Tenakee Run

Went to Tenakee with Larry and his friend, Pastor Gordon Blue, and a couple people heading to Tenakee, along with a load of freight. Lumpy run down Chatham, and really lumpy across the mouth of Freshwater Bay as the tide was stacking up against the wind. Once we turned into Tenakee Inlet, it was flat calm all the way to town. We saw the usual group of sea lions lounging on their haulout.
We offloaded quickly with our extra help. Gordon was a career crab fisherman before a pastor, so was a great help. We picked up a short term deckhand from the crane dock, and took him with us to help Nick and Molly load their table saw at their beach to send it to their friend in Juneau.

He was a fun 30 something to talk to. He’s met his wife in Idaho, she visited his family in Tenakee, and said “let’s move here!”. So they did. The kid said he was doing odd jobs around town, which I think can be a full time job in this town of retirees and continuous construction, remodel, appliance repair, commercial fishing, and firewood cutting.  When I asked what his dad did, it sounded like the same thing. And his dad was a Toyo stove fixer, which is always in demand. I thought how refreshing it was to meet someone (and apparently his father) just living sort of in the moment, and not on some career path or corporate ladder or professional job with a mortgage. Remote, community life as in much of Alaska’s rural communities without a road system. A lot different perspective that those of us in larger towns with soccer practice and Costco and running around all the time. Every passenger we take to or from Tenakee seems to have their own unique story.

I did all the driving and maneuvering this trip. Earlier, Larry would do the close up work around the docks, and I’d take over for the open water driving. I’m finally getting the hang of twin jets with Larry’s coaching. The main thing to remember is whether you are going forward or reverse, turn the wheel in the direction you want the bow to go. When maneuvering, you generally put the boat in gear, at an idle, and then use the forward and reverse levers on the jets to move to the moorage.  Larry picked it up a lot faster than I did, and now he’s getting me there.

The way home was a lot better seas. We made it back in half the time as the trip down, as we had a lighter load and ran on step the whole way. Still not many boats out this time of year, and I saw one humpback whale heading north near the Kittens Islands at Funter Bay.

Tenakee Whale

Went with Larry on a trip to Tenakee today. As we rounded East Point into Tenakee Inlet, we noticed something different floating to the south. I thought it was some kind of big metal buoy with a lifting eye on it. Others thought it might be an overturned boat. As I idled over towards it, I looked through binoculars and………..it’s a dead whale with a raven on top.

This is the first dead whale I’ve seen up close.  It smelled a bit, but the smell was not overwhelming. As we were approaching the whale, a very live bull orca swam by at a distance. It did not seem interested in the carcass.  Tenakee being Tenakee, several of our passengers from Tenakee are on the whale entanglement response group or did other marine mammal work, so they all got busy taking photos of the whale, the gps position on the plotter screen, and speculating on why the whale may have died.

The whale was clearly a humpback whale, with long white pectoral fins, and it was floating belly up. About 10 to 15 feet of the pleated lower jaw was out of the water. At first I thought it was a juvenile whale. But as we came around to the rear of the whale, I could see the peduncle and the tail – 10 to 15 feet below the surface. So at about 30  feet, this seems to be an adolescent or young adult.

I wondered what this whale had seen in it’s life. From being born elsewhere- probably Hawaii – to it’s migrations to Alaska. Maybe it went back and forth to Hawaii most years, but maybe it stayed here some winters, as humpback whales do. I don’t know enough about humpbacks to tell it’s age, but they can live as long as we do, and maybe longer.

We off loaded people and goods at 2 beach locations in front of passenger’s homes. We arrived right at high tide, so lucky for the passengers to get their goods off loaded so close to their house for a short pack in. I’m still learning to drive the twin jets on the boat, and got backed in to one beach, but we were easily pushed off.

On the way home, we swung over to Corner Bay to pick up some yellow cedar heading to Juneau, and we were on our way.

On our way back to Juneau a couple hours later, a slight chop had replaced the flat calm seas we had on our way in. We could not find the whale again for the young mother and her toddler heading to Juneau with us to see. The whale may have drifted south, and we were heading north, and the chop made seeing it at a long distance more challenging.

We did sight what we thought was the same lone male orca whale we’d seen near the humpback whale, heading the same direction as we were.   Shortly after seeing the whale, I noticed the port engine was a little over normal temperature. I reduced speed to an idle, and turned off the port engine. Larry cleared out the intake screen, where I’d likely sucked up some debris when I got backed into the beach. I restarted the port engine and turned off the starbard engine and Larry cleared that one, too, just to be sure. That solved the port engine issue and we made our way home in about 2 hours. Another trip to Tenakee, and no two are the same.


Down in Petersburg again for Superbowl. When I’d last visited my friend at Thanksgiving, I noticed he’d slipped abit both mentally and physically. He’d had a car accident over a year ago, and I was hoping he was still recovering from that. I was hoping, perhaps naively, that it wasn’t just a function of approaching 90. Two and half months later, I was pleasantly surprised. He is getting around much better. He was now walking every day and his balance is much better. Likewise, his mental state was very good. His state of confusion is gone. He was back to his old self.

My friend lives on a rocky beach overlooking a long a channel leading to the mouth of the Stikine River. There’s a mountain range on the other side of the channel. He’s got a small flock of resident gulls, and some resident diving ducks. On the other side of a sliding glass door that leads to a small deck, he has a bird feeder. He told me that he is missing one of his pet gulls (Jonathan) and a particular kind of song bird with an altered tail whose species I forget. They had become like family and he misses them. He has a journal next to the window he’s kept for decades, and denotes things like when the first first geese arrived in the spring, and when the first sandhill cranes flew south in the fall.

Another friend was just back to Petersburg. His brother suddenly passed away recently, and he was returning from the funeral. He and another retired teacher joined us – our usual foursome for Superbowl.

The man who lost his brother related how hot it was where the funeral was, and all the traffic. We each in turn concluded how much we all like the winter season here. One liked to have the quiet time to work on his model airplanes. I enjoyed the skiing and the snow. The retired teacher told of going to his place up in the Yukon Territory with friends from Petersburg for a week of skiing during the day and drinking beer and telling lies at night.

This morning, another retired teacher video called from Mexico and told of taking a neighbor who was not in good health and a vaccination denier to the hospital. It took 12 hours to find a hospital who would take her as she had Covid. As he was talking, my friend and I looked across the bay on a flat calm day in February at the snow covered mountains, with the sea gulls out in front, each picking a rock to sit on to enjoy the sun. My friend related on how good it was to be here in his Senior years, where he had care when he needed it, and where he knows everyone. I thought – this was a view I’d want to have if I couldn’t get out for awhile.

At 89, he still has lots of stories to tell that I haven’t heard. He grew up in his early childhood in Montana. His father was a lawyer, and one way or another, ended up being a lawyer for then Brigadier General Eisenhower. Yes. THAT Eisenhower.  His parents wanted to travel overseas to work, but Eisenhower wasn’t having it, as he’d come to depend on the dad’s counsel.

When his dad had to go overseas with Eisenhower, my friend was sent to relatives in Nebraska during his middle school years, where his grandfather was a professor at Wayne State Teachers College. He had always enjoyed running places. Just running. He also stuttered, and that made him keep to himself to avoid teasing. When he got to Nebraska, he and his classmates were lined up to do some sort of a run- maybe for a fitness test or something. It was something like a run around a quarter mile track, and he said he came in first by 200 yards. This got the notice of the track coaches, and he went on to set records in Nebraska and later in California, where he finished high school  More importantly, it allowed him to gain much needed self esteem, and eventually he cured his stuttering. He went on run track at Cal, and he still closely follows track and field.

This morning, we talked for a couple hours before I had to be at the airport to head back to Juneau. His mother was Ms. Montana in 1934 (I think it was 1934). His grandfather in Montana was a plumber, and would take his young grandson to the saloon for a soda pop. He saw Crow nation Native Americans come to the saloon on horseback, and tie them up outside the saloon. It sounded just like the movies.

February Trip to Tenakee

After postponing due to seas on Tuesday, Larry and I tried again to make it to Tenakee.  We had loads going down and back.  We were delayed about an hour at Auke Bay as passengers were doing last minute shopping, and it was probably a good thing.  A squall came through spitting snow that looks like the insides of a bean bag.
We headed out out about 9 am, and seas were 1 to 2 feet with no white caps.  With our load we were making 14 knots.  I snoozed from Auke Bay to North Chatham, then woke up cold.  I moved up to the captain’s chair and took the helm from Larry to get near the heat.  Seas continued to be fair as we headed south across the mouth of Icy Strait.  We seemed to have caught a weather system change just right.
We arrived in Tenakee between 1 and 2 pm.  I took the opportunity with the light winds to practice steering the jets in tight spots, after watching Larry do it for all the trips till now.  I made it fine into the small boat offloading dock, and our passengers disembarked.  We moved over to the tight spot under the crane along the big dock, and after several tries, I handed it over to Larry, who nestled us in.
Lots of people were up on the dock, including an excellent crane operator, who made the offloading and reloading quick.  We were headed back to Juneau shortly after 3, with just Larry and I on board.
We had a lighter load and made over 22 knots on the way home.  We were back to Auke Bay by 530, and this time I was able to maneuver the boat into a fairly tight spot.  I’m starting to get a feel for it, and Larry’s a patient coach.
Seems like this was the first trip where nothing happened.  No alarms or water where we didn’t want it.  The lack of heat was as expected, and I’d worn my red union suit long underwear in defense.  Hopefully this will be the norm now!

Rendering the Fat (Homestead Cooking)

Rendering the Fat

I tried my hand at something new for homestead cooking. Making bear lard. Andrew saved me a bunch of fat he trimmed from the bear meat we sent him from Craig last spring. I planned to use the fat in making deer sausage, but we already had a lot of pork fat in the freezer, so I researched how to render it into lard for baking and sautéing.

I diced the fat into about 1 inch chunks, cutting away as much of the straggling meat as was practical. I knew I wanted to heat the fat only till it turned to liquid, and to be careful not to burn or fry the cracklins – which, I found out, is the fat and any meat that would not render – if I wanted the best product.

Several articles recommended a slow cooker, but I could not make Sara’s mom’s ancient slow cooker work right. So, I transferred all the fat to an enamel cast iron pot. I put the stove flame on low, and soon, the fat started to “melt” to oil. I looked up what was happening during the rendering process, and found heating the fat drives off the water from the fat, leaving behind the oil that makes lard.

After several hours, I had a pile of cracklins in the center of a growing pool of liquid. The cracklins were soft and looked chewy. I thought maybe they were supposed to be drier and crisp, but after looking at the online images, I saw they looked just like cracklins were supposed to.
I ladled all the liquid I could. It was a slight orange color, so I had not been perfect, as a clearer yellow color was what I was shooting for. I waited a few hours longer for more oil to render, and didn’t see much more fat turning to liquid, so I removed the remaining oil to let it cool. I had about filled the 6 quart pot with bear fat at the start, and it yielded about a quart of oil.

I strained the oil first through a metal mesh strainer, and then through cheesecloth. The liquid had a rather strong, gamy smell. I thought it might not be usable, but I’d gone this far with the hours of cooking, so had to try it.

I poured the cooled oil into a quart sized yogurt container, put the lid on, and put it in the fridge to solidify.

The next day, I was putting together dinner, and had some brussel sprouts to use. I took out the lard, and it looked like it was supposed to – the same consistency as “bacon grease”. It still had a strong odor. I put a spoonful in the pot, and watched it melt. As it melted, I noticed no smell.

I tossed in a handful of quartered sprouts in the oil, and sautéed until they were slightly browned and had softened. I tentatively tasted a quarter. And it was good. No discernible gamy taste.  I threw the rest of the sprouts into the pan and sauteed the rest for dinner.  I’d see if Sara noticed anything when she ate them. She did not.

So, my lard wasn’t perfect, but it was edible.

This morning, I thought I’d see how biscuits tasted using the lard. I don’t remember ever making biscuits before. I found a simple recipe that didn’t involve a lot of chilling this or that.  Just mix together flour, baking powder and salt with lard and milk. It made a dozen little biscuits in a cup cake tin in short time.

The biscuits weren’t light and flaky like they may have been if I’d made the kind you roll out and then use a cookie cutter, but like the sprouts, they were edible. And no gamy taste from the lard.

Tonight it’s going to be some gravy made with the deer sausage I made last week over the biscuits. My guess is Sara will like this, too.

January Boating with Barry

I had a session with Ketchikan scouts as a snow sports merit badge counselor all lined up for Saturday evening.   Then Barry called.  Can you crew with my son and I to take a load of drinking water to Angoon.   
We were to leave at 530 am and be back about 7 pm.  That would work for me to keep my appointment with the scouts.  There were 180 cases of bottled water to offload in Angoon, where their drinking water supply was on the fritz due to problems with their public water system.  Sure I said.
Normally, he might not ask for another crew on such a trip.  But it’s the middle of winter, the load would be near the maximum for his  boat, the cases of bottled water had to be offloaded by hand on the beach, and an extra deckhand would be an added safety measure when there might not be any other boats on the water for the ~ 100 mile trip to Angoon.   Plus, it would be an adventure in an otherwise somewhat idle time here in the archipelago
I knew, and Barry likely knew, full well, based on just about every prior trip, that things would not go as planned.  We would never be back by 7 pm.  But we crossed our fingers and hoped for the best.
We left right on time from downtown Juneau.  That was the first flaw in the plan.  If the boat was first sailed to Auke Bay and loaded their instead, we could save 4 or 5 hours.  But, here we were.
The trip was relatively uneventful at the beginning.  Yes, the boat was loaded to about it’s maximum capacity.  But, the seas were fair and the temperature was above freezing.  We noticed about 5 hours into the trip that we were shipping water through the front drop bow seam, and the water was collecting forward.  The water was not casually exiting the scuppers aft of the bow as it should have, and the bow would not raise further with the trim tabs to get the leaky seam out of the water.
When we started bucking some choppy seas from a southeast wind, things seemed to get a little worse.  We tried turning with the wind to get the water holding on deck to escape out the scuppers.  We tried some turns, as well, to shed more water from the deck.  When the deck was dry and the water shipping through the bow got to be in equilibrium with the water exiting the scuppers, we continued on to Angoon.
We arrive near dusk, having not seen a single boat on the water all day.  I handed over the helm to Barry, and he easily navigated the entrance to Mitchell Bay.  I’d fished the area in the Dutch Master years ago, and never had the courage to transit through this entrance, with its mighty current.
Once inside, a crew of lads from Angoon met us on the beach near a dock, and we began unloading the 180 cases of water.   Barry’s son Matt and I helped the Angoon crew while Barry stayed at the helm, and soon we had the pair of pick up trucks loaded.   We offloaded the rest of the water on the beach.  Barry had to stop us from offloading a couple times so he could back the boat off the beach and reposition so as not to get beached on the outgoing tide.
When all the drinking water was offloaded, we tied up to the nearby dock to inspect the bilges before returning home.  By now it was getting on to 4 pm, but I still thought maybe I could make it back by 8 to help the scouts.
When he popped the deck hatch that was directly under the load of water, the hold chamber was full of sea water.  The water shipping on board was going in this bulkhead below decks, and that was what was weighing the bow down further, and why the bow could not be raised with the trim tabs enroute.
Barry got to work checking wires and bilge pumps.  By now, I knew I wasn’t getting back to Juneau in time, so I texted the scout leaders and rescheduled tomorrow.  As they, too, are from an isolated community in this country, the reschedule was not unexpected.
I pulled up the Buffalo Bills home announcer broadcast on the XM radio app on my phone to joyfully listen to the Bills beating the snot out of the Patriots.   I sent and received texts to old college friends who are a successful business family in Buffalo and help one of the Bills players with his charity.  So surreal to be in the middle of nowhere with some invisible signal that allows me to pull in a game out of the ether and correspond with friends 5000 miles away.
As Barry continued with purging the bilges of seawater and the Bills continued running the Patriots, the afternoon turned to evening and darkness.  We had planned returning to Juneau when Larry finished, as the weather was fair.  I then overheard Barry’s son talking to his mom.  His son said “yes mom, I know what your vote is going to be.  The same as it’s always been after dark”.  That gave me a good laugh.  Barry’s wife was voting we stay put in Angoon and come back in the morning. Which made perfect sense, of course.   Why return in the dark when we could return in the morning.
We found a room, the driveway to which was located not 50 yards from the top of the dock ramp.  The place was a fishing lodge in the summer, and the owner had the caretaker warm up our room.  By the time we got there 10 minutes later, it was already toasty warm.  Matt and Larry took the queen bed, and I slept on the floor in a sleeping bag.   Larry returned to the boat to finish wiring the bilge pumps, and Matt and I were soon settled in and asleep.
We awoke at 6 am.  Barry went down to start the boat while I made coffee.  We were underway about 630.  It was past “nautical twilight”, which is a term Barry had introduced me the day before.  It’s the time before sunrise, but when you can see the horizon.  You can see alot on the water several hours before sunrise, even when it’s cloudy.   
We made our way out to Chatham Strait and headed north and home.  It was flat calm.  Barry’s wife was right.  We got a good night’s sleep, light was only going to increase, and seas were flatter than they were the night before.  And we saw no boats on our trip til we were near Juneau several hours later.
Barry calculated we should be able to make the Auke Bay fuel dock with about 25 gallons to spare.  That was kind of cutting it close, but not too bad.  Our options were few as fuel docks in Angoon and other small towns are generally closed on Sundays.  Especially in the winter.   
We made it to Auke Bay in about 3 hours.  We’d polished off the dozen doughnuts I brought for the trip yesterday, and that was all the food I’d brought.   Luckily, Barry had brought a package of dried salami and wedge of cheese, and I put those on stale triscuts for breakfast to go with our coffee.  
As we neared Auke Bay, we saw a few folks out trolling for king salmon near town.  We took on fuel, and  then made the rest of the hour plus trip around Douglas Island and back to Harris Harbor.    I arrived home grateful for another Alaskan adventure, especially in the dead of winter, with Barry and Son.