March in Craig

Arrived in Craig mid-day on Monday March 4. I flew with Alaska Seaplanes for my first time on this route. We flew to Sitka for a short stop and on to Craig. The weather was so nice with blue skies and light winds that we flew right over the mountains to Sitka and same to Craig and arrived almost an hour early to Craig.

Howard picked me up and took me to my place. Things were sort of as expected. The truck battery was dead, and Howard loaned me his battery pack and the truck started right up. When I turned on the water, I discovered the valve had cracked from being frozen. Not sure how it didn’t free flow after cracking but somehow it was right under the ball of the valve. So, find a pipe wrench and a couple crescent wrenches and get to work. I shut off the water at the main, then off with the old valve and to the hardware store. Of course, they were out of my size of ball valves so I reluctantly bought a gate valve and put the plumbing back together and now I had water again.

Brian showed up not long after and said Mike was looking for someone to go out to set his new shrimp trawl with him. I had to talk to Matt the next morning to see when welders could install the window frames, and if it wasn’t right away, I’d go with Mike. Matt said their welders were off to Steamboat Bay to work out there, so I got ahold of Mike right away and luckily he had not left yet. I dressed quickly for the boat and met him in the harbor.

We tried three different spots around Craig. We got a few spot prawns, but not all that much according to Mike. Plus, he was looking for side stripes prawns, which I found out are vegetarians so you rarely catch them in baited pots. Mike wanted to try a spot a good run north of town on Wednesday, and we agreed to meet at 8 am. He told me to take the shrimp, with I gladly did.

I stopped at the library and looked up a recipe for prawns on the recipe as I didn’t really think I had enough to feed several of us, and settled on an easy one with rice, green onions, garlic, parsley, and Parmesan cheese. I stopped at the store to buy ingredients, then on to the house. I cleaned the prawns which is done by simply pinching off the tails where the meat is. I put the tails in a pot to steam, and put the heads in a pot with some water to make stock. I put rice in the rice cooker. When the tails were done, I peeled the shell and put a couple handfuls of tails into the frying pan with butter and olive oil, the onions and garlic. When the rice was done, I put some rice in a pot with some of the stock from the heads, and mixed in the shrimp, etc. and stirred it for about a minute. I shut off the heat, and folded in handfuls of shredded cheese and parsley. Ended up it was only Ellen and I for dinner, so we had plenty.

The next day was clear and about 30 degrees at 8 am as we motored north. We wove our way through islands and submerged rocks. About an hour into the trip, Mike slowed down and got a piece of dried fish from his bag. He then pointed to the a little island we were approaching. There stood two figures carved from spruce (I think) that were about 7 feet tall and separated by about 15 feet. Between them was a sort of log cabin style box about 5 feet high that was old and falling down. Mike said this was the grave of the last shaman in the area, and he threw the offering of the piece of dried fish in the current that rushed by the island below the grave as a sign of respect. The two watchmen were now bleached but Mike said they were painted brown when he was young. He said he thought the shaman had died at least 100 years ago. Wow. I was not expecting this. I’m sure someone in the government is aware of the site, and I was thankful they hadn’t tried to ruin it by putting up some interpretive sign with a man-made trail leading up to it. As we motored still further, Mike pointed out old abandoned village sites, one of which was where his great grandmother had lived. Mike is 70, and I could sense this place was special to him as being the area of his mother’s side of the family.

Another half hour and we were at the spot. I knew what to do from our short trip yesterday. Mike got the net ready to deploy and when he was ready, told me to put the boat in gear and as we motored along, Mike dumped over the otter boards and fed the bridle out the back. When he came to the towline hooked to the bridle, he pointed for a spot in the distance for me to set course to, he adjusted the speed to his liking, then took a wrap around his tow bar and fed out the line. It took about 5 minutes to feed out 900 feet of line, and near the end, he secured it to the tow bar and I handed the helm to him and we were on our way.

We towed the net at about 1.3 to 1.5 knots. We talked about the state of affairs in town, the state, and the country. In the distance, I saw a humpback whale blow. The first I’ve seen on this trip, and the first in quite awhile as the whale I’d seen in the past few winters that was parked about half way to the cabin back in Juneau was not there this year.

We towed the net for about half an hour. Mike then turned the boat a hard right so the tow line came around the starboard side of the boat, and he started the pot puller – a honda motor with a capstan on the side. He started pulling the line in, coiling the line in a tub below him, and had me turn the engine hard to the left so it would provide a little tension on the net as he pulled and not allow there slack in the net allowing the shrimp to escape

We didn’t get but a few bottom fish the first haul. The bottom fish brought up in the trawl were very interesting. There were a few types of flatfish with tiny mouths that you’d never catch on a hook if you were fishing for halibut or other bottom fish. There were also some eel looking fish that weren’t eels but some kind of blennie or eel pout, I think. We got some sculpins too – a few of which were a beautiful red and gray blotch pattern.

We turned around and repeated the tow. This time, we did well. Mike’s fished his whole life, but this was something new and he was giddy when we hit the jackpot. The next tow, as we were towing, we stopped when we snagged on something. Going so slow, it’s not dangerous. You just feel the boat sort of stop as you aren’t going fast enough that the snagged net could pull the stern under. You just stop. We retrieved the net without incident. It looked like it let go of whatever it snagged on and looked like maybe the doors tangled. Mike asked if I wanted to make another tow – I guess making sure I didn’t need to get back for something. I assured him we could make as many tows as he wanted, and we reset the net. The last set we hit the jackpot again, and called it a day. I’m sure we could catch shrimp there all day, but we had plenty, and processing shrimp takes alot of time.

We head back to town. We stop again at the grave just for a moment, and then move on. It was a cool ride up this morning and I was glad I’d put my wool pants on, especially since I forgot my rain pants. But now it was in the 40’s and we’d been active all day and we were both warm and enjoyed the sunny ride home. We passed a group of three whales, along with the hundred sea otters we’d passed on the way out. They are everywhere.

When we got back, we loaded the shrimp into Mike’s truck at the ramp. We both were pretty sure there was no volume limit on shrimp, but not sure enough that we wanted someone to see our catch. Of course, I got the regulation book the next day and was relieved to confirm we were right on the catch limit, of which there is none.

Mike asked if I wanted two or 3 buckets of the shrimp, and when I said I’d be happy to take 3, he was a little relieved. He had that and more to deal with himself. Processing shrimp is a tedious process. He likes to ice his for a day or two before processing as he said it makes the meat more tender. I’d never heard this, so cataloged that for next time. I didn’t think I had the schedule to ice the shrimp, so I immediately started processing when I got home. I called Howard to come get some, as he said he’d love to take any extra. He cleaned one of the buckets and took what he wanted of tails home with him. I processed the other two buckets. As I filled a pot with tails, I put it on the stove. I had two small pots that I heated on an electric hot plate, along with an electric frying pan. It works pretty good. As I get the pots filled and on the stove, by the time I have more ready to go on the stove, those on the stove are cooked. When the tails are ready, I drain off the hot water, and run cold water over the tails until they cool down. Otherwise, they will continue to cook and overcook.

I processed the tails all evening, and when I got the last batch of tails onto the stove to cook, I started to peel the tails. My back soon got sore, and I tried to change positions but I knew it was gonna be achy back night. I had about 5 gallons of tails to peel. When I finally finished those, I got the vac packer out to pack them. This packer had always given me trouble but I learned to fix the problems and was smart enough to write these down last time and put the instructions in the packer so for the first time, packing went off without much trouble. I like to pack crab meat in about 2 cup portions, so did the same with the prawn tails. All that work for what doesn’t look like all that much meat, but that’s shrimping. Better to eat it fresh from the pot as you peel when you can, but good to put it up like this when you don’t get shrimp all the time as is our case in Juneau.

I put 2 buckets of shrimp heads in the cooler to make stock in the morning. It, too, is somewhat tedious work since I only have the small pots. After I got done with one bucket, I called it good and gave one bucket of cooked heads and one bucket of raw heads to the birds on the beach. I strained out the stock into quart plastic containers and put them into the freezer with last nights tail meat, now nicely frozen.

After making stock, I decided to try to move my shed. Brian gave me a nice shed we used to process deer in, and it has been parked on the corner of our property for years. We sold that corner to Howard, though, and I wanted to move the shed so he could have room for his boat. The local Native Corporation had cut down a couple stands of alder near their trailer court just down the road. Some of the alder was between 3 and 8 inches, and cut to in about 10 foot lengths, which is what I was looking for. I called to ask if I could borrow or take 10 of them and they said sure. I had to go to town to buy a strainer for the shrimp stock and steel wool pads to clean the pots, so I got the logs on the return trip.

I bought a 3 ton aluminum floor jack at Costco a few years ago, and then bought a second as they are so handy and much lighter than the steel versions. I brought one down here and use it all the time. I jacked up one skid of the shed and put one end of a log under it. I moved to the other end of the skid and jacked it up and slid the other end of the log under it. I let the shed down on the log. I tied either end of a purse seine line to the end of each skid, and put the middle of the bridle over the 2 inch ball on my trailer hitch. I put the truck in low four wheel drive, and eased it forward. The shed skid up on the log, just like it was supposed to. I put another log under the front of the skid, and kept inching forward and putting logs under the skids. Soon, I could get logs that the shed had slid all the way over and move them to the front. In no time at all, the shed was skidded on the log rollers over the property line.

I cleaned out Mike’s buckets and returned them to his skiff in the harbor. Then I went to the library to check my email as I have no internet at the house. I then headed for the house for a little relaxation until I’d go hiking later in the afternoon. I rounded a corner about a half mile from the house, and I could see something in the middle of the road. As I got closer, I saw it was a dog someone must be walking that had wandered out in the road. Then I saw it. That dog’s twin, already across the road. WOLVES! Two wolves, right there in the road, big as life, heading from the beach, crossing the road and heading up the hill. Wow. They piled into the alders and by the time I got to where they crossed, I could only see a few feet into the thick stand of young alder. Wow.
I came down this trip to fix the windows leaking once and for all. I just could not get them to not leak around the top window frame. The last thing I did was to run some rubber tape along the top edge and then spray rubber sealant over it, and still 2 of the windows leaked. When I got here, the weather had been dry for about a month. No rain. Yet in the morning, as the temperatures rose from below to above freezing, the windows appeared to leak again. First I thought maybe it was frozen condensation on the outside of the building running down the side and in above the top window frame. Then I studied the 3 windows. Only 2 dripped. The one that didn’t looked fully sealed on the inside with insulation and vapor barrier, but the other two only had insulation and no vapor barrier.

A big blow and rain was forecast for the next day, so I got busy. I pulled the framing and insulation out above each leaky window, and there was condensation on the inside of the wall. Had the contractor put in spray foam like he said he would, this wouldn’t be an issue. So, I put the insulation back in and carefully put plastic all across the insulation to the wood framing, and taped any overlaps of plastic and used lots of staples to make it tight. By the next morning, it had rained hard for 12 hours. And no leaks. I could now now worry about getting the steel frames I had made welded in right away and save them till I needed them, and chalk their cost up to more life skills tuition.

On and off rain on Monday, but mostly nice. I knew I needed to tackle putting in the toyo stove, but thought I’d start off with an easy project – filling openings in the back wall of the container originally meant for windows, which I decided not to install. After I prepped the hole by cutting back the sheet rock so I had some stud to screw in the plywood, I went to the shed to get the sheet of plywood. I heard some puffs of breath at sea and saw a couple sea lions near the beach. As I walked further I heard what wounded like someone pitching a pitcher of water in to the ocean. When I looked I could see the dimples in the water. Then up come the sea lions again. They were chasing herring. As I put the sheet on the tailgate to measure out two rectangles, I hear a blow. Here comes a humpback into the cove after the same herring as the sea lions. The whale made a big circle of shallow dives as it fed.

It didn’t take long to install the wall patches, and it was on to the toyo stove installation. I got it at a garage sale from a couple in Juneau who said their father refurbished these stoves and it was “running when we took it out”. I was missing a part that held the exhaust pipes together. And the pipes sure didn’t look like they went together all that well. Luckily, there’s a toyo repair shop in Juneau. On my first trip, the old timer dug around in his box of parts and gave me the pipe clip and a couple hose clamps. “Now run, quick!” he said, meaning he wasn’t charging me for the parts. Before I got a couple blocks, I realized I needed a drip tray for the stove. He found the one I needed and said he’d send me a bill to Brian’s address. I thought that wasn’t likely, but agreed. When I tried putting the pipes together, they just wouldn’t fit right. I went to see a stove of Brian’s and thought I had a wrong pipe. When I went back to the shop, a worker for the old timer was now in. He told me I had the wrong pipe. I had a Monitor stove exhaust, and that wouldn’t work with a Toyo stove. He found the exhaust kit I needed, and about $200 later, I was on the road with the right parts. I’m a one man economic stimulus for this island.

I talked to Brian about putting the stove under the fuse box, since it would take out the same vertical space. He thought all the wiring would be under the box, but turns out they ran the wires out the top of the box. So it looked good. I eyeballed where the exhaust should be on the wall, and with the hole saw, cut just through the sheet rock. Luckily, no wires or a stud in the way. I then drilled a pilot hole in the outer wall slightly lower than the inside whole per the instructions so any moisture would run outside.

When I around to the outside to drill the full hole with the hole saw, I saw my exhaust was precisely between the conduit feeding the wire to the box and another conduit feeding wire from the box to the septic tank. Really, the only obstruction in the whole container and I found it. Oh well. There was plenty of flex in the conduit to move it apart so the exhaust wouldn’t burn it. I got the exhaust together. The fuel tank was next. David had given me a ~50 gallon tank that a customer didn’t like because it creaked when you walked on it, and I was going to install it vertically against the container. There were two pockets welded to the bottom of the tank that I could run straps of aluminum through and bolt the straps to the container.

I hooked up the toyo stove and got an error message. I called the toyo guy again, and he said it was probably the blower motor on the inside of the unit. He told me how to access it and see if it was seized up or just needed a little coaxing to work. It was mostly seized. Time for a new heater, I thought. Of course, he had none in stock. Only rebuilt Monitor stoves! I’d either have to pull the exhaust for the toyo I spent a good chunk of the day and put in the Monitor exhaust, or get a new toyo. I decided to try to find a toyo.

On Tuesday, I thought I’d try to move the shed to the other end of the container so the door on the shed would be facing the door on the container and so easy to move things back and forth. I was able to maneuver the shed down 60 feet of driveway. Once I got it that far, I’d have Brian bring the skid steer and turn the shed 90 degrees, then move it towards the road bank. Brian had to help Mike move some logs with the skid steer, and I told him to come help me after.

By the time I got the shed moved, the rain had come in and I was soaking wet. Brian was still at Mike’s and so I figured we’d do it the next day.

On Wednesday morning, it was windy and dry. Brian had a date with Fred to cut lumber at Fred’s mill, so I thought I’d try to move the shed myself with the truck. That was going to take some longer line, which I got from Brian. By trial and error, I got the shed turned 90 degrees. Then I drove up the driveway and backed the truck perpendicular to the road surface, hooked about 50 feet of line from the truck down to a bridle I rigged on the shed, and inched it forward over the logs I’d spaced out. Hopefully, I could pull the shed all the way to the bank without having to go back down to adjust the logs. I took my time and pulled on the bridle first towards the left and then to the right as needed. The shed ended up as perfect as I could have done it with the skid steer. I jacked up each corner of the shed with the floor jack and used bricks and rocks to level the shed. Then the wind really picked up, along with the rain. The last order of business was to make a door in the shed. Heretofore the door was just a 6’ by 7’ opening. I decided to make a 4 x 8 sheet of plywood door that would slide in a guide at the top and bottom. The rest of the hole I’d cover with some studs and plywood. Back to Brian’s, where I scavenged some scrap 2 x 6’s that had been part of some kind of float arrangement. Brian sounded happy to part with it. Then to the hardware store for a couple 30 dollar sheets of ½ inch plywood. I soon had the wall studs cut, the plywood cut to fill the opening, and another of the 2×6’s horizontally along the bottom of the opening as the bottom guide for the door. I needed to attach a ¾ inch board across the top of the door to create space for it to slide, and then hang a 2×6 to that to form the top guide. Luckily, I’d brought home a piece 10 foot piece of ¾ inch board I’d found along the road. Soon, I had the new door in. I made some steps with a crate I’d once grabbed from the burn pit, and just as I finished the step, the rain really came with more wind, and I retreated to the house, cranked up the heat, and made coffee and a pbj sandwhich. A full day.

I also had two job offers today. One to run crews of timber cruisers in a boat to their work locations, and another to do some fishery assessment work for a fish organization. I turned the assessment work down as I didn’t have time for it now nor could I bear the thought of again going to a box and looking into a box for hours a day. The charter work interested me so I’ll wait to get more info about it. Looking out on ocean, it’s 3 foot seas and raining sideways. Just as nice to look out and see this as it is the calm sunny days.

I also think I figured out why just the one window near the end of the container is still dripping from condensation. I think when they built the wall, they covered up the vent on the end of the unit with the wall corner studs. Now to add some more vents and hopefully that will cure it.

Already it’s Thursday. Installed the doors to the shower stall, after making do with a rod and shower curtain that didn’t work very well. Had the stall for a couple years and finally put it in but of course lost the box of screws and braces so looks like a Stopha job when it was done for sure. I later found the braces and replaced the makeshift braces and it looks alot better. Found a Toyo stove for sale in Ketchikan and the seller sent it over on the plane. When I got to the seaplane dock, a guy off loading a van said they were closed, and I said I was there to pick up my freight. He said it was in the front of the van he was unloading from the back, and it wouldn’t be available til tomorrow. I could have had Doug bring it back for free on the ferry and had it today! Oh well. Another day won’t matter. Just hope the heater works as advertised.

Friday morning and no dripping from the last window giving me trouble. I installed two little soffet vents on the outside wall above the window. Hard to believe it was that simple but looks like it was.

I went to get the heater unit, which the seller said “worked like brand new. Bought in 2017 and recently serviced”. What I saw was not that description. And, the temperature sensor had been cut off. Seller said it was there when he shipped it, so if it was, it wasn’t secured very well to the unit. I scavenged the sensor of the non-working unit. Then started taking apart the unit to clean it. The back fan was covered in dust and pet hair, which I spent considerable time wire brushing in the stiff wind to get off. Same crap on the fan. When I removed the front cover, there was candy, cheetos, and a chicken bone inside. A day later when I was swapping more parts, two fire crackers fell out. I’m not kidding. He said the kids had sort of tattered the unit. He underestimated his offspring. The front grill was so nasty I swapped out the front grill from my broken unit and the control board. More cleaning as best I could to the inside. When I finally hooked it up and started the fuel flowing, I was holding my breath, and luckily, it worked. I tried calling the seller and he didn’t answer. I sent an angry text asking for a partial refund as the unit wasn’t as advertised, and later recanted the request as it was my fault I hadn’t had someone lay eyes on it in person in Ketchikan before I bought it. Anyone I know would have told me to pass on it for what he paid. I chalked it up to more life lesson tuition. Now I know alot more about toyo stoves.

Saturday, the stove was giving off some fumes. Didn’t set off the CO2 monitor, but worrisome. I took the stove exhaust and adjusted things. Saw I was missing a gasket on one pipe. When I got it back together it was alot better but still some fumes now and then.

The next project was to put an outdoor electric outlet so I could run an extension cord to the shed and move the freezer up there. That took most of the day. When the blowing and rain stopped and the sun came out, I tried to put some more soffit vents in over the windows. I bent two drill bits with the hole saw putting in the first one. I tried a cutting blade on the grinder for the second one, but that didn’t work very well either. Just too hard to put a hole in this steel. Then I got the bright idea to look up and see if someone sells the rectangular vents in the containers. Turns out, they do. I ordered 10 and will put them in next time. I had dinner with Brian then watched him put together Ellen’s smoker. I gave a suggestion about a fan in the ceiling like my refrigerator smoker, and he liked that and installed one. He’s going to put in a light, too.

Sunday I put the freezer in the shed, and swapped more parts between the crappy looking toyo that works and the good looking one that doesn’t. Helped Brian put the roof on the smoker. Then cleaned the bathroom and floors and tidied up to leave tomorrow for home. Two weeks here went by like a long weekend. Next time down I’ll work on siding the shed and figuring out how to install and exhaust fan for the shed and or the kitchen.