Thursday, August 20, 2009

Made it Home

We arrived home from Alaska late Thursday afternoon. There is a certain ambivalence. I desire to be in Alaska, but have responsibilities in SoCal. I better get with the program down here. Mick and Sherri made an opening for us to have a fantastic two weeks up there. Blessings on them!

In SoCal we have some monsoonal moisture with cloud cover. I caught myself looking out the window and wondering whether we were having drizzle or rain. I laughed at myself. The body changed geographic locations but the mind remained in Alaska.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Alaska, Day 12

We are in a few days of rain and cool blustery weather. You can see the gray of rain in the background. My local friends had a conference about whether to chance conditions out there and decided to abandon their original plan in favor of the sheltered side of a close island. We had a decent day of fishing. Along with catching some salmon we saw a pod of Orcas and a few Dahl porpoises. With the rest of what happened (see below) the day was anything but boring.

Late morning we heard a "Mayday" over the radio. Such a call grabs the attention. At first I wondered if the call was a prank. But the person's voice sounded sincere. They said they were going down. Distances out there are great and everyone in proximity is ready to respond. The Coast Guard came on the radio and gathered information and location. There were seven souls aboard. Rich pulled a chart and tried to figure out distance from us. Our time to get to the vessel in rough seas would be about 30 minutes. Rich said at these water temps if anyone was in the water longer than about five minutes they were not going to survive. Several boats closer to the distressed vessel immediately responded their vicinity and headed for the sinking boat, so we stayed put. A commercial fishing boat was the first to reach the scene. We heard their second rescue communication about ten minutes after the mayday. They had picked up five people. A second boat extracted one. Coast Guard kept requesting updates and said the initial report was seven aboard. Survivors confirmed one was missing. The sinking boat had capsized in the waves. More vessels arrived and rescuers managed to turn the skiff over. There they found the seventh person, an elderly man from Orange County, California. He had been in the water a critical amount of time. A State fish and game boat arrived about the same time and began CPR and used their fast boat to ferry the man to a waiting medical response team at the closest harbor. The victim did not survive. This was only the second or third mayday call my two friends have heard in their 20+ years of fishing these waters. I love the ruggedness of Alaska, but conditions can be unforgiving to those who make mistakes. We learned the seven were in a skiff trying to cross a channel abeam of rough seas and think they traversed close behind a small island to avoid the wind generated waves. Consequently they hit a reef. Having seven aboard a skiff seems somewhat overload to me, (we all winced when we heard it was a skiff on the marine radio) especially for those weather conditions. Someone was probably in a hurry to get home and the cost was steep.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


On Wednesday (tomorrow) we head for Gustavus for a few days. It's a trip by small plane of about 55 miles. If the weather is nice it's a great trip. If the weather is yucky it's a bit less restful.

We haven't done much in the past few days. We sorta lay around and relax and watch the tide go in and out. There is a Costco here in Juneau. With a few exceptions the prices are comparable to home, a nice thing considering goods are barged 800 miles. Home Depot recently constructed a store also. Plus a "Freddies" and now a "Wallys." And I spotted a JoAnnes fabric store too, much to Mom's delight.

On a different subject I have a varied background. Once I took an ability test and came out all over the chart. I did not have abilities concentrated in one area. For instance, the first house where we stayed has a small boat that wouldn't run right. The fellow by his own admission has no mechanical ability. So I pulled the cover off the outboard motor and did a preliminary exam. We ended up pulling the carburetor apart and draining the gas tank. Both the gas tank and carb had a bunch of water in them, and jets plugged as well. About an hour later I did some fine tuning and it was probably running better than it has in years.

The other ability involved their chickens. Theresa thought one was trying to crow now that they are reaching adult stage, but was told all of the chicks were hens when she bought them. So I volunteered that I can sex chickens before they show their gender through age. She asked how. I said, "Don't ask." We walked to the hen house and started catching chickens. My diagnoisis: Every one we caught was a female. I never knew that talent would come in handy some day.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Day three, Saturday

Saturday morning we moved into the house we are suppose to occupy until we leave. A nice home, almost on the water with a fantastic view of the channel and mountains across the way. The big cruise ships are docked about a mile away and if we hold our head right and look up-channel we can see them. Really a very nice location. Mom likes to sit with her coffee in the morning and look out over the channel.

Rain came in yesterday, a light drizzle most of the day. I checked the forecast and it is suppose to be on and off like this until we leave. The fact this is a temperate rain forest makes this place so beautiful. Daytime temps should be in the mid 60s.

They had an unusually dry warm summer here. The little streams coming off the mountains do not have enough water for the salmon to run. The bigger streams are adequate. The Coho salmon have not started to run yet, probably because there isn't enough water in those streams for them to locate the place of their birth (I'm told they find the stream by sensing the mineral content). The fish dock closed to fishing the way we were allowed in years past. Now you have to use a different lure. That greatly diminishes my fun and I suspect the fishing fun of a lot of other people because there are only 1/10 the number of anglers as in past years. I've only been fishing once, the day I fell. We did notice a lot of recreational fishing boats fueling up at the gas station Friday and Saturday. The locals are having to go out a way to get salmon by boat.

Mom helped Sherrie can berry jam. Strange names to us; Nagoon berry or Salmon berry. We had some on toast this morning, and it is great. I wandered a few yard sales while they did that. No treasures found. We are having a great time.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Greetings from the Great White North

Wednesday: We arrived on schedule late afternoon to 82 degree weather in Juneau, a welcome change from triple digits down home. The temp up here broke a record for that day.

Day 1
We got a few groceries, shampoo, necessities, etc. Drove up to Mendenhall glacier to see how far it has receded since we were here three years ago. I can tell the difference, but it's a good distance away so we can't measure it in feet with the eye. Mid afternoon I helped the guy who took us fishing in Gustavus three years ago. We put a new water pump on his boat. Then Mom and I went downtown where the cruise ships come in and walked around a bit. Too crowded with cruise tourists so we didn't stay long and headed back to our residence. They have five pullets, something I have never seen in Alaska in four or five trips. We had to feed them morning and night. I wondered how the chickens survive bear wanderings in the neighborhood? So far so good.

Day 2: I got out early to catch low tide off a spit of land about 15 miles north of town. It's a rocky walk, and at low tide moss and other sea creatures are revealed. I've fished there before and enjoy the remote of the area. I could hear whales blowing up channel. You can hear them across the water for great distances. By the time the sound reaches you the whale has usually sounded so you don't get a visual. As the morning progressed the sound got closer. When they dive you never know where they will come up. There I am fishing off the shore. The water in these glacial-cut fjords gets very deep quickly, sometimes almost a vertical drop. Suddenly a 35 foot, 35 ton adult whale came up on its side, left flipper in the air, so close I could have hit it with my fishing lure. No kidding! It happened so fast it startled me. Coming up on its side makes a huge disturbance in the water. She was there for only a few seconds and slipped below the surface. I figured there was only one whale. Then another blow a few hundred yards behind her. It was her calf, probably 18 feet long, following slowly behind mama. I stood in awe. I have never been that close to a major sized whale, even when we watched them breaching in Icy Strait years ago. If I had a camera close it all happened so fast I couldn't have gotten a pix of the encounter. It made my whole day and perhaps the whole trip.

I caught a pink salmon earlier, decided to filet it and head back before the tide came in. I pulled out the filet knife and slipped on the sea moss and went down on my left forearm and right palm. I thought on the way out to the point, this is rough. If I fall and break a hip I am in trouble. I guess that's why I sacrificed the arm and hand. The barnacles cut me pretty good. I finished with the salmon, stuck the filets in my pack, and walked the 3/8 mile back to the car. Once home I cleaned up the cuts which bled pretty good, and decided they were not deep enough to need stitches. Paulette found some disinfectant which we applied. Saturday morning the area is looking healthy except for one spot on the fleshy part of the thumb that shows a little infection. Nothing to worry about.

We spent the afternoon looking for a real estate agent, visiting a Catholic retreat area near the spit so I could show mom where I saw the whales, and wandering an arboretum just opened to the public. When we parked at the retreat center a motorcycle couple was getting off a Harley. Paulette struck up a conversation asking if they were touring. Then asked where they were from... Ans: So Cal. Where in SoCal? San Bernardino - Redlands area. Whereupon I said we were from Mentone. He asked, Mentone Beach? They then said they were from Yucaipa. Small world. But it gets smaller. I asked their name. When they gave the name and said what they did for a living Paulette and I both knew them immediately. Turns out I sold them a few pianos 30 years ago. There we are 2000 miles from home. Amazing.
I brought up the whale sighting to myself the rest of the day. Paulette brought up the people sighting and couldn't wait to tell her sister, who knew the couple very well.

When we got back to our domicile the folks who were on vacation had come home early. They insisted we stay. We could use the boys room with its bunkbeds. I feigned terrible arthritis trying to get the bottom bunk. No luck. And I fell and hurt my arm. No luck. The mattresses were harder than we are use to so a difficult night on our arthritic hips, but we survived and are grateful for the hospitality and a roof over our heads for a few days.
We now have moved to the location where we will be the rest of the trip, and have some internet. We are not taking many pix so far. I guess it's old hat being here.
Mom says Hi to all.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

AK Anyone?

Tomorrow morning we leave for Alaska. Many thanks to Mick and Sherri for finding us a place to house sit. The weather forecast states 74˚ when we get off the airplane. Quite a switch from 100˚+ here. We are traveling light. Only one checked bag. I dream of taking along a grandchild or two some day. I'm taking the laptop so hopefully can post a few pictures.