Wednesday, May 11, 2005

The pleasures of rowing

After work at the cannery one evening, I rowed out with the tide into Frederick Sound. The double end 12 foot plank skiff made good time, especially with a six knot current running. I always give the red can at Ness' Point at the edge of the harbor a wide birth. There is a scholarship fund at Petersburg High honoring Clifford Mort Foss, who drowned when his skiff was sucked in behind that channel marker and turned over.
There aren't many dangers in store for the rowing enthusiast, but that's one of them. Another is tying up to a piling when the tide is coming in. The skiff could be pulled under. Or, as you see on occasion, the tide goes out and the skiff is left hanging in the air by it's bow line. My grandfather did prohibit my father and his brother from sailing their skiff out the Narrows once. But their bravado might have turned to disaster as the outgoing tide was being met by a good Southeast swell and creating a cauldron of combers at the mouth of the Narrows.
It was calm as a mirror in the Sound the day I went, so I kept going toward Horn Cliffs. No point in trying to get back in the Narrows until the tide turned anyway. The seven mile row was easy in that little East Coast style life skiff. It had been made by Davis and Sons of Metlakatla well before WWII. Davis and Sons used to make hundreds of the 12 foot and 14 foot models for the hand trollers in the '30s. They would row up from Washington state in large groups, sailing and hitching rides from gas boats as the opportunity arose. They headed for Southeast Alaska to tow cuddy hunk lines for the big king salmon that were feeding there before making their run for the Columbia. When the Bonneville dam was put in that pretty much ended that era.
But many of their boats were passed from one hand to another for years after until they almost all became no longer serviceable. Dad bought one of the few left when we were kids and we kept it up through the years. I never lost my interest in rowing, even after we graduated to a 3 horsepower outboard, then an 18 horse, a 20 horse, a 40 horse a 55 horse and then later I bough a 200 horse. My brothers eventually gave our skiff to a fiberglass man who turned it into a plug to make a mould to pop off duplicates. The three of us each have a replica of the original one, only in fiberglass. But there's no maintenance on them anymore, and mine has floatation tanks built in.
There have been several attempts part us with our rowing skiffs. Sealaska Corporation has a museum and they wanted our original skiff because it was a rare example of the work of a famous Alaska Native family. Later a guy from L.A. wanted to buy Arnold's double-ender. He was in a rowing club in L.A. and wanted it bad. I suppose if someone wanted to market them, we could start duplicating one of ours.
Rowing to Horn Cliff wasn't work at all. I just remember the nice weather and stopping at McDonald Island to gather a bucket of mussels to steam up later. They were good sized ones and I think I prefer them now to clams. A lot more tender and just as flavorful. I remember there was a big gas turbine yacht drifting around on my route to McDonald Island and they took off full bore when I got within a mile of them. Quite a contrast in ways to enjoy the solitude of the Sound.
There's not much wildlife to see crossing an open body of water, and my grandfather would have frowned on such a pleasure trip. There's always the risk that the wind can come up all of a sudden and make for a grueling scramble for shelter. The old timers weren't into such pastimes. My grandfather had had to row soil from one island to another in Norway to get enough to grow a garden in. Rowing these days is to drain the stress of cramped city living, not some survival thing. Although it could be a good Outward Bound adventure.
Petersburg kids had been rowing across the Narrows and up Petersburg Creek a few miles for at least fifty years before I started doing it. You row up with the tide and come out with the tide and fish the holes for salmon and trout coming and going. It's hard to beat. Very relaxing. My father always made a point to row up the creek with my much younger sisters. It was a rite of passage in the Enge family.
No matter where you row, in open water or along the shore with it's more abundant life, you have a lot of time to observe and think about what's going on around you. It's just not the same as screaming along with an outboard motor, although I enjoyed that for a lot of years. I think the best way to get close to a lot of wildlife is with a rowboat with an electric trolling motor. Then you don't have the sound and movement of the oars to spook the game. This is especially true of getting close to bears that graze along the beaches in Southeast Alaska. This would be a new phenomenon for Alaska.
One trip I would like to make in my double-ender is around the Islands at the mouth of the Stikine river in the fall. The migratory birds stop there by the load. You get all the different geese and ducks, sandhill cranes, snow geese, and if you're lucky you can bag a moose. I'm really more into shooting with a camera anymore, though. There's a lot of other trips I'd like to make by hauling the skiffs around on a fishing boat and getting dropped off somewhere until the boat comes back around for me. Or just use a fishing boat that isn't working. Arnold has a dandy 58 footer I'd love to have an excuse to charter with. He uses his smaller boat for gillnetting salmon in the summer.
Ideas, ideas: being free to go now really has me thinking. I'd sure like to share my knowledge of and excitement for Southeast Alaska. I've always enjoyed taking people out on the water up there. Having kids with disabilities has me interested in taking out with others with disabilities. They and single folk that need their batteries recharged with some Alaska excitement. I remember when our kids were young, we had four in diapers at the same time, and I couldn't get out and it was getting to me. A friend rented a four-wheel drive truck and drug my oldest son and me out moose hunting near Anchorage. It really got me firing on all cylinders again.
That's where the need is and it has to be done in a way that's economical. Commercial fishing boats are definitely economical; the low price of salmon has made sure of that.


Post a Comment

<< Home