Sunday, November 3, 2013

Left Handed Hammers, Children and Herring Jigs

 The Right Tool For the Job.

I’m the first to admit that I am not much of a fisherman. I don’t have the patience or the skillI and I think I’m slightly ADHD. My friend Mark used to take me salmon fishing but when I spent my day propped up against the side of the boat reading old National Geographic magazines, and only casting an occasional eye toward my rod tip, he got disgusted and has seldom asked me again.

But I do like to eat fish. So when my wife and took our sailboat to Alaska for the first time I was excited, Alaska was a place where the salmon were so plentiful that even a rube like myself should be able to catch his dinner. And I didn’t come entirely unprepared, I had the fishing pole I owned since I was a kid, and an oddball collection of tackle, lures, spoons, flashers, hooks, lines and sinkers. And a few jigs.

But things didn’t go well. After a week of dragging assorted gear through the water and nothing to show for it except lost gear, I was getting discouraged. We had traveled almost 100 miles through pristine Alaskan waters and while I hadn’t fished all of it, I had given it some serious effort. No old magazines here.

We reached Petersburg, a bustling fishing town, and tied up among the fleet of commercial fishing boats, some clean and shipshape and others barely afloat. Right next to us was a dirty white troller its deck littered with gear, which while afloat, did not look like the highliner of the fleet. No one was aboard her when we arrived and we left and toured the town.

When we returned we heard the banging of tools deep in the bowels of the troller. Soon an older fellow, unshaven, hands greasy, in a dirty sweatshirt and pants emerged from the fish hold. We had met our neighbor. Like almost everyone in Alaska, he was ready to talk. After hearing our story, he spied my salmon rod attached to the backstay and asked me the fateful question,”How’s fishing?”

I actually felt relieved that I could unburden myself and tell him about my failure at one of the manly arts. He immediately offered advice. First he asked where we were heading, and I told him west, around Kupreanof Island.

He said, “Here’s what you want to do, when you get to Pinta Point, about this time of year the silvers should be there, you’re gonna troll with a white hoochie, six ounces of lead with a little piece of salted herring wired onto the hoochie. I guarantee you’ll catch fish. You can tell Mama to fire up the canner.”

He asked me if I had any hoochies, I didn’t. So he immediately took out a new white hoochie out of his gear, carefully measured a leader, tied a hook on it, took a piece of salted herring out of a Ziplock bag, cut off a thin strip and wired it in place.

He gave me this rig and said, “Now have you got any herring,? You’re gonna need some more.” I didn’t. He said, “Not to worry, just get yourself a herring jig and you can catch some right off the dock.”

Finally, here was my chance to show him I wasn’t entirely unprepared, I had jigs. I rummaged around in my tackle box and pulled out what I understood to be a jig and held it up for him to see. He gave me a look as if he had asked if I had a hammer and I’d handed him a wrist watch.

It turns out jigs have hooks that are sized proportionally to the size of the fish’s mouth. I’d shown him a halibut jig, a herring would have had to drive itself full speed onto this hook in a suicidal frenzy to even have a chance of getting caught. With this he handed me his Ziplock bag of salted herring with a sorrowful look that one might give to a fool heading off on an errand saying, “Here, you better have these. I can get some more.”

I thanked him and tried to assure him I would do just what he advised. But I’ve never been sure he was convinced.

We did go west and at Pinta Point I did troll that white hoochie with six ounces of lead and it’s little strip of herring tied to its belly and sure enough I caught salmon. We didn’t have a canner, so Mama never fired it up, but we ate salmon for the next few days and I am forever grateful for his help, advice and grace.

Now, I may not know fishing, but I do know woodworking. My fishing tackle collection pales in comparison to the tools I own. Had my neighbor actually asked for a hammer, he would have been impressed by one of the several I had onboard or the couple dozen I have at home. And like those who fish for the thrill of it, not the eating, when it comes to tools I struggle with just when enough is enough.

Recently we visited Japan and I came across a second hand store with a wooden crate filled with an odd selection of old tools. Since we had to carry anything we bought I limited my selection to just a small two ended square faced hammer that is used for carefully tapping on chisels. I already had a larger one but I liked this one for its size and more importantly because its wood handle had the silky polish that comes from years of use by some unknown craftsman.

At home I cleaned it, tightened the head and tried it out. The heft was perfect but for some reason I could never seem to hit the chisels just right. I fussed with it, roughing up the faces, and I tried other hammers to see if my aim was off. But it wasn’t me.

Examining it closely I noticed that the previous owner had carefully customized the handle. It had a subtle twist carved in it instead of the normal symmetry of a hammer handle. It was made to fit in the left hand. It was a left handed hammer.

I never imagined such a thing could even exist. And it made me think that there are a lot of other things, ideas, and ways of thinking out there that I’m just as ignorant of.

I am a teacher and to those of us who teach, our students come to us right handed and left handed, tall and short, beautiful and plain, troubled and content, rich and poor; and prepared for what we are trying to teach and unprepared, or at least unprepared for what we feel is important.

There are kids who fail in science class but excel in woodshop. For some a halibut jig may be more relevant or important than the difference between a proton and a protein. As teachers we know we should individualize instruction, and I try my best. But the hardest part for me is to notice, and accept in the first place, that there are kids who work best, not with the tools everyone else uses, but with the left handed hammers.

And for those kids, like the fisherman helping a hapless sailor, I also need to show patience, understanding and grace.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Sitka, Land of Swimming Pools, Movie Stars....

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We head towards Sitka, the big city. We'll get our first shower after a week or so.  photo DSCN9867_zps79b06e50.jpg Mount Edgecumbe offshore from Sitka.  photo DSCN9868_zps8d0a356b.jpg After checking in at the harbormaster’s office we get a brochure of Sitka’s highlights and hit the town. A perfect day, about 75 degrees with a slight breeze. Our first stop is Castle Hill which was the site of the Tlingit fort that the Russians bombarded in 1804 in the battle that drove the natives out of Sitka. Then the Russians built their fort there. I read an interesting book “Fifty Miles from Tomorrow,” that had a lot of information about the Alaska Native Claims Act. In it the point was made that Castle Hill was the only territory that the natives ever formally ceded to another government (Russia) and as such it was also the only land that technically the United States bought when they bought Alaska. Interesting argument.
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On the advice of some teenage girls eating ice cream we made a stop at the Harry Race Drug Store and Soda Fountain and had real milk shakes made from real milk and real ice cream. Highlight of my culinary experience in Sitka.
 photo DSCN9884_zps9ddfec65.jpg The Russian Orthodox Church is still active, though the congregation is small, and right downtown.
 photo 65649f0e-cedc-43d6-bc2d-e0882b44b888_zpsca89b487.jpg It was late afternoon and we stopped in at the “Russian Bishop’s House” which is now a National Park site. Touring the downstairs is free but we paid a little extra for the upstairs tour. It turned out to just be the two of us and Michael Hess the ranger. He was very knowledgable and interesting. He got his degree in political science and was planning on returning to graduate school in journalism and he sort of fell into the ranger thing. He certainly knew the history of Sitka and the Russian influence. Afterwards I remembered that my Russian History teacher in high school was named Michael Hess. I wonder if they are related.  photo DSCN9887_zps3aedb3c7.jpg They still have services in this chapel at times.  photo DSCN9900_zpse22f348c.jpg After the museum closed we took a walking tour of the Sitka totem park which is on a stunning location along the bay and a river full of spawning salmon.  photo DSCN9935_zps4fb9cd54.jpg  photo DSCN9939JPG_zpse0f099b0.jpg  photo DSCN9922JPG_zps3d4b856a.jpg  photo DSCN9942JPG_zpsf53649ea.jpg This picture is in honor of a splendid photographer and friend Rob Yearling. I’m jogging BTW. Enjoy.
 photo DSCN9932JPG_zps53088e72.jpgzs Selfie!!!!!
 photo DSCN9914_zps2c4595db.jpg We spent most of the next day at the Sheldon Jackson Museum. It is an eclectic collection of Native American artifacts. Sheldon Jackson was a missionary who started a school and collected many of the pieces on display. He was concerned about fire and had the current building constructed. It was the first concrete building in Alaska. Besides the displayed pieces there are drawers all around the room which you can open to see more work.
 photo DSCN0080JPG_zps886426d2.jpg  photo DSCN0077JPG_zps6f5ef793.jpg  photo DSCN0041JPG_zpsf008754e.jpg  photo DSCN0002JPG_zpsb5752380.jpg  photo DSCN9964_zpsc684221e.jpg One of my favorite items was an old black and white photograph of the inside of a clan house. There were a group of people posing formally for the camera standing along side a man sitting up in bed. It said that the man in bed might be recovering from a bear attack.
After the museum closed we walked some more including across the bridge to the airport. This is a Bridge to Somewhere.
 photo DSCN0087_zps42d4288d.jpg  photo DSCN0089_zps5a38434d.jpg We hemmed and hawed whether or not to climb one of the mountains that rise from the sea right behind the town. We decided to go for it and chose the one which was the shortest and but was also the steepest, Mount Verstovia. It was about a 2500 foot climb in a little over two miles.
We rode a bus out to the trailhead where there was a young man on a bicycle waiting. As we started up the trial he asked us in broken English if he could join us. We said of course and he came along with us. He told us he was from Ukraine on a “cultural exchange.” It turns out that these cultural exchanges are a loophole in immigration law that allow places like hotels and canneries to hire foreigners for the summer for jobs they have trouble filling.
In any case he was a really nice kid though he had never been hiking before and he didn’t have any food or water. And the real reason he was waiting for someone to hike with was because in his job as a dishwasher everyone in the hotel had told him every possible horror story about grizzly bears, including where to put your hands if you are ever attacked. This he demonstrated, crouching down on his knees with his hands protecting the back of his neck. I’ll admit I worry about bear encounters but he made me look downright brave or cavalier.
We shared our food and water and he stuck to us like glue all the way up the mountain. He was young and in much better shape than us couple of duffers but he didn’t go ahead at all. He had never been hiking before period and he described the mountains in Ukraine as more like hills. It was pretty steep, but it was a good workout, especially after being on the boat so much.
 photo DSCN0105_zps6398113d.jpg  photo DSCN0099JPG_zpsdd8f1020.jpg  photo DSCN0111_zps4319841c.jpg  photo DSCN0115JPG_zps8c8cda7a.jpg
 And when he got to the top he was awestruck and I’ll admit we were too. These pictures only capture part of the effect. Once you come up to the last rise, mountains beyond mountains are laid out before you. You could hike in untrailed wilderness for a hundred miles, ridge running above timberline, which that far north is only about 2500 feet.
 photo DSCN0141JPG_zps33baccfe.jpg  photo DSCN0139_zpsfa149904.jpg  photo DSCN0133_zps760bd78b.jpg  photo DSCN0123_zpse1ad8043.jpg  photo DSCN0119_zps0ddedd9e.jpg And when you look backwards, Sitka and the water are shining like a jewel.
 photo DSCN0138_zpsb135097b.jpg The Ukrainian had to get back to his dishwashing job so apparently satisfied that there weren’t bears lurking behind every bush he high tailed it down the mountain while we lounged around on top. After a while we reluctantly went down and almost as reluctantly plan on heading out of Sitka in the morning. We make one last stop at the snazzy Sitka Recreation Center where for a few dollars you can swim,  take a sauna and most importantly take a shower. Last chance for a while.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Heading Towards the Big City. Angoon to Sitka.

After gassing up in Angoon I try fishing with a bunch of local boats just outside the harbor. After an hour or so with no luck we head across Chatham Strait heading for Peril Strait on the way to Sitka.  photo Angoontositka_zps044ac8e4.jpg I had picked up a paper in Angoon and was able to catch up on the news. It’s remarkable that when you get unhooked from the internet, the world goes on just fine without you, and vice versa.  photo DSCN9792_zpsbdb25ca1.jpg As we enter Peril Strait I stop to fish and in five minutes I get a nice silver. That’s my kind of fishing, so many fish that even a rube like me can catch one.  photo DSCN9801_zps30767dff.jpg We sail a bit and motor some more, after about ten miles we anchor in a protected spot behind an island in Hanus Bay. A couple miles away a big mega-yacht is anchored out in the open. Since we’re a mini-yacht I always go for protection. After a nice salmon dinner we row ashore to a little island as the sun goes down. God light, I call it.  photo DSCN9816_zps366a81b2.jpg  photo DSCN9818_zps289afc40.jpg The next morning comes bright and calm. We need to time passing through Sergius Narrows, just right. The tides can move through up to 10-12 knots on spring tides and an average of 6 knots otherwise. We didn’t see this picture, it came from this website.  photo Sergiusnarrows_zps190d1aa2.jpg As we motored towards it I thought I had it all figured out, in fact by my calculations I thought I had an extra hour to get there. When we were about an hour away, and I thought we had two hours to catch slack water, a couple fishing boats that had been waiting took off simultaneously towards the narrows. I tried to figure out why and then realized I had the direction of flood and ebb mixed up so we hightailed it behind them. The wind started out with a slight breeze coming against us. But the closer we got to the narrows the more the wind was building up.  photo DSCN9848_zpsf91bd49a.jpg The Alaska Ferries high speed boat, the Fairweather zoomed by us.  photo DSCN9849_zpsd2ae433f.jpg By the time we got to the narrows the wind was coming straight at us at about 20 knots. Luckily, since we started earlier than I had planned, we hit the narrows just right at slack water so there wasn’t too much chop. After the narrows though, the waves picked up and we took a dogleg off the wind and were able to sail at hull speed with about only a third of the genoa up. This fish buyer was anchored and to a boat that size the wind was nothing. We zipped past and anchored in a little protected bay behind an island that had a Forest service cabin you can rent by the night. We could hear the wind howling on either side of the island but we were snug in our little anchorage. All the excitement tired me out and I went to bed at just after 8:00. Viviann stayed up and read..  photo DSCN9857_zps86525aa4.jpg After starting early for us, 7:30, in low clouds and fog we motor the last leg toward Sitka. The fog burned off and we dodged seine boats all the way to Sitka. Everybody was making money.  photo DSCN9872_zps58a204ec.jpg  photo DSCN9876_zps226151de.jpg Pretty as a picture.  photo DSCN9874_zpsdf4b987e.jpg After tying up at Eliason Harbor, Sitka has five boat harbors, we take a walking tour of Sitka. RIght downtown overlooking the water is the Pioneer’s Home. I decided that’s where I am going to spend my last days. We were told that apparently not every day in Sitka is as pretty as this. But a fellow has to dream, right?  photo DSCN9878_zps32054ba2.jpg Todd

Friday, October 11, 2013

Cruising SE Alaska in a 27 ft Sailboat. Through the Rocks to Angoon.

After leaving Craig because the fog was so thick we end up going going through Rocky Pass rather than going all the way around Kuiu Island in order to head north. Rocky Pass is just that, rocky. On our first trip to Alaska we were invited to a party with a group of commercial fishermen and there were lots of serious, if slightly drunken, debates as to whether we should traverse the pass or not. There was no real consensus so we decided to do it as long as WE were sober.  photo CraigtoSitka_zps25cab0fa.jpg In the 1990’s the Coast Guard removed all the navigation markers and buoys to discourage people from going through. About six or seven years ago they replaced them because apparently folks were still doing it, markers or not. In about 12 miles there are some 40 markers and buoys so following them is a really good idea.  photo DSCN9611_zps963c8f8f.jpg The tide floods from both north and south to the middle of the pass called “The Summit,” so the strategy is to ride the flood north, timing it to arrive at “The Summit” at slack and then ride the ebb out. We arrived about an hour ahead of schedule and we were really riding the flood. At one point my GPS said we were traveling 12 knots over the ground in a boat with a hull speed of just over five knots. Unfortunately the currents don’t follow the channels and several times we were being swept toward rocks pretty much out of control, while it was exciting it also made me really nervous.

After about a half hour of this I dropped the anchor and we lay in the channel for about an hour, the pass isn’t very well traveled so we weren’t in the way, until things calmed down. Getting up close and personal to currents like that is something I would encourage anyone to do. It makes you both appreciate their power but it also removes some of the mystery and fear.

 photo DSCN9618_zps543ce307.jpg When the current did drop off we cut ourselves loose and made it through, “Devil’s Elbow” and “The Summit.” without incident. You have to hit them at high water as there is only about seven feet of water at high tide. Other than that the biggest obstacle are the thick kelp beds which kept snagging my keel bulb and clogging the cooling water to the outboard.  photo DSCN9622_zpsbd1a6e61.jpg After we got through Rocky Pass we saw five of the Beneteaus we had seen earlier anchored up. I don’t know where the rest of them went but we never ran into them again. We anchored at the north end of Rocky Pass. The next day we headed crossed Chatham Strait northwest to Warm Springs on Baranof Island. I think some fishboats are the prettiest boats on the water.  photo DSC00597_zps92925816.jpg  photo DSC00497_zps061c2f0c.jpg We sailed for a bit but ended up motoring most of the way. There is a large waterfall at the head of the bay.  photo DSC00577_zpsae372167.jpg There are also a number of cabins that must have been somebody’s dream that unfortunately look nightmarish. They are very well build in that the windows and doors appear to be operable.  photo DSCN9655_zpsd967f765.jpg This is a popular spot, there was a small National Geographic cruise ship anchored as well as a couple smaller cruise/charter boats. This included the Westward which hails from Port Townsend which is right in our neck of the woods. My wife writes for the local paper and knows everyone it seems, including the skipper and his wife on Westward. Speaking of pretty boats the 86 foot long Westward certainly fits that category, I didn’t get a picture of it but this is what it looks like.

Speaking of neck of our wood’s boats, a little more in line with the average trailersailer, we tied up in front of a Macgregor 26. Not only is it the only sailboat we have seen out in the wilds on our three trips to Alaska that is smaller than ours, it hails from Sequim Washington which is only about 30 miles from home. If you think what we are doing is impressive, they came all the way by water from Sequim. They left home in May and in July were heading south when we met them, they are expecting to be back by early September.

Like us, they had spent most of the time motoring. Their descriptions of the section from the end of Vancouver Island to Prince Rupert made us think that that will be our next trip.

Warm Springs is named for several hot springs that are located there. There are three neat little bath houses right near the dock, donations accepted. About a quarter mile up a boardwalk there are pools right by the river. Since this picture doesn’t have anyone in it is kind of hard to see the baths. There is a frayed piece of 3/8” line tied to a tree that some folks braver, or stupider, than me use to lower themselves into the river to cool down after the pools. The river cascades down the waterfall about thirty feet past where the line is tied. There were no corpses at the bottom so maybe it was okay.

 photo DSCN9658_zpsa7222db1.jpg The next day we walked a half mile to the lake that feeds the waterfall. If you walked west about 25 miles you would run in to Sitka. There are several glaciers in the way so we are happy to go the 100 miles or so by water.  photo DSCN9667_zpsf21db49c.jpg

Viviann posing

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The next day we head off, after calculating how much fuel I have and need in case there is no wind we decide to head to Angoon for gas. Along the way we get some company.

 photo DSC00509_zpsb11cc7ee.jpg  photo DSC00521_zps717c64cb.jpg  photo DSC00520_zps17b3dd0a.jpg The dolphins are pretty amazing though they put an end to any fishing, at least in my experience. I think I may have snagged one once, so I just quit when they are around and enjoy them. Angoon is a native village and it is sort of off the beaten track. This is the view from Chatham Strait, it turned out only ships approach it from this side. There is a channel to the east that is much more protected.  photo DSCN9682_zpsa475535b.jpg

The chart for the area is not very good and the folks who wrote the guide book we were using had obviously never been there. It turns out there is about a four to five knot current you have to contend getting in and out of the harbor, which is also very rocky. We were trying to find the public dock and spied a dock at what looked like an apartment building. We thought we would tie up there and ask where the pubic dock was. We pulled in and started to tie up when three very polite but emphatic locals came and told us that it was private. They pointed out that we were tied in their uncle’s spot who apparently was the fellow who followed us in and then roared off as we docked. We weren’t trying to offend anyone so when they pointed out where the public dock was we headed out.

They told us to ignore the red buoy as it was not where it was supposed to be. It was meant to mark a reef but we found out later that it always drifts away during the spring tides so it was about half a mile from the danger it was supposed to mark.

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We found the marina which was largely empty. We tied up and asked a couple of fellows cleaning fish if the spot we chose was okay. They thought it was so we took advantage of solid land and took a walk about a half mile to town. Angoon has not been visited by cruise ships and the tourism industry is limited to charter boat fishing.

 photo 7302f155-d960-4c9f-bef7-a5f5f25d4554_zpsab3b30ed.jpg  photo DSCN9769_zpscecb031e.jpg  photo DSCN9773_zps20892643.jpg  photo DSCN9771_zpsa6a50b6c.jpg During our walking tour of the town a pickup truck pulled up next to us and the driver, who turned out to be the harbormaster, asked if we were from the sailboat tied in the marina. We replied that we were and he told us we were tied in someone’s slip and that we needed to move. So we hoofed it back to the marina. The harbormaster was waiting for us, I am sure he would have given us a ride had we asked but I think he was too shy to offer. He did offer to help us move and foolishly I said we would be fine. Well I forgot about the current. We were supposed to tie up in the empty slip in the right side of this picture. After nearly pulling the harbormaster and his two grandsons into the water trying to tie up where we were supposed to, we ended up where we are in the picture. The harbormaster said that it would be fine.  photo DSCN9777_zpsaba62efc.jpg Lots of “shipwrecks” as my wife likes to call them, you can see all the rocks now.  photo DSCN9694_zpsa5862e07.jpg

Since our primary reason to stop at Hoonah was to get gas we asked about the fuel dock’s hours. We had arrived at 5:30 on Friday evening and fuel dock is officially open from 9-5 Monday through Friday. The harbormaster told us that if there was enough interest the owner would open up for an hour at 1:00 pm Saturday (others around town told us it was 1:30 or maybe 1:45) The harbormaster told us where the fuel dock owner lived and the places he liked to go so we could touch base if we saw him. We didn’t.

The next morning we walked to the store and bought ice and a few things, there being no road, stuff was pricy. We watched one young man ring up a $200.00 tab for a small shopping cart of stuff to take out to his fish camp. Standing in line we got some good stories from the fellow who runs the dump; like high tailing it out of there to get away from bears or the time, when burning the garbage (to keep the bears away) someone had thrown away a bunch of bullets. “They were flying everywhere...” By the time we got back to the boat the harbormaster was there and told us that he had run into the owner of the fuel dock out at the airport and that he would be there at 1:00pm.

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And he was, as were a couple of other boats, so we gassed up and headed out the channel. It was a slow go with a four knot current coming against us for about a mile. TIme and tide, time and tide.