Sunday, July 13, 2014
Clark has several one-liners that he repeats ad nauseam. “Well, success is measured in many different ways…” is one of his favorites. He typically puffs up his chest and releases this phrase in one long exhale after an unsuccessful hunting or fishing excursion.
I’ve heard this gem more than enough for this lifetime (no offense to his hunting or fishing prowess) but would like to steal it just this once to describe our last boating excursion. Success is indeed measured in many different ways, and in this case success = survival. Forget the National Geographic whale sightings or epic fishing luck… neither are necessary. Survival, baby… from this case out that is all I care about.
That, and to not crap my pants with fear in the process.
We barely made the 10:30 tunnel to Whittier. We left home in plenty of time, but needed to stop in Indian for fuel and found ourselves in line behind a few oversized boats that needed hundreds of gallons of gas. After a 20 minute wait we filled our tank and sped south. We were among the last through the tunnel, but we made it! Lucky? Time would tell.
We met friends at the launch: Brandon, Keri and Emily were heading out in their boat, and Clark’s coworker John was there with his family as well. John had spent the day before helping Clark rig up our shrimp pots, and we planned to drop pots together in Culross Passage. It would be our first attempt at shrimping.
The launch went pretty well. No wind in Whittier makes a huge difference. The only stress was a blaring alarm after the boat started, but after feeding the engine some outdrive oil it was happy and we were on our way. Another warning? If so, we ignored it.
The marine forecast predicted 2 foot seas and 10 knot winds, so even though it was very overcast we expected a good day. This trip was about fishing and shrimping rather than sightseeing.
It all started well, but when we motored to the East side of Cochrane Bay the water suddenly became very choppy. One minute everything was fine, and the next we were pounding across large waves. This kept up for over 30 minutes – the cabinets in the berth popped open and slammed closed. The buckets on the deck rolled about. Worst of all, our skiff – the little raft tied to the top of our boat – came crashing onto the back deck. Clark had to stop motoring, climb onto the bow, and tie the skiff back on top of the boat while we drifted in 4 foot seas. (And yes, he was smart enough to put on a life vest for this chore.)
I was terrified of the rolling waves, and watching John’s boat being tossed about next to ours didn’t help. It seemed he could capsize at any moment, even though both guys have since reassured me that our boats could have easily handled more. Brandon and Keri had already turned around by this point. John and Clark decided we would keep going, but when our skiff came crashing onto the back deck a second time we turned around.
Clark begged me to “be a rock” for the kids, but they weren’t scared in the least. In fact, they rode in the berth on their knees, flailing their arms above their heads and pretending to be bull riders. This ride was like an Alaskan roller coaster to them, and they were having a ball. If anyone needed a rock, it was me! A rock of solid ground! At one point Sam asked, “Mommy, why are you crying?” I tried to convince him I’d just been sprayed by one of the waves that was crashing over our fishing deck.
When we motored back to calmer waters we connected with Brandon and Keri on the radio, who said they were now fishing in Pigot where it was raining but calm. We headed that way, where we trolled for salmon and John dropped his shrimp pots. Our pots remained unused on our deck, as I wasn’t particularly interested in learning how to drop them and waiting hours to see what we could catch. Clark trolled a bit more in Shotgun Cove and the kids played solitaire, but before long we called it a day and headed back to the harbor much sooner than expected.
John spent years in the Coast Guard and estimates that the seas were 4-5 feet with strong gusts of wind. After debriefing, it sounds like all three of the guys would have powered through the rough water had it been a “dude fishing trip.” But since all of our boats had wives and kids aboard they played it safe. Clark said it best: we are recreational boaters, and no one was having any fun. (That, and I might have mentioned putting the boat on Craigslist…)
We ended up motoring into the harbor right behind Brandon and Keri. We had buoys and lines ready on both sides of the bow – a huge help – and when we saw the opening at the dock it was no problem to quickly hook up the stern line and bumper. Keri was on the dock so I tossed our lines to her and she easily helped land us – at least something went without incident!
Clark went to get the trailer, and Maggie took Tess on a much needed potty walk. Meanwhile, Sam helped me walk the boat up the dock as boats ahead of us pulled out of the water. He was so proud, and I was grateful for his genuine help. But we did hit one last glitch here… our boat was safely secured to the dock and I stepped away to help Keri walk theirs up to the retrieval point. For some reason Sam thought I told him to follow with our boat, so he untied it and tried his best. When I looked back and saw our 63 lb. child trying to hold onto our 7000 lb. beast of a boat I nearly had a heart attack! Luckily the dock was full of helpful souls with the same panicked reaction. We all rushed and grabbed the lines from him. Sam’s emotions ranged from embarrassed shame to defensive frustration. I knew the feeling, with my lack of helpfulness out in the big water just hours before. I grabbed his life jacket and pulled him into a huge hug and reminded him we are all learning right now.
When it was our turn to move the boat again he was apprehensive, but he swallowed his fear and clenched the bow line. I followed with the stern line and silently whispered that I would always have his back. Always.
Finally, I got to be the rock. (It was admittedly easier from the dock…)
We popped out of the 5 PM tunnel to sunny skies and it was a beautiful evening in Anchorage. As we caravaned back to town we all decided the best way to celebrate the sunshine and our success – our survival! – was with a few pizzas in a sunny back yard with friends. A relaxing end to a stressful day!