Saturday, May 14, 2016

The Thirty Six Hour Marathon

 I got a call last week from my friend Jim Dybdahl. He said he needed a favor. Jim is one of those guys who is pretty self sufficient. He's got a good mind and can figure things out and if he can't he's got the kind of personality that attracts people to him, so he will know someone who can help. In the almost forty years I've known him, he's never asked for a favor from me, so I assumed it was pretty important. As it turns out, he was asked if he would relinquish a few days of his fishing time to tow a couple of rafts from Angoon to Hoonah. One of the young fellows who grew up here is going to try his hand at oyster farming. I'm hopeful that he can make a go of it. From what I can gather, the rafts we were going to tow were used in three previous attempts at farming. I'm not sure why its so difficult to be successful at it, except that you're combing two very tough professions- fishing and farming. Both are labor intensive, require a large outlay of cash and long hours under grueling conditions without a guarantee of a pay check. With the oyster farming, you also have to contend with environmental conditions like water temps, wind and water quality. In addition, the cute little otters that all the tourists think are so fun to look at are not much more than furry eating machines. They have worked their way into Icy Strait and are leaving a desert in their path, wiping out Dungeness crabs, clams, abalone and anything else they can get their grubby little paws on. Eventually, the stock will collapse because they will literally eat themselves out of existence. From what I can gather, they happen to love oysters too. Strings of oysters hanging from a stationary barge will no doubt seem like manna from heaven. Otters aren't the only predator that likes oysters. Some of our less than honorable boaters seem to feel no pangs of conscience about robbing someone else's property. These are the same clowns who take crabs  and shrimp from other folks pots. I'm not sure how you justify stealing. I well remember a guy who pulled into the dock at L. Kane's years ago for fuel. He said he had taken some crabs from a pot in Spasski Bay, but justified it by leaving a six pack of beer behind. I guess that's better than nothing, but a six pack doesn't pay the rent. In any event, I agreed to go with Jim. He likes to get an early start, so I had to get up at 3:00 AM so I could meet him at the boat at 4:00. The trip to Angoon takes seven hours and the plan was to get the raft ready to tow and do a little fishing. As it was, we got there at about the time we thought we would, but there was a miscommunication and the raft wasn't out front where it was supposed to be. We had to wait for a number of hours for the tide to get high enough for us to enter the bay where it was anchored. We did go fishing for a few hours, but there was almost no sign of feed or fish anywhere. Go figure. In almost every other situation Jim would have caught one or two big kings, but let me join him and the fish disappeared like a fart in the wind. Oh well. We finally made it in to the bay and tied on to the rafts. One of the rafts has a structure on it like a really skookum tent, complete with a stove and cot and a few other things to make it comfortable for the watchman. When the tide book said that the tide was slack, we took off with the rafts. Unfortunately the tide was still running like a river against us and at one point we were actually moving backwards. It was kind of unnerving to be towing those two rafts and thinking about being able to control them in the tide. It finally slacked off and we were able to make a little forward progress, but honestly, it was painfully slow. For the first three hours we were underway I could look right up the bay into Angoon. Eventually we started making a little more headway, moving along at a smoking fast 2.5 knots. Of course there was nothing much to do but talk, so I did plenty of that, so much so that my already raw throat became dry as dead men's bones and I had to keep replenishing my water bottle. I'm not sure how much water I drank on that day and a half trip, but it was impressive. Even more so was the number of times I had to step out back to pee. All that water has to go somewhere. We towed all through the night, past Tenekee Inlet, Freshwater Bay, False Bay and around Point Agusta. We were just coming off nineteen foot tides and during the day there were multitudes of logs and other drift all around us. I kept praying we wouldn't run into any of them during the night. Jim assured me that at a little over two knots, if we did strike one it wouldn't do any damage, but nonetheless I wanted to avoid them at all costs. Remember the Titanic! We kept scanning the video sounder for signs of feed or fish, but it was pretty bleak. We did see one elephant seal and a few whales in the distance, but I assume they weren't having any more luck than we were at locating fish. They probably had to go hungry until the tides drop off.We each managed to take a few painfully short naps and arrived at Burnt Point with the rafts intact. We got them tied up and headed for home. Overall, it was a great trip. I got to spend time with my friend, who was generous with his advice about fishing, I made some good money for the time spent and I was able to help out someone who I admire. It was a win, win situation


  1. I hope they have success with the oyster farming. I was intrigued by your description of the skookum structure which you said was for a watchman. So they'll be guarding their operation while they grow it? Glad you had a safe and uneventful trip and fun with a friend.

  2. Hi Jill, yeah, it's in a semi-remote area away from town about six miles- a couple miles south of the farm. Human nature being what it is, people will feel like a few oysters won't be missed. You can imagine if Wal-mart or some other store left the doors unlocked what would happen. Then you have to add in those pesky sea otters. They eat everything in their path, and oysters hanging in baskets would be too tempting to pass up.