Saturday, May 31, 2014

How much grossness can I include in a post?

That isn't really a challenge. It was a question of appropriateness or etiquette. As far as ability - the answer is lots and lots. Most of the day was spent cleaning out the kitchen area of the crew cabin. Boy, I wish we'd noticed that that big pot wasn't empty when we left. It's sitting out in the tundra now. Euwww.

And it turns out that little critters were scampering over, in, and through most of the cooking equipment - I didn't know stainless steel could hold a urine smell. Much washing and some indulgence of the normally dormant compulsive side of my nature and the kitchen area is clean and organized. Of course, I didn't think of taking a photo of that (I was too busy with photos of the gross stuff) and there's a 30 mph wind between me and that kitchen... so it will wait till tomorrow's post.

Sarah reminded us that we meant to move the food shelves into one of the back rooms to make a little more room in the common area so Jeff and Roger did that today, producing an explanation for the slant to the floor - the weight of those shelves laden with canned goods has pulled the floor away from the wall... by about 5".
Can you see the yellow arrows? One pointing up to the stud and the other pointing down to the floor? They used to meet. On the other side of that stud is some plywood that forms a sort of skirt under the floor of the cabin, reducing wind flow. Turns out that it also keeps out the light. This explains how the fox got in over the winter. At least I think it was a fox. Or a mutated lemming.

By the end of the day Jeff, Roger, and I put away the food from two of the totes that Jeff, Roger, and David hauled up the cliff box by box.
And we have three more totes to empty. Where will we put it all?

While we were at the cabin cleaning and organizing (and Jeff and Roger took the first steps toward resurrecting the wash down system), David was in town picking up Harry from the airport (hi, Harry!) and... finding the Propane Truck, which Eddie tells me has been converted back to gas. Yay!! It will be so so so much easier to get it fueled up! And for the second day, Carbon has been helping our friend Phil get his container van ready to live in. While he was there, he got a job as a deckhand for the season! His captain is a new captain but has eight years experience here in Bristol Bay and will be in a radio group with his old captain. It sounds like a good place for Carbon and I am so pleased he found work so quickly!

Weather continues to be rainy and cold. Tomorrow I get to meet Trevor at the airport (and he'll be bringing another 50# of frozen food for us)!

Friday, May 30, 2014

It's a brand new season and I'm going to be more patient!

The first part is true ("It's a brand new season") and the impulsive second part ("I'm going to be more patient") will give me something else to work on this whole summer. I don't think it's too soon and I do have some great role models here. This one is a catch up post, starting when we arrived on the 26th.

May 26. An early start

The season is starting so early this year that not only have I arrived about a week early, David came in on the same plane. Although he actually came early as part of his year round work as a solar project developer, he is finding a way to help us get set up early, around his (very exciting) solar development work. There is more about that at the end.

We arrived in a state of heightened anxiety after hearing reports of early red salmon caught in local subsistence nets – all indicators are pointing to an early season. How early? Some people say one week, like the herring; Eddie guessed two weeks, based on his subsistence catch; I was afraid it would be a month early... and I was missing it! The fishermen are trying hard to be early, even if the salmon aren’t. But the airlines aren't set up for that. Alaska Airlines doesn’t start bringing its 737s into King Salmon until around June 10. Before that, it’s all PenAir, the local airline that flies 28 people at a time. So all PenAir flights from Anchorage to King Salmon from about May 28 through June 9 have been booked for weeks, if not months, adding to the general sense of being late for something that no one knows when (or whether) it will start. Plus, all spring I’ve been hearing about how much warmer it has been in Naknek than in Seattle – May in Naknek was marked by high temperatures (70s and 80s) and no rainfall. Uh oh, I thought: not so good for fishing if this keeps up. We arrived in King Salmon at about 7:30 pm, with a temperature of about 45 degrees and a promising rainfall. Whew! I was relieved… though it does make opening up a little muddier and overall less comfortable.

After a brief stop at the freezer in the net locker, we headed down the beach. It is nice to have some help with the early phase of opening up.
We got the stairs down. David was at the top of the cliff (in his winter Carhartts - it was cold!) and I was in the truck. We pull the stairs down by tying a sturdy line to the bottom of the stairs - careful to involve more than just the last step for fear of pulling it loose - and then tie the other end of the line to the trailer hitch on the truck, and pull. It's important for the truck to be some distance away from the bottom of the cliff so that when the pulling happens, the force is trying to pull the ladder along the top of the cliff until it reaches its tipping point and the bottom falls down - into position, we hope. If the truck is too close to the bottom of the stairs, the force tries to pull the ladder straight down, through the cliff and that's just harder on everything.
Here it is, in place.

Next step is to get the cabins opened. I had partially opened mine before remembering to take a picture.
Here is the inside of the cabin, looking at the still boarded up kitchen window (that looks toward the water). The light is coming from one of the windows that look toward town - the one from which I removed the plywood.

And this is the same kitchen window, from the outside. You can see the bolts that hold the plywood on, and the empty shed for the generator.

This picture shows David opening the Space Hut. Looks cold, doesn't it? (It was!)
After getting into the cabins and getting the boards off the window, next (on a day as cold as this one) we need to get the heat going (a propane heater for me and an oil one for David). I got an important tip about 10 years ago that has helped me start my propane heater since. It is that propane rolls slowly. Just because I turn on the valve doesn't mean that it will instantly appear at the pilot of the heater. No indeed. It takes its time, especially when it's cold. Before I got that information, I always thought that there was something wrong when the pilot didn't light right away. Now I know that the propane just hasn't made it there yet. That's much better.

It was a relief to find few signs of rodential occupation over the winter, though still enough to compel me to change the sheets before crawling into bed. I think that for the rest of my life, at some point on the first day back at the cabin (probably at night, when it's dark) I will hear the question in my head: “Can you do this again? What if…” And then, we do it.

Before closing out the first day, I want to give a little picture of what David is up to here. I so hope the project he is working on flies. There is no place on earth more important to me than Naknek. The cost of energy up here is crushing – at $6.68 per gallon for gas (and more for diesel) I just spent more than $270 at Naknek Engine for a 5 gallon can of diesel and enough gas to fill the truck’s two tanks (and they weren’t empty!). Most of the electricity here comes from diesel generators, so you can imagine how expensive electricity is. Add that to the increased demand for electricity during the short days of winter and you can see why energy consumes such a huge percentage of the annual incomes of the people who live here year round: the people who helped us when we first lived here (and continue to help us now) and who keep this town alive over the winter so we have something to come back to every summer. I have great love and gratitude for Naknek and the people who live here. So I am thrilled and excited by the possibility my son could help reduce the weight of the town’s energy needs by bringing in solar. I don’t know if solar energy is the whole answer, but I am pretty sure that it is part of the answer, and with the tax incentives currently available for solar (and investors who want access to those tax incentives), everyone wins.

David’s company is planning a relatively small installation at first to avoid some lengthy regulatory procedures, but it will provide a great test of the theory of solar power for Alaska. (And then they can go through the regulatory procedures for a larger array that will meet more of the customer's need – or maybe all of it.) I have to admit that Alaska is not the first place I think of when I think “solar power,” but as David’s mentor in solar points out, the value of every solar kWh generated here is worth about four kWhs generated in California because of the difference in the cost of power. Unlike diesel fuel, it costs no more to get sun power to Alaska than any other place – we don’t have to pay extra shipping costs to get the sun here. (Though maybe that's why we haven't seen it since we've been here... hmmmm...)

If I had any concern or suspicion that this initiative had any potential to hurt my hometown, I would pull mom-rank and make him stop. But it doesn’t. In the worst case, even if it falls flat and just doesn’t work at all, since the customer isn’t paying for the array or the installation, they wouldn’t be out any money and could just ignore it and continue to get all their power from the utility. What about maintenance? The maintenance demands are small and easily met: cleaning the panels, tightening the bolts, and monitoring the performance. And if it does perform as expected, the customer will be happy to buy the power from the investors who own the array at a much lower cost than they currently pay for power. Since the currently proposed system is small, it won’t meet their entire need for electricity so they will still also buy power from the local utility. I am very excited for what this test could mean for my favorite place in the world. And I think I’ll ask David to order a few extra panels that I will buy to supplement the small ones that are currently powering our satellite dish and keeping my computer charged.

May 27 Carbon arrived

One of our former crew members is staying with us while looking for a job on a drift boat. I’d be happy to have him back (he has already been a great and tireless help to us), but we are completely crewed up. Carbon arrived in the morning, so on the way back to town from the airport, he began to put up signs to try to find a job while David and I started trying to locate the many boxes and totes we shipped up in March and May. It’s going to be a big job to find all that stuff and then get them to where they belong.

We found my permit and Jeff’s at the post office (yay!), and called the limited entry commission to find that the permit transfer between Rohan and David hasn’t been moving along – they’ve been busy. We’ll have to stay on that if we want to fish all four permits when the season opens on June 2. We have been hearing reports like: 9 reds caught in a subsistence net up by the city dock. That’s a lot of fish so far. A subsistence net is 10 fathoms long; a commercial setnet is 50 fathoms. We have four setnet permits. If we can just do the math straight across and if they’re 5.6 lb salmon, that would mean we could get 1000 # on our initial opening. What??!! On June 2? Usually, we’re lucky to get dinner that early. Time will tell.

I’m good for about 4 hours in town, but when that timer goes off all I can do is think about getting back to the beach. David stayed in town with meetings for his solar project while Carbon and I headed back to the cabin. He helped me get the satellite dish back up. Some of the wires worked their way out of their secured and dry winter location so they were dangling out there in the rain. Uh oh. It took an extra trip to town and the generosity of my friend Roy whose help extends well beyond fixing four wheelers (check), outboards (check), trucks (soon, no doubt), and power packs (check) to letting me borrow his Internet access to get mine started and who knows what else he'll have to put up with this summer.

As it turned out, we needed to return to town anyway because Carbon's luggage (including 50 lbs of frozen goods for us) didn't arrive with him - they came in on a (much) later flight. But they made it to AGS while we were there, so it all worked out well.

May 28 A great start

This was a big day. We planned to walk out to the mud flats to see which of the anchors we can find and which we'll need to replace this season. First, though, we needed to get some corks or some way to mark the anchors so when we go back out, we will be able to find them again. That means getting into Debby's cabin, the only one we hadn't opened yet. And we couldn't get the door open. Had the right keys; couldn't get it to open. Hmmm. We tossed around many destructive ideas and finally decided to squeeze through an upper window. I figured as long as I could get my head and shoulders through, I could probably squish the rest of myself through - sort of like a rat. If they can get a head through, the rest will follow. I'm kind of sorry and kind of relieved that David didn't have a camera for that adventure - if he had, I would have posted a photo of the bottom half of my body sticking out the second story window of my sister's cabin while inside the cabin, I'm wiggling and kicking in an effort to free the sleeve of my shirt that I carelessly caught between my body and the frame. With one arm curled up under me in a straightjacketed sleeve, it was hard to pull myself through. Carbon followed me up the ladder to push me in from behind. Poor Carbon. I got in, but I think I'll cross "cat burglar" off my list of potential future careers.

We found what we needed, but by then, the tide was coming in, so we decided just to go to town to work on getting the boats ready. It all went pretty smoothly until we tried to start the power pack for the power roller. Frozen up. Dang! Roy.... He unfroze it with a combination of PB Blaster and magic (and replaced a pin that the choke needed to be able to work). But my 4 hours were up and it was time to come back home. In preparation for an early season, I had telephoned Mark Watson of Pen Auto here in Naknek asking him if he could get the ranger ready for us a little earlier than usual. We have three rangers - the one we usually use is the Friendly Ranger. (The Killer Ranger made two attempts on my brother's life and one on Josh's hand. We try not to mess with that ranger and just stick with the Friendly Ranger.) The ranger is a vehicle that looks sort of like a little tank with tracks that allow it to go through our mud that, given a few days, could probably swallow a truck. We love our ranger - it is how we get our gear out to the sites, and, when we have fish late in the ebb, it's how we get our fish in to market. So Mark got the ranger ready and it was waiting for us at the end of the town road. I brought it home (neither of the rangers has tried anything with me and I think it's because (a) I drive like an old lady and (b) I am and old lady so my center of gravity is lower than those who have been bucked off. And I think the older I get, the lower it gets).

We set out to find last year's anchors and a miracle occurred: we were able to find all of them - even the one that we haven't actually seen for several years. It's buried so deep we can't reach it to remove the anchor line so every years I'm braced and ready to have to replace the anchor line because it finally succumbed to the enveloping mud. But not this year: David found it. It felt like a really good day's work to get those buoys out. And it felt about right when Carbon tried to figure out how long he's been here... and realized that he arrived only yesterday. Time is elastic here. Except for the boats, we are ready to fish.

May 29. Jeff and Roger arrived!

Carbon went in early to help our friend Phil build his little cabin made from container vans. I spent the morning trying to remember what we've done since we got here, so we went to town just in time to pick up Jeff and Roger (and another 100 # of frozen food) from King Salmon. Back at AGS, we continued the search for the stuff we need to get our outboards - and everything else - running. Oh! Including the boom truck that runs on propane (and that we call the Propane Truck). Eddie worked on it over the winter and we went looking for it over at his hanger... and couldn't see it. How do we lose a 1 ton pick up with an articulating crane on it?

It rained really hard all day and we were surprised to find that the two skiffs that were almost ready to fish yesterday had filled up with rainwater. (They have holes drilled through near the water line that we leave unplugged over the winter so they won't fill, freeze, and crack. We carefully installed the plugs first thing as we were getting them ready so we wouldn't forget altogether... until we noticed our feet getting wet when they lower us into the water - it has happened.) I wondered if it's a bad thing when our skiffs swamp before we even get them launched. The only thing that was actually bad about filling the boats with rainwater was that one had an open container of dirty motor oil from our work on the power pack yesterday. I should have taken it to the waste oil, but I didn't. (The four hours were up.) So when the water level began to rise, the bucket floated. But it was top heavy and before long, tipped over, creating a bit of an oil mess.

This was when we learned about oil "diapers." They are an engineering marvel. They look like diapers but they don't absorb water; they only absorb oil. Pretty cool. So we mopped the oil off the top of the water, tossed some of the groceries we had shipped into the back of the truck, and headed down the beach.

Because we've been so focused on getting ready to fish, we haven't paid as much attention to getting the cabins sorted out, so dishes are still in mouse-proof plastic bags and food is still in the giant pickle barrels and in need of being put away. We're getting there.