Thursday, August 4, 2016
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.
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.
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 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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
Wednesday, August 3, 2016
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.
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.