Coming to Alaska

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“So we came to Alaska, on a lost and wild afternoon, caught in a tide race off a nameless point, far from any help. The heavy westerly swell, the dirty sou’west chop, and the push of the tide made it all I could do just to keep way on the boat, throttling over the big ones and then diving deep into the troughs. The seas came from all directions and even at dead slow, smacked heavily against the window, making the glass sag inward. Twice a green one one came in over the stern, filling the trolling cockpit and we wallowed deep in the water while it drained slowly out. Our traveling partner, Kestrel, was just a hundred yards away, and I could see half her keel when she came off a big one. The shore wasn’t far and I looked long and hard at it. If the engine ever quit, we’d be broadside in a minute and probably swamp. If it came to it, I’d rather pour on the coal and put the bow in the trees; even a rocky beach is better to walk home on from than this crooked piece of water. Kestrel came on the radio: “I broke a spoke off my wheel on that last one…” I could feel the tension in his voice, heard his engine change pitch as his bow tilted up into another big sea.

“For three long hours we jogged in that lonely spot, barely making a yard. Twice it seemed to get worse and for a time there was nothing I DV tide ripcould do but try and avoid the worse of the seas, hope that everything held together and that a big one didn’t come through the windows. The light began to go from the sky without any change and it began to be a desperate time. After dark, unable to make out the big seas anything could happen. I looked over to Kestrel again; at times he was burying his bow all the way back to his cabin before shaking the green water off, but I was mighty glad to be out there with a friend.

“At very last light, the push of the tide eased off, the seas seemed to lay down a bit, and we began to creep up the shore again. We rounded the point in the black with the seas breaking heavily on the reefs on both sides of the channel, and dropped the anchor in the farthest and most protected corner of Foggy Bay, Alaska. Our dog went up to the bow to sniff out the new spot as dogs do, and my wife got up to have a quiet drink with me before we started cleaning up the mess in the cabin. The stove had blown out so it was late before we ate and turned in. My wife and dog were together in the bunk most of the time out there. I stuck my head down to check on them when I had a chance and there were some pretty big eyes staring up at me. We had listened to the weather, left early, taken all the precautions that we could, but sometimes you just plain get caught and there’s not too much you do about it but try and get through.”

From my book, Alaska Blues: A Fishermen’s Journal, published in 1975.