Adak Sitrep

Sitting by the woodstove here on the Adak, burning cut-offs from palette remnants, curious to see whether this log that I (mistakenly) sprayed with chemical fire retardant will catch. Cal curled up on his pillow, enjoying the heat as the rain drums away overhead. Fog makes it impossible to see much beyond the breakwater. Damp is the word today in the  Alaskan rainforest.

The past few days have consisted, for the most part, of work. Pressure-washing the bejesus out of the old girl, locating problem areas, filling them in with foam. Fielding calls from the Coast Guard, city, concerned friends. Meeting with the diver at the fire department to examine the leak, and discuss possible causes. Doing research on these Army tugboats to locate haul-out plans, and coordinating with Allen Marine as we push to find a way forward. Two bluebird days between low-pressure systems sat in the panhandle, and I was able to silicone the wheelhouse, clear off the decks, pull weeds, and give the deck a good scrub. Just get stuff organized. Made sure the lucky whale vertabra was good and scrubbed, and brought the Peruvian guard bulls back on board. Shipshape. I swear that, after almost five years of ownership of the Adak, I can feel the boat exhale, growing happy as things get put back in order.

Wow. That log with the flame retardant just won’t catch.

The Coast Guard is happy. In truth, the Marine Safety Detachment Division has been a pleasure to work with – Mike, Jennifer, and Ken. They’re all obviously wood boat enthusiasts, and there was none of the pleasure taken in enforcing rules for rules’ sake that one seems to encounter with government agencies. The other day I set up an office in the Highliner Cafe. When I needed documentation to get the boat to run, Mike ran it down to me. That sort of thing. Above and beyond.

Today at 1 PM there’s a meeting with the city attorney, city administrator, and harbormaster. It is my hope and wish that we get things worked out to the point where I can leave Wednesday to get back to HMJ and R. The wee love apparently is enthralled with Scuffy, her pet tugboat. She enjoys batting it over, which I’m not sure bodes well for our future. Although she did show a penchant for boxing early one.

On the one hand it’s been good to get dirty again. Two years at Stanford has made me soft and mushy. I’ve forgotten the squish of an oily rag, that rich smell of middle earth, the haze in your head from smelling diesel. As Xander said the other day, the world was raised mean and hard on the stuff. It’s true. I have doubts that we’ll have the power to keep what we can get in the ground.

Anyways – but mostly it’s been missing seeing Haley change. As she starts grabbing for her giraffe, seeing what makes her smile. I feel awful not being there, cursing instead at a caulk gun when it doesn’t advance, adjusting the hose in the 4000 gallon tank so it makes that whinnying horse sound, finding the dregs of sludgy diesel.

Cal is holding up pretty good. Like all of us he wants some constancy. If all goes well I’ll pack up the boat and fly direct to NYC for a meeting with Houghton regarding the book. I’m not sure it will happen or not, but hoping to make it back in time. Along with all this I’ve been working with their design team to make a map of fictional Port Anna and environs. It’s been a bit surreal, heading to the library at night to draft the layout of this fictional place. Throws the question of what do novels accomplish into sharp relief.

So many folks have brought up the idea of selling the boat – or other, darker possibilities. I don’t know. I figure if the time is right to do that, it will present itself. Meanwhile, this is a piece of World War II history, for the love. It transported US troops in the Pacific theater. She deserves some respect. On top of that boats have a strange way of worming themselves into your makeup, almost to the point where you can’t see yourself without them. I have pinned to the bulletin board a drawing of the boat done by the son of a close friend – when he wanted to draw something for me he drew the tug, along with Cal colored red. Boats become you, for better or worse, their relentless demands giving shape to your  life. I suppose I have a little girl, and family to do that for me now.

Colorado sure likes the boat. Perhaps it’s the long walks at the beginning and end of day into town and back to the transient. Perhaps it’s the sea air, he thinks it’s good for his constitution. I kid you not, each morning he heads out on deck and takes a good bracing sniff to start the day. He’s becoming a proper old man, carefully selecting the moments when he chooses to listen to me, and when it’s more important to pee here, right here, at this very moment, goddammit.

While working, unscrewing scabs holding up the tarp on the wheelhouse, or putting lumber away in the cargo hold, I’ve been listening to Cheryl Strayed’s “Wild.” Fascinated by the structure of it, starting with the boot falling, how the narrative moves elliptically, building on itself, hearkening back to childhood, bleak times in a way that steadily works up a portrait of a flawed, intelligent, passionate woman lost in the world following the death of her mother. It shocked me how close the storyline tracked to my own book – or rather how closely my book tracks hers. 

Well, the verdict is, if you drop a mattress corner on a fire extinguisher and it goes off in the salon of your boat dousing your wood supply, the coated wood will, put under enough heat, burn. We’re down to coals now. Cal’s looking up like WTF, aren’t you going to throw on another log? Instead it’s to Town Hall, to chat with the powers that be, and see what the next move might be. Hopefully it involves getting on a plane tomorrow to be back with the family.


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