Almost A Normal Morning!


Photo: Tricia Ward –

Aug 19, 2010

Funny how the season wraps back on itself. This fall (in Alaska August is fall!), morning we are again or still doing the same morning/tide ritual.  In just a few short weeks the cold will start and we will be putting all the boats and gear up for the winter. The ability to sleep a little later and ignore the tides will come again until winter chores happen.  Once again we will have to watch tides, which comes as ‘overflow’, i.e., water that comes through the breaks in the ice.

Until then here is a glimpse of a normal morning in an Alaskan fishing household in early June of this year:

This morning as we were out launching the boat under a full moon at 3 AM, to catch the tide just after it was at its peak, I remembered about it.

As our boat was heading down river there came another boat that was launched just upriver in the village. Nice to see others out that time of morning :-)

The alarm goes off at 5:15 AM. This is the first time this season we have gotten up to catch a tide to get something done. (farming might be ruled by the weather, but fishing and even coastal communities are ruled by the tides, year around!!)

When loading things onto the landing craft, a boat with a ramp that drops down in the front, you usually want to do it as near the “top” of the high tide. Easier to not drive or drag all the things through the mud on the beach if there is any. It also easier on a whole range of boat needs doing it as the tide is near its highest.

We decide it is a tad too dark to get up yet, THAT excuse will only last another week as we gain 5 minutes a day in daylight this time of year. We roll over for 20 minutes more sleep/rest.

Once up, we quickly dressed. Hats, gloves, down jackets still and rubber fishing boots, Xtratufs the  brand that have a ‘narrow’ ankle so they don’t slip off as you wade through the mud or fish.

Hubby gets the big front loader started to warm up and get its air brakes primed. Same for the big truck we are loading to deliver down river.

Last night we got a last-minute call from the village we are headed to. Their septic tank ‘pumper’ is down and a resident has a tank that is full, can they borrow our village’s? After a few calls, permission is given.
Hubby heads down to pick up the pumper with our loader. I follow with the truck to make sure he doesn’t need help sighting the hitch hook-up. That is accomplished and back we head to lift it into the bed of the truck we are loading.

Time is good, it is still before 6 AM and high tide is at 7 AM, the time we are trying to have the truck loaded.

The truck is driven down the ramp to the river and parked. The loader is behind it with large planks on the forks to use as braces and support for the truck to drive onto the boat with.

Down the ramp we trudge, onto the beach, still with some ice and mud left from the winter, and into the skiff. We are heading out to the landing craft that is anchored farther out. Yesterday it was stocked, fueled, and readied for the first trip of the season. Then launched and anchored out in the river.

Damn, it looks like the tide has turned a tad early and we are already losing water on the beach. The skiff is too big to push-off if we let it go more than half way dry so all three of us get it off the beach and into the water immediately.

As we hop in we tell the dogs to ‘stay’ on the beach with our friend who is helping us.That worked until I looked away and the Lab said “Not again!! I got left a few days ago when the village guys headed up river to hunt”. Into the water she went and sure enough as we are half way out in the river here she comes. We wait and pick her up and into the skiff. She is THRILLED!! The Chesapeake decides she is happy to pick a spot and wait for us.

As we pull up to the bigger landing craft the winds start to pick up. This is important as it can make even a in-river trip miserable so we notice it and hope it levels off.

Tying the skiff to the landing craft I urge the Lab to jump on board the bigger boat. I know she is going to get cold with the wind but we are not going to have time to haul her up the steps to the cabin.

Into the cabin I go, we get the engine(s) started and the anchor pulled. The ramp on the front of the boat is let down as we pulled onto the beach. One person needs to stay in the cabin, watching so the engines don’t over heat as they are pushing the boat against the beach and also to keep the boat straight on the beach.

Our friend helps get the planking set up on the boat ramp and decking so the truck can load without damaging the decking. We are rushing since the tide is quickly receding. In our area we have tides that range up to 15′ and move quickly in and out. Today the tide is a high one of 21.5 feet to a low in about 6 hours of 6.5 feet.

We get the truck loaded with less than a foot of clearance on each side. The front ramp gets pulled up and the big loader bumps up against the boat to push us off the beach. As soon as we are totally floating free we realize the boat is listing too much to one side. About that time the darn engine stalls out as the fuel filters get plugged. The boat listing that much caused the fuel tank intake to drain down to all the ‘junk’ at the bottom of the tank that ALWAYS has sludge from the fuel. Damn and double damn!!

Hubby jumps to get the anchor out so we don’t float either down river, onto the beach or a sand bar, especially given the wind.

Next we spend 20-30 minutes getting the filter cleaned and things worked out so we can get back on the beach to back the truck off and hopefully get it loaded a little better balanced.

I venture to look over at the Lab to see how she is doing. Shivering due to being wet she realizes it is much better to head to the floor of the skiff and out of the winds. She is still so darn happy to be there with us she doesn’t care about being cold!

Finally the filters are cleaned and the power is back on. Anchor is up again and back to the beach we head. We have lost about 15 feet of beach front so we are down in more of the mud or the softer edges of the river bottom.

We get the ramp down again, planks moved around a tad and the truck backed off. I hold my breath as I hold the boat on the beach and watch from the cabin that the truck doesn’t just sink into the beach.

It works!! We are loaded and listing a tad, but doable for an in-river run!

The landing craft is backed off the beach and we head back into the deeper part of the river. The winds are at about 20 knots at this point. Not great but the trips should be OK at least until they get to the mouth of the river and are less protected.

We anchor the landing craft and head to the beach with the skiff. It is about 8:30 AM.

I head up to start breakfast while the guys put some last-minute supplies such as food, extra clothes, drinking water, etc. in the skiff.

Quickly I turn off the electric fence to keep the bears out that is surrounding the chicken’s yard, let them out and feed them.

The dogs get fed, water put on for coffee, and oven on to heat. Biscuits get mixed, eggs get whipped, cheese comes out to add to eggs, coffee gets ground.

I run out to see if the guys want to me to wait until they come in or start the actual cooking of breakfast. They feel they will be ready in about 20 minutes to eat. I log into email, pull the day’s schedule and double-check I don’t have any questions on what all is needed to be done while the guys head out for a few days.
They come in for breakfast, all of us thinking we have some time before they need to leave. In consulting the tide schedule we realize the tide will only ebb, head out, for a few more hours thus they need to leave pretty quick so as not to ‘fight the tide’. You save a VAST AMOUNT of fuel if you let the river help you make the journey, also you ultimately go quicker.

Still more things are packed up. Lighter for the stove, some extra warm socks, eggs for a customer down river, etc. SOMETHING is always forgotten but you do your best. Each trip is somewhat different so in that lies the lack of ‘checklists’.

As I see the guys head down the ramp one more time I realize they forgot the lighter. I rush out and down to the beach.

As they are loading and we are talking last-minute things the skiff catches both the tide and wind and starts to pull the anchor out and float QUICKLY out farther in the river. Hubby runs with his arms full of a tote and jumps onto the anchor. We get it pulled back up and he set the anchor again.

As I watch him head down farther the anchor pulls again! Damn wind!! I run, in clogs, into the mud to grab the darn anchor. He realizes it is heading out again and turns to tell me and sees I have it and am now holding the muddy anchor and pulling the boat back up on shore. The skiff weighs a few thousand pounds and then of course add all the things in it. Wet icy mud is damn cold when you don’t have gloves!! Doing this is clogs on a muddy beach, interesting!!

Things are loaded, anchor grabbed again and I wait to see them take off.

As I trudge one more time up the ramp and then the short hillside up to our side yard I see the eggs that I packaged up for the customer sitting on some timbers where the guys where loading.

Oh well if that is the worst for this trip it will be good!!!

It is about 11 AM. People often wonder what all I do out here in the ‘bush’ and how I stay ‘busy’. This is pretty normal in one way or the other almost all year.



One Response to “Almost A Normal Morning!”

  1. Scott Coughlin Says:

    Tricia, may I have permission to use that very nice photo of yours on my website? The dog in the bow?



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