Now and Then
27 May 2020 | Elfin Cove, SE Alaska
A little excitement in Elfin Cove last evening. Just after dinner, starting to prepare the dogs’ food, a shout on the VHF radio, on the channel used inside Elfin Cove, 72. That there was an over-turned skiff, “two in the water, in South Pass (right around the corner) too close to shore” for the caller to get to them with his boat, which it turns out was disabled as, in turning sharply to assist, he’d run over the rescue line he trails and fouled his prop. This was a local commercial fisherman, just arriving after the winter down south. How fortunate he was there.
I acknowledged the call from DavidEllis’s radio, then with Dorothy’s help land-lined two different fishing lodges in the cove who had fast boats. One answered and got underway immediately (we could see them, further up the cove from us, running to their boat). The other lodge didn’t answer; it turns out they were already underway to assist.
Coast Guard was then up on channel 16; more traffic from the boats on the scene indicated they’d gotten the victims out of the water and were enroute to the seaplane float on the state dock out front. The Elfin Cove local who is the only trained EMT, (in addition to Dorothy and me) was now on the air, headed for the dock, and we started that way also. While hustling that direction we learned the victims were breathing but hypothermic.
We arrived along with a dozen others to find that the patients were on the deck of a small landing craft / halibut boat that operates out of the lodge who I hadn’t been able to reach. Efforts were being made to warm the two men, who it turns out were known to many present. The two men were brothers, who’d grown up and lived here their whole lives. Old training kicked in and I did a quick assessment: both men were clearly hypothermic, with lowered LOC (level of consciousness), one clearly worse than the other, neither coherent.
I could tell at least one was hypoxic and Dorothy headed back to the community building where first aid supplies are kept, including several O2 kits. (Dorothy walked/ran several miles in the course of this operation). In the meantime, communication continued with Coast Guard as they launched a helo out of Sitka, I presume, and the original reporting party / fishing boat with the fouled prop was escorted to the dock. All this time many people attended, attempted to warm and encourage the patients.
It was high tide when the USCG helo arrived on scene, which means there simply was nowhere for the aircraft to land. They winched their rescue swimmer down to the top of the ramp and he hustled down to the float and patients loaded with multiple gear packs.
I was impressed with his scene management, directing and making good use of the local people already there helping. I was additionally impressed when, at his direction, a young boat operator from one of the lodges, stripped down without hesitation, to provide warming for the worst of the patients.
First one, then the other of the patients were hoisted from the seaplane float into the hovering helo. Working in the rotor wash and noise of the hovering helo was intense. Everyone present performed beautifully.
For me, the entire operation was punctuated with very tangible flashbacks. In 33 years with Sonoma County Sheriff, California, I did this hundreds of times. As as reserve deputy and scuba instructor, I was part of the original Angel One crew, flying in my wetsuit starting in 1973 (or maybe ‘72). I was a member of the underwater recovery team my entire career, recovering bodies, evidence, cars, airplanes from various waters in and surrounding Sonoma County. During the late 70s, I was the resident deputy for the Sonoma North Coast, the first “King One”. Initially, I was the only trained EMT on the coast, and regularly performed cliff and surf rescues. In the 80s, I was the sergeant-in-charge for the Sheriff’s Helo-SAR unit and developed and taught a Cliff/Surf/Swiftwater/Flood training program for department members and other local first responders. In the 90s, I was the River Substation sergeant, which had responsibility for the river and coast. And in my last assignment 2000-06, I led the Marine Unit.
The sounds, sights, smells, touches and even the taste in my mouth all kicked off tangible right here/right now memories of prior rescues, recoveries and resuscitations. And with these, my poor, hundred-year-old adrenal glands just kept pouring it to me. I’m surprised I was able to function at all.
Tom McConnel, our chief pilot during much of the 80s and 90s used to refer to the “terrible beauty” of these events. They were terrible, of course, due to the injuries and frequent deaths involved, but beautiful in the cooperative efforts of disparate individuals and groups, to help, to somehow make it better.
The dogs did get fed, eventually.
PS: I did see one person with her phone/camera out, but did not have access to any photos when I wrote this (at 0300). So in the theme of this post, I threw in an old favorite from 1979 — Angel II, Black Point / Sea Ranch, pilot Sgt Keith Gunderson (RIP), left skid Deputy Dennis Duckett / “King 2“, right skid Deputy Dave Nagle / ”King 1”
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.
"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.