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 tie 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."
My thirteen-year-old friend, A.C., went with me today to fix the waterline and pump water to our holding tank on a hill above our floathouses.
Wearing a Hoonah Fisheries bill cap, pink flannel work shirt, and a wispy black chiffon skirt, all she needed was to shove on her XTRATUF rubber boots and grab the vegan, cruelty free purse my artist sister, Megan Duncanson, had painted and sent her as a gift. A.C. goes nowhere without it, or the valuable contents it carries. But we'll get to that in a minute.
When we got to the waterline that follows a trail through the woods, we found that the wildlife--deer or a bear--had knocked it down. After leveling it we found that a connection was leaking. A.C. handled it. "Duct tape can fix anything," she insisted, and took charge of a large roll of it. Who's arguing?
When we got to the dam, she asked if I'd allow her to start the pump. "Jamie taught me how to start the generator," she said, mentioning my oldest brother who she lives next door to in the nearby village of Meyers Chuck. "This looks like the same sort of thing."
It pretty much was, so I told her to go for it. She just needed to fill the tank with gas first, which she promptly did, looking quite fashionable in her wilderness-girl-chic style.
Once she'd filled the pump she went about starting it. Happily, since it was summer it didn't have to be primed, like in the cold winter months. It also didn't need ether to kick it in the pants. A.C. pulled on the recoil a few times but the pump was positioned too high for her to be able to pull on it as strongly as needed.
I changed places with her and it started instantly. I told her, truthfully, that she'd warmed it up for me. It doesn't usually start that easily, even in the summer months.
We escaped the racket of the pump by going down on the beach and I suggested she reveal what she had inside her purse. I'm sure my readers would be fascinated to know what a wilderness girl thinks is essential, especially if she was to get lost in the woods and thrown back upon her own resources.
A.C. obligingly pulled items out, noting them aloud as she perched them on a drift log: "...a pack of cards, a foil packet of Pop Tarts, assorted bracelets..." Then she held up two small bottles with an air of significance. "Two different shades of fingernail polish."
"A girl likes to look her best, even if she's lost in the wilderness," I suggested.
"That's very true," she agreed without smiling.
A.C. pulled out a large, roughly cut...black rock?
"And a large chunk of obsidian," she remarked.
"What's that for?"
"You never know when you might need to make a bunch of arrowheads." She pulled out a wad of napkins that had ink stains on them--I thought. She corrected this impression. "They're napkins with symbols written on them. In case I get lost in the woods I can leave them behind so that people can follow me and find me."
"Smart," I said, wondering why I'd never thought of it.
The was more: jewelry, hair pieces, a gigantic play diamond ("A girl can never have too much diamond"), a solar-powered, hand-crank flashlight, a mirror ("To help people find me when the sun flashes off it") and so many other items that I lost track. I kept expecting her to pull a floor lamp and a potted palm out of it.
Finally, though, we had to shut off the pump and then head home before the tide came in and cut us off from the floathouses. Before we left, I took a final shot of A.C. with one of Megan's Florida Flamingos. If you'd like to know more about Megan's purses and/or art, check out these links: www.livinthemadlife.com - www.madartdesigns.com
ARCHIMEDES IN THE WILDERNESS
The question was: how to move a building from point A to point B in the bush with only one or two men?
In 2006 longtime Meyers Chuck residents Ed and Marian Glenz sold their property and moved to Wrangell. Marian had been the village post mistress for many years, going from one building to the next, until an official post office was built on the end of their false island. ("False" because it's reachable by foot when the tide's out.)
After the Glenzs left, the couple who bought the property didn't want the post office building on their land so another resident, Al Manning, acquired the building from them. My dad had built his summer home, so when it came time to move the building, Al approached him. Rather than disassemble it and then reassemble it on Al's property, my dad proposed moving the building intact.
But how? Especially since there was a shortage of manpower and it would just be my dad and my oldest brother Jamie doing the work.
First, with Jamie's help, he took everything moveable out of the post office, including an old, very heavy glass and wood counter that had been salvaged from the Bay of Pillars cannery decades before, and a pool table that the locals had played at while waiting for their mail to be sorted.
I asked him how he knew what it would take to move it and he said he had an approximate idea of how much it weighed, which was more than it looked. "It's well-made," he said appreciatively, then added meaningfully: "Ed Glenz built it." He noted that, "When we lifted one corner, the opposite corner lifted. That's how well made it was."
Next, my dad pulled the sway bracing off the two outside rows of the pilings that the building was pinned to. He left the two inside ones for stability. After that, using a cumalong, he pulled two 50 foot long, eight-inch in diameter logs under the building.
To make sure the house slid on the logs, he oiled the logs and fitted homemade plastic sleeves around the four-by-eight timbers that the floor joists sat on. To stop them from falling over as they were slid down the logs, he put stiffeners between the four-by-eights. On the outside of each log he nailed two-by-sixes to keep the building tracking. To stop the logs from pulling together he put 2 four-by-six spreaders between them at the top and bottom.
He jacked up the logs until they lifted the post office just off the pilings. He had to cut off all the steel pins, that attached the building to the pilings, with a sawzall. Next he tipped the pilings in their holes and dragged them out. He did all of this prep work on his own over a couple of weeks.
Now, ready to move the building, he called in my brother Jamie again.
Together they put rollers (smaller logs) on the ground and then dropped the logs the post office was sitting on, down onto the rollers, and then moved everything until the support logs were hanging out over a sheer drop off above the water.
When the tide was right they floated the logs underneath the support logs. They secured the support logs to trees behind where the building had originally stood and then pulled the post office farther onto the supports. As neat as can be, the building (on its support logs) sat down on the float logs that were tied together with ropes so they wouldn't separate.
With Jamie on one side at the back of the float in his 13 foot Boston Whaler, and our dad on the other side in his 16 foot Whaler, they pushed the building across the harbor toward Al Manning's property. As they turned the float, ropes hanging off the logs got caught in my dad's propeller. Pausing to free the prop, the breeze took them where it willed and the tide began running out.
"There's always something," my dad says. No matter how much you think things through, nothing ever goes as smoothly as it could.
They got the float into position and let it "go dry" as the tide receded. Then they jacked up the support logs to the height of where it was going to be by putting blocks under it--six cedar blocks two feet in diameter and six inches thick--two at a time, using double jacks. They got it to the height they wanted it to be and floated the float logs out from under the two long support logs.
They dug holes to put the pilings in and leveled them by setting one of the pool table balls on the floor. "When it quit rolling," my dad says with a grin, "we knew we were getting close."
They put the pilings under the timbers, took the blocking out, and pulled out the support logs. After that, all they had to do was put the sway bracing in and they were done. The old post office had a new home.
Archimedes once said: "Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum upon which to place it and I shall move the world." I think my dad and Archimedes would have had lots to talk about.
Tara Neilson (ADOW)