Adak Under Threat

August 3rd, at a wedding in Seattle of dear friends on the MV Skansonia. I had my phone off during the ceremony. When I opened it, just after dinner, there were twelve messages. My tugboat, the Adak, which has been rented out, was taking on water. Quickly, about 30 gallons a minute, but not so fast that a single Rule pump wasn’t keeping up – at about half its capacity. Two more of those pumps were in the bilge.

Standing in the dark outside this historic ferryboat, I wished all this was happening to this vessel, and not my WWII. Except all good people were aboard, dancing, flirting by the rails, including the bride and groom, both of whom I love dearly.

This idea of sinking another boat was the first of many unhelpful thoughts  I would have over the course of the next couple of days.

Walking back up the hill to the house where I was staying, with three friends, passing a bottle of sweet champagne between us, raspberry bushes and their dark blooms pushing out from the hillside, goats grazing by the chainlink fence, I laughed. Having some sense of the hell that was about to descend.

That night the Coast Guard, police, fire department and harbor were called. The leak was stabilized. The next morning I had a flight to Philadelphia, where Rachel was with the baby. (I should have mentioned here in the blog that Rachel and I had  the sweetest wee daughter Haley Marie who I am missing something awful right now. Then again, it’s a blog about a tugboat, so I don’t feel too bad.)

Ten minutes before boarding the plane  back to Philly, I made the decision to fly to Sitka instead. Ate stale croutons at a place called the African Lounge, finished final edits on the novel (if you want to understand the true irony of this, you’ll need to read the end of the book – you can probably divine what happens), took off for Sitka, landing to a peach-colored sunset at 9:34 pm. My buddy Rick met me at the airport with a hug, burgers and fries. We drove to the Edgecumbe parking lot, a view of the channel – and there, at the very end, the Adak – and ate.

According to the diver and Steve Warren, who has kept hawk-eyes on the vessel, and is largely responsible for the good fortune shed on the boat over the last year, the hole was large enough to put a fist through, and to see the inside planking. The wood around the hole was undisturbed, to the point where a slab of 3/4 ply bent to hug the hull with nails. The source of the gash was a mystery.

I drifted in and out of sleep that night, listening for the sound of pumps kicking in, hearing none. In the morning, a broad, warm sunny one, I checked the bilge. Quiet. The boat was taking on no water. Rare for any wooden boat.

At 8 am the Coast Guard arrived. Mike and Jennifer, who I had met before, were reasonable, kind, clearly lovers of wood boats. Mike wore glasses that would go over well in Williamsburg. They had to answer, however, to their superiors.

“I’d be shocked if you were allowed to move this boat, either under tow, or under its own powers,” Mike said.

“How am I supposed to haul it out to get fixed?”

Mike shrugged.

He took out papers saying that the boat was taking on water, was a potential risk for sinking, and would need to have oil, diesel, and hydraulic fluid off in the next 96 hours.

“The boat’s not taking on water though,” I said, reading it over again.

“Well, this was written August 2nd, and it was then.”

“But when I sign I’m dating this August 4th.”

I didn’t sign. Either way I would have 96 hours to get the fuel off, they said. I’d have to figure out how. In addition, Stan warned that the Department of Natural Resources and the Environmental Protection Agency had gotten involved, wanting to ensure the boat didn’t end up on state lands.

That day was spent in the engine room trying to get things in order, and in town on the phone trying to figure out the way forward. Allen Marine was kind enough to offer their dry dock to repair the boat – meaning that we wouldn’t have to travel to Wrangell or Hoonah or Petersburg, just east out of town to Jamestown Bay, a couple miles. The boat could even be towed there, although tugs in the area refused to get near because the boat didn’t have insurance.

While cleaning up the boat and putting things in order I continued to call harbors. A friend suggesting careening the boat, setting it on its side at a low tide and working on it. “Of course then there’s the risk of it caving in.” Even better, just taking the boat out and sinking it. Mike at the CG had suggested this, although he called it, euphemistically, “parting ways.” Another friend mentioned the possibility of taking it to Hoonah and losing track of it along the way. “It would be a great story to save it and all,” Mike said. “But we’re just afraid the boat’s going down.”

Things took a turn for the better when marine surveyor Greg Cushing agreed to come by to look over the boat. He spent a good bit of time checking the frames, and we looked at all the tanks, measuring the amount of diesel. Probably around 300 tons. When things are going to hell in a handbasket, what a difference an even-keeled, professional, kind person makes. One person not losing their head.

That night, back in the bunk, Colorado in his doggy bed made from settee pillows, I figured that things wouldn’t get much worse. Folks seemed to be coming from just about every angle.


The following morning, while working with Greg on the survey, and starting to remove tarps on the wheelhouse, I came across a manila envelope with my name written in thick Sharpee set on the mat in front of the galley door. Inside a notice saying, “This vessel poses clear and present danger.” I must leave the dock in ten days or risk impoundment of the
ADAK. Another sheet telling me the boat has already been impounded. 

Except the Coast Guard said no leaving the dock, which kinda makes it hard to leave the dock in the first place, boat impounded or not. Plus the Coast Guard said to defuel – although it’s kind of hard to run a boat with no fuel.

Trying to remember my Anne Lamott, that whole Bird by Bird and such. Perhaps it is time to move on from the Adak, to part ways with her. But I don’t think so. The hull is on good shape. The inside dry. In addition it’s an historical vessel, from World War II – part of the history of this country. And it’s also our home.

I’ve been considering some crowdsourcing options, Kickstarter and such to haul the boat out, but these things take time and I’m working on the boat. If anyone has ideas or thoughts to support the old girl, please do let me know.

In the meantime missing my daughter and wife to be, trying to do the best we can for this boat. They say all boats want to go home, to the bottom of the ocean. Well, the Adak’s not ready. Not yet.