My brother Robin, who splits his time between Ketchikan, AK and Meyers Chuck, AK, our two Alaskan hometowns, wanted me to paint a special painting of his boat the "Sultan". Hope I did it justice! (Megan Duncanson)
Robin lives in Ketchikan, Alaska, and works at the local shipyard in the winter months, he also has a Salmon troller that he fishes out of in the summers in our little hometown village of Meyers Chuck, AK called "Sultan". He is an avid San Francisco 49ers fan, so of course he had to give ode to them with his boat, haha!! Hence the colors and the flag proudly saluting fellow 49ers fans...or taunting their rival Seahawks fans, all who pass him by on the Alaskan fishing grounds.
The "Sultan" is the oldest active troller in Ketchikan, and is being recognized by the Ketchikan Historical society for it's long standing history of fishing the Alaskan waters for almost a century. The wooden boat was built in 1926, in Seattle, WA. Some of the characteristics of the Sultan are: it is a double ended fir planked power troller, OAL 43'' long with a 10' beam and has a 6' draft. It is documented with the USCG, number: 226195, and more information on the boat can be found by entering the doc number on the Coast Guards website.
It's been my brothers dream to own his own fishing boat for as long as I can remember, and in May of 2019 he decided to make his dream come true. He first found a boat in Hoonah, AK that he was interested in, and so him, and our oldest brother James, traveled up there, only to find the boat was in horrible condition. So, back to square one and the hunt for the perfect troller. He then heard about a boat in Sitka, AK and they went to check that one out, hoping it was the perfect dream boat, there he met the "Sultan" and a couple days later she was on her way to Meyers Chuck, AK, her new home.
Of course with a boat that is almost a century old, and made of wood, living in the harsh climate of Alaska the boat requires continuous maintenance and costs to keep it seaworthy, but my brother is up for the task and regularly spends 300 hours, and $5,000 a year to keep her running. But, it is worth it to live out his dream and join the ranks of all the other Alaskan fishermen in our family.
Interesting side note, it is the 2nd red power troller boat in the family that is unmistakeable in Southeast Alaska. Our uncle and aunt, Rory and Marion, also fish the same grounds with their boat the "Isis". Maybe our brother James, and cousin JoDean and her jusband Joe, need to paint their trollers red now too, hmmmmm.
Looking forward to seeing the colorful Sultan pass by in front of MAD Island while I am working up there this summer, building my dream artist retreat and seeing his dream boat fish on by.
Click on the photo below to watch the making of the original painting on YouTube
Imagine you're on a trip to SE Alaska in your yacht or your sailboat and you see a fishing boat up ahead of you on a broad bay along the Inside Passage. As you draw closer you realize something's not right. The boat isn't under power and there's no movement on deck, no sign of anyone onboard. What would you do? What made me think about this is something my brother told me recently after he fetched some fuel and groceries for us in his fishing boat. The tides were a mess, they were super low high tides that came in extremely slowly. Our skiff wouldn't float so I wouldn't be able to go out and meet him to offload the fuel and groceries from his boat. He thought he could bring his boat into our little tidal bight later on in the evening just before dark, but even then our skiff wouldn't float. It was decided that I'd walk out on the big breakwater log that stopped the worst northerly swells from assaulting our floathouses to meet his boat. The problem was, the breakwater log had been out there for a long time and had been severely eaten up by wood-boring sea gribbles. It wasn't much more than a floating slab and wasn't as stable as it used to be. It was the only option, though, so when Jamie called and said he would be here in a few minutes, I left my floathouse, clambered over the rocks and stepped onto the big log that was tied to shore. It has a lot of burls and moss growing on it, but wasn't as tippy as I'd feared it might be. I got to the very end of it where it had the least stability and balanced there, waiting for Jamie to arrive. I could hear his boat growling along, but it was taking him longer than a few minutes. I occupied myself by swatting noseeums, taking photos of the sunset, and trying not to fall off the log into the jade green water. Jamie's boat finally entered the bight. He was having some engine problems and I wondered if that had been what had delayed him, but when he finally reached the log and I helped tied his boat to it, he said, "I'm sorry it took so long to get here. I was drifting farther out than I realized." "Drifting?" I asked. He said that he'd shut down his engine and let the boat drift while he slept, waiting for the tide. "It made me think of Ray. He used to do that all the time." Ray was a close family friend who died last year and had been the captain of the large fishing boat Jamie had been a deckhand on for many years. "You mean," I said, "that you guys would just drift around in some bay with everyone sleeping inside?" "Yep. It was super peaceful." I'd never heard of such a thing, but I couldn't see why not when I thought about it. In the more remote areas there's very little traffic, and most of the water is extremely deep out in the middle of bays, and if the weather was nice--why not? As I thought about that he handed me out 9 jugs of gasoline, each weighing around 40 pounds. I had to carry them along the log and line them up, walking back and forth as the log rocked. They took up most of the space on the log so it was tricky getting around them. Finally he handed out a bag of potatoes and assorted other groceries. "Where are you off to now?" I asked as he started the engine back up. "I don't know," he said. "Maybe I'll go back out there and drift some more."
One of the things I've always loved most about Southeast Alaska is the Alaska Marine Highway System. When most towns are on islands unconnected by roads, it only makes sense that the Inside Passage of intertwining waterways would become our road system. On this most scenic of all highways, our ferries--more like small cruise ships--locals and tourists alike travel.
When we were kids, nothing delighted us more than when our entire tiny bush school would go on a field trip to somewhere in Southeast Alaska or to Canada, traveling on the ferry. It was an adventure none of us will ever forget.
Here's the story of a visitor to Alaska who also got to enjoy our unique marine highway during her Alaskan adventure.
When I was on Top of the World by Carla Kirkland
It was a clove of seasons when I boarded a train in Thunder Bay, Ontario and rode through some of the most breathtaking natural sites in Canada with the overstuffed backpack I had lived out of, in Minnesota all summer. When I walked onto a ferry in Prince Rupert, BC, it was the closest thing to a cruise ship I had ever been on, then or since. I’d had a magical year at Touch of Nature Environmental Center in Carbondale, IL, and summer at the Environmental Learning Center in Isabella, MN as an intern. When they ended, I was looking forward to fall in southeast Alaska.
I walked off the ferry in Petersburg, Alaska, and for the first time in my life I wasn’t a student. I was 24, full of wanderlust, and free. I wasn’t worried I had no job or place to live. Heck, I couldn’t see past one day at a time. When my boyfriend (later husband), Jim, of five years met me at the dock and told me he had secured a friend’s small 1940s style houseboat for three days before we embarked upon the 33-mile trek along the historic Chilkoot Trail, my problem was solved. Temporarily, anyway.
Jim did seasonal surveying with the U.S. Forest Service for the last three years and had government-issued housing. I couldn’t stay there. I supposed I could always set up a tent in Tent City, where the town’s cannery workers lived, but I’d face those issues when we came back to town from the backpacking trip.
First things first, though. I went down to Hammer’s (Hammer & Wikan) Hardware and bought myself a pair of brick-colored rubber boots known by everyone in the fishing town as red rubbers. The only sure bet about the weather was that it would rain and knee-high red rubbers with pants tucked into them, were a constant fashion staple. By the time I got back to the boat, Jim ran down the hill from the Forest Service office saying someone had quit and they were looking to hire a replacement on a recreation crew. I didn’t know what it would really entail, but since I had just completed my bachelor’s degree in outdoor recreation, it seemed like an answer to a prayer. I went as fast as I could up the hill, afraid someone else would beat me to the job.
The day after I arrived in Petersburg, I had a position on a recreation crew and government housing. I would begin when I returned from the Chilkoot. There were three good months left in the work season and I was on top of the world. Since Jim and I were going to be working on separate crews, it was going to be common to only see each other occasionally.
When I came back to town, I met the other two people on my crew: a Vietnam Vet named Jimmy and our crew boss, Doug. We were given the task of building a new recreational cabin at Kadake Bay and doing maintenance at several other recreational cabins within the Tongass National Forest. We traveled by helicopter, ferry, or skiff to the various locations, but most trips were to our camp at the old Kadake Bay Cabin by skiff, loaded with building materials, tools, and groceries. The cabin had bunks, a wood stove, a table, and benches. Jimmy and I stayed in the cabin with no electricity or running water, while Doug preferred to sleep in his own tent outside the cabin.
We worked hard building the cabin, clearing trails, and chopping wood by day and reading by candle or flashlight at night. Jimmy did most of our cooking and I cleaned up the dishes while Doug brushed up on his Spanish in preparation of spending his winter in Mexico. On our days off, we would fish or go back to Petersburg when we could. The fishing was the most incredible I’ve ever experienced. When we were able to smoke the fish, we did. We ate and lived, worked and played together, and became family in some of the most beautiful wilderness I’ve ever seen.
When Jim and I and friends boarded the ferry to leave Alaska to go south at the end of the season, it was Thanksgiving Day, 1983, during the first snowfall. I remember peering into the distance as the town of Petersburg grew smaller and the snow fell harder. I felt confident we would all be going back the following season, not knowing it would be the last time we ever worked and lived in southeast Alaska with the wild abandon that only youth exudes.
NOTE: All photos courtesy of Carla Kirkland. Carla is a uniquely compassionate and insightful writer who considers the crossroad moments in life in a way that resonates with people who care about the world and each other. Check out her wonderful blog at carlakirklandwriter.com.
Tara Neilson (ADOW)