16 April 2020 | Elfin Cove, Cross Sound, Chichagof Island, SE Alaska
david nagle | Spring, finally!
It is long past time for an update from the good ship MV DavidEllis and its crew. Here in Elfin Cove, south side of Cross Sound, SE Alaska, winter has finally let go. There are still some three foot piles of snow here and there, but the temperatures are in the 40s, we’re down to three layers of clothing rather than five, no longer needing chains or spikes on our shoes to keep from falling.
Memorable moments during the winter include:
- 100 mile per hour winds which knocked down trees onto the tank farm; the tree roots lifting several pipe runs 18 feet into the air. These were the feeds for the home heating fuel distribution system and the automatic diesel feed to the community generator day tank. A testament to the quality of their welds is that they’ve been hanging unsupported in the air since December, through wind and snow load, without springing a leak.
- Dock pilings breaking, resulting in dock floats drifting away, needed to be rounded up and secured til they can be repaired
- Whole trees drifting in the inner bay, jamming up floats, needing to be towed out and tied off
- A month or so with the community water system frozen; fortunately we anticipated it and had almost full water tanks on DE. We washed our dishes and flushed toilets with melted snow-water, a giant pain in the butt to melt, by the way.
- Overlapping that frozen month, about the same time, Rusty & Rascal, Dorothy and I shared Elfin Cove only with the resident population of critters, no other humans.
- Lots of snow. The dogs, both getting on in years, turned into pups when there was new snow. Even now they seek out the remaining snow piles as the favored place to do their business. Snow shovels, snow sleds, snow shoes, snow blowers. I love the clean brilliance of snow, the soft, muted falling of snow, but as for living with it for months...a guy can only have so much fun; I’m over it.
During the past winter, between us, Dorothy and I have 5, no 6, actually 7, no 8, no 9! paying jobs:
1) fuel dock manager: there are only a couple customers a week,from transient fishboats and people from area islands coming in for fuel, heating oil and propane, but lots of maintenance tasks and catch up paperwork left over from a very busy 7 day per week summer schedule.
2) the community has a generator building providing electricity which has its own manager during spring/summer, but during winter is my responsibility. There are actually 3 generators all linked together by an automated system which is actually pretty cool. The smallest is run off a John Deere 4045, and the larger ones are a 6068 and another, even bigger JD for the third. The 4045 is the winter gen. I make two inspections a day and fill out a log, do oil & filters changes. Pretty easy but, there's also monthly electrical meter-reading which involves boating-to hiking-around-in, some very slippery/nasty places in winter, for 100 e-meters. And then, of course, the 4045 shut down one day due to a high coolant temp. Sensor? Thermostat? Pump? Who knows. The automatic system kicked in so there was power. Eventually, Wayne came out and we identified and solved the problem via “calculatus eliminatus” replacing pump and thermostats.
3) Dorothy is the actual United States Postal Service Postmaster for Elfin Cove, Alaska 99825. She started as a relief for a non-existent postmaster, but for unknown reasons, USPS posted the postmaster job, she applied and Shazamm! she are one. Good news, she's making a much better wage than I am. Did you know that in Alaska, postmasters are also notary publics? This past summer, Dorothy notarized multiple property transactions, refinances, various commercial fishery permits, a will, a name change and a marriage dissolution.
4) Dorothy is the Elfin Cove agent for Alaska Seaplanes. During the winter there are 2 planes scheduled per week (mail, groceries, some passengers) but in reality it may be 2, 3 or more weeks between flights due to weather. Despite that, almost every day involves calls, texts and weather checks with the Seaplanes dispatch to see if maybe, just maybe, a plane could get out here today. During summer there may be 4-7 planes per day, but some are charters which Dorothy doesn't need to deal with, about half are another company which is not her gig and there was also another person taking some of the planes this past summer.
5) Snow removal. There are no streets here, just boardwalks and the dock floats. Just before departing last fall, it was mentioned, I was expected to run snow-blower machines to keep these clear (the docks, at least will sink from snow weight, along with the electrical pedestals, bringing down the electrical system, if not kept clear).
6) There is a grocery store which is open pretty much the same hours as the fuel dock during summer. Dorothy opens this a couple hours, on a couple days each week. There's no new stock, but she has customers each time.
7) One of the summer fishing lodges is paying Dorothy to take and send photos through the winter which they post on their website to keep people's interest
8) I have several fishboats and a couple float houses I'm watching out for. And
9) Dorothy waters a bunch of plants which live indoors during the winter, but are quite a colorful display at the back porch of the community building during summer.
Dorothy actually has one more job. She continues to knit up a storm. I would bet half her waking hours she is knitting. She actually sold a number of pieces, while there were still people here and gave away quite a few as well.
We did get away for a month. Many thanks to Wayne and MaryJo for stepping up to give Dorothy and me a break. It was a whirlwind. We took DE back to Juneau (had an un-fun passage of Lynn Canal). Flew to Seattle, drove to Sonoma County, CA, visited with kids, grandkids and friends, doctors, veterinarians and dentists. And then we reversed the whole process just as the Covid19 virus was becoming a thing in the USA. We were lucky to get the supplies we did from the Costco in Juneau, before running back out to Elfin Cove.
And so, here we are, in limbo with everyone else in the country/world due to the CV19 shutdown. The regular community generator manager has arrived, so that’s off my list. As is snow removal and Dorothy has been relieved of caring for the plants. I think we’re eleven in the village right now. Folks here seem to be taking the quarantine and distancing seriously. Our dogs don’t understand why they can’t get pets from everyone they meet. I installed a piece plexiglass at Dorothy’s customer service window in the post office and Dorothy has shifted her constant knitting to mask-making. There are more questions than answers as to the operation of the fishing lodges and the trolling fleet this summer. Dorothy and I still plan to stay at these jobs until end of September.
When it’s time to head south, it’s not clear if we will be allowed to transit the Inside Passage through British Columbia, Canada as that involves entering another country then coming back into the US from that other country. Too soon to tell how that will go.