My mom is one of the most easily pranked persons on the planet. She unfailingly believes that everyone around her, despite plenty of evidence of chronic deception to the contrary, is telling the truth. Her sons were quick to realize what fun this could be and have spent their entire lives telling her tall tales and then laughing at her when she believes them.
If you're thinking this sounds a bit like the story of The Boy Who Cried Wolf, you're right.
One wintry day my oldest brother Jamie and his school friend Bret, who was staying the weekend with us, trudged into the living room looking the worse for wear and told my mom that Jamie's skiff had sunk on them and they'd nearly drowned.
My mom, determined for once not to be played for a fool, laughed. "Sure, sure. Tell me another story."
They insisted they were telling the truth, outraged as only chronic tale tellers can be when they finally tell the truth and no one believes them.
They went into more detail. Jamie's skiff, a fourteen-foot, riveted aluminum Lund, had sunk when they tried to pull crab pots in that were too big for it to handle. When the skiff went down they struggled out of their heavy winter over clothes to prevent themselves from sinking along with it. And then their boots tried to drag them down when they filled with water. They kicked them off and had to swim to a distant shore through Alaskan waters in the dead of winter. At one point Bret, through chattering teeth, insisted that he couldn't make it, that Jamie should go on without him. Jamie refused to hear it and forced him to keep swimming.
When they finally made it to shore they had to walk home a quarter of a mile in bare feet over frosty rocks.
"Well, I have to give you credit," my mom said when they finished, "you certainly make it sound real. And I like the effort you took with your outfits to make it look true. But you're not tricking me again, I know it's all just one of your stories."
She just laughed. Until Jamie showed her their feet. My brothers and sister and I ran over the rocks all summer barefoot, but Bret was from the nearby village and had lived a more civilized life. His feet were raw and bloody from the walk over the rocks. My mom was horrified and appalled, perhaps as much shocked that they'd told the truth as at what they'd suffered, and how they'd nearly died.
It wouldn't be the last time her sons were involved in boating mishaps, as I write about in one of my latest columns. It's about SE Alaskan boating accidents in general, and one of my brothers' (and cousin's) misadventures in particular
For some reason, the first part of the column is missing and there are no photos on the online version. Here's the missing text:
Recently, while my brother Robin was visiting out here from Ketchikan, he took pictures of a non-local boat that went aground on the rocks that festoon the entrance to Meyers Chuck. The marker buoy is on a long tether and the tide was so low that it had drifted far from the rock it was supposed to mark, misleading the boater.
A few weeks before that a seine boat sank at the entrance to Thorne Bay, just across the strait from us, where we go to get groceries and fuel.
And one of the readers of my blog, who kept me informed of her trip up the Inside Passage, sent me a photo of a small cruise ship called the Alaska Dawn aground not far from Sitka.
The sad truth is, if you're listening to the VHF marine radio during the summer months in SE Alaska you'll hear the Coast Guard on there constantly, responding to boaters' distress calls or asking boaters to check their EPIRBs (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon) to see if one was accidentally activated.
One summer night some years back, the Coast Guard got on the radio to describe a boater who was drifting around in a skiff without power. He didn't have a radio, only a cell phone and the battery was dying. It was all too easy to pciture his loneliness with only a dying cell phone to link him to a connection with other humans and possible rescue. They described his location and we realized he wasn't that far from us. My dad and other locals immediately went to his assistance.
For the rest of the column, click this link: http://juneauempire.com/2018-08-15/summer-boating-adrift-aground-flipped-sunk
Imagine that you're hiking along a rocky beach with no sign of human habitation wherever you look. But something catches your eye in the dense forest above the tide line and you push your way through the grappling salal brush. You stop abruptly, confronted with the ruins of a very old cabin made of large, squared logs.
You go past it, deeper into the woods, and come across a massive red cedar tree that it would take at least three grown men with their arms outstretched to span its circumference. You circle around it and find that it has a deep crease in its trunk, a crease that goes all the way up into the trees branches. And across this crease has been nailed rungs to form a ladder.
Who built the old cabin? What's the purpose of this tree ladder? These are the sorts of mysteries you come across in SE Alaska.
My latest column touches on this as I write about The Ladders of Bush Living. You can read it at:
Photo Credit: The first two photos are courtesy of Robin Neilson.
P.S. My sister, who usually posts my blog from Florida, since I can't do it from here with my poor signal (it's taken a dozen attempts just to get this blog to her), will be spending the next two weeks up here visiting family and figuring out construction projects for her MAD Island home in Meyers Chuck. But you'll have to wait until she gets back home before I can post stories about that!
One day, much to my surprise, I got a 1-gallon Ziploc baggie in my mail that had a business card with a picture of a boat on it named "Always Friday." In the baggie was a beautiful, hand-knit muff. Fortunately, the card had a name and email address and when I contacted the mysterious gift giver it turned out to be a reader, named Sue Oldham, of my friend Jo's blog, over at www.alaskafloatsmyboat.com. My blog was mentioned and she subscribed to it so when she passed through Meyers Chuck she kindly dropped off the gift.
She described her travels up the Inside Passage in emails to me and when I asked her if I could use them as a Guest Blog, she agreed, and sent along some photos. And here they are!
Hi Tara, sorry for the delays. I got your email in Sitka, then we traveled back on the outside, into Lisianski canal to Pelican and Elfin Cove and Hoonah for the 4th of July. What a spectacular route! The outside passage was 2 foot seas and glass. The marine life was everywhere although we saw the most whales in Tenekee Springs on our way to Sitka. Each community has its own special personality. I loved Sitka for all of its efforts to preserve its musical and artsy roots. It didn’t do everything just for the cruise ships. Pelican is a community trying to reshape itself after the closure of the fish processing facility. It’s residents had warm and generous hearts. We were greeted by a small lodge owner with dog biscuits for Ike. The couple who run the cafe are so sweet. I left a new flag with them we had bought but didn’t fit our flag stand and they were so excited because they wanted the city to have a new flag for the 4th.
Elfin Cove is a beautiful community. We bought a freshly caught king salmon from a fisher woman who came in to sell it to the tender barge in the harbor. The Stolis vodka boat rising sun stayed out of the harbor and had the owners of the local lodge send fishing guides out. I couldn’t help but think how much is they were missing by not visiting this beautiful community and ordering home made chicken and rice soup at the little cafe. Their boat is 246 feet with a crew of 26. I’m sure the meals are fine restaurant quality but if you miss the people of Alaska, you have missed Alaska.
Hoonah somehow made me sad. The people are suffering at their new cruise ship dock facility. They pay minimum wage and take 60% from the vendors for rent and fees. It feels like the hope that was there two years ago was gone. We took the tender out for a visit of the cannery and probably would have spent some money but we went through 3 people who did not have the authority to let us tie up to the back of the dock only to find a supervisor who said coast guard regulations would not let us tie up or to land on the beach. They are cruising for trouble I fear. Juneau is nice but over crowded. We rented a house from a local owner and brought our kids and their families in. The harbor is full of fishing boats that are not being allowed to fish. Most of the private boats ended up in Harris Harbor or Aurora Harbor because Auke Bay is first come first serve and filled with cruise ship vendors and docked fishing boats waiting to be sent out. We finally got into Auke Bay after one Harbormaster did some rearranging for us. I read one of your articles in the Capital City Weekly. It also says you are related to Artist Megan Duncanson. I love her art! You do have a very artistic family.
I’ll attach a couple of good whale shots we got at Tenekee Springs and an oops by one of the local cruise ships just outside of Sitka.
We are in a 64 foot troller named Always Friday. It is white with a green cove stripe and it has a “back yard” with a 4 foot square of AstroTurf and a sack of petunias for the traveling needs of our chocolate lab, Ike. Every day is a new blessing whether it is a bag of beach asparagus from Jo, or an evening watching whales break from the dock in Tenekee Springs. Our brief visit in Thorne Bay still floors me. We were immediately given 5 crab then 10 lbs of halibut by Jim Silverthorn then the same day Jo brought us a bad of beach asparagus. I went to a dog show during a hale storm put on by Bear , a young tween who lives there and loves dogs. You live in an amazing place with amazing people. Keep writing, I want to buy a copy of your first book.
Mail day dawned sunny and clear, like it's abnormally been for weeks here in formerly rainy Southeast Alaska. The tide was unhelpfully going to be out all day so my dad got in the skiff early to put it on the outhaul.
An outhaul is a rope and pulley device that allows us to keep our smaller boats floating during all but the lowest of low tides. A length of rope is run through two pulleys attached to trees above the high tide line, and to a pulley anchored to the seabed (and usually marked by a buoy so other boaters know not to run over the outhaul). We tie our skiff to a loop in one side of the line and pull it out as far as possible. When we need it, we simply pull it in.
However, because of our unusually hot summer, the outhaul line turned out to be completely overgrown with seaweed and algae. My dad attempted to clean it by tying to the outhaul and driving away from the beach in the skiff, running the caked rope through the pulleys.
A minute later he was on the VHF to me. "Tara, could you bring down the rope on the end of the dock? I just broke the outhaul."
Fortunately, the actual line that makes up the outhaul itself didn't break, it was just the smaller piece of rope that ties one of the pulleys to a tree that snapped.
So, while my dad sat in the skiff and took care of the tedious chore of picking off clumps of seaweed by hand and scraping the algae off with a knife (using a multi-tool that a Lower 48 friend named Russ gave both my dad and I for scouting floathouses for him earlier), I picked up the coil of rope and carried it down the beach, up onto the rock ridge, and then scrambled around wind-fallen trees until I reach the point of land where the pulley is. I hadn't gotten very far when I realized that in my sweatshirt I was way overdressed for how hot it was despite how early it was.
When I got to the broken part of the pulley and fixed it and was about to tell my dad on the VHF, I realized it had fallen out of my bag. I searched nearby but couldn't find it, then shouted and mimed to my dad for him to call me on the VHF so that I could hear his voice through its speaker. He counted slowly as I searched and listened. As it turned out I had to clamber back over the rocks and windfalls and down to the beach before I finally located it. By then I was having a low blood pressure attack aggravated by overheating.
I made it to the nearest bit of shade on a rock bench that overlooked Clarence Strait and Prince of Wales Island and called my dad to tell him my situation. I was about to pass out, but since I was lying down I wouldn't hurt anything.
All was not grim, though. Because I was on the outside of the rocky bight where our floathouses are, I had a clear line of sight to the mountain where the tower that provides us with an Internet signal stands. I had my cell phone with me, which is frequently useless at home, and as it happened my sister called. I chatted with her, explaining my situation, and then my dad called on the VHF checking on me, and asked if I'd call my brother Jamie who was out commercial fishing to ask him a mail-related question.
Jamie was feeling the heat himself. The wheel house of his fishing boat, the Isla, was cooking him like an oven. We carped for a while about the aggravatingly sunny streak we'd been having. As die-hard Southeasterners we liked our damp climate and suffered when the sun came out, even without adding in the fact that I was literally allergic to sunshine.
He said he was down at Caamano (Caamano Point) fishing near our Uncle Rory and Aunt Marion. That point can be a nightmare in rough weather, but I didn't get a twinge when he mentioned it because today the strait was mill pond smooth, not a breath of air stirring. Which, actually, made the heat even more oppressive.
Next I called the post office in Meyers Chuck to find out when the mail plane would be there--and wouldn't you know it? The ariline, which usually refused to come out during low tides, had decided to come out right when the tide was at its lowest today. We'd have to haul groceries and mail up a very long beach, in this heat. I passed the bad news on to my dad and when he finished cleaning off the outhaul he puttered by, going slow since the plane wouldn't be in for a while.
I headed for home shortly after that, deciding to wait for my dad's return at my parents' floathouse. My mom and I heard the mail plane land in the village a few miles to the south of us and almost immediately afterward we heard what sounded like a freight train rushing toward us.
In minutes the airless day was blown away by a winter-type gale. The trees bent and thrashed around and the strait swelled up with spitting white caps. It went from zero wind to forty knot winds, and then higher winds within half an hour. I thought about Jamie down at the dreaded Camaano Pt. and we tried to call him to find out his situation, and Rory and Marion's, but we couldn't get hold of him. We called the post office and told the post mistress Cassie to tell my dad how bad it was out here where we lived.
Unfortunately, he was already on his way. By then it was screaming, with seventy miles winds tearing at the trees. I went down the beach to meet him, and found myself pummeled by the wind. He pulled in down near the outhaul and everything was soaking wet, covered in salt spray. He said it was one of the roughest rides he'd ever had. On top of that, no one from the village had been there to meet the plane except him and Cassie so they'd hauled all the boxes up the low-tide ramp by themselves. His bad leg was in rough shape after all that.
The cardboard boxes were falling apart. Two of them, amounting to over a hundred pounds, were freeze boxes, but we discovered that for some reason nothing, none of the meat or frozen vegetables, were frozen. And they were cooking in the unrelenting sunshine. That meant we couldn't wait for the tide to bring the skiff up to the house--we had to get the perishable groceries up the long, hot beach sooner rather than later.
I hauled up some of the groceries in bags, and got the hand truck on the way back down--and fell through the ramp at the end of the dock. Unbeknownst to us the planks had been eaten through by the gribbles that eat any wood in the water. I scraped my leg up, but there wasn't a lot of blood. I went down for a couple boxes and dragged the hand truck back up to the floathouse over rocks and through tidal mud, and then went back down for another load. By then I was in low blood pressure mode and overheating again and my dad made me stop. He'd been in the hot sun for hours by that time, and was in bad shape after having helped haul all of the village mail up to the post office, and then the horrible ride home--he was so stiff he didn't even attempt to get out of the skiff.
The tide was coming in by then and I had to wade to get to the skiff. I went over my boots, but the water was so warm I didn't care, though the scrape on my leg stung a bit. The wind was literally screaming off the skiff's steel rails, that hurricane pitch that makes your hair stand on end. The strait was exploding against the rocks and my dad and I had to raise our voices to talk. I had to press against the skiff as the wind tried to push it away from the beach and my dad warned me not to get run over by it. Neither of us could remember a winter gale like this in the middle of summer. I again worried about my brother and aunt and uncle in their fishing boats.
As the tide came in I towed the skiff further up the beach shortening, the distance I had to haul the boxes up to the house. My mom met me at the dock and she hauled what she could into the house. I'd haul up groceries, go back and wade out to the skiff and pull it against the gale, and then haul up more groceries.
So that's what I did. In the picture above you can see me towing the skiff up to the house, telling myself "The mail must get through," over and over again.
At some points I was wading at waist level, but it was actually nice to get out of the sun and it was blowing far too hard for any bugs to be around. And then we heard from Jamie, that he and Rory and Marion were perfectly all right--the gale was blowing up the strait away from shore where he was and hammering us at the point that we live on. It was just a freak squall worse than most of our summer squalls.
One more mail day down!
I wrote my next column about the next mail day and you can read it at:
Tara Neilson (ADOW)