Alaskan sailing adventur.., p.1
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       Alaskan Sailing Adventure, p.1

           Charles Kaluza & Philip Kaluza
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Alaskan Sailing Adventure


  Alaskan Sailing Adventure

  Charles Kaluza

  Philip Kaluza

  Copyright 2017

  Forward

  This work of fiction is based on the authors 30 years of experiences sailing and fishing in Alaskan waters. All of the adventures are real. Times, names and places were changed as needed for story continuity. The major glacial calving and rock slide which produced the tsunami are historical. This project was started to share my love of the wilderness with my grandchildren. As my brother, Phil, began to contribute his stories it turned into an adventure book.

  Sea Shanty was the boat that I built-out for my, long dreamed of journey to Alaska from Oregon. She is a rugged, good sailing vessel and carried me safely to Alaska and back.

  This book is dedicated to those who taught me to love and respect the wilderness.

  If you have comments or suggestions, please contact me at: DocKaluza@gmail.com or https://www.facebook.com/doc.kaluza/timeline/

  Day 1

  The two tall teenage boys with their oversized backpacks stood yet again at the Lufthansa terminal, in the Anchorage airport, to check on the arrival of the flight from Germany. The desk lady smiled at them and before they could even ask about the arrival of their cousins, she said, “The plane has landed, but the passengers still need to go through immigration and customs.”

  Quinn, the younger of the two, said, “I hope they hurry up because we don’t want to miss our train.”

  The lady looked at the clock and said, “They should make it in time. Did they check any luggage?”

  Kade answered, “No, they just have backpacks like us. The rules said only one backpack per person on the boat.”

  “Let me call the train and tell them you are waiting for your cousins. Maybe they can wait a few minutes for them.”

  Kade spoke for both of the brothers saying, “Thanks” as they wandered off towards the international waiting area. He asked Quinn, “Do you want to go look at the brown bear again?”

  “No. I’ve seen enough dead animals for now, they are everywhere in this airport. Let’s get something to eat.”

  “Quinn, you have already had three ice cream cones.”

  “But I’m hungry.”

  “Remember we promised mom we would eat right. How about we get a hamburger?”

  “How about we get a hamburger and an ice cream cone?”

  Kade responded, “OK, but then we need to get back to the waiting area. We don’t want to miss Johnathan and Mikey.

  People were streaming out of the customs and immigration area but nowhere were Johnathan and Mikey to be seen. At least a couple hundred people came out before Quinn spotted their cousins. They barely said “hi” to one another and Kade was leading them on a wild run through the airport terminal to the waiting area for the train. As they exited the terminal building, Kade turned to the left, and Quinn yelled, “That’s the wrong way!” Kade turned around and headed to the train terminal. The conductor was looking at his watch and pacing back and forth as the boys ran up.

  They were motioned aboard and did not even have time to find seats before the door closed and the train started to move. The train car was only about ¾ full and they found four seats together. They stowed their back packs in the luggage rack and finally had a chance to visit. The train was passing through the older area of Anchorage and there was not much to look at…it looked pretty much like any other city. Only when the train finally turned to follow the Turnagain Arm of Cook Inlet did their world change. The train tracks were wedged against the ocean on their right and a massive cliff on their left. Kade and Mikey had their noses pressed against the windows on the cliff side looking for moose or maybe even a bear. Johnathan and Quinn were on the opposite side staring at the ocean looking for signs of a whale. Quinn asked Johnathan, “What do these Beluga whales look like?”

  Johnathan replied, “They are not real big but they are all white. The book says you usually see the spout first and then the top of the whale as it dives. They are supposed to be pretty rare.”

  Their conversation was interrupted when Mikey called out, “Look at the mountain goats on the cliff!”

  All Johnathan could see were some white spots on the cliff until Mikey handed him the binoculars. Sure enough, there were white animals walking on an invisible ledge along the face of the cliff. Johnathan said, “They are not mountain goats. Those are Dall sheep.” Kade spoke for them all when he said, “No way would I try and cross that cliff. How do they keep from falling off?”

  The train was traveling fast enough that the sheep were soon left behind and the search for wildlife resumed. Mikey reminded Johnathan that they were supposed to call home. Johnathan pulled out his cellphone but had no service. He said, “No way to call, but I can use the ‘Spot Locator’ to tell them where we are and that we are fine.” Johnathan dug through his backpack and pulled out the emergency locator. It needed exposure to the southern sky so he activated it with the “OK” button which would relay their position and satisfactory status from the satellite back to their mom and dad. He carefully set it on the edge of the window facing south and checked his watch because the unit needed to be on for 30 minutes to insure the satellite was in position to receive the signal.

  As the train travelled through the wilderness the boys did not say much because they were so busy looking at the world around them. They must have crossed the mountain range because the land to the left flattened out and the ocean to the right was mostly a mud flat. Kade was sure they would see a moose now that there were more areas of swamp but if they were out there they were well hidden. The train began to slow as they pulled into the station at Portage. It was not a town, just a place where they re-arranged the cars with about half the cars going through the long tunnel to the port of Whittier and the others continuing on to Seward. It seemed to take forever before the train began to move again. Most of the people who were in their car got off to continue on to Whittier and their cruise ship. Other people got on to join them for the train ride over the mountains to Seward.

  Johnathan checked his watch and it had been over 30 minutes so he went to retrieve the Spot locator. It was gone. The four boys searched everywhere in the train car for the unit asking people to stand up so they could look under the seats. Their emergency locator was gone. Mikey said, “Someone must have thought it was forgotten and maybe turned it in at the lost and found.”

  When the conductor came through they asked him about the unit. He replied, “Nobody turned anything in to me. Maybe it will show up. Are you sure you didn’t already put it back in your pack?”

  Johnathan replied, “I’m sure, but I will check again.”

  Kade tried to calm everyone down by saying, “We are going out with a professional. Why do we even need the locator? He will have radios onboard and grandpa has known him for 40 years and says he is the best.”

  The conductor pointed to all of the dead trees and said, “This was a forest before the big earthquake. The ground sank so much that the ocean flooded the area and killed all the trees.”

  The dead trees went on for miles and the force that lowered the land so catastrophically just did not seem real to the cousins. How could a whole forest sink enough that the ocean swallowed it. The train was working hard now as it began ascending the mountains. The trees were left behind as they climbed above the tree line into the tundra. At times, it seemed as if you could see forever and at other times the cliffs closed in. Snow and ice were still covering all of the higher areas. Johnathan said, “It is the middle of June and there is still all of this ice and snow.” Quinn replied, “Could you believe all the snow and ice we flew over and it is summe
rtime. It was worth the trip just to see all those glaciers from the airplane.”

  The pass they were travelling through finally began to open up and off in the distance they could see some lakes. Mikey was excited because of the turquois color of the water and did not really listen to Johnathan’s explanation of glacial runoff producing the color. The color varied in intensity and at the upper end of the lake where the stream entered it produced a pattern of swirls. The sketch pad was opened as Mikey tried to capture the flow of the color pattern. The other cousins continued their search for a moose. Quinn got excited as he pointed to a brown something off in the distance. When Johnathan used his binoculars, he said, “That is not a moose. It’s a bear, a big bear.” Now they all wanted to use the binoculars just to confirm that Johnathan was right.

  The train began its downhill run into Seward and a few houses were visible in the distance. They gave up on seeing a moose as the train began to slow at the edge of town. To the left was a swampy area and right next to the tracks stood a bull moose with seaweed hanging from its antlers. The moose dipped its head below the water and then came up with a face full of seaweed that it casually munched down. High fives all around.

  As the train pulled into Seward the boys put on their backpacks and checked the area to make sure they did not leave anything else behind. It was several blocks to the marina from the train station and as they were walking by some old railroad cars the smell of barbecue was unmistakable. Quinn said, “I think we should stop and get something to eat.”

  Kade disagreed saying they were supposed to be at the boat in less than an hour. Johnathan pointed out that the marina was only a few blocks away and some food would be nice. A vote was taken and food won out. They climbed the old steel steps into the old railroad passenger car and the smell of barbecue almost overwhelmed them as they opened the door. Inside was a modern little diner hidden in the old rusty railcar. A nice lady who seemed at least as old as their grandma took their order. When Kade said, they were in a bit of a hurry she said, “Things move slower here in Seward. If you are in a hurry maybe it would be best if you chose the pulled pork sandwiches.”

  They all agreed and fairly quickly the food arrived. Kade mostly inhaled his food but Johnathan and Mikey took the time to cut their sandwiches into bite size pieces before eating. Kade was getting antsy about the time and as soon as Johnathan had swallowed his last bite they got up and paid their bill. A quick “Thank you” and the boys were out the door headed to the marina. It took a few minutes to find “J” dock and they made their way down the ramp and onto the dock. The air smelled like fish and the water had a milky color. There were boats everywhere in the harbor: large cruise ships, fishing boats, charter boats as well as every shape and size of power and sail boat you could imagine. They were looking for slip #39 and as they approached it they saw an immaculate sail boat that had to be 60 feet long. Quinn asked, “Is that our boat?”

  Nobody said anything as they looked at the layout of the sail boat with a fancy power boat hanging from the back of the boat and the kayaks stored up front. As they were staring at the boat a man stepped out from behind the power boat wearing jeans, an orange plaid shirt and rubber boots. He said, “About time you four showed up.” He was a small man, shorter than any of the cousins, with a bit of a pot belly hanging over his belt. The red hair poking out from under the old ball cap was unruly and had grey around the edges. His skin was leather like and red from so much exposure to the sea. The boys looked back at the boat and at this grizzled Captain because the two did not seem to fit. The man saw their looks and said, “These plastic boats sure are pretty. Not much use up here in Alaska. Too many things around to break them.”

  The boys did not know what to say and the man waved them around the big boat. He pointed to his boat. Big letters on the back said, “Sea Shanty” and he said, “Here is my boat. She is made of steel with a skeg protecting the prop. Not as pretty but much tougher and we have been exploring these waters together for the past 20 years or so.”

  The boys looked at the boat which had areas of peeling paint and rust. It had a single mast with two sails in front and the main sail in the back. It did look “Alaskan” but seemed old and small compared to the fancy boat next to it. The Captain said, “Climb aboard and store your packs below. We need to go over a few things before we shove off.”

  The boys did as they were told but Quinn had no sooner started down the companionway stairs when the Captain was yelling at him, “Turn around and go down backwards. It’s a ladder not a stairway.”

  Quinn wasn’t sure why he was in trouble but did as he was told. When they climbed back up on deck the Captain started in. “I see that you all passed the written qualifications but none of you have actually sailed. You have a lot to learn in less than two weeks and you had better pay attention.” With barely a breath he continued, “A few safety rules. First is one hand for you, one hand for the boat. Whenever you are topside you need to be able to grab onto something at all times.” He demonstrated what he meant before going on to rule number two. “You always go through the hatch backwards. If you don’t and a wave hits the boat, your feet will slip and you will be thrown head first into the galley. If you go down backwards, you might get a bloody nose and a skinned knee but avoid a broken head.”

  He actually stopped for a breath before saying, “The first one who says right or left, or front and back instead of the nautical terms gets to do dishes that day.”

  Johnathan asked, “What if nobody says those words?”

  The Captain actually smiled as he replied, “Then I do the dishes.”

  Mikey asked, “Why are the words so important?

  The Captain had Mikey face the bow of the boat and asked him which side was left and Mikey pointed to the port side. He then had Mikey face aft and asked him which side was left. Mikey started to point to his left and then said, “Left and right change but port and starboard stay the same.”

  The safety lecture went on for another half hour with little time for questions. He closed by saying, “My name is John Cook. You can call me Captain, Captain Cook, or Sir.”

  When he was finally done, Mikey asked, “When to we depart?”

  The Captain looked at the sun and surveyed the sky before saying, “We sail in 15 minutes. If you land lubbers can get going, we might be able to make Pony Cove before dark.” The Captain entered the enclosed cockpit and turned on a bunch of switches. He pressed the starter button and the diesel engine coughed and sputtered to life exhaling a black plume of smoke. He ordered the boys to don their life jackets and to prepare for cast off. Mikey asked Kade, “How do we prepare for cast off and why does the engine smoke so much?”

  Captain Cook overheard the question and answered, “Diesel engines always smoke some until they are warmed up. This engine is getting a little tired so might smoke a bit more than normal. It will clear up in 5-10 minutes.” He then began to shout orders, “Johnathan, you need to attend the bow line and Mikey, you need to stand by the stern line. Kade, you must return to the dock and loosen the lines leaving a single loop over the cleat and throwing the free end aboard. Those attending the lines must keep tension on them until I say to release them.”

  Quinn asked, “What am I going to do?”

  “You’re going to drive the boat.”

  “But I’ve never driven a boat.”

  “About time you did.” “Kade, are the lines free?”

  “Yes, sir.”

  “Climb back aboard.”

  The Captain reached over and shifted the hydraulic drive into reverse but did not increase the engine speed. He checked the wind one more time before telling Johnathan, “Release your line and secure it.” As tension built on the stern line it allowed the bow to swing away from the dock and the Captain told Mikey, “Release your line and secure it.” He nudged the power slightly and told Quinn, “As soon as the bow clears the finger start turning to port
.” Quinn had to think, port and left have the same number of letters. He started turning the wheel as soon as the bow was clear. The Captain reached down and shifted into forward and they slowly started pulling away from the dock. He asked Quinn, “Are you going to straighten this boat out or do you want to spend your two weeks going around in circles?” Quinn responded by oversteering to the right which brought on another reprimand from the Captain. They were still in the harbor and boats were coming and going everywhere. The Captain did not care and simply said, “Remember the two rules of boat operation. First don’t hit anything.”

  Quinn asked, “What is the second rule?”

  “Refer to the first rule. Now aim for the opening in the sea wall.”

  The other boys were busy cleaning up the fenders and securing all lines. Seems Captain Cook was hard to satisfy and he made them do things over and over until he was happy. Mikey was the first to figure out the technique the Captain wanted. As soon as they were done the Captain said, “Prepare to set the sails.” Nobody knew what to do but the Captain was calm enough as he gave orders. They had to uncover the mainsail and stow the cover before hoisting the main sail. The sail jammed part way up and the Captain started swearing but didn’t really seem upset. He told Mikey, “Go forward and release the red reefing line on the mast.”

  Mikey knew what the mast was and the reefing was a way of making the sails smaller but that was the limit of his knowledge. He went forward hanging onto the rail as he worked his way to the base of the mast. Sure, enough there was a red rope tied off. He did as he was told and released the line. Captain ordered Johnathan and Kade to resume cranking on the winch. As soon as the sail was all the way up he showed the boys how to secure the line so the sail could not come down on its own. He told Quinn, “Cut the engine.”

  Quinn just looked at him unsure of what he was supposed to do. The Captain said, “Pull the lever in front of the throttle and hold it out until the engine stops completely.” Quinn did as instructed and the noise and smoke were replaced by the sound of the wind and waves lapping against the side of the boat. Now Captain Cook seemed happier. He began teaching them how to adjust the mainsail for the breeze which was coming from their port side. When he was happy that they had good control of the boat, he had the large headsail unfurled. It tangled up on a shroud and the Captain told Quinn steer 30 degrees to port. Quinn did the four-letter conversion in his head and began turning the boat. This freed the sail and Quinn no sooner reached his new direction than the Captain said, “Turn and maintain a heading of due south.”

  Quinn did as he was told but was having trouble keeping the course due south. Every time they changed the sail settings to capture a bit more wind his steering was thrown off. When the Captain scolded him, Quinn tried to explain but did not have the nautical terms he needed. He said, “Every time you have Kade and Johnathan change the sails the boat wants to turn especially to the right.”

  “Did you just say right, instead of starboard? I guess we know who is doing dishes tonight.” The Captain went on to explain how the keel and rudder counteracted the sails and whenever you changed one thing everything else changed. He added, “When we get her trimmed up she’ll pretty much sail herself.”

  The next couple of hours were fantastic and just as they had dreamed of for the past two years they spent preparing for their adventure. With enough wind to heel (lean) the boat a bit it felt like they were flying as the Sea Shanty sliced her way through the water. The boys took turns at the helm and managing the sails but with a quartering aft wind the boat was happy and pretty much took care of herself. Captain John kept checking the wind and finally said, “She’s going to die down before we can make Pony Cove. Best we head for Humpy Cove and spend the night there. Might be a tad crowded in the anchorage.”

  It was a bit crowded alright with one other boat in the whole bay but that was crowded for Captain John. As they entered Humpy Cove they rolled up the head sail and prepared to drop the main. Captain John had Quinn take the helm again and told him, “We are going to head straight towards the end of the bay. When I give the order, turn as sharply to port as you can. We will drop the mainsail and if you can keep the boat pointed into the wind I’ll drop the anchor. The wind will back us down and set the anchor for us.” He added, “If you screw up I’ll have to start the engine and I don’t like that.”

  On order Quinn turned the boat as quickly as he could and faced it into the wind. Kade and Johnathan pulled the mainsail down and Mikey managed the lines. He had already mastered the art of keeping the lines coiled and free of tangles. The boat slowed quickly and Quinn called out the depth. When the boat had backed into 15 fathoms (90 feet) Captain John began lowering the anchor. Quinn was struggling to keep the boat pointed into the wind because they had lost all forward movement and thus all steerage. As the anchor caught on the bottom, the boat straightened herself out and started a gentle swinging back and forth. The Captain stayed at the bow holding onto the chain until he was sure the anchor was secure and not dragging. Only then did he stand up and stretch saying, “Not bad for a bunch of land lubbers.”

  “I’m going below to the Captain’s quarters. Call me when dinner is ready.”

  When the Captain had disappeared down the companionway the boys just sort of looked at each other trying to figure out what to do next. Mikey spoke up and said, “Guess we should go see what type of food is aboard.” The boys climbed through the hatch and began exploring their cabin. There were small storage spaces hidden everywhere but most were filled with tools and boat parts. Most of the food was in the locker below the mid-ship berths. As the boys sorted through the food they were confused. The only food they could find was three bags of potatoes and two bags of carrots. Lots of spices, some pancake flour, oatmeal and cooking oil but no deserts, fruit or vegetables. Mikey said, “How are we supposed to fix dinner when we don’t have any food to fix?”

  Quinn chipped in, “Those potatoes and carrots are not going to last very long and then we will be getting very hungry.”

  Johnathan said, “Seems our Captain is a modern Captain Bligh.”

  Before Johnathan could explain what, he meant, Captain Cook appeared and said, “So you have read ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’?”

  Johnathan was almost too embarrassed to answer and simply nodded his head in the affirmative. Captain Cook said, “Good for you. I am honored by the comparison but must admit that I am not worthy of the comparison. Captain Bligh may have been the finest navigator to have ever sailed with the British fleet. He and the 20-other loyalist were set adrift in a small boat with a simple sail and almost no supplies. Captain Bligh not only kept his crew alive but navigated by dead reckoning and the stars, across almost 4000 miles of open ocean to land on a small island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.”

  Captain Cook was quiet for a moment before continuing, “The Sea Shanty is far more sea worthy than the vessel they were set adrift in. Even with modern navigation equipment it would be a tough voyage. I have often thought of trying to replicate the voyage but fear I am not up to the challenge.”

  The cousins were seeing their Captain in a new light and said nothing. Captain Cook pointed to the small book shelf and said, “A couple of good cookbooks. You are living in the richest waters in the world and if you can’t figure out how to eat, we are in trouble. Notify me when dinner is ready.”

  Quinn picked up one of the books titled, “Eating Seaweed” and began thumbing through the pages. Mikey asked Kade, “Think you can catch us a fish?”

  “I’m all over it. Does the Captain really expect us to eat seaweed?”

  Johnathan spoke up saying, “Seaweed is actually very nutritious and I thought you liked sushi.”

  Kade said, “I forgot that they wrap the good stuff in seaweed. How do we know what kind is good?”

  Quinn responded, “According to this book all the seaweed in the area is edible. They recommend cooking for some types
but most can be eaten raw.”

  Kade was finally done futzing with the fishing gear and headed topside to try and catch dinner. Quinn picked out a recipe for fish stew that would use some of their potatoes and carrots along with the red brown seaweed growing on the rocks. Mikey and Johnathan put on their life jackets and went out to launch the kayak. The tide was mostly out and with the exposed rocks it only took a few minutes to harvest a good-sized bunch of the seaweed. Johnathan took the time to pick a bunch of mussels from the rocks saying, “Maybe Quinn can use these in his stew.”

  They had no sooner climbed back aboard and secured the kayak when Kade began hollering “Fish on!”

  When they finally got the fish aboard Kade was all excited about having fresh halibut for dinner. Captain Cook poked his head up through the hatch and looked at the fish. He said, “That is not a halibut. It’s an arrowtooth flounder but we call them saber tooth flounders. When you look at its teeth you will see why.”

  “Can we eat it?”

  “It’s edible but tough to cook because it falls apart as you cook it.”

  Quinn said, “Perfect for my fish stew. Get it cleaned and cut up into little pieces. I’ll get the stock cooking. Sounds like we do not add the seaweed until the end.”

  The cooking smells just added to the sensation of starvation the boys were feeling. They had not eaten for over 8 hours and were famished. When Quinn announced, the stew was ready, Kade called the Captain. His arrival was announced with the smell of whiskey but he seemed to be in better humor. Mikey helped serve the stew. Any thoughts of a prayer of thanks were put aside as everyone tasted the concoction Quinn had created. The Captain was the first to comment saying, “There might be hope for you landlubbers after all.” By the time all of the boys had finished their 3rd bowl of stew the pot was empty.

  Kade said, “That was good eating but would have been better with some fresh crab.”

  Quinn responded, “You catch the crab and I’ll add it to the stew next time.”

  Kade asked the Captain, “Are there crabs up here?

  “This bay is too deep for crabs, but some of the shallow bays have Dungeness crabs and an occasional Alaskan king crab. Sea Otters, like Herme, can dive to 300 feet and keep the number of crabs in the shallow water down. Best place to catch really great crabs was Nome…Alaskan king crab.”

  After much to do arguing about the best crab they ever had, Kade turned to the Captain and asked, “Isn’t fresh Dungeness the best?” With some hesitation, the Captain replied, “Dungeness crab is damn good, but the best? No, I think those years in Nome spoiled me forever.” A pause, followed by, “Get this boat cleaned up and I’ll tell you about crabbing.”

  The Captain got up saying, “Seems Quinn volunteered to do the dishes tonight.”

  “But I cooked.”

  “Yes, but you also were the first to violate the word rule.” With that the Captain went aft to his quarters. As tired as they were the cousins helped Quinn with the dishes. When the noise of the boys cleaning up died down the captain returned with his glass half full. He had the boys sit down and began his tale.

  The ocean around Nome freezes every winter. Look out in the bay here and imagine all that water is frozen for as far as you can see. The late fall and early winter storms would break-up the ice into large pans floating with the tides and wind. But during late winter and early spring, the ice near shore would freeze solid. Shore-fast ice it’s called. Farther out, maybe a mile or two the ice becomes less stable and looks much like the pictures of the Arctic Ocean in the books. For centuries, the local natives would venture out on the ice, both looking for seals to hunt and fish for crab through the ice. The did not have steel traps and used a hand line with a tomcod or whatever bait they had. Course, you had to chip your way through 3 feet of sea ice to get to water and hope you found a good spot. If not, move and try again.

  Unfortunately, by the next day the hole re-froze completely and the process was repeated. But that was the way. Now the sea ice isn’t like a skating rink, more like a miniature set of mountain ranges and plains. As the ice continued to slam into the shore-fast ice, it would upheave into long ridges, maybe 6 to 8 feet tall, locking it and becoming more shore-ice. Probably much like how our mountains were formed on land, I guess.

  Travel out on the ice with a snow machine can be dangerous but with some experience and common sense, it’s an adventure. I know of no deaths, but plenty of stories while tending to crab pots. Maybe what got me the most was as you were traversing an ice ridge, searching for that perfect crab spot, you fear running into a polar bear. Seldom seen that far south, but the thought always ran through my mind especially during those white-out conditions when bears were totally invisible. The trail out on the ice from the beach is marked with willow branches, but divided into many paths farther out as you search for a nice smooth area of ice the best chance you have to not find another thick layer of ice underneath and aborting your efforts.

  During unexpected ground storms or white-out conditions, those willow branches brought me back to land. Wind was always a concern. A strong north wind and a high tide and the shore ice could break free and begin drifting away, leaving nothing but water between you and shore. On a nice day, the trip was exciting every time. Usually there were local natives jigging for tomcod for food and crab bait near shore. Farther out were the crabbing grounds. Families would gather out on the ice, much like a picnic. Large pot boiling over a Coleman stove resting on a slab of sea ice. Thermos bottles and food. Numerous holes chipped and everyone attended a line, including children. When a crab was caught, it went immediately into the pot and was then allowed to freeze.

  As crabbing slowed due to commercial fishing, crab pots became the method of choice. These are very small pots compared to commercial pots. All homemade from stuff at the dump. Size was a matter of how big you need to cut a hole in 2-3 feet of ice. As I said, small is good, maybe 3 feet across at most. Cutting the hole depended on what tools were available.

  Natives used a homemade ice chisel, they called a “Tok”. Slow but dependable and simple. Others used chainsaws with a long blade, I used an auger and drilled a bunch of holes around the perimeter of the planned hole. It was always a team effort for each hole. We used an old hand ice saw to connect the auger holes. Imagine a 4-foot diameter chunk of ice now floating in what is supposed to be your crab pot hole. Lifting it is out of the question. Cutting it into small pieces involved more work and getting wetter. Instead one of the team would jump onto the floating berg and began jumping up and down, getting the berg totally free and the others with poles would push down hard as the volunteer jumped off. Pushing the berg down far enough the current would do the rest and the berg was gone. The worst was over. Marking the hole was usually with a used Christmas tree, tinsel and all - thus marking my hole. The crab pot was baited with a salmon head, or whatever else I had, and lowered down the hole to rest on the bottom. The line tied to the Christmas tree. I learned early that you had to cover the hole or it would totally freeze up solid. Usually a scrap of plywood covered the hole with snow piled on top for insulation. Days between checking the pot depended upon weather and the urge for crab, and knowing the crab hole was shrinking. The team would gather in front of town and we would head out; following the willow branches and finding our tree. Blowing snow erased any sign of the crab hole or plywood. The hole was easily found with a little shoveling and poking with the chisel. Little maintenance chiseling each time around the edges to keep the hole wide enough for the pot to be retrieved - next time. Pulling the pot, the anticipation grew. Whoever was doing the work would usually report, “Its heavy.” Whether or not is was didn’t matter, the anticipation grew even more. If you were lucky, there’d be a few keeper king crabs which we immediately threw into a cooler to keep them alive for the evening crab feed. Or you moved to a new secret spot and started over. The trip to shore was usually simple enough wh
en the weather was good.

  There were times coming up to a crack in the ice, maybe 6” wide that wasn’t there when we headed out. A quick dash and shore was within reach. The noise the ice makes as it piled up from wind or the temperature could be heard for what seemed like miles.

  Other critters made their way into the pot. Starfish, sea urchins, and a few small fish. Jellyfish hanging on the outside of the pot were tossed onto the ice, only to become Frisbees almost instantly. Pot re-baited and the process continued for several months. I ate more crab than you can imagine over those years. The sweetest crab anywhere. Visiting family and friends were treated to all the fresh king crab they could eat. Crab is great bartering food. Friends to the north without crab would trade for moose and caribou. On more than one occasion I reached the beach on my snow machine to check the pot, finding only water for as far as you can see. Ice, pots, and the lucky Christmas tree gone. All floating somewhere out there in the Bering Sea. Off to the dump to find more materials to build a new pot and the process repeated after the ice grew back. Eventually, spring would take any remaining ice out to sea and only memories till next winter - ice fishing for crab. Yep, those were the best tasting crab I ever had.

  The Captain headed aft to his berth and said, “Need to get going in the morning.” The boys brushed their teeth and emptied their bladders over the side of the boat. Mikey and Johnathan took the forward berths. Seems the long day and the gentle rocking of the boat were enough to put them to sleep almost instantly when their heads hit the pillow.

  Captain’s Log

  Day One

  The new training crew showed up today almost on time. They seem to be a reasonable bunch and are all cousins. Two are from Germany and two are from Oregon and all are city kids. They at least seem capable of learning something and actually did a pretty good job the first day out. The dinner they managed was actually tasty and they followed orders. I don't think I could survive another group of whiners like the last group. This teaching stuff is fun but only when the students want to learn. I'll see how they do tomorrow rounding the Cape. Sailed from Seward to Humpy Cove.

 
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