Monday, June 4, 2018

June 3 and 4, Days 4 and 5

Yesterday was almost entirely devoted to finished getting the cabin in shape, but hurray!! it's cleaner than it has been in years! Here's the same counter as yesterday, with all the stuff sorted, organized, and put back away:

Isn't that better?

Today, the dogs and I took our first load of garbage to town. And did the first load of laundry. I mean, those hats weren't that bad - if you can brush off the mouse poop, it's like it was never there, right? Ok, ok... I washed all the hats!

When the salmon start to run, it's usually a time of sleep deprivation. We do OK because it's hard to feel sleepy with fish pouring into the skiff and the wind in your face. We spend the summer reminding each other that "You can sleep all winter!" Sadly, I think I particularly fail at sleeping in the winter but I am making up for it in this week. Good, solid, 8 hours of sleep almost every night since I've arrived!

My plan was to head into town, get the laundry started then head to the City Dock to pick up our 300 lbs of frozen food to put into the freezer in the net locker. Then head to the post office and relieve the postal staff of all the stuff they're holding for us and pick up the fishing permits that have been processed and mailed. But it never goes exactly as planned. It all depends on who happens to walk by the truck.

I did eventually achieve all those goals, and found that the post office wasn't holding much stuff. Some of it was already at AGS since I had it sent to me c/o AGS. But, something is missing - I ordered 5 gallon of food grade hydraulic fluid and a floor jack from Grainger in Anchorage to be delivered to AGS and I haven't seen it yet. I've only looked in one place, so I'm not worried yet, but I'm now in "looking for it" mode.

One thing that DID come, however, was Ollie's new Coyote Vest! Maybe I should have ordered a small... but here he is. It's made out of kevlar and the idea is that he would be an unpleasant mouthful for a coyote or scary dog, and if an eagle would dare attack something of these colors, it would only get the pink shield (attached to the yellow vest by velcro) and orange whiskers. Since the vest is kevlar, it should save him from an encounter with talons.

The next piece of excitement is that the first two crew members arrive tomorrow: Cecilia and Noah. 10:50 AM in King Salmon. And I think Noah will be bringing another crate of eggs. Since we're set to inherit a dorm refrigerator, the eggs should keep pretty well. I brought 16.5 dozen eggs in this crate.
I think all the eggs made it OK. I made sure they were packed tight AND that no matter which side the baggage handlers approached from, they could see the eggs. I've made a mistake in the past by packing clothing around the eggs to keep them from rattling around. That prevented the handlers from seeing what is in there. So... eggs to the outside. This crate is 11" high, 15.5" wide and 19.5" long. With the 16.5 dozen eggs, it weighed something like 37 lbs. I believe in using the full 50 lbs so next time, I'll look for a bit larger crate.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

June 2, Day 3

I've already started to become confused about what day of the week it is. It always happens, but it usually doesn't happen in the first couple of days.

I unpacked (yay!) The cabin cleaning continues. The floor under the sink counter and under the bunk has been mopped and it's a different cabin! And as I write this, I'm looking at the counter directly under the sink AND the floor under that. I'm not sure I could stop myself from pulling out that overflowing shelf of stuff and imposing some order.

Here is the inside of the cabin, looking west. I took this photo at about 9:30 PM. This is the sink counter. All the way on the left is the water jug for drinking water that we get from town. I try to stock up at the end of the season so that we can drink last season's water as far as possible into the next season. The reason for that is to allow as much water as possible to pass through the pipes at AGS, clearing out whatever might have moved into the pipes over the winter. The supply we have should last for a couple more weeks. People often talk about "Bristol Bay Belly," but that is something we haven't suffered down here and I think that, for all my talk of low standards, they are high enough where it counts. Like the quality of our drinking water.

We pour that water into the Brita filter that lives on the counter. Behind the Brita are my dry staples, like sugar, flour, and so on. Traveling left you'll see the drain rack - I did dishes this morning! Then the sink. It drains out over the cliff, but note that there isn't a faucet. That's because we haul our washing water from the rain barrels outside in buckets and we heat it up on the stove.

Under the sink to the left is the blue basket with an assortment of batteries...for everything: flashlights, headlamps, clocks, buoy lights, radio, smoke detector. Then there's the glove crate, bug spray, garbage bags (including all the bags that had been covering plates and utensils over the winter). Next are the pans for heating water, then the tubs for washing and rinsing dishes. What was on the floor underneath?

In addition to this crate of mending materials, I've pulled out the tool box, the boat food box, and the light and headlamp crate. Still some work ahead of me... but I may not need to do this again for another 10 or 30 years.

June 1, Day 2 Ollie chases an eagle... and lives

The second day is usually much easier - and correspondingly less gratifying - than the first. Here is the summary of day 2 tasks:
1. Get the cabin ready.

That's about it. But it entails:
1. Pull off and fold up or otherwise reuse the towels and plastic bags that were used to cover the pots and pans, dishes and utensils, and everything else we didn't want to think about varmits skittering over.
2. Wash what dishes I must
3. Pull everything off of every counter and shelf, including the shelf paper, to try to start the summer mouse/lemming-poop free. (Yeah, this will end up taking more than one day.)
4. Replace the paper on 16 shelves, then restock them with the food that was left on them over the winter, plus the food that was removed and stored in plastic bins over the winter
5. Sweep and mop that floor
6. Bake the bread I started yesterday
7. Post yesterday's blog

Optional items:
1. Go to town to get milk for my tea and butter for the bread when it comes out of the oven. Mmmmm.

I love a soothing cup of tea. But, well, if it's black tea, then I love it only if it also has milk and honey in it. I left some of those little packets of half and half to see how they would hold up over the winter. The answer is: no. They seemed like little blocks of soft cheese. I tried them anyway - maybe they would melt in the hot tea? Again, the answer is: no.

Note to self: stock up on powdered creamer so I have it at the beginning of next season.

I'm pretty good about cleaning off the food shelves and replacing the shelf paper every spring, but it's so dang tedious. And, it turns out that if I leave sugar accessible to the critters, I can expect to find a pile of ... uh, processed sugar. Bleah! That must have triggered a total war on mouse detritus. For example, I've found myself extending the mopping from the middle of the room, all the way back to the walls. I think it's been about 10 or 30 years since I've done that. It leads to a lot of sorting and ultimately, some additional garbage.The other thing, though, that I didn't anticipate is that inside my cabin, it takes hours and hours for a mopped floor to dry. Everything already takes a little longer here and is harder to accomplish, but to add all that time drying...

So, what better way to use the drying time than to head into town for cream and butter. I had parked the truck out of the way of the tide about a mile away so I strapped Ollie into his orange vest and we walked to the truck, with me (and apparently not Ollie), keeping a careful eye on the sky.

I forgot to mention in yesterday's post that the tundra is wet this year and Monsen Creek is substantial. Wet tundra means there's been rain which I think bodes well for our water barrels, and our washdown system, and for fishing weather. And it makes the tundra fires less likely.

We made it to the truck with eagles just flying away from us. Got the cream and the butter, then headed over to the canopy truck to look for a new protective vest I ordered for Ollie, called a Coyote Vest. I climbed through all the packages, found my knee boots and the rope I usually use for pulling down the stairs... but the vest must still be at the post office.

We just parked the truck on the high ground and came back down the beach with the groceries, once again running the Eagle Gauntlet with Ollie.

About half way between Monsen Creek and the cabin, we found this fellow perched atop the cliff. I'm including the picture of the cliff too, to give some idea of scale. It's a 30' cliff.

Oh wait, here's another indicator of scale. That's Ollie down there, running up to the eagle intent on giving it hell. And just in case that wasn't enough to provoke the eagle into launching an attack, how about if a couple of dogs frolic, unconcerned, right in front of you?

Eventually, the eagle tired of all the excitement and took flight. Thankfully, he headed down the beach rather than directly toward the obnoxious white dog in the orange vest.

We made it all the way back to the cabin with no talon punctures or even close calls. And continued straightening the cabin until late. Still haven't unpacked. Sigh.

I finished the day starting this post at my computer, listening to the critter scampering between the insulation and the plastic, and trying to get mentally ready for some home improvement that needs to be done this year. Last year, the leg of my chair went through the plywood floor. I knew it was soft and finally, it just went through. I'm glad Roger was here - he came in and patched it for me. But now, more of that same piece of plywood is soft and it's just a matter of time. The piece in front of the door is also soft and it seems that the front of the cabin - where the cabin meets the mud room - is sinking into the tundra, even though the floor still feels level. I think that's why the floor on this end of the cabin is rotting. I hope that the combined skills of this year's crew can help me fix it.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Day 1, May 31 2018, 24,647 steps

The first day in is always one of the busiest days of the season. Departure day is just about as busy and really, they’re both kind of sad. I come up early with just me and the dogs for the solitude, but the first day, when there’s so much to do, it sometimes just feels like loneliness. (The last day is also sad, but then it’s because so much of my heart and soul has been anchored in the tundra and mud, it hurts to extricate it for departure.) This year, the loneliness of arrival felt more difficult because of changes, and maybe, because of accumulated changes.

However, it’s important to remember the rest of it. I spent a little time with Chris (a star member of last year’s crew) and two new crew members (Noah and Phil) for a few days before leaving for the season and found myself getting really excited about this year’s crew. We’ll have a lot of new people this year, but I think they will rise to the challenge, whatever it is.

Starting again – the first day in is one of the busiest days of the season. There are a bunch of things that MUST be done if I’m to sleep in the cabin on the first night. I’m going to try to remember to make a short list at the start of each blog so I can pull it out and make it into an operating manual for future crew members.

1. Pull down the stairs
2. Unboard my cabin (doors and windows)
3. Hook up the propane
4. Prepare the composting toilet
5. Get my bunk ready
6. Park the truck up and out of the tide
7. Set up the drinking water
8. Find trustworthy water for the dogs
9. Bring up luggage
10. Oh, and floss and brush

Some of the more optional things are:
1. Feed the dogs and keep Ollie from becoming eagle food
2. Feed myself
3. Empty the mudroom
4. Change the sheet that has been used as a runway if not a nest for legions of lemmings over the winter. Not to mention that they’re filthy from holding my unwashed body last season
5. Hang out the bedding (it smells so good when it comes in)
6. Open the crew cabin to get stuff I need
7. Move the generator and the capstan winch from the middle of the cabin floor
8. Start cleaning up the winter’s accumulation of... well, let’s just call it “dust,” knowing that everything tends to be bigger in Alaska.
9. Take pictures and start the blog

Here are the day’s details:
The dogs and I and all the luggage (including a crate of eggs – go Alaska Airlines and Pen Air!) made it into King Salmon intact! We had a few errands to run on the way to the cabins. First the bank (since it’s in King Salmon), then SeaMar Naknek (can’t start the season without a Captain Jack tide book),
Can you see my guard dogs in the cab? Annie is the big black and white one, and Ollie is the little guy that's looking a little too much like a poodle these days. Then we headed down to Alaska General Seafood (AGS), the processors that buys our fish and stores our skiffs and some of our fishing supplies and keeps us fishing. AGS seemed very quiet and I was painfully aware that for the first time since 1976, my dear friend and mechanic extraordinaire would not be there. I knew it would be a hard adjustment, but it felt worse than I expected. Even though I got to see wonderful people who are are still there – Big Brad, Felix, Terry, Chris, Jerry – Roy’s absence leaves a gaping hole for me. And that sort of set the tone for the rest of the day. Terry was keeping the drill for me (thank you!). And I discovered that the batteries for the two Honda outboards were tossed out, judged to be not good enough. (But wait! I have low standards!)

Note to self: In the future, leave the drill and any batteries that have been removed for the winter in the net locker. They can be connected to appropriate charging devices which will start charging when the power goes back on in the spring.

We made it down to the cabins and climbed up the dry-enough cliff. We lost A LOT of bluff this year.
We put these pallets together last year to create a walkway toward the crew cabin. Wasn't it around 10' from the edge of the cliff? And see that big tire? We used that as the anchor that kept our washdown water tank from falling over the cliff. And the white pvc pipe sticking out over the cliff - that ran to the washdown water tank. Harry (my favorite brother and the youngest of the Moore girls when we were growing up) told me that the area suffered a couple of hurricanes over the winter. Yikes! I’m sorry to guess that the bluff we lost is probably out on the mudflats… where we’ll be fishing. But up above, everything looked whole. Well, as whole as it could after coming through some hurricanes. Some of the tin came off my porch and Debby’s roof needs some help. And a piece of tin is flapping on her southern wall. We’ll need to do some maintenance this year.
Here are the crew cabin and the space hut, all boarded up. It's a lonely sight.
Here is my cabin, complete with guard dog #2.
Here is Debby's cabin. You can see where the pieces of tin blew off the roof and the piece that's flopping loose next to the window.

Task 1: Pull the stairs down. I couldn’t find the rope I usually leave in the canopy truck along with my knee boots – I think that stuff was buried with the packages we ordered to be delivered to the post office. Instead of expecting the post office to hold a pallet full of packages for us, David invited them to deliver the packages to the canopy truck. That’s one of the great things about a small town. Except that I needed a rope to pull the stairs down and there was no way I was going to find it under those packages. Ok, another rope and that means Debby’s cabin, where we store our ropes.

Debby’s is the easiest cabin to open - all it requires is a key. The windows and door aren’t boarded up. Debby put bars on the windows and she installed a security door. It seems to work well… except for that part about the roof and wall coming off. And the floor is buckling. As a result of the new wrinkle (ahem), the door wouldn’t open much more than a foot or so. That should be enough room to slip in, but there’s a counter in the way. So I crawled in under the counter, found a suitable rope, and crawled back out. More need for maintenance.

To pull the stairs down, I just tie one end of the rope to the bottom of the stairs. (I tie it around the stringers so that the process doesn’t put a lot of pressure on the bottom step.) And tie the other end to the back of the truck.

This photo shows the ominous clouds as a fitting backdrop for the eagle (a juvenile) gliding threateningly overhead, and the rope attached to the end of the stairs. For those who know how far away from the edge of the cliff we left the rowboat to the left of the stairs, or how far from the edge of the cliff we built the little gas shelter, you can also get an idea of how much bluff we lost.

The truck has to be 50-100’ from the bottom of the cliff so that when the truck starts to pull the stairs, it isn’t trying to pull it straight down, through the cliff. It’s more a matter of sliding it off the top of the cliff for a bit until the cliff runs out. So from about 50-100’ away, I slowly drove the truck toward the water (yeah, this has to be done at a prudent point in the tide) until the stairs reach the tipping point and down it will fall.
This photo shows the ladder on its way off the cliff. It’s always a little nerve-wracking because it seems that it could land badly and just fall over. That would be a lot harder to fix. But it landed fine. It will need a little more adjustment to get the angle just right, but it was good enough.

If you look to the far rightof this photo (and squint), you'll see a pole that fell off the cliff. Again, for those who noticed the placement of this pole at the end of last season (decidedly up ON the cliff), it will give you an idea of how much bluff was lost. New crew: we're going to have to pull this pole back up - I don't want to lose it. Start thinking! (I've been trying to remember the logger's knot I learned 40 years ago. Maybe Google knows it.) The other thing this photo shows is the softness of the beach from were I started the pull. That's probably from the lost cliff - it will take a couple of strong tides to clean that up or pack it down. It's pretty squishy now.

During the process with the stairs, I noted a couple of big eagles showing way too much interest in Ollie. They were soaring and playing down the beach a bit, but when they came toward us, they just sort of drifted overhead – I think mentally weighing their chances of grabbing him. I think Ollie felt a little insecure too. While he will usually dash off and explore something (usually something disgusting), when those eagles were nearby, he seemed to especially like being near my feet. That suited me just fine. And anyway, I didn’t want the dogs running around the truck tires as it was pulling the stairs down.

Once the stairs are down, it’s time to open my cabin. It’s not terribly hard – a few screws to remove the plywood from the mudroom door. Open the padlock holding the mudroom door closed. Then open the security door and we’re in. The solar panels are old and worn-out but they still work well enough to charge the batteries in the loft over the winter so I started out with some power. Yay! Because otherwise it’s dark inside the cabin when the windows are all boarded up.

The next step is to unboard the five windows. I use carriage bolts that have a smooth cap outside, held in place with a nut inside, washers on both sides. I use the same holes, the same pieces of plywood, and the same hardware year after year.

But the mudroom is hard to move in and out of because I store all the ladders, hand trucks, wheel barrows, crates, garbage cans, wagons, totes, and so on in the mudroom over the winter. It’s pretty awkward to move in and out unless I move those things out. And besides, I’m pretty sure there’s some dog food in here somewhere that I think the dogs would be very happy to have me find.

The whole time I was opening camp, I felt sad and lonely. The inside of the cabin looked great because Jean had been up the year before and helped me close. She didn’t miss anything! She even put a note on the Brita water dispenser reminding me that the filter was new and didn’t need to be soaked. But all that just made me miss her more! And I was already moping around, missing Roy. So it was a pretty darned sad opening day that found me thinking, “Why do I do this? Aren’t we just going to re-board the windows, bring the stuff back in to the mud room, pull the stairs back up… etc etc etc??”

Hey! I found the orange spray-in hair coloring stuff I got to try to make Ollie look unappetizing from the sky. He already looks kind of ridiculous – shaved face (it’s pointy without all his fur!), shaved belly and legs (so it’s easier to get the mud off him), and even a shaved butt (because he’ll probably sit out there). But I wanted the fur on his back to be as big as possible – so he would look bigger from the air. He looks like he’s going to a Halloween party as Freddie Mercury. And just for good measure, I sprayed his back with orange hair coloring stuff. And then I found his orange danger vest and put that on him.Needs no further explanation, does it?

After getting the boards off, it’s important to hook up the propane so that I can have heat and maybe even cook something. (Looks like it might be eggs tonight.) But the propane container that was part full at the end of last season was completely empty at the beginning of this one. Hmmm… there are more tanks over in the crew cabin. So, partially opened that cabin (door only) to get one.

Another thing that MUST be done is to prepare the composting toilet for use. This isn’t my favorite job. It entails emptying the composted material from last season and adding more sawdust-stuff for this season. It seems like it would be gross, but really, only the idea is gross. It doesn’t smell bad or anything. Still, I don’t run my hands through it. And I use gloves. This is a pressing task because if I use the toilet before preparing it for the year, then I either must decide not to empty the composted material this year (risky!)… or empty fresh material along with the composted. That, I don’t want to do. So Day 1, prepare the toilet. NO PHOTOS.

Finally, I need to get my bunk ready. I always leave the sheet on the bunk, knowing that even if I can’t see anything untoward (potentially making it possible to deceive myself into believing that no mice or lemmings scampered across it, dribbling as such animals tend to do) I know how dirty I was by the end of last season and while my standards drop considerably throughout the season, they start somewhat higher – on the other side of finding that kind of gray sheet acceptable. And I hang the blankets out on the line. That one is a luxury – and if I don’t do it before I make the bed for the first time, I won’t do it. So add that to the list, too.

Can I go to bed yet? Not yet, I still have to take the truck to higher ground because I think the next tide will be high and I really don’t want to swamp the truck. Not any time during the season, but the risk is a bit higher the first day and I would feel even dumber if I did.
This photo shows the truck when I started the process of taking it to higher ground. You can see the soft part of the beach that I hope will pack down with a few storms. It also shows the stairs, just about in place. And about half way between the bottom of the stairs and the bottom of the cliff, you might be able to see a change in the ground. I think that was the previous night's tide line. Yep, gotta move the truck.

When I started down to move the truck, I also noticed the luggage still in the back of the truck. Groan. I hadn't taken up yet because there wasn't a hurry because it wasn't raining. Even the dogs were tired. They started out running up and down the cliff as I went down the stairs and carried stuff up. But by this point, they just sat at the top of the cliff and watched until they knew I was really going somewhere. By this point, it was pretty much a trudge for all of us - one foot (paw) in front of the other.

We returned from putting the truck up and I decided: what the heck – why not get some bread started for tomorrow? But I needed to go to the crew cabin for flour and yeast. (Good thing I already opened it partially.) As I went outside, I was kind of staggered by what I saw. A whole big rainbow over our cabins! Maybe it’s going to be OK after all.

I am curious about that rainbow to light storm over the cabins. But I took it as a sign, anyway. A good one.

And it didn't hurt to have a good sunset at the end of this difficult day.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

July 3: I didn't know fingernails could get sore

This will be a rough post. There will be many references in it to things I haven't had the time yet to write about. I'm really going to try to catch up, but it won't be today.

We fished on July 3 and were surprised by the biggest catch in our family's history of keeping track: 29,513 lbs on one tide! That's a whole lot of salmon for my mostly green and completely hard working crew. They were great - I can't think of how they could have been better, considering that on the biggest tides they've had before this one we delivered 654 lbs. What a shock for everyone.

Of course, it wasn't just a wall of fish that we needed to climb. We got some handicaps. We had heavy weather with southwest winds up to 20 mph and 4' seas. If we have no fish in that kind of weather, we end up tired at the end of a tide. Winds like that do tend to blow us some fish, but they also make it very hard to delivery them to the beach. The risk of swamping is great, especially if we have a big load of fish on board which the winds make more likely. The safest (and most convenient!) way for us to deliver in weather like that is to a tender. But for reasons I don't understand, that's when we're least likely to see a tender. It's an ongoing frustration.

We were fairly outgunned by the combination of weather, fish quantity, and limited delivery options. Having said that, though, I also want to thank Jesse and Mike, AGS's Gehl driver and truck driver respectively, for working so hard to pick up everyone's fish. When we came in to deliver, loaded and taking a lot of water, they worked hard to get the weight off the boat in the order we needed. They were just seriously understaffed.

The New Boat was completely swamped during an early delivery and they didn't recover from it for the whole tide, so we were down one of our workhorse boats before the tide even turned. Luckily, no lasting harm was done. Harry (my brother) recently gave us a vinyl cover made to fit over the brand new powerpack - and it protected it! The brand new outboard never went underwater - though water and mud were everywhere else in the boat. We took the New Boat crew out and put them in the Bathtub for the rest of the tide. No power roller. Argh!

When we went to deliver in the Ambi (photos later), the weight of the fish, the big crashing waves, and the crew's inexperience worked together to take on A LOT of water. We hadn't done the training yet where the crew has to jump out fast and get the boat turned so the bow points into the weather. I'm so grateful David was there to buy his fish for custom processing. He just jumped into the water (in his street clothes - brrrr!) and got that bow turned out. As a result, there was a lot of bailing ahead of us, but we didn't swamp. And as another result, my crew - who may be green but they are smart, hard-working, and willing - learned how to get the bow turned out.

The second time we went to delivery, it was worse. Jesse was determined to help us and get those fish off our skiff as fast as possible, but the waves started crashing over the bow. The more experienced New Boat crew was nearby and rushed over to help us bail and get the fish off. Saved again!

After that, our power roller stopped working. Oh no! Those loaded up nets are so heavy and without a power roller, they are soooo long! My crew was valiant, though. We planned to pick through each 300' net (for the second time that tide) and then pick it up (as the fishing period was due to close at 3:30). But it was taking too long to pick through the net because there were so many fish - the tide was running out too fast and we definitely did not want to be left with fish out on the mud flats! So Chris, Eli, and Tristan started to pull. They pulled with everything they had and little bit by little bit, they pulled all 300' of net with probably more than 5000 lbs of salmon into the Cockroach. That's a roundhaul. Eli jumped out to help push the fish in and I jumped out to push the boat toward the net. What a lot of work and the work only begins with getting it into the boat! Our plan was to leave the Cockroach there where it would be close to the shore and maybe the ranger could tow it to where Jesse could easily pick up the brailers as we filled them. No such luck - too much weight.

We couldn't stop to pick the fish out yet though, because we had another net we were responsible for. We headed out to that outside site which had already been picked twice, so that roundhaul was only 2000 or 3000 lbs and the Ambi is a big boat. But we also finished that one just in time because the stern was starting to drag. We stayed out there and cleared that roundhaul while, I hoped, the New Boat crew was clearing the roundhauls of the other two nets. 1200' of roundhauled nets is a lot to process.

But we did it - boat by boat. First the Ambi. Then the Cockroach. Josh burst my fantasy that they had already cleared the nets in the Bathtub. Ha! One of those nets had been picked twice, so it had only a few thousand pounds, but the other had only been picked once and it had probably twice that much. Here is where the dogged determination comes in. And "boat food" (beef jerky, power bars, fruit cups, and WATER).

While we were clearing the roundhauls in the Bathtub, I realized that the tide had turned. Fish and Game reported that the Naknek River got about a quarter of its escapement goal in that one tide, so they were opening us again that evening. Honestly, we all groaned. Then we started talking about what we could handle. Not another tide like this one! Remember, we didn't have any functioning power rollers for most of this tide. We decided to put out two nets. And we hoped we'd have a little time to rest and eat between the two tides. Picking through the roundhaul, I kept my eye on the tide which I knew had turned and was coming back in. When we cleared the roundhaul in the Ambi, we piled the fish in the bow - probably 2000 or 3000 lbs. It wouldn't be good if the water arrived and the Ambi was so bow heavy. So Tristan and Malcolm marched out there and redistributed the fish.

Even though the ranger was making multiple trips, lightening the load of the Cockroach, it still couldn't budge it and pull it in. Dang. And the Bathtub was even further out with even more weight in it... and we had been stacking the nets we were clearing outside the boat. (There isn't enough room in the Bathtub to keep the cleared nets inside the skiff, but that returning tide can sneak up on a person and we were tired.)

David pitched in with the ranger work and somehow got the Cockroach to move in. Whew! Just as we were finishing clearing the nets in the Bathtub, I saw that the Ambi was about to float and we were nearing the time to set the nets. So my crew headed out with me to do that. But as we walked out there, I decided that if we couldn't do a walking set (if the water was too deep for it) we would scrap that set and just fish the inside site. Then I realized that I was hoping that the water would be too deep for a walking set and that told me that we shouldn't try to fish that site. No one disagreed.

We stayed with the Ambi to bring it in on the incoming tide. As we waited (not very long) for the tide to rise enough for us to move, even with our heavy load, I looked over at the Bathtub we had so recently left and saw that it was surrounded by water. David noticed that too... and he also noticed that the water was halfway up the side and it wasn't floating! So he bravely drove the ranger right into the incoming tide -- up to its floor boards (eek!!) to try to pull the Bathtub to safety. That was a good time for me to look the other way. (I don't watch car wrecks, either.) The next time I looked over, I saw that David as the ranger captain was motoring along with that fully loaded Bathtub in tow. Once it started moving through the water, it had no trouble sliding through the mud. Safe! But Josh and Malcolm were still where the Bathtub had been with our little 6' aluminum boat, Skook. And they were putting something in - maybe just a little bit frantically. I think they were shoving the net that they didn't have time to return to the Bathtub. I looked at my watch. It was 9:31 pm. At least they weren't "fishing in closed waters," which carries a heavy fine. Fishing opened at 9:30.

We walked the Ambi in to where the Gehl could reach it and delivered those bags without having to re-pitch them or any more serious catastrophes. Yay!

We had 15 minutes between tides and we were all exhausted! So were Jesse and Mike who pulled a 24 hour shift trying to get all that fish picked up. Then we went back out to fish the flood just on the inside site. The wind had calmed down! We were relieved. We delivered about 5000 lbs from that site. At the end of that tide at about 4 AM, we decided we could handle two others and we set them for a total of three sites. We got in at about 5:30 AM and needed to be back out at 10 AM, two hours before high water (still without a working power roller!). But the crew was dragging. They were willing, but dragging. We pulled the inside site out of the water just after high water so we had only two outside sites left. ROGER GOT OUR ROLLER WORKING WITH (wait for it) BAILING WIRE!! The throttle had died.

We went through our outside site with the working power roller and had two big bags to deliver. But it was too late because there were other people ahead of us. Remember the zones? We would definitely have been in Zone 4 territory after Jesse and Mike picked up the fish from the people ahead of us. If we'd waited in Zone 3, we would have gone dry and wouldn't have been able to pick up our net using the Ambi. DON'T GO DRY! The New Boat went dry trying to deliver. Sigh.

Feeling good about our functioning power roller and knowing that the other crew was fishing without one (theirs, though it survived the swamping - was that a week ago? - seems to have developed a hydraulic leak), we went over to help them and to deliver the fish from our site to the Bathtub since it can be pulled in with the ranger. All of that brought us to announcement time where we learned that escapement in the Naknek River had reached 750,000 (nearly to the goal), so our fishing was extended for 25 hours. We decided that we were ready for our full set of four sites. We set the net that we'd taken off the inside site on #3 and Josh went in to use the ranger to set the inside site out of the Cockroach, pulled by the ranger.

Still feeling good - end of the day, no roundhauls to clear, tide is still going out and we're ready for the next tide... and we'll get about 5 hours of sleep before that happens!! Josh and David stayed down to deliver. The rest of us were in the cabin eating and planning when we'd need to get out to pick the flood. David and Josh came up to let us know there was a crisis. AGS has suspended buying - at least for this tide, maybe for the next one too. Groan. David, Josh, and Matt volunteered to take the ranger and the two flat-bottomed skiffs out to pick up the nets, two in each skiff. I tried to sleep, but have not been successful. Yet. Remember the New Boat going dry when they had to wait too long to deliver? We need to move that out to Zone 4 where it can safely ride on its anchor until we fish again... tomorrow? The next day? It's 10:45 PM now and we're just waiting for the water to come up enough to move it. We need to call in tomorrow to find out if AGS is buying yet. And that brings us up to date.

The fingernails: picking fish is a fingernail-heavy process. I use a fish pick as well, but I find that my fingernails became very tender yesterday and looking at them, they look bruised. I'm sore down to my fingernails. And I wasn't doing the heavy pulling!

Friday, June 30, 2017

June 29 Finally starting this year's blog

We haven't seen many fish yet, but we've been plenty busy - busier than I remember being preparing for the season (hence a very late start to the blog). It seems like everything was broken or corroded as we came into the season or as we tried to use them: three of our four main skiffs; our two main outboards, our beloved and faithful main back up outboard, and two second-string outboards; the batteries in my loft and/or the solar panels or connectors that feed them; the load tester and the volt meter to test the batteries; the battery or the charging system or the wiring for our flagship skiff; my computer (Fan Error); the brakes on the white truck; the wiring on the green four wheeler; the big 2 KW generator; the treads on the ranger (our mud crawling vehicle)... I'm sure I'll think of other things, but really, I think that's enough to keep us busy. Oh! And my body. Ouch! It must be corrosion from a winter of disuse. Note to self: 10,000 steps.

The broken skiffs and outboards are mostly the remains of the weather catastrophe that ended our season last year. Two of our skiffs capsized at the end of last season (no one was hurt!). I think if we'd been in them, they would have been fine. I've been thinking all winter long about how it happened: why did they swamp? Capsize? How could it have been prevented? They were anchored. I think I finally understand the confluence of things leading to the capsizes.

Our cabins perch on a cliff about 30' high. The ground up here is covered in tundra with an underlayer of permafrost about 2' down. When it rains (and some seasons, it rains all the time) the tundra is saturated and it's like a piece of bread in a bowl of milk. When it's time to go fish, we descend our 30' ladder and walk out onto the beach. Our beach has four "zones:" 1) closest to the cliff the ground might be clay (if the tides have been high and pulling clay and dirt from the cliff) or sand or gravel - early this season, it was peppered with big rocks. That might be 30' wide; 2) next is a zone of gravel and rocks that is about 50' wide. It's a downhill slant to the third zone and usually a safe place to drive if you can just dodge the big rocks; 3) is a sort of super highway of hard-packed sand that seems kind of flat. That's usually a safe place to drive - though it does contain some surprises (beware of the orange rocks!) Some years we have only 10' of that stuff and other years (like this year) more like 25'; and 4) the sticky, slippery mud flats. This is were we can't drive a regular vehicle - it would just get buried in the mud. It's where I slog through chanting to myself, "hips and thighs" as encouragement. This lasts all the way out to the end of the outside sites, almost a quarter mile away from the beach. Some parts of the mud flats are stickier and slipperier than others. We brace ourselves for those. It is a slog to get out to those outside sites. This is usually the safe zone for anchoring but definitely not for driving.

We lovingly call one of our capsized skiffs our Bathtub partly because that's its shape and partly because at the end of the season one year David and Josh used dish soap to disperse a hydraulic oil leak that started on the way in to clean the skiff for the season. When they arrived at the fish camp, they created a bubble bath when they sprayed the inside of the skiff with a high pressure hose. The Bathtub is crucial to our operation because we finally realized that it slides really well across the mudflats. We can tow it, loaded with 5000 lbs of fish, using our tracked vehicle (ranger) or if the mud is too bad for the ranger, we can send a long line through a pulley on the beach. We tie one end to a truck on the beach and the other to the skiff and tow it in. With less than 1000 lbs, the crew can just push it by hand. (I usually fall back from that activity - I think my legs are shortening with age. Sometimes I'll jump into the skiff and they push me too, but that seems just a little too decadent.)

The other skiff that capsized used to be called the New Boat or the New Kid. It was one of our two workhorse skiffs, complete with power roller, power pack, and big fancy outboard. That skiff had its flaws, but it has served us well.

When anchoring, it is very important to ensure that the skiff will ride only over the mudflats (zone 4). Anywhere else and it is in the swamp zone. When we came out to look over the cliff the morning of the equipment carnage last season, we couldn't see the Bathtub anywhere (I groaned, afraid it had broken it's anchor line and drifted away), the Cockroach was pushed up on the beach, full of water, but the New Boat and the Ambi seemed to be riding the storm well enough where we'd left them. It was only when the tide started to go out that we could see the very sad, upside down Bathtub.

For a little background, the Cockroach is another bathtub-shaped skiff that got its name because I unwittingly bought it out from under our lovely neighbors, the Williams, who were trying to bargain the seller down to a more favorable price. I saw the skiff on the side of the road and just waltzed in and offered an amount between what the seller was asking and what Mark (my neighbor) was offering and he sold it to me. I was appalled when I found out what I had done! The Ambi is our fourth skiff and in my mind, anyway, our flagship. It is a bit bigger than the others, especially side to side. It steers like an aircraft carrier that lost its power steering (it has a great big bow) but because of that, it is very very hard to swamp. It's the boat I almost always fish from. It got its name "Ambifisher" because of the years we tried to use it to drift fish in addition to set net when politics all but shut down the set net fishery. Those were dark years. I thought of "Switch-fisher" and "Bi-fisher" but I was worried we would upset people, so we went with Ambifisher.

I think both the Cockroach and the Bathtub were just anchored too close to the swamp zone, might have taken some water in the storm and the extra weight of skiff + water caused the anchors to drag further up the beach, further into the swamp zone and the swamp zone did the rest. We've swamped before, but never capsized and I'm not sure I can explain that, except for the narrowness of the skiff, the high weight of our beloved 60 hp Yamaha Enduro outboard, and the ferocity of the storm. However it managed it, the Bathtub came onto the sandy part of the beach, rolled over, and the outgoing tide just pounded it on the sand and rock, destroying the outboard and tearing off the stern post.

The New Boat's capsize was more confusing. It was anchored plenty far out... and we actually watched it go down. It had spent the summer dragging its anchor so we'd had to chase after it in one of the other skiffs and tow it back home. I thought the problem might be that the anchor had too little chain on it, so the storms we had all summer permitted the waves to lift the boat... and the anchor along with it. To solve that problem, I added about 10' of chain to the anchor line. What I didn't think about was the impact of the bow of the boat not being able to lift so much that it could lift the anchor. To understand it, I put myself in the New Boat's place. What if I were tied to a chair with a hose spraying water at my face? Even though tied to the spot, if I could move my head, I could dodge to avoid the spray of water in the face. But if my head were also locked in place, my face would get wet. When the bow was able to lift, it prevented water from coming in (even while it also lifted the anchor). When it couldn't lift, well, water would come in and that leads to a swamped boat. The other problem with the anchoring was that the anchor was tied off inside the boat so the anchor line ran out over the gunwale down to the chain and to the anchor, again, pulling the bow toward the water. We've anchored that boat that way for years and gotten away with it. But in those years, we didn't have a storm like these... and I hadn't added chain.

The damage to the New Boat could have been worse, but lots of repair was needed. The outboard was spared from obvious damage by the steering console in the middle of the skiff that stood up higher than the outboard. (When the skiff was upside down, the console made contact with the ground first, giving some protection to the outboard.) Roy, the world's best port engineer at AGS (Alaska General Seafood, the processor we fish for), had one of his guys spray down the inside of the outboard giving us the best chance possible for recovery. We shipped three outboards south to be assessed and repaired as possible. We left three here for assessment and repair. I was not surprised to learn that the Yamaha 60 - our favorite outboard that could be counted on to start on the third pull after years and years of probably inadequate maintenance - could not be repaired. If you look back at last year's posts - I think the fateful day was July 21 - you can see photos of the devastation. The Yamaha 40 that had suffered only being dropped was repaired and the shop said the Honda 90 was repaired and doing well. That remained to be seen.

So this year, we've lengthened the line part of the anchor line to 70' per line and the chain part to 30'. As much as possible, we're anchoring from a low point outside the bow of the skiff. I am determined to swamp NO equipment this year.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADFG) manages the fisheries in Alaska to ensure the health of the runs into the future. Here in Bristol Bay (and maybe in other parts of Alaska, I don't know) they set up counting towers where they actually count the number of fish that make it up the river to spawn. They have determined that not enough fish have made it up the river yet to make it wise to allow us to fish. That has some convenience sometimes - we get a chance to clean up, bake bread, fix things, get some sleep, start (and start getting caught up on) the blog, and today, attend a memorial for Samantha Cockrell, a young fishing neighbor who developed "Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy" and later Sarciodosis, all triggered by a simple foot surgery nine years ago when she was 19.

As her mother spoke, she reminded us not to judge when another is in pain. They may be smiling, you may not understand the pain, but it's still real. That reminder hit home with me because several dear friends and one sister struggle(d) with chronic pain. We can't really see it from the outside and we definitely don't want it to be true. Those factors can nudge people to start questioning the experience of the person with the pain and I think that can make it worse. So in Laurie's words, "don't judge."

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.