"So Dorothy, what's our next adventure going to be?"
10 July 2019 | Elfin Cove, Alaska (or in Aussie:
Ten years ago, June-July 2009, we brought MV DavidEllis across the North Pacific, from Hong Kong to Juneau, Alaska. Dorothy and I had been in SE Asia for three years following our retirement from SCSO, living in China, Hong Kong and the Phillipine Islands, with many visits to Macau and one to Malaysia. There's plenty of detail from that voyage and our Asian adventures on the blog in previous posts. With a crew of the ever-lovely Ms Dorothy; former workmate Kirk and his son, Justin; fellow Banzai Bozo, Jim; my former doc, Craig, and rescued Tong Gau ("village dog") Rusty who was about 12 weeks old, we departed HKG 31 May, after months of preparation, and headed east across the South China Sea intending to pass between the north end of Luzon Island, PI and south of Taiwan into the Pacific proper. Days later, as we were heading into Luzon Strait, a Navtex weather warning convinced us to backtrack and go north through the Taiwan Strait and over the top of Taiwan, where the weather predicted 36 hours earlier for Luzon Strait, hit us and turned us into a cartoon-bathtub-boat; dropping completely into troughs with mountainous waves towering above us, then rising up on a peak and being blown/spun anywhere from 60-150 degrees off the rough course we were attempting to maintain, hand-steering in pitch-black skies, punctuated by strobe-flashes of lighting going off all around us second-by-second, with all electronics disconnected in the hope of saving them from being fried by the lightning. Then a puppy, Rusty has never forgiven me for that night, at one point squeezing between my legs for security, then pissing on my feet. Truth be told I wasn't sure which of us had pissed ourselves, as I was as frightened as he.
Apparently we survived that night, to arrive in Ishigaki, Japan the next day. Five days of adventures there and we continued on up the chain of Japanese Islands on the Pacific side, experiencing another lightning-strobe squall off the entrance to Tokyo Bay, and a few days later, creeping through thick fog, into the port of Kushiro, on the island of Hokkaido. Five days of rest, refueling, repair and resupply, making new friends from th S/V Wooshie, and the departure of Dorothy and Justin, saw Kirk, Craig, Jim, Rusty and me heading northwest along the Kuril Islands, Kamchatka Peninsula and into the Aleutian Islands and Bering Sea. We stopped for twelve hours or so at Cable Bay, Tanaga Island to wait out some weather, and on departure that night, were knocked down and held down by a williwaw - Katabatic wind of 100 knots or better. DE stayed watertight; the John Deere stayed on its motor mounts and we spun on the surface until our bow was pointing into the wind (and back towards the island) allowing the boat to pop back up. We motored against the wind back into our former anchorage, the wind disappearing as soon as we were under the cliffs. Something else Rusty's never forgiven me for... explains why he's a grumpy old dog today.
After cleaning the broken crockery and a check of the engine room, we continued up the Aleutian chain to Dutch Harbor where we cleared US Customs, paid duty, did repairs, refueled, discovered Alaskan Amber, made a friend who we see semi-regularly here in SE AK today, and continued eastbound for mainland North America. We stopped briefly at Kodiak Island to check weather and talk with the harbormaster who did NOT mention that all the local boats went UP along the coast of the Gulf of Alaska, rather than straight across latitude 58North to Cross Sound, the northernmost entrance to the Inside Passage (our planned track).
Contrary to the forecast of moderate wind and seas, we got our butts kicked for three days, with a big beam swell and bigger head seas, sometimes one climbing ontop the other and going right over us without bothering to break on the bow. In the middle of the second night, the fore-stay on the starboard paravane stabilizer pole let go, causing the pole to crumple like a paper soda straw with the chain and 75 pound Kohlstrand 'fish' hanging off the center stern, swinging under the rudder and prop as DE hobby-horsed into the big head seas. We couldn't stop the prop, we'd have broached and rolled, and couldn't leave the situation as it was, risking the chain fouling either the rudder or propellor. So, with as few rpms on the prop as possible, Craig on the helm, keeping the bow into the waves, I went down onto the swimstep and hauled up the stabilizer ('fish') hand over hand by the slippery chain, against the resistance of the stabilizer shape and the forward momentum, like a mother pulling a car off her baby, knowing that if I didn't succeed we were in very big trouble. I did it; we pulled the other 'fish' in too and wedged ourselves into corners for the next 24 hours as one couldn't stand or move around on anything but one's butt as the boat rocked and heaved, but continued onward towards Cape Spencer and inside waters. Oh, and I passed out on the floor of the aft cabin for 6-8 hours, from adrenalin exhaustion and over-exertion. And later, I remembered I'd purchased a set of bolt-cutters for exactly this situation. As for Rusty, well, I'm sure you already know what Rusty thought.
When we entered into Cross Sound, one would think the drama was done, but it turns out that entering the sound on an ebb tide with a big SW swell means surfing steep, very steep waves for what seemed hours. All those years surfing kayaks, boogie boards, IRBs and so on, paid off. But after all this, I needed a beer! We keep a "dry" boat, no booze, on blue water passages. Everybody, no matter on watch or off, needs to have their wits about them, as one can see from this narrative. So I saw on our chart that there was a little village, just inside Cross Sound, with Juneau still a full day east and we motored into Elfin Cove.
A tiny fishing village, with a single float/dock and we managed to squeeze into a space amongst the salmon trollers. Someone said there was a cafe of sorts up the hill from the float and the crew wandered up ahead of me. I don't remember now what I was doing; maybe trying unsuccessfully to call Dorothy and let her know we were safe; or maybe just taking a moment, alone, to appreciate that we'd done it, brought the good ship DavidEllis across the North Pacific to the USA. Anyway, eventually I followed the boys up to the Coho Cafe and when I walked in the proprietress asked me where I was from? In Asia, I'd always answered, "San Francisco", as that provided a universally recognized landmark, rather than saying a small town in Sonoma County, California, but I realized I was 'home' so said, "Oh, some little town in northern California; you've probably never heard of it". She replied "try me, I know lots of towns in northern California" and I answered, "Sebastopol". The woman became excited and asked a string of questions without taking a breath or waiting for an answer "how long have you lived there? who do you know there? did you go to school there?" As she went on, I tried to imagine how to answer all her questions at once and when she took a breath I said "Analy High School; Class of 67". And she started screaming and jumping up in the air, yelling "me too! me too! I'm Shirley Mello!" And she was / is Shirley Mello, from Dorothy's and my high school class, and Dorothy's grammar school, who we had not seen since the day we graduated. Somewhere I have a black and white picture of Dorothy and Shirley together in their Campfire Girl or Bluebirds uniforms.
And that's (kinda) how we ended up here, now -- working in Elfin Cove. Clearly it's Shirley's fault, or MaryJo's or any of the folks we've met here during our summer SE AK cruising visits. Who that guy was last winter who agreed to go back to work, I don't know, but would like to have a serious conversation with him. Actually, Dorothy and I agreed, for up to 18 months (15 now, but who's counting?), for me to run the community-owned fuel dock during the summer and the community generator during the winter, while Dorothy is now the postmistress for 99825 and outstation agent for Alaska Seaplanes out of Juneau.
Today is the first full day off I've had since April; most are 12 hours of (often quite physical) work. I'm aching all over like I recall from double days training weeks before a college football season or the next day after a full day kayak-surfing in the rocks or the end of a 3-day rugby tournament. But I'm much older now than then and don't bounce back quite so quickly. Looking forward to September when things slow down. I frequently hear Tennessee Ernie Ford in my head singing, "sixteen tons". But for all of that, it is very interesting to be in this one place, watching it go from winter hibernation to summer full-on activity. We've spent extended times before in another, larger, SE Alaska town -- portions, or all of three winters, working on the boat, "on-the-hard" (out of the water). This is a bit different, as then we were mostly secluded away from the community, single-mindedly working on the boat. Now we work all day in the key 'choke-points' of the community, chatting every day with the larger portion of people here at any given time.
Living here has echoes of other times and places in our lives -- living on the boat in Bodega Bay; working as the resident deputy sheriff on the north coast in the '70s; my high school and college years living in Camp Meeker. Like small communities everywhere, there are characters and factions; conflicts and kindnesses.
After the decades of deep involvement in Sonoma County community life and government, due to our careers in law enforcement and 9-1-1, the ever-lovely Ms Dorothy and I were very fond of that element of our cruising life which allowed us to stay awhile in various places, but sail away before becoming part of the soap-opera. Now, apparently, we are main characters. "Stay tuned for previews from next week's exciting episode of: " ". I haven't decided what to call it yet, but I do think I hear the professor calling me, something about Mrs Howell being chased by a crocodile.
PS: some have asked about Rascal, our other Hong Kong street dog; where was he? Rascal is younger than Rusty. On a (airplane) trip back to HKG for the 2011 World Rugby Sevens Series, we met Rascal, courtesy of our HKG veterinary friend, Tony. You can read about Rascal's adoption from HKG to Wrangell AK in blog posts back in late April and early May 2011. The key piece of information is that Rascal got to fly from HKG to AK, avoiding all the drama described above. In the eight years Rascal's been with us, Rusty's never accepted him as an equal, full member of the crew; no doubt, because he hasn't 'earned it' the way Rusty had to, suffering his way across the North Pacific.