Photo: Pure gold
Our very good friend Ken Pierce from Island Rover
said we should go and see Wes Tyler.
Most of the logging on Chichagoff Island is done by Wes and his crew. His lumberyard and sawmill is where we'd get the best timber Ken said. But getting out to Wes's sawmill was no mean feat, Gary and I didn't have any transport and the lumberyard was remote, being way out of town deep in the Tongass forest. So Ken then said to go and see Randy at the Icy Straits Lodge to see if we could get his four-wheel drive truck... there are no roads as such on Chichagoff, only logging tracks cut into the thick forests which, of course, have invariably been made by Wes Tyler and his crew.
Gary and I already knew Randy down at the Icy Straits Lodge, we drank beer there most evenings whilst watching the early summer sunsets over Frederick Sound ... the sun by now was going down at around eleven at night so that gave us ample time to down a few pints, especially Gary - he's an ex-cop and knows his beers. You know how it is. Randy said sure, he had a truck we could use, it was a bit of a wreck but we could have it for a few days. Great! That would do nice! We could get over to Wes's sawmill which was way out in the back of beyond and then take some time to explore largely inaccessible Chichagoff Island.
You see, my plan was to replace all of Sänna's
cabin ceilings and the rotting hatch linings with fresh cut Chichagoff timber. The ceilings and decorative linings had taken a hammering over the winter and from our years in the sweltering tropics. I was never gonna get a better opportunity to refit Sänna
than here in Alaska. So Gary and I drove off to see Wes Tyler...
What a dream place it turned out to be. Wes was without doubt an affable guy and was proud to show us around, he was especially happy to supply new timber for an English sailboat. The cut trees lying around the yard curing naturely in the sunshine was a delight and Wes talked about the choices we had and the merits of each type of wood. These days he only selected old-growth trees at least a couple of hundred years old which his crew found in the forest and cut only when needed. There's no unrestricted mass area felling on Chichagoff Island like the old days, which decimated large areas of forest all over Alaska and British Columbia. Nowadays it's largely selective and sustainable cutting, especially in the ancient Tongas forest. Wes had red cedar, western hemlock, Sitka spruce and the best prize of all, Alaskan yellow cedar. The slow-growing yellow cedar in particular is much sought after, cut from exceptionally tall trees which means the timber is dead straight, the grain extremely tight and, more importantly, knot free. It's tough, doesn't rot when damp and never warps. Perfect, it's the type of wood that high-end carpenters seek and discerning timber gurus pay a fortune for. And Wes Tyler had lots of it, his crew had just recently found three huge yellow cedar trees deep in the Tongas forest which Wes reckoned were each over three hundred years old. Gary had meticulously measured how much we needed so we gave Wes our cuts, he'd mill it to our sizes plus tongue & groove it with bevelled edges for easy and precise fitting. Give him a week, Wes said, and he'd deliver it down to the dock in Hoonah. All for a very nice price.
The timing worked well, we could explore Chichagoff island driving around in our flamboyant four wheel drive truck, then fix the anchor windlass and take off onboard Sänna
to once more get up into the Glacier Bay National Park, we could also visit the remote boardwalk communities of Elfin Cove and Pelican which Gary had not yet seen. I gladly let Gary replace the windlass motor, it was not an easy job and he was keen. He did good did our Gary.
First we took off around Chichagoff Island along remote and little used logging tracks. We were a little perturbed by the state of the tracks and the number of brown bears we encountered given that we carried no weapons, only the somewhat useless taser I'd purchased for fifty bucks in the Office Bar and a can of dubious bear spray. We got out to the isolated Kennel Creek cabin in Freshwater Bay and also to Whitestone Harbour before giving up our truck to Randy. Then we headed out to Glacier Bay for a week or so which was surprisingly ice free for the time of year, we got back into Reid Inlet to track inland beside the Reid Glacier before heading on to Elfin Cove and eventually to Pelican... to lose ourselves for an evening at infamous Rose's bar. Yes, they still dance on the tables there, race naked at midnight down the boardwalk and the old brown grizzly still sits in the toilet pit watching you take a piss.
Wes, true to his word, delivered our new timber as agreed and the quality was breathtaking. The deep yellow colouring and fresh-milled smell was simply unbelievable. Gary and I set to and for the next three weeks ripped everything out from all four cabin ceilings, we cut out the rotted linings around the hatches that had warped over the winter and replaced everything. I also learned just how good Gary is when it comes to working with timber. Not bad at all for an ex-cop. I was impressed.
When we finished I held up the single three foot piece of timber we had left. Gary's measuring and Wes's machining had been spot on. Sänna's
new cabin roofs are simply superb to behold and my Marie will be well impressed when she arrives in a few weeks time with Henry.
Forever will I lie in my bunk at night looking up at prime Chichagoff timber. It's not just the superb quality of the wood and our own meticulous craftsmanship, it's something else too. It will be the long lasting memory of smiling Wes Tyler, gentle Ken Pierce from Island Rover
, Scott and Braden of Icy Queen
, the always partying crew from Yankee Maid
and numerous others. Not least the quality time I had with with my step-brother Gary the ex-cop. It will also be the long lasting memory of our exceptional time on remote Chichagoff Island.
Sadly, sometime soon it will be time to leave.
Icy Straits Lumber & Sawmill
. IF YOU WANT REAL
TREE WOOD, BUY YOUR WOOD FROM WES. GOOD WOOD WHEN YOU NEED WOOD... I promised Wes Tyler I'd work up a plug.
Please visit our SV Sänna website for more details of our circumnavigation voyage from the UK. Also at www.facebook.com/SV.Sanna. Like our Facebook page if you'd like to receive more news about our sail adventure. You can contact us here.