It wasn’t easy, I can tell you that much.
Minutes after we pulled off the dock in Sitka, waving to Haley and Rachel and Colorado, right off the bat we had engine issues, oil being thrown in the crankcase. That held us up in Schultz Cove for the night, twenty miles from town. It looked like we might have to limp on home the following day – but then Steve Hamilton, who owned the boat in the 80s, and raised four kids on it, saved the day by finding a piece of chewed gasket in a pump valve. Voila. The next morning we ripped through Sergius Narrows, past confused cormorants, speculative otters watching from their backs. The wind picked up, and we anchored by Deadman’s Reach, where we ate cormorant dusted with taco seasoning and hardly slept because the anchor kept dragging over the sandy bottom. Thunk. For a mast light we Saran-wrapped a headlamp to the wood. We were doing our best, what can I say.
The next morning the sun finally came up, and we hustled on east, pushing through Peril Strait, sledding down Chatham at a good eight knots. We ran out of fuel, and then our saltwater pump broke. Drifting dangerously in the wind while fumbling around in the oily bilge looking for the sheave that came loose. Not a good feeling. But find it we did – and Steve pounded a core from a rusty sproked, tapped in new screw holes, and we were back in business. Boom.
I picked up Katie Orlinsky that day, photographer for the Smithsonian Magazine, in cheerily-named Murder Cove. We anchored in Portage Bay. The following day, after a desperate run from water at a bear-swarmed creek, we made it to Petersburg (turned out the Coast Guard had an all-boats alert on the water for us) and then Wrangell. Oh the lights of Wrangell, to see them. Of course we broke down just miles from town, and had to float a bit while troubleshooting the engine.
That Tuesday we were lifted, barely (eleven tons over capacity, the boat clocked in at 311) and that was excruciating. But then we were on the blocks, and since then – two and a half weeks ago – it has just been pure work. Zipping off through-hulls, chainsawing out planks, learning to spile on battens, spin oakum, thread cotton, make it, and then set it, each with a different iron. Using a beetle, a horsing iron needed to drive corking for big boats. 6 AM to 8 PM and then spinning oakum over beers. Cementing the seams. How to char a hull without burning the planks. I swear I could name each of our planks, give you the particular characteristics, how this chine plank has gribble damage but a swirl to the grain and so forth.
But hell if we didn’t do those butt joints, get everything tight, and paint the beast. I’ve been living on the boat, and you can’t have running water, so it’s been taking showers across the street at the Hungry Beaver bar, washing pine tar and Bar-ox from behind the ears, and doing dishes in a nearby creek or the ocean, the salt water rusting my favorite wood-handled spatula, which pissed me off. But hey – in the scheme of things, things are good. The hull, of course, is in great shape, as we knew it was. The doug fir pickled and thick.
Keeping this short, because crew arrives at 1030 this morning on the plane, and we’re supposed to put in at 2 pm. Much, much work ahead. Hopefully we’ll have smooth sailing back to Sitka. And – for more details on the trip – there will be the Smithsonian article coming out, which goes into all the nitty gritty.
Oh yeah. And the book comes out April 26th in NYC. So there will be getting east for that, a whole different story. More on that soon.