An Epilogue. Meyers Chuck,. August 2, 2015
05 August 2015 | posted in Ketchikan
Photo: The sailboat Merganser anchored in Meyers Chuck
The setting sun was turning Meyers Chuck harbor aglow when I looked out to see a white sailboat enter and anchor in the bay. The boat had the unadorned look of an unfinished boat – no boom, no lifelines and no trim to relieve the white. Despite the lack of a boom, a jib lay crumpled on the foredeck, indicating the boat had been sailing. But what caught my attention was the pilothouse occupying the space where a cockpit was normally located on similar sailboats. This was an Alaska sailboat.
The boat looked familiar and I tried to remember where and when I might have seen it. Then it hit me, the boat was familiar, not because I’d seen it, but because it resembled a smaller boat we’d seen in Taku Harbor in 2008, both in design and state of unfinish. We’d spent an interesting afternoon talking to the boat’s owners, Lu and Andy Grauel of Farragut Bay, Alaska. Lu and Andy had shared their life stories with us (including tales of Andy’s childhood in Germany in World War II) and given us a glimpse into the lives of people living in the Alaska wilderness. (See Chapter 5.5 of Glaciers, Bears and Totems)
Andy had told us he was building a second, larger boat from a Cape George hull. Could this be it? I reminded Steve of that afternoon and he too saw the resemblance and decided to row out to see. Half an hour later he returned to report Andy and Lu were aboard.
I wanted to be sure they saw Glaciers, Bears and Totems with their stories in it, so after dinner, Steve and I rowed out to talk to them. They invited us aboard and showed us around the new boat, named Merganser, for the duck. Like the rig, the interior was partially finished. A teak and holly sole was unvarnished, cabinets were in but lacked doors and trim and the cabin sides and overhead were bare. What was finished was very handsome.
“I’ve got the doors and trim made but haven’t installed them yet,” he told us. “Plus I’m waiting to get more yellow cedar. I like to use yellow cedar because it’s so light colored and Alaska winters are so dark.”
In Taku Harbor, Andy and Lu had told us they had moved to Alaska from California 30 years earlier and had built a 3,500 sq ft house above the Farragut River because, “that was what we had in California.” They later realized that was a mistake; a house that size was impossible to heat in the Alaska winter and they really didn’t need it. They planned to sell the house (but not the land) and build a smaller house in its place.
I had wondered if they had sold their house and what they were doing but in their isolated home they had no email or regular mail service so I had not been able to communicate with them. That evening and the next one in Ketchikan Harbor we heard the epilogue to their story.
They hadn’t been able to sell the house, they told us. It was too expensive to move. Then, nature had stepped in and taken care of it for them. Floodwater from the Farragut River, fed by melting glaciers from global warming had moved the river channel 500 ft and destroyed the house. Andy had dropped his boat construction and built a 500 sq ft cabin instead.
“We were sitting in our house and heard a ‘wump’ as the river bank caved in and we knew the house was doomed,” said Lu. Now they are in the process of taking it apart to sell the materials.
“Do you have an opinion on global warming?” Andy asked me when he heard I had an oceanography degree. “I don’t have an opinion,” he said. “Ninety-four percent of atmospheric scientists say it’s real so why do I need an opinion? It’s real.”
“And we see the effects in changes in plants and animals around us,” said Lu. They had seen sand hill cranes in Farragut Bay where none had been seen before and this year a new small hummingbird had arrived. Lu had looked for it in her bird book but hadn’t found it because the bird book was about Alaska and the bird had not been reported here.
We parted with an exchange of addresses and plans to meet again next time we are in Alaska. Perhaps we’ll hear another epilogue to the story then.