and pack up the salmon homepack we had spent the summer creating. Then returned to the cabins to finish closing them up (almost), and (dreaded project), raise the stairs. Eek! It's probably the closest the crew has come to wanting to toss me over the cliff. It was late and dark; they all wanted to be done. David had said over and over that he didn't want to be up till 2 am the night before it was time to leave finishing the last minute things. After breaking lines, overwhelming the winch, and scaring ourselves a few times, we took a break for dinner at about midnight (thank you, Jean! It was roasted chicken, and ravioli from the freezer). It didn't take long for us to throw in the towel for the night when we returned and found that it actually had gotten darker (I didn't think it could) and the bugs were impossible. (I think they may have followed us from those bug spires.) We got to bed by a little before 2 (sorry, David!)

*Jean helped me figure out what to do differently with the winch to enable it to lift those stairs. We needed to move it closer to the cliff, so the direction of pull is pretty much vertical, and not taking a turn once it reaches the top of the cliff. That would entail using chain to affix it to the screw anchor, and wire rope to overcome the stretching and breaking problem.

*David's plane was scheduled to leave the next morning (this morning) at 9:25 - he had to be checked in and ready to fly 40 minutes before the departure time. Anxious, we arrived quite early. He called from Anchorage to tell me that his flight had been delayed in King Salmon for two hours, due to fog. During his wait, he learned about how to preserve roe, and he got some fringe impact of an exploded can of bear mace. He reported that talking to his seat mates, he saw the PenAir staff running flat out into the terminal. They ran out too, ahead of the staff, but not completely ahead of what they were running from. Bear mace hurts, and for a while.

I returned and started the biscuits for breakfast, with Spanish Chicken Stew (from Trader Joe's) for the gravy, and three lbs of bacon. Finally, I noticed that it was getting late so hurried out to get the final effort on the stairs set up while I still had the help of this stellar crew.

Roger was already out there setting it up as Jean and I had envisioned the night before. I joined him - shackles, caribiners, chains, wire ropes, guide ropes, line of pull... ready! While the stairs were still somewhat in place, the crew took their luggage down to the white truck (under cover of the canopy). Finally they were all there; they were ready. This rigging lifted it! And Jake was right, pulling up from the bottom, with the winch to the left would pull the bottom of the stairs to the left and drop the top to the right. Yep. Rearrangement of the guide ropes and securing the top to another anchor farther back. Pull again. A big boulder in the way. Lift the stairs, move the boulder. Pull again. Caught on the support for the winch... running into the hook... binding the rope... need more slack! Tie off the other support and let the wire rope out... Finally at the tipping point (it's getting late... we should be going!) Hold it down, change the pull position. Finally - it's up. (Note: next year, try grabbing it in the mid-section, just below the tipping point.)

Now, quick! Eat breakfast! (Jean has finished the biscuits and stew, and cooked the bacon.) The first three to finish breakfast take the red truck into town... Go! You have 30 minutes. Pick up Roger's fish (Evan's fish spent the night in his duffel... in the freezer), look for Hugh's missing clothing in the laundry (he suffered many clothing losses due to laundry mishaps this year), pull all the heavy containers of fish-to-be-air-freighted to the truck, and get to the airport! I chased around after those who were not yet packed and piled them into the white truck and headed in. Jake shadowed the red truck on the four wheeler. Having all the vehicles in town helps me finish putting them up for the winter.

*It was a race to the airport - we were in contact by phone. Did we need to stop and help at AGS? Did they find Hugh's clothes? They had it all under control, so we sped past AGS and went straight to the airport. Hugh and Jeff went in and got in line to check in. Jean and I brought in everyone else's luggage and called. They were almost there. We had 8 minutes for everyone to be checked in, including their baggage. I saw Chris going past to the other terminal in the red truck and just yelled for him. He is quick (though the truck's brakes aren't), but he arrived shortly with the air freight fish just heaved into the back. (They were right not to take the time to arrange it neatly.) With maybe one or two minutes to spare, they were checked in and on their way to the other terminal for the security check.

Chris observed that the red truck may have achieved a new speed record on its way to King Salmon in their desperation. "Yeah," added Evan, "50."

*After seeing the crew off (they were excited - some wanted to see the sun again; I was sad), Jean and I ran many King Salmon errands, including the beginning of getting the salmon freighted. That was the first 476 lbs. We rushed back down to AGS to pull the rest of the freight-able salmon from the freezer... the next 505 lbs. Hmmm... almost to the 1000 lb price break, and the AGS freezer wouldn't be open till Saturday when Jean and I will be leaving. Ok, we went back to AGS to get the last 250 lbs to send by air freight instead of luggage.

And then we went back to the cabin and ate smoked salmon.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

July 22: The bears come closer

Today was a slower day and I got to stay at the cabin all day long! David, Evan, and Jake went into town and did the mountains of laundry we found in Josh’s room. Not that it was all Josh’s – though we do have to wonder what other people’s laundry was doing under his bunk. Hmmmm?

The rest of us stayed at the cabins, preparing to close them up (until the swimming pool opened and they went in for a swim... and mug up). The plan is to migrate the four who remain in the crew cabin into the bunkhouse because that takes a plywood covering over one window and a padlock to close, while the crew cabin requires mouse-proofing, condensation-proofing, inventory, many windows, and the door.

When the town group returned, David came back to my cabin to tell me that he saw a bear at the pond behind my cabin - the one we draw water from for our wash-down. Happily, Roger had also just arrived, with his wonderful camera. These are my favorite of the photos he got. I believe he was standing on the bunkhouse with the rest of the crew...

That was the photo I got, not of the bear, but of the bear watchers.

Friday, July 22, 2011

July 21: Driving a one-ton truck, he ran over my purse. Twice.

We worked so long and hard yesterday that I couldn't muster the energy for a post until today.

For me, it's a relatively small thing to fish for days in a row with no more than 3 or 4 hours of sleep per day. The fish and the wind (and this season, the constant splash of water over our heads) keep us awake and alert. To me, anyway, that's energizing and I can't wait to write about it. But yesterday... oy.

Jake, Hugh, Chris and I started out early to get Jake's fish to the airport. We took a little extra time for pancakes, bacon, and eggs (enough extra that what had started out as a leisurely schedule became a rush to make the deadline for the freight).

I dropped them off at the freezer and ran to the service station to fill up the truck's two tanks. Fuel is expensive here.

I rode in the back of the truck to the airport because I expected a call that I didn't want the crew to have to deal with. From that vantage point, I was able to see, but not hear, what was happening in the cab. Happily I had my camera with me. Chris filled in the rest of the story later. It turns out that Hugh also sings along in his sleep. Here, he fell asleep singing "Don't rock the juke box," by Alan Jackson, I think.

Once at the air cargo office we learned that not only would Jake's fish not go out till Saturday, none of the fish we had already brought up had gone out yet and it also wouldn't go out until Saturday. I worried about the family members who might have made long and fruitless treks to their regional air cargo offices. I'm sorry!

While in King Salmon, though, we checked in at the Ranger's station about our planned trip to Katmai and heard about the Bay of Islands, a little beyond Katmai. The locals are ho hum about Brooks Lodge, the vacation destination of adventurers from all over the world. But mention the Bay of Islands? Then their eyes light up with the beauty and glory of the place. We can camp freely there and they tell us not to worry about the bears because they are full of salmon and we don't smell that good to them. This discovery, with the combined courage of this wonderful crew to overcome my own amygdala-deep fear that the world really is flat and we'll be lost forever on that lake - if we don't fall off the edge first, has led us to consider the possibility of camping for two night, which means that my dog will have to come with us. She'll probably hate it.

Here is a map of the area. I've marked the approximate location of our cabins - the leftmost star on the map. We're on the Kvichak Bay. If we follow that river for about 60 miles to the northeast, we'll arrive at Igiugig (which I grew up pronouncing Ee-gee-og-gee but someone recently told me is pronounced Ee-gee-og-gik) and Lake Iliamna. Instead we'll drive the five miles south into Naknek (following the beach and turning the corner following the Naknek River), pick up the skiff at the cannery, and then continue onto the Alaska Peninsula Highway (which I learned this year is the shortest highway in the U.S.) to its end 15 miles down the road in King Salmon (the second star from the left), and then follow the dirt road another 10 miles or so to Lake Camp (the third star), where we'll launch the skiff for our trip. Chris, Jake, Hugh (and really, the rest of the group as well) want to hang around fishing out of the skiff there at Lake Camp, sleeping there for an early start Sunday morning. (I think we'll make a special trip back to Naknek, though, to participate in the Fishtival by dancing the night away at the Red Dog, enjoying the delightful live music of the local talent, Wendy Lee and Todd.)

Sunday morning, we'll meet my wonderful long-time friend's plane for the beginning of our trip. We'll probably depart Lake Camp by 10:30 or so and cross the 25 miles to Brooks in 2-3 hours (depending on whether we dawdle along the way). The water of Naknek Lake is clear, blue, deep, and cold. The trip can be rough if the wind is up.

We had originally planned to camp overnight on the 24th at Brooks, visit the bears at the fall, maybe take the tour out to the Vally of 10,000 Smokes, and head back the next day (the 25th), giving us a good day to finish the closing up. But with the idea that the Bay of Islands is potentially within our reach, we may camp a second night there and return on the 26th, the night before everyone (except Jeannie and I) leave. This will take more shape... as we're in it. There won't be any postings while we're gone - I'm sure we won't have Internet access and besides, I won't have my computer. But plan on seeing some pictures when we get back.

We returned to the cannery to start finishing putting up the boats to find the beach gang already in the process of adding the Bathtub to the stack of skiffs. Luckily for us, they put it on the bottom layer, right next to the water outlet, with no other skiffs on top of it. So we were able to finish it after it had been stored.

We lifted the Bathtub's outboard onto the side boards of the propane truck to winterize it. Winterizing the outboards consists of running it with fresh water (to rinse out the corrosive salt), spraying fogging material into the carburetors until it dies, and then removing the spark plugs and spraying it in there for about 3 seconds. Then changing the oil in the lower unit - this involves removing the screw that is hidden at the very bottom of the lower unit and one higher up, letting the oil drain into a receptacle, and then replacing it with a few tubes of gear lube oil from the bottom hole until it starts to come out the top, then holding a finger over the top hole to stop (or at least slow) the exit of oil, quickly replace the bottom screw and then the top one. Roger led this process - on all three outboard. (The screws on the Grayling's outboard were almost stripped - the answer? Roy's manual impact driver. It felt like a little miracle when it worked. Maybe we should get replacement screws for next year, along with a safety clip.)

We also winterized the power packs for the power rollers (changing the oil, making sure the throttle handle moves, and spraying corrosion block on the throttle moving thingie). Then buoyed by Roger's courage and competence, we tackled the replacement of the Ambi's throttle control (successfully!).

All these activities required many trips down the hill to the stockroom or Roy's shop - to borrow tools, to pick a brain, to borrow more tools...

Meanwhile, Big Brad located another of our lost brand new nets (yay!) so we now have 50 fathom of hung gear in the net locker and 100 fathom in the conex. Almost ready for next year!

Anyone who had been working on the Ambi had been smelling the smells of grilling burgers and salmon. And we were hungry. We were finally finishing at about 9. Another very long day in town. So when Hugh suggested the D&D for burgers, it was met with great enthusiasm.

As we were arriving at the D&D, I pulled my purse out of my backpack and found it covered in mud on one side. "What happened here?" David braced himself and explained, "Um, well, I ran over it in the propane truck. Twice." And then hurried to add, "But I had Jeff look inside to see if anything was broken and he didn't see anything!" He explained what happened - especially the "twice" part, but I wasn't tracking so well at that point. No one knows how my purse came to be on the ground under the tire of the propane truck. Not much was lost. Roy thinks the 10 lbs of coins I had in there may have offered some protection. A mirror was cracked, the Altoids tin holding a thumb drive, mailbox keys, nail clippers, tweezers... was crushed, but Chris was able to open it and repair the nail clippers. The case for my business cards was crushed and the case for my reading glasses was dented... but the glasses were intact. The crew thinks the case might be bullet proof.

The burgers were delicious.

Chris revealed that Hugh can be induced to sleep by rubbing his head. After we finished eating, Evan and Jeff double-teamed him and though he struggled mightily to resist, he was powerless. It made me tired just watching it.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

July 20: Done fishing for the season

This was an especially full day for Jake, Evan, and Roger, and the rest of us were busy too. The fishing crew was up at 5 to tend the nets and got five fish on the flood. David advocated pulling the nets for the season and Jake checked with me - yep, it's time. So they pulled in all the nets and ran the Bathtub into town to be lifted out of the water for the season. David followed them at about 7. He shared the beach with a bear... and got a photo! My crew had been up till 2 finishing the fillets the previous night, and they had been short of sleep for a few days before that, so I let them sleep till about noon.

David kept his crew in at the cannery, stripping nets (cutting off the web so only the corkline (with corks) and leadline remain, ready for new web to be tied to it) and putting up the boats. They found the missing new nets!! And they found the missing stripped nets!! That was a great relief to me. We were missing 100 fathom of brand new net. Argh! And when they took the nets that had been cycled out during the season into town in the Grayling to strip them, they were immediately moved to... we didn't know where. But since our stripped lines didn't make it to Seattle last year, I'm a little sensitive about it this year. They spray painted the net bags with my name and SB (southbound) 2011 in orange. 11 bags for 325 fathom of gear.

When the tide was down, I went out with my crew on the ranger to pick up the buoys and the anchor lines, and to attach "finder lines" with a cork tied to it to the anchors, along with just a stiff line to help us find them next season. For the first time in several years, we were able to dig down to the eye of the anchor and get it to stand up a little (thanks to engineering and paddle-bailing by Hugh and Chris, and the use of a line through the eye of the anchor so that two (or more) people could pull on the anchor to either turn it or bend it back to a straighter posture and in either case, get it out of the hole) for next year's hunt. It is muddy work. We saved bringing in the running line for high water so we could pull it through the tide and wash it.

I went into town with some warmer clothes (you can't expect the weather here to be the same in the afternoon as it was in the morning) and with some experience in winterizing the outboards. The town crew was cold and hungry. I realized I should have brought food. Dang! We stayed anyway because the beach gang was eager to start putting away our boats. I asked for the person who understood how wrenches work to come help me with the New Boat outboard. David said that they all understand how wrenches work... except maybe Evan because he's a math major. And maybe not Jake, either - an English major. Roger volunteered (after I pointed at him). Even though it only went down the beach and then came right back because of a failed steering ram, it hadn't been winterized the year before so we thought we should do it. But first, the battery was dead. Grrr. A borrowed battery, and a bunch of other borrowed tools and several hours later, we had done it. The nets were all stripped and being loaded into bags with orange spray paint. (We're not losing them again this year!)

When we returned to the beach - at about 8:30, the tide was high and it was time to pull in the running line. We were going to eat left over chili, but it had taken on a life of its own - bubbling without benefit of fire. Huh? The fermentation process seems advanced in the crew cabin. So we shifted to the spaghetti - it was good and no bubbling.

The beach crew was ready to go out and detach the running line from the anchor (I think Jeff will need a new raincoat next year...) so I joined them on the beach with Hugh, while Chris and Jeff motored out in the little dingy to the end of the running line.

These two photos show them motoring out - I had to show the first one for the sake of Jeff's and Chris' parents because it confirms that they were in a boat. The second one is more interesting, though, because the boat is hidden by the waves.

We are all very excited because we're all on the same schedule and that schedule is letting us go to bed before midnight, even if we do have to get to town sort of early to get Jake's fish to the plane.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

July 19: Ace Sleeper

I started this entry last night, but the battery was low that powers both the computer and the antenna for the Internet and the sun was down, so solar regeneration was out and I didn't want to start the generator, so, it's a day delayed. Next year, I'm hoping David will be able to get us set up with other alternative energy. Though we have sunlight in abundance, we also have wind in abundance and if not one, then almost always, the other.

We took Josh and Trevor to the airport today (waah!) and at the same time shipped out the fish for Hugh, Chris, Jeff, and some of Evan's to his brother. Although they had made reservations to ship it on the 19th, when we got there, we were told that Alaska Air had decreased the portion of the plane dedicated to freight so everything would be delayed by 24 hours. I hope the crew all gave the recipients the tracking number so they wouldn't make a vain trip to their respective airports. One of the hazards of shipping fish is that it doesn't arrive with the same punctuality as a passenger does... and we all know that sometimes even that is questionable.

Hugh was part of this operation, so much of this post will be about his remarkable ability to fall asleep. Two things are fun about that: one is just the image of Hugh sleeping in the mjst unlikely places, combined with the fact that he will talk and respond to questions in his sleep; and the other is Chris' glee about it all. I got to have both today.

The air freight office is around the corner from the passenger terminal. I went in to start the paperwork while the guys got the salmon unloaded. The paperwork was a bit of a challenge - apparently Hugh's and Chris' handwriting is illegible, even when it's typed. I think we got it all straightened out. Hugh and Chris were preparing for a trip down the street to the Alaska Commercial (AC) store that carries everything from avocados to power tools to fishing equipment. They were on a quest for fishing rods. On the way out the door, Hugh was holding the door for Chris who needed to step back in to check on something. Stepping back out 10 seconds later, he noticed that Hugh was in the same position. Looking more closely, Hugh had fallen asleep. He stood there sleeping long enough for the mile-wide grin to spread across Chris' face, for the women behind the counter to understand what had happened and to come around and look at him, and for me to go out and get a photo. Right after I snapped this, he started to tip over. We woke him up in time.

Having just awakened from his nap, Hugh, still bleary and confused, asked Chris, "Where are we?" Chris told him, only later lamenting the fun he missed - he could have told him they were in Rome, or just arrived in King Salmon and it was time to go fishing...

Then we waited in the crowded terminal - around July 19, there is generally a loud, frustrated, and excited rush of people trying to leave the area to return home. It's a small airport, designed to be able to stretch to accommodate the thousands that pass through in the summer, but small enough to reasonably serve the area of only a few thousand residents. Hugh nodded off here shortly after he sat down. At least I think it was after.

Of course, he fell asleep again on the way back from King Salmon, but I didn't get the camera out in time to catch him asleep - so here he is, just waking up.

After we arrived back at the cabin, I used up some of the meat we'd brought back from the freezer to make chili for today and spaghetti for tomorrow. This doesn't look much like chili, but we've also been trying to use up the canned items that will not winter well - which is anything where the structure of the food matters. Not tomato soup, but definitely legumes, fruits, and vegetables. So we also had a black bean and corn salad, and chili is so good with salsa, so I made that too. And thinking earlier that we'd finally be able to have a bonfire on the beach (a lucky combination of weather and timing - I was wrong, though), I'd gotten some hot dogs. So this turned into chili dogs. Hugh hadn't gotten much sleep the night before, so he took a nap while waiting for me to finish getting dinner ready. When it was ready, Chris woke him up (I think threats of tickling were involved) and Chris says that Hugh bolted up and sat on the foot of his bed... and fell asleep.

I can't remember if this next photo was taken during dinner or after, but this was before we rushed off to town to fillet the rest of the salmon, but here he sits at the table, asleep.

We timed dinner for just after the fishing crew came in. Trying to remember all the final pieces of the meal (this was a complicated one with many parts), I glanced over and saw that Evan, a member of the fishing crew, seemed to have lost interest in dressing himself partway through the process. He had the sweatshirt over his head, but hadn't mustered the energy or determination for the arms to do their part. "A scarf," he explained. See why I like so much to be around this crew?

After dinner - that was about 10 pm - Hugh, Chris, Jeff and I left for town to fillet the day's salmon while David and Evan did dishes (there were a lot - we may have finished the salmon job before they finished the dishes), and Roger was assigned the task of photographing the sunset (those photos will have to wait until I can get his card). On the way into town, Hugh fell asleep again. But this photo also shows Chris, with his head turned away to hide his smile. The thing is, he can't hide his smile by turning his head - his smile seems to reach his ears as well.

Roger fulfilled his job responsibilities admirably - it was really hard to pick just one of his sunset photos. He also stayed up to take pictures of the moonrise.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

July 18: Accidental exile

Tonight I was grouchy. At first I thought it was because I was tired and sick and hungry and worried about not being able to find many of my nets. But I don't think that was it. I think it was because I inadvertently exiled myself today - and I've already been missing Josh, Jake, Evan, and Hugh because they've been on a fishing schedule, which has been very different from the ground crew's schedule. Today I made it worse and missed the whole crew, missed fishing, missed cooking, and missed writing. What was I thinking?

David has been the picture of drive and determination to get things cleaned up early to avoid having to rush around at the last minute (which is my style). It's giving us the time to do a great job of sorting through things we rarely sort through - it will make next year so much more spacious and self-explanatory (the rope shelves are labeled!) Last year, Bob asked his wife to send up some tiles to mend the floor of my cabin - the vinyl had developed holes in front of the door and the refrigerator. I added the task of installing those tiles to the end of season "to do" list and David just assigned tasks - install my tiles, sort out the mudroom of Lynnie's cabin, fix the door on Debby's cabin, get the garbage out, take the rangers into town that we won't be using this year; bring the ranger we have been using back to the sites (it was on the beach access road for some work).

Instead of driving the rangers into town, we decided to try to use the boom truck to both lift and transport both rangers. David, Chris, and I undertook this project. David is the crane operator; I'm the knot tier and worrier; Chris is the line-of-strain reasoner. It seemed like a bit of a miracle that we were able to do it without catastrophe. I don't think any of us had the occasion to say, "Oh, I don't think that hurt it, did it?"

The boom truck has some serious challenges, though. The shifter that puts the truck in 2 wd or 4 wd seems attached to nothing and there's a disconcerting squeak that seems related to the going around bits. So I wanted to be the one to drive it in with the rangers, being the most qualified to drive like an old lady. I got into town by a little past 4. (Roy diagnosed a u-joint that's going out, a torn rear motor mount, and a disconnection syndrome with the transfer case.) David and Chris were going to take the ranger we used this season and the red truck back to the cabins, and then come into town after me to take care of some of the town tasks. But they got caught up in cabin tasks and assured me that they would come soon. I decided I'd try to take a nap in town while I was waiting for them (a wrong number woke me up too early this morning), but it was too noisy in camp. So I tackled the net locker. It was sort of gratifying, but not exactly restful (and besides, what was that smell?)

The crew finally appeared at about 10 pm and I was in full grouch. After spending a few hours filleting fish with Chris and Hugh, my foul mood began to dissipate. But there was still work to be done - they needed to wait around for the fish to freeze.

David, consistently kind and patient with me, brought me home. I don't get to be with the crew, but at least I get to be on the beach after nine hours in town. They'll wrap up the freezer tasks. Tomorrow, I'll go in with Josh, Trevor, and Chris to pack up the home pack for several of the crew (uh oh - I think I need more details than that...) and get it up to the airport a bit ahead of when Josh and Trevor will be heading out.

It's always sad for me when the season ends, and it's especially sad when I need to say goodbye to such a great crew. It seems perverse to be grouchy with my crew because I like them so much and missed them. Go figure.

Now, I'll turn off the phone and get some sleep.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

July 17: Cleaning in the corners

Most of our activities these days are getting us ready to leave. It is a fine time to practice remembering experiencing actually being in this place that I love and not spend these last couple of weeks thinking about how sad it will be when I must leave it.

We're getting faster at our fillet line. Today, Chris, Trevor, and I filleted about 100 fish - maybe a few more - in 3 1/2 hours. David led the vacuum sealing crew of David, Jeff, Hugh, and Roger. They started when we'd finished about a dozen fish and gained on us slowly so that they were almost caught up with us by the time we finished.

While we were processing the fish, Chris and Trevor took a break to watch the bear we noticed on the mud flats in front of the dock. I tried to get them all in a photo - and I added a little arrow pointing to the bear. It looked bigger in real life.

The other thing that I notice about this photo is the beautiful red cliffs of South Naknek. They aren't always red like that, only when they reflect the light of a glorious sunset. I wonder if our cliffs ever reflect the light of a glorious sunrise?

After our rice and curry breakfast (with potatoes, onions, broccoli, canned beans, chickpeas, coconut milk, and chicken), the ground crew tackled Debby's cabin which suffered from our abrupt and premature departure last season. A lot of the items in that cabins seemed to be just removed from the boat and placed there, intact. Sorting it out this year - at the end of the season, unfortunately - reinforces the importance of not doing that. When something has been sitting, wet and undisturbed over the winter, no one really wants to explore it. It smells bad, might have dead things in it, looks dirty and feels icky. But in the bottom of a crate, for example, I found the one quart 2 cycle oil bottles we've been wishing we had all summer. Sigh. And the lines were in a jumble. I think the crew understood why it's important to have them clearly marked and in a designated place - because the time we're going to need a particular line is when the current is rushing in, something has just broken, most of the crew is holding the boat or holding the line, and we need XYZ. There won't be time to then sort through the various crates and piles of rope to find it - it will be important to be able to step into the cabin and lay hands on it in a few minutes. Hence, sorting, organizing, labeling.

Tomorrow, a little attention to Seattle work then maybe another 100 fish to fillet.

PS - Josh saved the day on missing the sunset. He was on the beach with Jake and Evan and his camera. I couldn't pick just one so here is the progression.

July 16: Beginning to button it up

The crew went out for the night tide, leaving me to sleep and prepare the hamburger and gravy with mashed potatoes. I've been thinking for much of the season that it's really no wonder that I like this as much as I do because I get to do my favorite things: fish, cook for people, and write. And I get to feel lucky because although things befall us - after all, we are fishing - they do it in the most considerate way possible.

After breakfast, while the crew slept, I used up the egg whites left over from Rhett's cake, along with some of the remaining shelf stable whipping cream to make a milk chocolate orange mousse (making a few substitutions for missing ingredients). I think it came out pretty well. Then at about tide time, everyone sprang into action.

We've now split into two crews (and I'm not on either one). Today, Josh's crew (Josh, Jake, Evan, and Hugh) tended the nets, and put things away back in Debby's cabin, while David's crew (David, Sarah, Jeff, Chris, and Roger) began to pick up the things at the bottom of the cliff, took the Grayling in to come out of the water, stripped nets, and worked on homepack. Trevor and I both tagged along with David's crew. Trevor is a cheerful addition and a great hand. I came along mostly to help with the homepack and because I've winterized the outboard before.

At the end of the whole thing (we worked till midnight), I was a bit daunted by the prospect of picking up a full 5 gallon can of gas from the tailgate of the truck and lifting it to put it into a crate a bit inside the truck but above the bed of the truck and under the canopy - without spilling any. Trevor saw what I was trying to do and ... just lifted it up and put it in. I don't know if everyone who knows him know this, but he is very sweet.

Here we are on our little fillet line. Roger and I are filleting the old-fashioned way that is a bit slower but saves a bit more meat - especially the delicious belly.

Jeff and Chris are using the faster but less belly-preserving sportsman's style that sort of scoops the fillet off one side of the fish, turns it over and scoops the fillet off the other side. Here is Jeff having scooped off the first half.

After filleting about 3/4 of the salmon, a few of the crew went to start the vacuum sealing process using our nifty new chamber vacuum sealer. It takes a while to get through all the steps, but we were finally ready to freeze them... just as the freezer closed. Roy let us in with his key and we broke the rules by laying them out so they would freeze faster, while running the fish we already had out to the scale to try to figure out what we already had and what more we needed. We had to wait around a bit until these sides had frozen enough so that we could stack them like Lincoln Logs inside empty wooden boxes in the freezer. It wouldn't do to put them in a heap to freeze - they would freeze much too slowly. But other people use the freezer so we couldn't leave them spread out all over everyone else's boxes. And we have been warned that some people are not all that careful about whose fish they take. Our beautiful, well sealed sides would be very tempting. So before we left, we got them all stacked into locked boxes. I think we have a little more than half our home pack done. More tomorrow. For now, good night.

Friday, July 15, 2011

July 15: Happy Birthday Rhett!

It is the birthday of one of my nephews, Rhett. Is he 20 today? It could be true... He is here in Naknek with his sister, Berlin, his Mom Jenny, and his girlfriend Amanda. I promised him a chocolate chip orange cake for his birthday and now, they are ready.

As we came in from the morning (afternoon?) flood pick, I was luxuriating in my dry feet. For two tides in a row, my feet have been dry. It occurred to me that although there is much to recommend the big blessings, like a great tide or being able to come up fishing at all, those small blessings are so much more delicious to count. The fit so snugly between life's many and varied challenges, nice little cushions between life's bone-jarring events. Dry feet on a cold day definitely falls into that category. Two tides in a row? Heavenly. Add to that not swamping the boat when we delivered our fish and it feels like a banquet of blessings.

Related to that, here is a photo of my accessories closet, Alaska style. You'll notice two somewhat goofy but decidedly warm hats, three pairs of poly propylene glove liners, a pair of wool socks, and a pair of Sorel boot liners. Most of these had been drenched and were here to dry. The dog-ear hat was just mildew-y, not that that stopped me putting it on my head for the warmth it offered. I foolishly went out to the boat this morning with the idea that it was warmer now. And it was. Right up until I felt the wind blow. Not so warm. So I dug this hat out of the dry box where it had stayed over the winter. It smelled like mildew, but my head was cold.

We had an adventure on last night's tide, but I'm happy to say that it didn't involve swamping. David and I went out in the little foldaboat at about 2 am to bring in the Ambi to pick everyone up. The wind had died down a lot from the previous tide (which seems like a week ago). But our plan was to come in by the running line, collect everyone, and pull out on the running line until the water was deep enough to confidently put the outboard down. It's more important to get ourselves out good and deep when the wind is strong and the waves are high because even if the water is waist deep, when a big wave stands the skiff on its stern, the bottom of the outboard extends much deeper in the water than when the water is still. However, the running line (or pull out line) is a nice, controlled way of getting the boat deep enough to run, regardless of weather.

We have that little outboard on the foldaboat and David is able to use the force when he operates outboards. He was confident that we could just run over the neighbor's net, lifting the outboard out of the water when crossing it, to avoid tangling the prop with the web. It worked. But I still worried when it was time to pass over our net. I was sure we had anchored the Ambi on the other side of our inside site, so I was confused when we didn't have to lift the outboard to skate over the corks and the web. Hmmmm.

When we got to the beach, we understood. The beach crew had gone to the running line, and found only about 30' of running line, with a mangled end. Rope forensics experts that we are, we recognized the work of a truck crossing over the running line, lifted up by the incoming tide. Caught, pulled, and cut. Dang. After the running line lets go, the next thing that happens is that the current pulls the net and running line, still affixed to the outside anchor, so it flags down current from its remaining anchorage point. Indeed, there was our flagging net. Of course, it was pitch black out.

We knew it would be quite difficult to fix it in this current, in this high tide, in the dark. The most reasonable thing for us to do was to pick it up and reset it on the falling tide. But we didn't have to pick it up immediately.

So we picked through our outside site first, then decided to pick through the flagging net, even though we'd be going sideways to do it. (Since it was dark, this wasn't likely to be as disorienting as it could have been.) Then, staying on the end of the net, Hugh pulled in the extra running line that continued down current. With all that tucked into the boat, we decided to motor into the current and onto the net and running line so that Sarah would pull the running line into the Ambi's middle bin while Evan and Hugh pulled the net into the front bin, up to the buoy. It worked smoothly. David made the excellent suggestion of storing it all in the Grayling, which we did.

We then came in for the rest of the flood and waited till part way through the ebb (and light) to go back out... about 6 am. After picking the few ebb fish and delivering, we were able to reset and repair the running line (yet another splice in the poor old line), and then reset the net - as it turns out, for the last time this season.

Today at noon we got the announcement that as of 6 am today 1.1 million sockeye had made it up the Naknek river to spawn (these are the salmon we'll see the bears catching on the falls at Katmai) and 2 million have made it up the Kvichak, with another 150,000 below the tower but beyond the reach of nets. (These are the salmon or the ancestors of the salmon that are imperiled by the proposed Pebble Mine project.) Because both systems have reached their minimum escapement goals, fishing has been extended for set nets until Monday, July 18 when the fall fishing schedule starts. That schedule is from 9 am Monday until 9 am Friday. So we'll fish continuously until Thursday night's tide, on July 21. Then we'll pick up, pack up, and go visit the bears (with me hoping they don't come to visit us first).

Jake mentioned that he saw bear tracks by our wash down faucet - they had to have been made between 4:20 am when we came in from the flood pick and 6 am when we went back out for the ebb. The crew was saying the front part of the print was the size of Jeff's foot - Jeff said it was the size of his head. I think we have the company of a large bear. It is my hope that we don't get to discover the details of this particular creature.

It is the end of the day now. We're trying to go to bed, but the sunset isn't letting us. How can we be expected to close our eyes when this is out there for us to appreciate. The skiffs are our Grayling on the left and the Hakkinen's skiff on the right. David plans to take the Grayling in tomorrow to have it lifted out and put up for the season. This is definitely not my favorite part of the season. But it's hard to beat the sunsets. And as much as I appreciate the cozy small blessings, dry feet can seem like quite a small pleasure compared to the glory of a sunset.

This last one is from Sarah. She was taking photos of the irresistible sunset too, and then turned around to go back to the cabin she and David are sharing with Jake and Evan. The plywood was getting ready to give up and we had planned to skin it over with tin. But we couldn't find any, so we went with flashing and it has since been called a number of things - beer can, space hut - I think this photo proves that it's the moon cabin.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

July 14: Nets are back in the water

We did pretty well this tide (almost 8000 lbs), but because it was so ridiculously windy, it felt like 20,000. The common rollers were 4 1/2' to 5' (so estimated by John from Alaska Shore Fish of the DNR, who has much experience in bigger water - but maybe not trying to hold a boat still on it?) and the uncommon ones were more like 7'. And that was on the beach.

I think it was blowing more than 30 MPH - I just looked up the weather and it said 14 MPH with gusts to 30. Ha. Maybe 30 MPH, dropping to 14 when it's inhaling to give a really hard blow. We swamped the Ambi on both deliveries - filled 'er up with water - and the second time, with sand, too. I'm just grateful that the motor bits are up high - in the transom or on the transom. The Bathtub crew swamped once. Hugh got pretty sick today so we took him in and he slept most of the tide (now he's off on the town run, sealing and freezing the king, getting probably 25 gallons of gas for the skiffs and four-wheelers, and getting a new anchor line.) We're already thinking about how to give rest to crew - it's Josh's and Roger's turn to sleep out. David thought that if it's slow, we can let Chris come in too because he and Hugh usually take the tide off at the same time so they'll be able to catch up together. Sarah mentioned that Chris is our long-armed crew man. David said we could have MJ out of his boat. MJ? Mighty Jeff. I'll take him.

I believe Roger's arms are getting longer, so we may not need to rely as heavily on Chris. When it's windy like that, it's a real struggle to keep control of the boat under the net (or anyplace else). We're always pulling against something. Usually it's the people on the corks who have to keep the boat still while the people on the leads pick the fish. We had three people on the corks and their main job is to hold the crosspick open and prevent the wind from blowing the boat along down the net. Sometimes this is best accomplished by sitting on the corks. More than once, Roger found himself sliding toward the wrong side of the boat.

Chris and I both filled up our boots. Man, that was cold. I thought I had the dry suit mended enough. Naah. I found an enthusiastic leak in the seat of my dry suit which I mended last night. There, I thought. But it must not have worked because I took water down my backside from the spray that came into the boat when we weren't even swamping. Plus, I asked my zipping assistant not to close the zipper because it always splits for the last 8" or so and is really hard to unzip. So I figured I'd just leave it unzipped from where the zipper is injured (unless we were going to have to set in deeper water than Chris' waders. Then I'd get it zipped it all the way and be able to go deeper, almost waterproof. Didn't need to do that, though.) I didn't bank on taking buckets full of water down the open part of the zipper. But as we were swamping the second time, I was trying to hold the bow into the waves and wind, but the waves just laughed at us and filled up the boat, crashing over my head and down my back. I found myself gasping and at first I thought I was panicking because of swamping, but then I realized it was just because that water was so cold as it was washing down my body to settle into my boots.

I mentioned an anchor line earlier. We had a 1" soft line - sort of braided, but soft and easy to tie. We were filled with water and in addition to bailing, all I could think of was to get pulled out of the surf. That is one of the many ways the Brad and Tony - the drivers of the Gehl and deuce and a half help us. Horsepower. So we used the anchor line as a tow line... and broke it. Thinking it was just a weak spot on the line, we tied what was left of it and tried again... and broke it again. Brad hauled out his towing straps. This time they didn't break, and neither did the chain through the bow of the Ambi, but the truck couldn't pull it far. That water is heavy. But it was far enough to actually get ahead of the waves. I do wish for a tender that we could deliver to on the water. We'd have been beaten up out there too, but at least not beaten up and swamped.

When we're swamping, there's nothing to do but bail. Try to get out of the incoming water, and keep bailing. With as big a bucket as you can find. And don't give up even if more water comes in than we're bailing out. Evan, Roger, Sarah, and Chris were tireless bailers. Well, maybe not "tireless," but unceasing despite developing jelly-arms. It was a very long and exhausting tide.

We tried to push the Ambi back in the water after we de-swamped it using the propane/ boom truck. The shifting knob that shifts between 2 wd, 4 wd and 4 wd low range was just flopping around. It felt like it had become detached. I was told that the transfer case is broken. I think that puts the propane truck out of service for the season.

However, the ranger is back in service. David suggested not bringing it down the beach because we're in for another 25'+ tide, with a strong onshore wind behind it. Good call. So the four-wheelers are here and parked up high. Trucks and two of the rangers are off the beach on the wide spot of the access road.

In other equipment news, the Ambi's outboard stopped spitting out water, making us think that it might not be cooling properly now. (Though as cold as it is, it could probably run for half an hour without the water cooling it, but that's not a mechanic talking. And actually, my inner mechanic shuddered as I wrote that.) So in the midst of all this weather, we had to take the cowling off and try to unclog the tube. Chris did that with Sarah's help and a wire. I think it may have suffered somewhat but not irreparably during the second swamp.

Fishing was extended so we have two more tides of fishing without pulling our nets. Rhett might not get his birthday cake on his actual birthday. Or, maybe the wind will slow down. A nice 15 MPH SW breeze would be perfect.

Time to nap till 1:30 am to go back out at 2 am for the flood pick.

Trevor came back today. I guess the Italian Leprechaun is out of the water. He goes next Tuesday when Josh goes (Josh has to manage some issues related to his able-bodied seaman internship. I wish Trevor would stay and go to Katmai with us...). Sarah goes on Sunday (she had only three weeks from her job). Then we'll be down to 8.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

July 13: Waiting to fish

But we're making good use of the time. This is one of the many great qualities David possesses. He is leading a group on "a long explore". Pederson Point has put in a new road and we're curious about it. So they're hiking down there, fully armed with cameras (and a phone!), to see about this road. David is also the reason we finally learned that we can get to Katmai by skiff. I was pretty sure we'd fall off the edge of the lake if we tried and really resisted trying, but he finally shamed me into it - when I had to admit that probably, I really was just afraid of falling off the edge of our flat world. It may be a true fear of my stomach, but it's not much of a justification for saying "No." So we went and it worked out well (even though I thought the bears we saw on the way could probably catch up with the skiff and maul us of we didn't stay out of range).

And we had a really nice visit today from John and Raymond, from Alaska Department of Natural Resources - John worked with Mom and me to get the lease of her site transferred to me since she has stopped coming out fishing. It was a complex process and he was extremely patient. They would have liked to have seen some fishing, and I would have liked to have shown them some. Alas.

Today's update said about 50K went up each river - not enough, so we're still not fishing. And I remain confident that fish are still coming, so I'm baking bread, working on taxes, trying to get equipment repaired, and sleeping. Tomorrow night might be a good night for a bonfire. We have responsibility for a whole bag of marshmallows...

Not everyone is as optimistic as I am - Harry has decided to pull up early. The Janice E is out of the water and just about buttoned up. They're flying home to Palmer tomorrow. It's so sad for me!

End of the day update: the crew successfully hiked all the way up to Leader Creek on Pederson's new road and Chris and Hugh also hiked back. It's a very long walk. David, Sarah, Jeff, Roger, Evan, and Jake met up with Harry and Makenzie and they all came down in the truck. Josh and I stayed at camp to keep Sage company. They came across a bulldozer (or is this a backhoe?) that Jeff just fit in. And I've never understood it, but we've always had a cotton crop here on the tundra - Grandma Nicklet used to say, "Lots of cotton; lots of fish." We have lots of cotton. But it did seem to be especially thick where the tundra fire from 2009 left its scars.

They got back just as the cinnamon rolls were coming out of the oven and the tacos with fresh salsa and Spanish rice were ready. We do eat a little better when we're not fishing.

But the very big news is: we have an opening! I hope John and Raymond find out so they can come out for a spin in the skiff. It is a surprise - we weren't expecting to hear an update until noon on the 14th. Dare we hope that this opening could mean that there is a mass of fish out there and they want nets in the water ASAP? I do wish the ranger were running. Maybe it will be by 11 am on the 14th. I think it could be a big tide. And if they're Kvichak fish, we may have a lot on the ebb, which means... we'll need a ranger. Tomorrow will tell us.

For tonight, it's clear and beautiful with a stiff onshore wind. Probably about 20 MPH. With an already high tide, we decided not to chance it and moved the trucks and the new four-wheeler off the beach. Two of the rangers are already down there and the other ranger and the other four wheeler are parked up pretty high on the cliff. The wind shows no signs of laying down. Walking back from parking the trucks, I was struck by the vivid colors. And what would the end of the day be without a sunset.

I'll let you know tomorrow how the opening goes.