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?

July 26 2016: today, Davey and Sarah Y in town, the rest on the beach

The day before the Katmai trip! I was up before the rest of the crew and as is my habit, I looked out to see what was happening at our sites. I was astonished to see that the inside buoy still hadn't washed up, but it had moved in the direction of the outgoing tide. So I decided to head down and pull on the running line to see what would happen. There was still enough water that if I was quick enough, I should be able to get it in through the water (read: not get everything all muddy). So I pulled and pulled and pulled and the line came and came and came, all the way up onto the beach. One more, almost checked off.

Davey went into town to build the crate around the Honda for its southbound journey, and to begin the crate around the Yamahas. Yes, we're taking the Yams south as well, just in case a miracle may occur. If not, many of us want to keep a part of the 60 for sentimental reasons. It was a great outboard.

Sarah Y spent the day in town packing up our homepack, making sure they were in 50 lb boxes that crew members could take with them as luggage. That is a cold and, except for the gratitude of her crew mates, a fairly thankless job.

The rest of us stayed on the beach tackling the five-page checklist for closing up.
I even found photos of what the crew cabin should look like when it's time to board up the door (thank you, Jean, for everything you did last year to get the cabins to a point where we could take those pictures.) One of these barrels holds canned goods that have been removed from their original containers (somehow the unopened cardboard or plastic wrap protects the cans from rust from condensation) with a handful of rice. Another holds dry food like pasta, rice, and oatmeal to protect it from rodents, another holds leftover boat food like granola bars and even beef jerky to keep the rodents out. The barrels are covered with big mixing bowls and the mixing bowls are covered with garbage bags to keep them from becoming little rodent cemeteries. The shelves still hold food that we think the rodents won't bother. Every year it's a balance between making the packing/unpacking job a little less demanding and not wasting supplies.

Cleaning up after a season like this one is no trivial task. This is definitely not what the cabin looked like for most of the season. Cardboard boxes are routinely tossed out in front of the cabin. After flying over our camp one season, I became very sensitive about how trashy it looks if there is even a little bit of non-tundra stuff on the tundra. So I've become vigilant about preserving the delicate beauty of the tundra as much as we reasonably can. Even though it looks bad from the air, we save them in case we'll have a bonfire. And we collect any that remain at the end of the season to take them to the garbage at AGS. We have community clothing that many in the crew accessed as they ran out of dry and even marginally clean clothing of their own. But the problem with community clothing is that no one feels responsible for it, so it just stays where it is dropped. Pots and pans are usually stacked everywhere (including the floor when we run out of counter and sink space.) We will often use the same pots to cook the next meal, a gentle extension of the principle of keeping the soup pot going from one day to the next - and people store their dishes in many creative places so they can find them for the next meal... but no one else will cockroach them. Also, as the season progresses, bags and boxes of abandoned who-knows-what begin to accumulate and crowd out the things that are in active use, but everyone thinks those bags and boxes belong to someone else, so they just sit there all season. Finally, at the end, we scour the cabins for meaningless bags and boxes, laundry, dishes, and mysterious substances quietly festering in corners to root them out. The problem with quiet festering is the next step - when it stops being so quiet.

The five page checklist has these headings: All cabins, My cabin, Debby's cabin, Around camp, Take down sites, Net locker, Skiffs (do each thing for each of five skiffs), Trucks (for each of four trucks), Four-wheelers (for both), Rangers, Generators, Nets, Fishing gear (waders, gloves, headlamps, sleds, row boat), Business with others (Naknek Engine, post office, property tax, Paug-Vik lease, settle with buyers), packing and southbound, homepack, Food inventory and storage. Then there's detail for each heading, some more than others. Much of this we can't start until we stop fishing, hence the tension at the end of the season about when to stop fishing. The mood of the closing up process is always on the frantic scale, and those of us with more tolerance for frantic concentrated effort prefer to fish for longer while those with less tolerance prefer to pull our nets sooner.

Here is the detail for All cabins:
•Wash blankets, sleeping bags.
•Wash all clothes that will be left behind – make a list of all that stuff
Bag or barrel all that stuff to keep rodents out
•Rodent proof food (dry stuff into barrels or crates)
•Rust proof canned food (into crate or barrel with rice sprinkled in as desiccant)
•Cover stuff with towels/sheets to keep dust off
•Turn over anything that a lemming might crawl into and die
•Empty open water containers (buckets)
•Fill (almost) drinking water containers – leave lid partially open
•Clean thoroughly – make sure to take out anything that will spoil
•Board up and lock up
Find screws, plywood in advance
Charge de Walt batteries in advance
•Bring in:
unused propane
stuff I want to keep from outside
stuff that will help someone gain unlawful entry into other cabins
•Prepare water drums
•Put up gutters for water collection
•Try to fix gutters so they won’t fall down
•Clean up around all cabins – dump runs
•Take batteries out of everything
Clocks, speakers, radio, headlamps, buoy lights, flashlights
•Lock kickouts (?)
•Pack up things that don’t freeze well (milk, mayo, fresh food) and
Donate to elders
Ship south
•Empty refrigerator
•Bring power tools back to my cabin for secure storage
•Turn off propane and bring it inside

We never know what the winter will hold, but we have a good idea of what it could hold. It might be cold. If so, things will freeze, animals will try harder to get inside, there will be moisture from condensation, but maybe not as much spoilage. It might be warmer. If cheese or jam or anything perishable is left in the tundra-ator, yow for next spring. They don't make gloves that thick. Someone might get bored enough to want to vandalize.

Batteries have to come out of everything because they tend to corrode if left in, and then our flashlights, clocks, headlamps, radios become unreliable. Lemmings tend to climb into things they can't get out of. It's a terrible thing to find their desiccated little bodies in the bottom of buckets or even large basins. I don't know if they really eat each other before they all die, but my sister did think she found the lemming Donner party. Bleah. Just turn those containers over. And if we inadvertently leave a bucket of water around, we can be sure we'll find some drowned rodents in it. Bleah.

We try to fill our water containers with late-season water so we don't need to consume early-season water. (And yes, we cover these water containers, but not so tightly that water can't get out if it freezes.) We store this water because I believe that the pipes may host critters during the winter who leave parts of themselves behind, possibly to contaminate the early-season water that runs through those pipes. I'm sure the people at the camp run lots and lots of water through those pipes when they get the well running again, just to clean them out. But still... In the past, I heard a lot about people getting a case of "Bristol Bay Belly" in the spring. Our crew never has suffered from that. I imagine avoiding that early-season water might contribute to our good record. And if not, no harm done and it's one more thing we don't have to put on our early season to-do list.

It has been years since we've seen any sign of someone trying to break into the cabins. It used to be a real problem, and at least one year, the results were spectacularly disgusting, with bird corpses decomposing on the table, mold towering out of opened but unused food cans, squirrel heads flying out of the bedding we pulled out of storage in the closed wringer washer. We found all that in the middle 70s, long before most of our crew members were born, but it leaves an impression. For a few years, we tried leaving the cabins opened, so that people in a jam could easily take shelter. But the hospitality was not returned, so we started locking up as tightly as we could. Since then, no squirrel heads.

July 25 2016: The last net comes in, Trina, Bruce, and Harry leave our little slice of heaven

The wind stopped and we had intermittent rain and sun. This is one of my many favorite things about this place. We don't get one of these every year, or if we do, we don't get to see it. But my friend Phil says when he is drifting past our cabins, he often sees rainbows gather there. So we may have rainbows more often than we know. We got to see this toward the end of the day, but I thought it was a good way to start the post.

Today, besides standing inside a rainbow, the crew learned how to pull in the net in the old-fashioned way. The keys to this method are: (a) the inside end of the net has to be on the sand or on the gravel - not in the mud; and (b) we have to untie the outside end just as soon as we can reach it. It is much easier if we can clear out the fish first, but more important is being able to float the net as much as possible, rather than drag it through the mud. In the pre-ranger days, we also did this on the outside sites, but of course, we didn't try to tow them in to the beach. Instead, we'd pile them up out there (and in those days, it was more sandy than muddy in that stretch of the beach) and carry them in to the beach on our backs, one at a time, in four trips. We used lighter leads in those days, but still.*

I wouldn't say that in today's tide we honored (b) as well as we could have, but it was close. As soon as the outside end was loose, we distributed ourselves along the net, gathered it up so we held the leadline, and we all pulled toward the sand. The goal is to get the net to the sand, carrying as little mud as possible. Then we separated the two 25 fathom pieces. For each piece, one person starts at one end of the corks and the other starts opposite them, on the leads. We each take a couple of steps toward the middle of the net and reach down to pick up the corkline or leadline. Then we walk five paces and pick up another hitch and so on until our hands are full and then we lay it down and start at the other end, doing the same thing. Finally, we stack it into neat piles of leads and corks separated by about 12' of web. Walking it toward the middle means we don't have to pull the net across the sand, dragging the beach with it. Instead, it's right there. I hadn't remembered that this kind of stacking is actually a different skill from stacking it in the boat for laying out of the boat. In the boat, you want to keep the cork pile kind of low and it doesn't usually matter if the corks spread out a bit. But on the sand, we want as compact and neat a pile as possible so that after we tie the corks together they can be easily lifted onto a shoulder. Likewise, the leads.

We somehow wrestled the nets into the back of ol' Red which also held the last fish for Copper River and the last fish for homepack - really for Trina and Bruce who were going home today, and the 10 we'd been promising Roy all along. The buoy for the inside site also needed to come in, along with the running line. We have not seen that anchor for many years, so Jeff went out with the expectation of leaving the anchor line with the anchor, and just marking the end of the anchor line. We decided just to let the buoy and running line wash in with the tide and gather them up in the truck after the tide went back out.

First, though, most of us went into town to strip the last net, clean the last fish, get the Honda onto that outboard pallet, finish putting up the skiffs, and get Trina and Bruce to the airport (with their homepack). Davey and Oksanna stayed behind to finish re-attaching Debby's roof and to wash buoys and lines, and get them to Debby's cabin.

When the outboards for the Bathtub and the Cockroach became non functional, we had planned to use the crane truck to pick them up and just drive them in. But when the crane truck started limping, I didn't want to take the chance of creating a more serious problem with it, so we arranged with AGS to bring their Gehl and deuce and a half down the beach and bring the skiffs in. We did give some thought to just buying the outboards I would need to buy for next year and running them in with that... or walking them in. That is, waiting for the water to rise enough so that a few people could walk the skiff in the water along the tide line the five miles to the processing plant, and have them lifted out of the water. We thought it might take a couple of tides - maybe we could do it in one. I have to say that Matt was ready to give it a try. But really, it seemed so much more reasonable to ask AGS to help us out.

We got back to the beach in time to see the rainbow and hopefully to gather up the buoy and running line... but it hadn't moved! What? Jeff, did you forget to detach something?

All day, we wrestled with the question of whether we could afford the time to take a trip to Katmai, and if so, when? We decided that it could only be a day trip. We really didn't have the time to stay over, plus it would be too complicated to figure out how to care for the dogs and preparing for a camping trip is far more complicated than preparing for a day trip. Which day? We depend so much on David's confidence for that trip that I really wanted to arrange it for when he would be able to come. He had flight reservations for Wednesday, so it would have to be Tuesday. Eek! That's just tomorrow and we still have to get gas, figure out how to hook up the chains on the trailer, and generally get everything pulled together. Besides, David can't come on Tuesday because he had some more work to do at his solar site. So Jeff and I swallowed hard and determined that we could do it without David, and if we weren't organizing around him, we would go Wednesday, giving ourselves one more day to keep closing up and prepare for the trip.

*A story from history
One time, we did tow the nets in from the outside sites to the beach, and it was terrifying. In 1979, way way way too many fish were hitting the outside sites. They would overpower us. We decided the only thing to do was to get the nets out of the water. That was still three years before we started using a skiff. We still had time to reach the nets, even though the tide was coming in. So we charged out there on the incoming tide and detached the nets to tow them, full of fish, nearly a quarter mile to the beach. Fish were hitting all around us and my mother's terror was that someone's foot would get entangled in the web that was swirling around us. If that happened, we would be in trouble. If the person fell, we would really be in trouble. We would have to stop towing to disentangle the person. The tide would still be rising. The fish would still be hitting. The web would still be swirling. Everyone else's feet would be in increased danger. We made it, but we did that only one time. Come to think of it, that may have been the event that moved us to buy our first ranger that year. Even with the ranger, we couldn't get all the fish off the mud flats before the tide came back in. One time, when I saw we wouldn't make it, I ran up to the cabin to get long pieces of coated wire and we made multiple piles of hundreds of fish each, all threaded together by the coated wire. We left them to the tide, hoping for the best. When the tide went down again, we took the ranger out and found them, moved only slightly, and brought them in to deliver.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

July 24 2016: Blast from the past and goodbye, Patrick!

It's time to bring in the buoys from the outside sites. Groan - that isn't going to be easy. To do this, we first need to disconnect the anchor lines from the anchors - something that is usually somewhat difficult because the weight of the fish and the current usually bend the anchors over, so they are close to the mud. Usually the head sticks out enough to remove the shackles, but then we need to use the turning bar to turn the anchor up half a turn so it points up. That helps us find it next year. For the past several years, we've used the ranger with the Bathtub in tow to bring the buoys across the mud up to the beach so they can be washed in the next tide and pulled up the cliff to store in Debby's cabin. But this year, the ranger is out of commission.

Plan B: we can anchor the Ambi out in the middle of the outside sites, and deposit the buoys and anchor lines in it, and either bring it to shore with the incoming tide or run it into AGS and bring the buoys back down in the truck. But we took the Ambi out of the water two days ago. Ulp. Plan C: do it the old-fashioned way. Pull them in by hand, or tow them with a line and the truck.

We planned that activity for after the morning tide. These tides have been hard to fish! Even picking on foot, and even just the inside site. The weather remains windy. This means that when we use a sled to receive the fish as we remove them from the net, the surf break might swamp the sled (and scatter the fish) if someone isn't tending it carefully and/or it might jerk whoever is holding it off his or her feet, if they are trying to pick at the same time. We developed a system with three of us picking and one or two running the sleds, while the person on shore pulled out homepack and iced the others for delivery. Even then, we had to sweat getting the fish out of the nets before the water ran out and left us picking in the mud.

We were short a few people because Trina had an appointment in town today, and Jeff and Oksanna took her. I had thought that I would need to take the fish in to Copper River for delivery - they need the permit holder to be present - but that would mean leaving three new crew members to bring in the buoys. Ack! Not good! They are smart and capable, but it's something they've never done before and I wasn't sure they would understand what was needed. Happily, it turned out that Sarah N was able to deliver the fish, leaving me to help with the buoys.

We waited until the water was just low enough, giving ourselves as much time as possible to overcome whatever problems we were going to have out there before the next tide came in - we had from about 11:30 am to about 3:30 pm. Hoped that would be enough. So Austin, Matt, Inku and I gathered up the tools we would need (needlenose pliers, crescent wrenches, turning bar, screw driver, lengths of line with corks on them, electrical wire, and a shovel) and struck out. We never want to have to run back because of something we forgot, but this year with this mud, we really didn't want to have to do that.

We were happily surprised when we found that for the most part, the really bad stretch of mud had largely cleared up - no doubt thanks to the strong winds we'd been having - the same winds that were bringing us the fish. But as we got out a little farther, we found where the mud had gone. Right on top of our anchors! Good thing we brought the shovel. In this one, Austin has already dug down a lot, Matt, in the blue gloves, and Inku in the orange gloves are pulling up on the anchor line trying to see if they can pull the anchor straight. Nice try. I didn't tell them this, but in other years when the anchor was this buried, we just left the anchor line with the anchor, tied our markers to the end of the anchor line, and hoped for the best. But in those years, it's been at most two buried anchors we've had to leave and we have had two spare anchor lines, so that if they get lost, we can still recover. But all six? No, we'd better recover them all.

Here, Austin has dug and Inku and Matt are feeling around through the watery mud for the head of the anchor so he can begin the process of removing the shackle, without being able to see it. He feels till he finds the wire that prevents the pin of the shackle from working its way out. Then, without being able to see it, he uses the needlenose pliers to remove the wire. Then he sets to work on getting the pin out, powering through a couple month's accumulation of muddy, salty rust to open the pin on the shackle, freeing the anchor line. Once the eye of the screw anchor was clear, they somehow got the turning bar into it and gave it that half turn till it pointed to the sky. Now the challenge is to make sure we can find it next year.

What if there's more mud and it gets covered up? Maybe we should tie a line to it. But lines can get buried in mud too. So maybe we should tie a cork to the line. But if we tie too much to the anchor, the ice might settle on it and have so much to grab on to that when it moves off in the spring, it will have enough of a grip to be able to pull the anchor up and take it away with it. It's a delicate balance. This year, we wrapped electrical wire around it so the ends would stand up like antennae, but the ice would slip off. And we tied about 8' of disused corkline to it with a cork at the end of it.

We were not far in the process before we saw Jeff and Oksanna coming out barefoot through the mud to join our efforts. Hard jobs are much easier when there are lots of people working together to do them.

Using the shovel and working by feel, they got the anchor line off all the outside buoys, and got them all turned up and pointing to the sky. Then this strong crew just decided to go ahead and drag the buoys in all the way by hand.

As we got in from the outside sites, I got a call from town that the crane truck was out of commission with a popped tire and a serious oil leak, and the fish had yet to be delivered to Copper. Hoo boy, it really is the end of the season. It turned out that Sarah had taken the crane truck into town to take our homepack fish to Sarah Y at the filleting station at AGS down on the dock and to deliver the fish to Copper River. While on the dock, Roy noticed a lot of oil leaking from the truck, something that is a problem both for the truck and for the dock. Sarah had already been asked to get the truck off the dock because the big semis need to turn around down there, so she was trying to get it to a safe spot where she could check the oil. In the hurry, it stalled on the hill and started rolling backward. With the engine off, the brakes didn't respond so she steered into a piling to stop her roll, popping one of the four rear tires in the process.

When I arrived in town in ol' Red to transfer the fish for delivery to Copper, I saw Big Brad towing the crane truck to a safe spot. Sarah needed to run back to the beach for her permit before she could complete the delivery.

Roy is someone who is very protective of equipment. He believes in regularly checking fluid levels and not letting fluids run out. He gets upset when he sees anyone, including us, play fast and loose with engines when it comes to oil. So he was upset that Sarah didn't stop the truck and check the oil immediately when he alerted her to the serious leak. When I caught up with him to ask what had happened, he was still upset and said that oil was squirting out of it everywhere and that we had probably burned up the engine. Yikes!! And that the underside of the truck looked bad with lots of leaks and problems. So, I was discouraged.

However, after a while he had the chance to look at the truck and found that the oil leak was due to a loose oil filter adapter and that the engine was still fine. Whew! And we probably wouldn't hurt anything by driving it with one popped tire, as long as the other one on that side was good.

Then we had to head back down the beach for the evening pick.

David had the sad duty of taking Patrick to the airport. It is always so difficult to tell the crew goodbye! Especially this crew.

July 23 2016: The end of the season looms

This is Fishtival Weekend, the community-wide celebration of the fishing season - specifically, the end of the fishing season. But like last year, the fishing season wasn't really over yet. Even though the loss of the equipment meant that we were out of the game for commercial fishing, we were still fishing for homepack, and there were still lots of fish to catch. I just heard a report that this year has ended up as the fourth largest on record. Now, most of those fish didn't come to our districts. I think Egegik and Ugashik got the lion's share of the return. But that's the way it goes sometimes. Still, our total catch ended up pretty solidly in the middle of how we've done over the past 15 years.

We dropped Trina and Bruce off at the Fishtival Community Bazaar with the hope that we'd be able to attend in a little while after processing the tide's home pack and making crucial progress in closing up for the season. We'd already stripped and bagged most of the nets, and we'd done a great job washing the Ambi, but there was still plenty more to do. Jeff led the crew in cleaning the New Kid, the brailers, and the slush bags while I sorted out the net locker so it could take delivery of all the things we'd need to store. Everything had to come out of the skiffs for storage - lines, anchors, fairleads, rollers, powerpacks, tool boxes, batteries, fuel cells, five-cans, everything. The winter elements in Naknek are not kind and everything does better if it can be under cover.

We knew we needed to ship the Honda outboard south to find someone in the Seattle area who could let us know if there was any hope... and to repair it if possible. But AGS has developed a new policy of not shipping outboards that are just laid on a pallet. Outboards don't fit just right on pallets and the part that sticks off tends to get broken. So we needed to find or build a box to ship it in. Roy found us an outboard pallet that John up at Charlie's Sport Shop in King Salmon had saved. He would give it to us. So it was important to take a trip up there to pick up the pallet and at the same time, drop off the Evinrude 45 that I had earlier broken the mount on. Maybe John could do something about it. When John saw me, he said, "Oh, so you're the lady with the swamped outboard." I was almost surprised he didn't know because all day long, we'd been accepting condolences from people I would have thought had no way of knowing. People all up and down the beach - and on different beaches altogether - seemed to know of our spectacular season finale.

We had the chance to talk with Randy at mug-up. He has been running a tender and with a haunted look on his face, he told me that there are still lots and lots of fish out there. I wished we could keep fishing - it's just that with only one skiff and zero rangers, it would be a very very difficult proposition. What if we got ebb fish? Back in the old days, we would each tie a dingy around our waists and drag it out through the mud, then we'd fill up the dingy with 100+ salmon and walk it in over the water as far as we could. Then we'd drag out a line to meet the dingy and pull it up with the truck. We'd do that over and over and over again. But that would be a lot to ask of this valiant crew after the season we've had. So we just continued with our inside site and that one seemed to keep us pretty busy. This was AGS' last tide for picking up fish - and we sold them 1,126 lbs, and that was after we took a bunch for home pack, and on only one site. Randy was right.