Spring Boat Maintenance 2024

The Dutchmaster boat

Funny. When I had the Dutch Master, my first commercial fishing vessel – a 1970’s era plywood commercial fishing vessel with pleny of rot here and there- I didn’t worry about through hull fittings. I didn’t even know where they were located in the bowels of the boat. I was in my 30’s and just learning about boats.

At 60, I have a fiberglass boat in great condition, and I’m still learning. I got one of the kids in the scout troop to help me with the through hull fittings while the boat was hauled out for bottom painting and zinc replacement. I had him hop down in the engine room and try to work the handles on the seacock valves while I sprayed lubricant into the through hull hole on the outside into the valve. Two valves never gave and remain seized open, but the valve for the intake to the raw water pump, thankfully, works. Perhaps it does because this valve is the easiest to access, and it’s used more regularly when you need to clean the sea strainer or change the water pump impeller when the boat is in the water.

The engine has never overheated. Always shown right in the middle of the temperature gauge. I noticed that the raw water pump water flow overboard was more like a dribble than a flow, but I didn’t worry because the temperature seemed fine.

After watching some you tubes on regular maintenance, I realized I’d never checked the sea strainer for the raw water pump, so I did that while the boat was out of the water. And wow, am I glad I did. The strainer was full of vegetation. I was surprised the engine has not overheated. Even though the strainer basket is small, it took a good while under the kitchen spray hose at home to get all the gunk out.

When we put the boat back in the water today and I got back to the harbor, I looked at the raw water pump flow exiting the boat now, and it was a thick, steady stream. Now I know what it should look like, and another boat lesson learned.

I started to try to look at the impeller, too, but the access point is not in a particularly easily accessible location and I stopped before I might do something that would prevent me from starting the engine, which I’d need to do when they put me back in the water. Now that I know I can close the seacock, I can work on it anytime, so don’t have to be out of the water. Hopefully it’ll be good another year.

Another good thing I found out today was my high water alarm works just fine. I installed it in the drive shaft alley last year. I forgot to turn the bilge breaker back on after the boat went back in the water, and as soon as I threw the breaker switch back on, the alarm sounded. It took a good while for the bilge pump to pump the water overboard, but eventually the water subsided and the alarm quit blaring. Glad to know it works and good practice to recognize the alarm sound.

I’ve been loading the boat for days now in preparation for the run to Craig. A futon for the Craig cabin, a small kayak for people to paddle around when we’re at anchor, a heavy door for the storage shed in Craig, and a dozen boxes for sending fish home with my family and friends coming up to visit this summer.

Joe drove down from Smithers this morning to take the Taquan Air flight from Hyder to Ketchikan, but that flight was cancelled due to poor weather in Ketchikan, so he didn’t catch the jet to Juneau from Ketchikan as planned today. Hopefully, he’ll get here tomorrow and we can leave the next day. Nice to have a breather til then.

New tricks

Although I’ve been out shrimping once with Mike in Craig, I really wasn’t sure how to deploy and retrieve a trawl on my own.  I bought a trawl from my old trolling buddy Matt last year, but hadn’t fished it yet.  Nick had offered to go out with me to teach me when I took him and Jesse trapping this winter, and yesterday we went.  His friend Amanda (who I knew) went along to look for black bears while we were shrimping.
We were to meet Nick at the launch ramp at 730 am.  We all showed up early.  It was a bluebird day and calm seas.  All of us were itching to get out on the water.
We ran in Nick’s sweet 20′ (?) long landing craft  down the channel to the shrimping spot about 40 minutes away.  If I understood him right, he got the boat because the owner only listed it by it’s brand name, and people didn’t realize it was a landing craft, and Nick was able to get it – motors and all- for only $20,000 about 8 years ago- from the seller in Pelican who just had it to transport supplies to build his cabin.  I love stories like that.  It’s a great platform for doing about everything on the water except staying dry, since it has no cabin.
The shrimp trawl consists of a net, otter boards, lead lines, and tow line.  The otter trawl net has two boards on each side of the net that keep the net mouth open. The net opening is about 12 feet wide.  The top of the net has floats and the bottom has a light link chain to tickle the bottom and make the shrimp jump up off the bottom and then into the net.  To each board is tied a 100 foot lead line, with a caribiner on the other end.  The net end of the towline has a swivel with a 10 lb cannon ball on one side of the swivel, and a caribiner tied to the end of tow line that is snapped onto the other side of the swivel.
The caribiners from the door lead lines are clipped to the top of the swivel alongside the tow line caribiner, and not the bottom where the cannon ball is.  Nick said if you clip them to the cannon ball side, the net leads will twist.  Good to know.
Our tow speed was 1.3 knots.  We were fishing over a flat mud bottom, which is what a shrimper is looking for.
I helped Nick deploy the net while Amanda drove the boat.  We stood along the side of the boat in the rear, with each of us holding a door and the net between us.  Amanda put the boat in gear and we each let our our boards over the side, then slowly let out our lead lines until the net was behind the boat about 20 feet.  Then we rotated back around the stern. Nick had us pull our lead lines up near the outboard so he could visually see the net was open and working properly.  Another important step, he said many times.  Then I handed him my lead lead and he, alone, let the net descend slowly, under tension, behind the boat.
While he was letting the lead lines out, I found the caribiners on each end of the lead lines, and snapped them to the top of the swivel at the end of the tow line.  When the net was out to the end of the lead lines, I handed the tow
line up to Nick and fed the tow line out of the barrel to him, trying to unravel any kinks before they got to him.  There was about 1200 feet of tow line, and we used most of it each tow.
We fished the net in water ranging from about 250 feet of water up to about 150 feet of water.  My friend Matt, who fished the same location with the net I bought from him, said he fished in 40 to 60 feet, which was surprisingly shallow to me for some reason.   At 250 feet, we used about 1000 feet of the tow line; a little less tow line if dragging shallower.  We’d gauge that the tow line length was sufficient by watching to see that the tow line twitched now and then, indicating the boards were bouncing on the bottom.
We towed for between 30 minutes and an hour.  So lots of time to drink coffee and yak and take in the spectacular snow covered mountains around us and look for a black bear for Amanda on the beaches.
Hauling the net was simple.  The boat was shifted to neutral, the tow line walked from the tow bar in the rear to the bow of the boat, then the person hauling the tow line stacked it back into the garbage can while the driver tried to just keep up with the line hauler so the hauler wasn’t having to pull the boat to the net.  When most of the line was in the boat and the net directly under the boat, Nick started his Honda pot puller, and he hauled up the rest of the line with it – except for the one time I did the hauling, and hauled the line by hand all the way to the boat, which wasn’t too difficult.
Once the net was alongside the boat, we’d swish it up and down in the water several times to rinse off as much mud as possible.  Then, depending on the haul, one or two of us would grab the net and bring it over the side and into the cooler, untie the cod end, then dump the catch into the cooler.
Of course, we caught more than shrimp in the net.  The other sealife caught included eel pouts (the most numerous bycatch item), sculpin, moonfish, lumpsucker, starry flounder, other unidentified juvenile flatfish, crab, hooligan, pollock, rock shrimp, and small sea stars the size of Christmas cookies.  Basically, a marine biologist’s or 9 year old’s dream.
After returning the bycatch to the ocean, we got in a rhythm where Amanda would take over repeatedly rinsing the shrimp (side stripe, coon stripe, and pink shrimp), and Nick and I would get the net ready to fish again.
We made three or four tows for the day, and got plenty of shrimp.  Especially seeing as Nick didn’t want any because he still had shrimp from last year to eat.  We didn’t see any bears, so Amanda’s rifle stayed cased.  She and I headed shrimp while Nick drove the 40 minutes back to the dock in 60 degree weather and calm seas.
We barely made a dent processing all the shrimp by the time we pulled in to the ramp.  Once up the ramp, Amanda handed the cooler of shrimp down to me, and we each took a bucket of shrimp, then said our goodbyes after a wonderful day.  Nick told me he wanted to give me some surplus smoked black cod he’d just finished, and I said I’d be right over.  I ran home first to grab some gallon ziplocs.  I then went directly to the Salvation Army store to give Mike a gallon bag of shrimp before the store closed.  At Nick’s, I grabbed the smoked black cod and thanked him again, then ran just up the block to Kurt’s to give him the other gallon bag of shrimp and tell him all about the day over a beer.
Once I got home, Sara helped me head the shrimp, which was very welcome.  We saved the heads for Amanda, who was going to make stock with it.  I normally might do the same, but like Nick’s shrimp, my freezer has a ton of both venison and shrimp stock already so glad she will use them.  We put the tails into the fridge overnight, as Nick was told by a shrimp peeler machine manufacturer that leaving the tails overnight will allow something to happen that will make them easier to peel the next day.
I was sore when I got home.  Knees were stiff.  Hip a little sore.  And another day of feeling so lucky I live here and never wanting to leave.


Wash down pump project.

I’ve been working on installing a wash down pump for about a month, now.  I’ve been thinking about it for a couple years.  I tried using a dc pump that I just lowered over the side, and it was sort of okay but not really convenient, as it took a long run of wires to power it.  
After online research of message boards and equipment and getting advice from Kurt, I finally ordered what the materials (pump and hose) I’d need to install a washdown pump, using the intake line to my boat toilet (aka, head) for the water intake.   I’d seen this as a viable option on boat message boards, as it means you don’t have to put a new hole in your boat for a through hull fitting.  
The first thing I did was to get Dorothy to help me.  I needed a skinny body to drop down into my engine room and feed the 1/2 inch hose from the rear of the boat though the engine room and up to the bathroom, where the 3/4 inch line leading to the head was available for splicing in to.  We completed this task and some other little things in an hour, and that got her lunch at McDonalds and twenty bucks from Uncle Mark.
The 3/4 inch line coming up from the through hull fitting ran under the bathroom sink counter, and that’s where I figured I could splice into it with a 3/4 inch to 1/2 inch tee to divert water to the pump via a 1/2 inch line.  Under the counter was also a convenient, accessible, and out of the way location to mount the pump.  On my hands and knees, I could look through the cabinet doors under the sink and see the intake line in there about 3 feet away under the sink counter along the starbard hull.  I could also see the line from above when I took out the counter drawer, which was right over it.  But I had my doubts about actually getting to the hose in the narrow area under the sink counter or the narrow drawer opening.  How would I get enough leverage to cut the hose and then install the tee hose barbs in such a tight space.  I could barely squeeze my shoulders in there to reach it from the side, and could only reach one arm through the drawer opening to reach it from above.  I even asked Bob about neatly cutting an access panel through the top of the bathroom cabinet that I could reinstall and not have it look like I butchered it. 
As I sat there wondering just how I was going to do all this, I saw it: the hose line coming up to the manual head pump was right there in front of me in plain sight!  All I had to do was loosed the hose clamp and hope it would pull down from the pump intake nipple, which it did surprisingly easily!  From there, I just pushed the hose down a bit, and put the tee in the end!  I walked up to Harri’s for a little piece of 3/4″ hose to connect from the other side of the tee back to the intake nipple.  I was in business.
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I drilled a hole through the cabinet.  Then I fed a piece of the 1/2 inch hose from the tee through the cabinet wall and clamped it to the fitting on the intake side of the pump.  Then, I clamped the hose coming in from the engine room to the outflow side of the pump.  Finally, I bolted the pump in place to the inside of the cabinet wall.  That part was done.
Now for the other end of the hose on the back deck. There are two teak steps attached to the back wall that are for climbing up onto the roof of the salon area.  Under one of the steps I’d installed the outlet for the freezer on the back deck last year.  I decided to install the spigot under the other step.  First, I had to run the hose through the salon cabinetry, then under the bench seating around the salon table, which didn’t require any drilling as there was ample space in holes where other lines were already installed.  I drilled a hole under the step from the outside wall, then fed the hose from the salon out the hole and clamped it to a fitting that would connect it to the hose bib I mounted under the step.  I used a continuous piece of hose from the outlet of the pump all the way to the outside of the back wall so that the only place the system could leak inside the boat was at the fittings on the pump under the bathroom sink – short of the hose line itself springing a leak somewhere, which is unlikely.   After I hooked up the hose to the spigot, I went back inside and neatly secured the hose with hanger straps down the inside wall of the salon and under the benches so it was out of the way.
Lastly came the wiring of the pump.  I considered several different circuits on the boat to run the pump through, as I didn’t want a direct connection to the battery, but rather wanted it to run through the fuse panel.  Then, again, I saw it – there’s a light on the ceiling of the bathroom!  I’d never noticed it before.  I threw the switch on for the lights in the forward berths, and flicked the switch on and off on the bathroom light.  Nothing happened.  I then removed the light’s globe glass, and dropped the fixture down.  I tested the wires with the battery meter.  Bingo.  12.3 volts.  When I removed the bulb and could see it was cloudy and likely no good.
My final problem was where to put in a switch for the pump.  Most DC switches nowadays are made for the very thin walls of aluminum or console board.  Not for thicker cabinet walls.  I had no switches with long enough necks to go through the wall, and in fact had had this same issue when I installed a wiper switch.  I knew these long neck switches were not available in town.  I had an appointment approaching in mid-afternoon, so I quit for the day about half way through the wiring.  
On the way home I had my final epiphany: just install another switch on the housing for the light!  The light housing is a thin piece of metal, and this made things very simple.  I put in the extra switch, then put in a new bulb and got the light working. After I installed the second switch, I tested it with the volt meter till I had the wiring to the right leads on the switch, then remounted the light fixture back in place.  I’d drilled a hole in the side of the light fixture mount to feed in the sheathed wiring. The wiring sheath is white, and matched the white color of the bathroom walls nicely.  I used white plastic wiring staples to neatly secure the wire from the light fixture along the ceiling, then down the wall through another hole drilled through the counter, and down to the pump.
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I connected the wiring to the pump, walked outside to open the spigot valve, and threw the switch at the light fixture.  I could hear the pump working and thought I heard something outside, but I could not see any water coming up the clear hose from the tee to the pump in front of me.  I thought the outside noise was just air moving through the system.  I tried jiggling the toilet valve to be sure it was closed and that I wasn’t sucking air, and felt around the pump fittings, but could not feel any air or water leaks.  Finally I went out to the spigot, and it was gushing water.  I couldn’t see the water moving through the hose, but it was moving alright!.  I finished my last task of the project by securing the wiring under the counter so it would be out of the way, and that was it!  Now for clean up and putting things away, which I’ll spread out over today and tomorrow.  
A satisfying last major project I wanted done on the boat for now to make it how I want it.  The wash down pump will replace the back breaking chore of throwing over a 6 gallon buck over the side to get water to clean fish or clean the deck, and make cleaning fish a lot easier and thorough.
wooded scene in Alaska

Time to Cut Firewood (The Thrill is Gone)

wooded scene in Alaska

I plan to spend most of the summer down in Craig, so it’s time to get my firewood in for the season so I have it done before I go. I cut down a big ass tree two years ago about 50 yards from our woodshed, and decided that would be my mission this season for firewood.

I got out the big boy saw, Stihl 041, that I bought from Ron when he left town. Bob sharpened the several chains I have for it. I filled the gas and oil, and as usual, after about 3 pulls, the saw fired up.

The tree spanned our little creek, and the part that was over the ground was held off the ground by its branches. I wasn’t sure how I was going to buck the whole thing, as the butt section spanned the creek and was about 7 feet above the creek bed. I started at the middle section of the tree, which was supported by a little berm on the butt end, and by numerous branches holding it up off the ground to the tree top. I used a 16 inch piece of ruler to mark the cut spots with chalk. I limbed and bucked rounds over the next 2 days, limiting my cutting day to one tank of gas. I’m not in a hurry and think doing a little a day will limit saw vibration injury to my arms.

The last two days, I was cutting the butt end that spanned the creek. I didn’t have a plan as how to safely do it, so I just cut from each end until all that was left was the section that spanned the creek. I knew I wanted to somehow get the section down onto the creek bed so it was on the ground. I was able to roll it a half turn with the peevee, but not all the way off the bank and into the creek. Then I saw it had rolled onto a root wad sticking up from the creek not far from one bank. That allowed me to cut some rounds from that bank to the root wad without pinching the saw. I was able to cut the root where the remaining log was held up, then roll it off the root and down into the creek bed. Perfect. I bucked up the section in the creek. Now I had the tree all bucked up into rounds, in addition to some other small logs I cut that I’d pulled down the hill last year.

On day 5, I got started splitting. I began with the wood in the creek bed. The butt ends were maybe 2.5 to 3 feet diameter, and split easily with the maul since they had few knots. I had to lob the pieces up from the creek to the garage side of the creek. I will have to split the pieces again that won’t fit in the stove, and then haul them down to the woodshed. The lobbing motion from the stream bed seemed similar to snow shoveling, and that was the special tonic for my hip, so all the work was feeling like physical therapy as much as work.

On day 8, I’d split all of the bigger rounds, and chucked the pieces across the creek. I stopped splitting for now and would see if what I’d cut would fill the woodshed. I’d leave the rest of the rounds for next year if it did.

The next 3 days I hauled the wood in a Rubbermaid cart Bob and I found on the beach years ago when we went hooter hunting across from the cabin. It hauls a lot of wood and is easy to move with the big wheels. Today I finished the last load, probably about the 20th or so wheelbarrow load, with a few pieces of wood thrown across the creek still there, and many rounds still on the other side of the creek. So a head start on next year. I have to say this was more work than enjoyment this year, but the satisfaction was still there when the job was done. I’m calling this 64 wood, as it’ll be 4 years till I burn this wood, and I’ll be 64 then, if I make it.

mark on a snowmobile with the Alaskan sunrise behind him

Another Trip of a Lifetime

mark on a snowmobile with the Alaskan sunrise behind him

Arrived in Bethel for my annual moose hunt. Doug had texted me on Saturday. He said weather looks good to go soon, so come out Monday or Tuesday. I got mileage tickets for Monday, and started packing.

After going out several times, I knew what I needed – parka and snow pants. Long underwear and some cotton and polypro turtlenecks. Caribou pack boots. Fleece face mask and fur trapper hat. Underwear and socks. Rifle and shells. Ready to go.

I arrived mid-day. Doug said it was like I never left. Val got down the air mattress, removed her sewing machine and quilt table, and set my bed up in her sewing room. We put the crab I bought when I was in Craig into the freezer, along with some halibut from last summer. Then we sat down and drank coffee and got caught up.

Two of their good friends, who themselves were best friends – a thirty something Malaysian woman doctor and a thirty something woman from Tuntatuliak – came over for crab dinner that night. I steamed the crab. It was the only cooking I was allowed to do all week.

Pat called and said Wednesday was the day. So we got things ready to go on Tuesday. I helped Doug figure out how to add some coolant to his brand new machine. We had to take the reservoir off to get to it. Doug made musk ox roast for dinner. A real Bethel treat.

We met the others at 6 am the next morning. Pat’s buddy from Palmer and his 9 year old son were on one snow go. Pat, Louise, Val, Doug and I were each on our own. So 6 machines in all. We headed north to the Yukon in the dark. The trail was very rough. Adequate snow cover, but many berms had blown across the trail from the wind. You could see them only from the shadow they made in your headlight. It was hard to tell their size in the dark. I am already a slow snow machine rider, and this slowed me down even more.

Dawn was about 730, and it was ahead and off to right of our center heading north. Blazing red orange skyline. Stunning.

When the sun got up over the horizon, it made travel  a little better, as the berms were easier to see coming. I was 5th in line, with Val in front of me and Doug bringing up the rear for security.  The other three were many times out of my sight. Val was in and out of sight.

When we were almost to the Yukon River, I’d lost sight of Val. We dropped down to a slough about 200 yards long that led to the river. About half way down the slough, the trail split around a small line of trees – one trail to the left and one to the right. I judged the track on the right trail was fresher, so I took it. It led me through a small line of trees, then down the bank and I was on the frozen Yukon.

When I dropped down, I saw a snowmobile racing away with a sled behind, apparently from the left track trail. I was a bit confused, as Val and I had no sleds. I sped to catch up, then the rider turned and came back. It was Louise. She said she thought she saw Val waving on the bank. Doug caught up to us, and we headed back.

Val was, indeed, waving from the bank. Where the trail split and I took the right track, the first 4 riders had gone left. Where the slough choked down to a narrow trail that led to the river, there was overflow. This is were water bleeds above the hard river ice, and in this case, it semi froze again, with a layer of ice over the water, and snow on top of the ice. The first 3 riders had sped across and made it fine, but had broke through the overflow ice. When Val followed, even though she had seen the overflow and had “floored it”, one of her skis got below the overflow ice layer and stopped her. Then her machine sunk a couple feet in the overflow water til it settled on the hard ice below that. The water came up to her foot rails. She was able to walk across the overflow ice to the bank and not get wet. When she walked out to the main river, she went through a few spots in the snow along the bank to water that over her boots and got just a little wet. But she was okay.

Doug, Louise and I walked over to see the sled in the water, then returned to our machines and went around the way Doug and I had gone and got on the bank above Val’s sled. Doug and Louise got out their rope alongs (come alongs that use rope instead of wire). Doug chopped around Val’s sled to get her sunk ski free, then got one end of the rope tied to Val’s sled and the other end tied to my sled on top of the bank.  I cranked and cranked on the lever and eventually we got the sled up out of the hole of water. Then I tied the rope to the back of my sled and sped off a short distance and pulled Val’s sled up the bank. Her sled started right up, and after an hour or so from when she went in, we were back in business. It was now a sunny, beautiful lower Yukon River day in the high 20’s.

The willow islands were not far away, and we soon found Pat butchering a moose. His friend’s son had shot his first moose, and they had seen over a dozen others. Louise and Val went one direction, and Doug and I in the other, looking for moose. This was my fourth trip to this hunting spot. I’d got at least one moose every time, and I figured it was again, just a matter of time before we’d see moose. Yet we didn’t see any.  Pat sent us off to where I’d caught a moose last year. When we were about to get to that trail, we saw the girls heading that way already, so we doubled back along the Yukon side of the island, and then started back up and onto the same island again. We’d passed a narly spot without incident the first time through, but when I tried to cut through the spot this time, I got caught up in it and tipped over onto the snow onto my back, with the snow go sunk and tipped at a 45 degree angle. I put my feet onto the sled to push it back upright, thinking this was a simple spill. When I pushed against the sled, I sunk through the snow and into a couple feet of water. Although we were on top of island, we had an “overflow” situation, with a layer of water covered over with a thin layer of ice with snow on top. I tried to get myself upright, and the harder I tried, the more I wallowed. I was on my back, and couldn’t get my feet under me and wasn’t able to grab my sled or a willow to pull myself up off my back. I was turtled. My gun on it’s sling on my back in the slush wasn’t helping, either. Doug tried to help me in my flailing, but he had no where to go and not get wet, either. I was wet up to my elbows and knees and some of my back when I finally got one hand on the snow machine handle, another on a willow, and pulled myself up so I could stand. But I was standing in water up to my knees, which flooded my pack boots. The felt liners wicked up the water like a sponge. Now I was worried about frostbite. I tried to get to dry ground, but every step was another post hole into the water. I was feeling all of 60 years old now. But adrenaline is a magic tonic. Although wet, I knew I had to get out of the water. I kept post holing until I finally got up on Doug’s sled, as Doug had climbed over to my sled when he was trying to help me get out of the water. Doug weighs alot less than I do, and he wasn’t breaking through, so he didn’t get wet.

He threw me over my back pack from the box on the back of my sled. I knew I had dry socks in the pack, but how was I going to keep my feet from freezing in the wet felt liners of the pack boots on the 4 hour ride home. Then I saw it: the hand and toe warmers Val had made me throw in my pack when we were packing for the trip!  I’d forgotten all about them. We found some plastic bags between us. I put on the dry socks, put the plastic bags over my socks, then put several activated warmer packs in each bag around my foot.

I slipped my feet back into the wet boots, and hoped for the best. Shit, I didn’t want to freeze my feet. We got my sled out by rope alonging it out with Doug’s sled as an anchor, then got back together with the others. Everyone was ready to go home, it seemed. No one had seen any more moose. I wasn’t sure if it was for me or not, but I didn’t have a choice- I needed to get going.

We headed back in the wonderful sunshine. I kept wiggling my toes every minute. At first they seemed to be getting colder. But an hour into the trip, I realized the warmers were kicking in. I was gonna make it, I thought.

We traveled back in the same formation as we’d come over. The front runners would wait for us bringing up the rear every hour or so, but as soon as we caught up, it seemed like everyone was eager to get home and we didn’t dally long. I was worried the warmers would wear off, and so kept monitoring the feeling and comfort of my feet.

It was a bigger relief than normal to see the windmill of Bethel and know we were close to home. When we got to the house, Val directed me to get right into the shower. Best shower ever.

Warm now, and refreshed, we went over to Pat and Louise’s for dinner. They had a feast of moose burgers, moose hot dogs, and best of all, my first taste of fresh moose heart from the day’s harvest. The moose heart was like the finest beef. Oh, it was good. I will not forget to take the heart if I get another moose.  With bellies full, it was the end of what they said is now called a “Type 2 Fun” day. No, I didn’t get a moose for the first time, but had an eventful day and learned to be better prepared for the next time we go.

Pat mentioned at dinner that the only realistic day to go according to the weather forecast was the next day. I knew in my mind that if Doug said we were going, I would go and gut it out. But I also knew I wasn’t going to encourage the notion. Crap, that trail was rough and I was not looking forward to another 8 hours on it, moose or no moose. When we got back to Doug and Val’s, as soon as Doug remarked that he wasn’t really sure he would be ready to turn around and go at 6 am the next morning, I couldn’t second the opinion fast enough, and both of us sort of let out a collective sigh of relief.  Doug knew even though I might not get another day to go over hunting, that that was okay with me, and I was relieved Doug didn’t think he had to perhaps do something he didn’t feel up for to meet my expectations. Problem solved!  I now knew that moose weren’t necessarily a sure thing every trip, but the lasting memory was the important harvest on this trip.

We all slept hard that night, and I was a little creaky getting up late the next morning. Thursday was the first of the games for the week of the NCAA basketball tournament. I watched games on my phone til the afternoon, when Doug proposed we go ptarmigan hunting, and away we went. We hunted within sight of town. It was a sunny day with light wind. There were lots of birds. I asked Doug how close I should get before stopping to shoot the .22, and he said I’d get a feel for it. At the beginning, I was shooting at over 50 yards I’d guess. I’d see the shots hitting short in the snow and then try to hold over high to adjust. I got a bird or two, but boy, did I miss alot. As the day went on, I found I was able to get closer before I shot, just like he said. When we had about 10 birds altogether, we headed home. As we cleaned the birds, I showed Doug a technique I’d learned long ago to clean grouse, and he was eager to learn. I’m not sure who taught it to me, but I suspect it was someone in college in Fairbanks. The bird is placed on its back, with it’s head away from you. You place one foot on each wing, your foot on the wing right where it meets the body. Then you pull very, very slowly upward with a leg in each of your hands until the breast separates from the rest for the carcass. It’s one of those things where once you get it, you get it. Doug made smoked Yukon sockeye salmon patties for dinner, and again, simple and excellent.

Day 5 was similar. I slept in, watched some basketball, then Doug said let’s go pull his trapline before he can’t get to it again if the snow melts. We headed out onto the Kuskokwim River and soon saw 2 cow/calf pairs of moose. Right out in the middle of the river, in front of town. I think there will be a winter hunt here next year, as the moose population is starting to boom on the Kusko like it already has on the Yukon. We headed upriver on good ice, but I was wary after the water on the Yukon so stayed well behind Doug in case he found overflow.

We crossed the Kusko and went a few miles upriver, then veered off to a feeder creek. As we weaved our way up, I saw what might be a beaver pond, and Doug pointed out some lynx tracks. Another hundred yards and Doug had stopped. He had a gleam in his eye, which for a Bue is like jumping up and down and screaming for the rest of us. He pointed under a tree. As I got up to him, and shut off my machine I saw it: a lynx. A very much alive lynx. Doug told me to go grab it by the scruff of the neck and we’d take care of it.  Like hell I would. This was the first lynx I’d seen up close. The only others I’d seen were along the Highway out of Haines at night along the road. The huge eyes for seeing at night. The thick coat of fur to keep warm. The big black hair tuft antennae on each ear. The huge padded snowshoe feet. A predator precisely adapted to this environment. Wow. Doug pulled the rest of his traps and his snares and we returned home.

Doug cooked the ptarmigan for dinner. He first boiled the ptarmigan until the meat fell off the bones of the breasts and legs. He stripped the meat off the bones, then added chicken stock and a little corn starch. This he served over mashed potatoes. Again, simple and delicious. This is the best tasting grouse or ptarmigan meal I’ve had.

Day 6 was more wind and snow with temps in the 30’s. We went ptarmigan hunting in the afternoon. The wind seemed to make the birds spooky, and when they flushed, they flew with the wind and went a pretty good distance before they landed again. We each got a bird, which Doug said was how many Marie wanted, and returned home in the sleet and wind. Dinner was muskox burgers and spaghetti noodles. Simple and delicious. We saw more snowshoe hares in the yard, and I though about how the hares, ptarmigan and lynx all had similar snowshoe feet to move in the snow.

We went over to the Fairbanks’ after dinner. I don’t know the exact lineage, but it’s the same Fairbanks family that Fairbanks, Alaska is named after.  Their daughter is a good friend of my niece from nursing school, and Doug and Val are like aunt and uncle to her kids. Really a treat to listen to stories of rural Alaskans and their families and life experiences.

I headed home the next day in a near blizzard. Another trip of a lifetime to Bethel. Somehow, not getting a moose this time made it even more of a story and memorable trip.


boat scene

March Nephew Fishing Trip

boat scene

My nephews came to Craig for their spring breaks. John is a senior at University of Tampa and will start training as a navy aviator right after he graduates. Kellen is a sophomore at University of Utah, and plays club lacrosse there.

I arrived two days before John was to arrive. Kellen would come 2 days after John. Brian dropped me at our place. I opened the container, then jumped in the truck and ran over to Hollis. One of my niece’s classmates is a crab fisherman, and I saw on his facebook page that he was selling dungeness crab at the Hollis dock for $10 each. Where can you buy a live crab for $10?  Yet he makes more money doing that than selling to a processor. Of course, I love that he and his wife (?) sell directly off their boat to his neighbors on Prince of Wales Island and Ketchikan as we did our salmon here in Juneau. I bought 20 crab to take with me to Bethel a few days from now when we go moose hunting. The skipper threw in several extra, as I’d bought shrimp from him before and he knows my inlaws there. This is called “bunya” in Sierra Leone Krio – a little extra to good customers.

I stopped to see my friends Lew and Patty on the way home. They live in Hollis, and Lew got me my job on the north slope. I gave them the rest of the donuts I bought at Black Bear on the way over, to keep me from eating all of them, and Patty looked happy for donuts. We chatted for about an hour. I asked Lew about one of my supervisors on the slope, and he asked if I wanted to read his book. It was not published, but written for a class or therapy, I think. About his time in Vietnam. I read the book that night and finished it the next morning. He went over when he was 18 as a Marine, and saw serious action. He came back after his first tour was up to the US, felt like he didn’t belong, and went back for a second tour. He came out at age 21 or 22, I think. Like most, the war never left him, as you don’t go through that kind of experience without it changing you. John is 22, and I thought about how different their lives were at that age.

When John arrived, we headed out to the big ocean as soon as the weather permitted. The weather was typical windy and rainy March weather, so most of the time it was too rough to fish out there. John caught a nice king salmon, and lost a couple others. We ate on that fish for the rest of the boys stay, as that’s what they said they wanted for dinner each night.

Kellen arrived, and we fished close to town most days. We caught a shaker about half way out to the big ocean, which was as far as we could get that day, and we still payed for in with a lumpy ride home. Ellen had us over for dinner one night for king salmon and turkey turnovers, and he and Brian had fun talking to the boys about their lives and telling them hunting stories.

Each morning, I’d make egg, bacon and cheese sandwiches for lunch in the morning, and the boys would bring their energy drinks and fruit and licorice they’d bought at the store, and me a thermos of coffee. We’d leave at first light at 6 am. We fished areas nearer town because of weather, but with no luck. We took John to the ferry 3 days later, and the weather was so bad we couldn’t even fish at Klawock, where it’s almost always fishable. So, I called the Bay Company, and Chet said he could get my boat in for the 20 hour service on the new engine right today. We dropped the boat there, then saw that the same fishermen I bought crab from in Hollis ended up having extra crab and brought them back to Craig to sell in the grocery parking lot. Kellen called my sister to ask his mom if they wanted crab: they did. So we got 5 of them, and of course he threw in an extra to make 6. We took these back to the house, where I showed Kellen how to clean and steam the crab. I vac packed the halves and put them in the freezer for Kellen to take to his parents.

A 10 foot container I’d bought for a bunkhouse arrived the day before, and I’d asked my friend Markos if I could borrow his forklift to get the container off the truck at our house. He said yes, and tomorrow you can use my trailer to get it to your house, the forklift to take it off the trailer, and my crew will do it all!  Wow. It’s good to have friends. I’ve helped out on Markos’ kelp (and now oyster) farm several times, and enjoyed talking to his lead Thomas, who was heading the oyster operation, on how it was all going out there. They had the container at our lot in an hour.  I returned to town with the boys and got gift certificates at the restaurant and the coffee shop as a thank you to the crew.

What a day. Boat maintenance done. Container offloaded. Crab bought, cooked, packaged and frozen.

It was just me and Kellen for the last two days. We finally got weather that we could get back out to the big ocean, and Kellen got to see one of those iconic Uncle Mark days.

We left from Craig at first light. It’s been a cold March, and the temperature was about freezing. Kellen turned on the magic boat heater… and it didn’t work!  I had him look up the issue on You Tube on his phone, and turns out it was a low voltage issue. I’d have to fix that later. With the clear skies, we hoped once the sun got above the mountains, we’d be warm enough, and we were right. Once the sun was up, we were happy campers in the boat cabin, and would have turned the heater off anyway. We lucked out.

When we got to the bay we fished in, I threw over a flasher with small spoon attached.  Followed by lots of bad words. Uncle Mark forgot to attach the flasher to the fishing line from the rod. Goodbye twenty dollars.

We fished our way out of the bay, where it was a little lumpy, to the channel, where there was about a 10 foot swell. I was fishing into the swell, and when it came time to turn, I waited till we were at the bottom of the trough, then turned quickly back the direction we just came so as not to take the swell on the beam. When I saw the port downrigger line jump I thought: oh no. Then the engine quit and I thought: oh no… I’d wrapped the wire in the prop. Out in this big swell. Bad words were spoken. I had Kellen pull in the rest of the gear while I tried unwinding the wire from the prop by hand with a pike pole. No dice. It was wrapped tight. More bad words were spoken. Kellen was getting an earful of Uncle Mark yelling at himself.

I put the kicker down and prayed it would start. After a little coaxing, it did. We were able to make our way back into the bay and out of the big swell. I took us behind an island and hoped it was quiet enough there that the two of us could get the boat to the beach, jump out, turn it stern to the beach, and allow me to get the wire off. I found a spot, and I jumped off. Then Kellen jumped off. While he held the bow and stern lines to the boat, I worked on getting the prop off. The hardest part is always getting the cotter pin out, but I managed to get it out, and the prop nut off. The wire slid right off the prop, and I piled it the wire in the back of the boat. I quickly put the prop back on, followed by prop nut. The cotter pin was extra hard to get back on with the boat jumping up and down, despite Kellen hanging on. Eventually I got the pin through the prop shaft and prop nut enough to bend back one side of it to secure the prop nut, and we were back in business. I actually bought a prop guard to prevent this wire wrap issue, which John brought with him, but just never took the time to put it on!

We motored back out in the bay, I respooled the wire onto the downrigger, and put the gear back down. I was so relieved to be back fishing I lost focus, went over a pinnacle that came up to 20 feet, and broke off a cannon ball.  Good bye fifty bucks. More bad words.

I had a spare eight pound cannon ball, but the eye had rusted off. We searched the boat looking to make something to make it work. I ended up putting the ball in a fish glove, then tying the fish glove to the downrigger wire. Worked like a dream.

We stayed in the bay now, having wised up from the wire in the prop. Kev was also fishing in his skiff, and was staying out in the channel, so I figured he was catching out there in the slop. I never could raise him on the radio to find out. Even in the bay, it was a little lumpy, but not uncomfortable.

About an hour later, we got a fish on. On the glove wire!  Kellen got it near the boat pretty quickly, and I thought it was a shaker. Then it took off, and Kellen struggled to keep the fish out of the prop. I had him hand me the rod. I swung the line up and over the top of the roof of the boat cabin to the other side of the boat, then handed the rod back to Kellen. Now the boat was blowing us to the fish. Kellen thought he lost it as I said to reel, reel, reel!  When I saw the rod bend over again, I knew he hadn’t lost it. Then Kellen realized it as well. He was back to his business while I worked to get the downrigger wires and the other line in. Kellen was calm getting the fish to the boat, despite his Uncle’s unbridled excitement and flurry of advice. When I netted the fish I thought: that’s no shaker. A nice king. I stunned the fish and had Kellen fill a bucket with sea water. As I slid the fish head first into the bucket, I broke a gill to bleed it.

On the next pass, the starbard line got back over something in the outboard. It didn’t wrap in the prop, but maybe got into the dolfin above the prop, or maybe the trim tab. I was able to get to the line behind the boat, and pull in the flasher and lure by hand, then cut the line. The line now came back through whatever it was caught on and back to the rod.  I was worried a bit that I’d nicked the line, so I cut a bunch off before retying the terminal gear back on.

An hour later, we got another fish on that line. Kellen played it to the boat, and it turned out to be just undersized. I removed the hook, laid the rod down with the terminal gear over the side, and put the fish back into the water in the net. I let the fish revive until it swam from the net. When Kellen went to reset the line, the terminal gear was gone!  Somehow it hadn’t parted when the fish was on, but must have been nicked and parted when the flasher was dragging at the surface. More bad words……Goodbye 20 bucks.

We fished another couple hours and only caught a little bomber rockfish. We headed home about 2 pm.

The wind was behind us on the way home, so a nice ride. When we got off of St John’s island, some humpback whales spouted, and we stopped to watch them for awhile.  Then back to dock and on to the house.

Kellen said king salmon for dinner again. The boys were easy to cook for.

The next day, we were up early to get Kellen to the ferry in Hollis for his ride over to Ketchikan. On his way to Craig, his flight was delayed from Seattle, and he had to overnight in Ketchikan when he missed his flight from there to Klawock. Now his flight from Ketchikan to Seattle was delayed, and by the time he got to Seattle, he’d missed his flight to Salt Lake City. The airline put him up in a hotel and he made it back the next day. We’d packed the frozen crab inside his clothes in his suitcase, and it made it home all good, the clothes having insulated the crab well.

I was leaving the next day. There was left over crab, potatoes, red onion, butter, and baby romaine for dinner. I put in the rest of the butter, sauteed the onions, then put in the already cooked potatoes and crab, and lastly the romaine. When it was all hot, I dished it onto a plate, poured over the last of the homemade salad dressing, and sat down to eat. I’ve had some of the best meals out of that electric frying pan, and a million dollar view from our container cabin that makes it taste all the better. A great week with the nephews.