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.

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