INCIDENTS OF My TRAVELS to
NEVER SEEKING ADVENTURE YET ADVENTURE FINDS ME
Kodiak Alaska Nov 1988
We could already hear the breakers as we approached the southern tip of what is marked on the map as Dangerous Cape. Around the tip of this peninsula is our destination, Boulder Bay. We were about to learn that the names for these locations were aptly named.
A note to new readers: This story is a continuation of the book attempt you find in earlier entries to the blog site. It was a job offering that sounded, and was, too good to be true. Two weeks on a survey expedition in the wilds of Kodiak Alaska. Three of us, Harry Waterfield (the contractor), Jim Purdy and myself flew out to the site just south of Ugak Bay. We set up camp on a seasonally dried out lagoon and hiked miles inland to conduct land surveys. Hunters were establishing cabins there and documentation was required. Jim a surveyor from the Carolinas was the expert on site. I was just a mule, dragging equipment back and forth.
However, it was an experience. Within a week, the boss, Harry, intends returning to Anchorage to “take care of some business” and promises to return in a week before our contract concludes. He is pleased with our work and expresses that he would like us to continue the contract on the next site, Boulder Bay.
He flies out on the only transport we had back to civilization. A week passes and no sign of Harry, our stores depleted by then. We continue our work; surely, he was delayed momentarily. It is three more days without food before we hear his plane overhead and land on the beach miles off.
We drop what we are doing and rush to camp with dreams of replenished stocks and a decent dinner. However, within the hour of or trek back we hear the echo of his plane power up off the mountainsides. Sure enough, we see him fly overhead directed north to Kodiak city.
We arrive to the camp and find a pile of food, two weeks supply, in our storage igloo along with a note scribbled on a paper plate “Business in Anchorage not concluded. Will return in one week”. Additional information scribbled with directions as to how to conclude our work in his absence.
We continued the job to completion even after his being late on return again. Now de decide to lift the lagoon camp and settle at the Boulder Bay camp…
By the time of our arrival, the day has waned unexpectedly, after a couple of incidents that delayed our travel we have arrived at our destination. We certainly did not expect that in this late in the autumn to be strapped for time in the mid-afternoon. However, in these latitudes, the days were shortening dramatically as we approached the solstice. Southern Alaska will achieve 4-hours of day and 20 hours of night by December 21. As the days passed and as daylight shortened. Here we were in the first weeks of November and our nightfall was already at dinnertime.
Our objective was simple, now that our survey work at the lagoon camp done for already a week now; we were instructed to move our camp from the lagoon toward further south Boulder Bay. Four weeks into our current two-week contract, and being done one week already we decide to chance a trip of moving the camps. Our decision was weighed against shortening days and the lack of work and,truth be told, the boredom of having nothing to do. We planned the trip and were about to execute it earlier in the week when severe three-day gale kept us moored in our tent. We rode the storm in safety, only a mere spine of sand separated our depressed dry lagoon from the torrent of winds, preventing us from being blowing us away. The storm abates and we are now execute our escape.
This morning greeted us with some sunlight piercing the gloom of clouds overhead; balmy forty-degree weather proves that today is the day and we decided that it was as good a time as any to move our camp. Our destination was a mere dozen miles south from our current location as the crow flies. What can go wrong? We loaded the skiff with reckless abandon and started on our way.
Our hubris will soon be tested.
The first delay was when we set out from the safety of our lagoon, the calm waters swelled as we passed from the inlet out toward the rage of Pacific waters; a berme created by the recent gale storm halted our progress immediately several feet way from shore. A ridge of seabed pushed toward the island and hidden a mere foot under the wash. We hit it unexpectedly and it lodged our skiff immobile. Sideways against the waves. Jim, worried, screaming the obvious in the deafening wind, “If we do not move those waves will topple us!”
Our short skiff rocked in the surf. Already burdened with survey equipment, a Rokon motorcycle, timber, and a collection of unnecessary miscellany from our camp we sat low in the wash. A mere foot of clearance and we would have missed the obstacle altogether. As it was, the water level was mere inches from the lip of our sides.
I sat at the bow and Jim on the transom at the stern operating the motor. We stared at each other unsure of what to do as we sat immobile.
I yelled back to Jim, “I’m going to try something!” and jump out onto the submerged ridge. I stood ankle-deep in water several feet from the shore. I start pushing the boat. A couple of heaves and rocking started to feel the grit of sand scraping the hull projected through my hands. The vessel was in motion. We started moving asI take one-step…then another. We are finally free but I find that I have walked down the far side of the berne's ridge and I am now chest-deep in water. My rain gear logged with water I cannot bring myself onto the skiff.
“Quit fooling around!” yells Jim.
I flounder as the water in my tripled weight.
“I…CAN’T!” I yell back.
Jim notices my despair and comes across the skiff to draw me in. However, the wet plastic of my rain gear makes gripping me impossible. He cannot pull me in and I cannot pull myself up. I no longer feel the seabed beneath my feet. The skiff is free rocking free out toward sea and I hang for life on its gunwale.
Quick thinking, Jim grabs an oar, wedges it under me, and uses it as a lever to lift me out of the water. We both grunt and with a heave, I flop over the edge onto the bottom of the boat like a prize-winning marlin. Breathing hard we both laugh at our stupid circumstance. We continue our course, confident that we have encountered the one and only hazard of our trip.
He is already directing the motor toward our destination as I balance myself, standing to drain the water from my gear. I then sit on the bow, leaning on the lifesaving oar, placing it across the gunwale. But not for long. In our burdened state the waves, peaking over our heads, pour into the skiff.. As we dip, all is silent. As we crest the crashing din of wind and surf is almost deafening. All the while, I try to scoop water that pours into the vessel. Our hand siphon pump fails within the first half hour of the trip, the siphon’s hose falls off into the sea, without it, the pump has no suction. I am now scooping the water with an empty coffee can. A Pyrrhic effort. On the positive, that wind had dried me off from the earlier incident.
We travel southwesterly at an obstructed speed. Accelerating and decelerating at the whim of the imposing waves. Along our right is a seven-mile stretch of cliffs. Long enough to choke the strait of Gibraltar at the Pillars of Heracles, that brief divide of the Atlantic that feeds the Mediterranean. In comparison, our lagoon the southern tip of Spain and our destination is the northern shores of Africa. Yet this is Alaska and the sight is all the more magnificent.
Time passes without notice. We are at it forever and my discharging invading water seems like an eternal task. The effort becomes rote, the sounds of chaos a background melody by now. But all of a sudden I notice a change in cadence as we crest the waves. The howl of the wind is there and the lapping of water across our hull continues its rhythm, yet there is no motor. I look up and notice Jim fussing with it. An apparent stall and now we are floating aimlessly in the water. Our vessel making its way toward shore conducted by currents now. He cannot get it started. I look toward the shores that we are being dragged toward. No beach, all cliff and I see that the force of the waves silently crash against rocks resulting in a tremendous spray of water. The force will surely splinter us against the cliff side.
Our second dilemma.
“I KNOW I KNOW!” was his look as he fiddles with the motor. Drawing on the cord with no response. Toggling the choke. No response. Slapping its sides. Obviously nothing.
I may be over exaggerating. The cliff is about a mile away. I am sure Jim will get the motor going before impact. I think...I am sure of it. Just to be on the safe side I start rowing with the oars. Yet even with my best efforts, I do not purchase any advantage against the force of the tide. We near the shore at worrying speed.
He ignores me. He too is concerned but concentrated on starting the motor. I fool myself into thinking that I am buying us time with my flailed rowing. We are close now. I can hear the crash of the surf on the cliff walls. I dare not look to see how close…
Mercifully the familiar sound of machine reaches my ears. Jim got the motor going. We are at full throttle again moving against the force of nature. We head due east to distance us from the dangers of the cliffs. Truthfully, it was foolish of us to travel so near in the first place. After a brief celebratory exchange we continue southeast again.
During my continued scoops of water I notice out toward the eastern horizon that a dolphin is matching our speed and direction. Dipping in and out of the waves as we crest and trough. The vision freezes in my head. Our time together brief as it dips one last time without reappearing. I look back to Jim for a “how about that” but he did not see it. The experience is all mine. He will not believe me when we discuss it later.
We reach the southern tip of the length of cliffs. A place the map calls Dangerous Cape that we need to round before approaching Boulder Bay. Yet on arrival we notice that the lapping sound of water on rock does not seem to be coming from the land mass. As we turn shore-ward, we see the reason for Boulder Bay’s namesake. Over time the tip of the Cape’s peninsula, an overhanging cliff, has deposited debris out to the water. Large boulders now block our path toward the only path discernible toward any beach we can land. maybe deposited by the 1964 tsunami but if it is named on the map the cause may be more ancient. Worse, these islands of rock appear and disappear with the swelling of the tidal water. An obstacle course.
Jim stops the motor. This is unexpected and we need to discuss it. Did Harry know of this when he issued the order to move the camp before abandoning us to the wild? Do we dare navigate the living labyrinth? One of those boulders emerging under us will surely roll us if not split our hull. If we were to be stranded, stranded without housing or protection from the elements, the overland route to return to the lagoon would be long and dangerous over treacherous mountains. That is if we survived the experience.
Who wants this land surveyed anyway?
I suggest that we roll through slowly; I will hang out over the bow. The water is clear enough that I can see the boulders before they erupt out of the trough of water. I will guide Jim to move left, right, fore and aft to avoid collision.
Jim reneges a bit but in truth, we are losing daylight. Moreover, a trip back in fully loaded skiff would be a treacherous endeavor. The collected foot of sloshing water on the exposed ribs of our inner hull that I could not scoop out fast enough attests to it.
We have no choice but continue forward.
As we trickle onward, I am half out of the skiff gut on to the keel that connects the port and starboard hull. Eagle eyed trough misted glasses.
The first boulders are easy, too large to submerge completely. I guide around them simple enough. Then as I see one about to emerge off our right side...
“RIGHT!” meaning affirmative.
“RIGHT?” he responds.
“NO! NO! TO THE LEFT!” I reiterate with wildly waving hands.
“SORRY SORRY…RIGHT!” waving to the right.
Left right speed up slow down. We are nearly through! I cannot believe this is wor…
“STOP!!! REVERSE REVERSE!”
The largest flat obstruction is about to emerge in front of us. I have to move back into the skiff to avoid it myself. Jim reacts but not quickly enough. Our bow is about to crack on impact. I grab an oar and push with all my strength against the behemoth. The oar's tip chips under the force. Not sure whether it is Jim’s reversing or my full effort on the rock but we slowly roll off the beast without damage. Just a scrape on wood like nails on chalkboard.
We navigate around it and finally move toward clear waters. We land on a short strip of beach just beyond. We unpack the equipment and move it far enough up shore so it would not wash off during high tide. We explore around and cannot find a clear path inland from that place. Did Harry consider this when planning our new camp here? The beach did not even have enough strip to land his Piper Cub plane, let alone take off.
Our plan: return with our tent and the rest of the equipment, set up camp and await his return. He was now gone for three weeks. He was sure to return…the topic invades every conversation these past days.
Jim remains optimistic. I am starting to have my doubts.
“Let’s go. It’s getting late.”
I concur. We heave to our vessel back on the water, lighter than we arrived. After unloading, while Jim took measurements to jot down the longitude and latitude of our stash and jot it down in our journal for future recovery I had a chance to roll the skiff and empty it of all water. With just us two, we rode higher over the surface of the water, with less of it lapping in.
The return was uneventful. We were too exhausted to even muster a word to yell across to each other the entire time. To say we rode in silence would be a misnomer, the elements still raged in our ears. However, the motor held for the entire trip, our one and only concern now.
We arrive at the lagoon at sunset, minutes earlier than yesterday’s sunset. We barely light the stove in the near darkness of our tent’s interior. We can take to our sleeping bags and let the exhaustion take us but the nights now dip to freezing temperatures. We heat the tent in preparation for it and let the fire die out gradually while we sleep. I place my damp clothes near the stove in hopes that its cherry red heat will dry them. It is futile though. Since the deluge during our first week, and lack of sufficient warming sunlight since and colder ambient temperatures, I have not had one dry scrap of clothing. I wandered about in dampness. The best it can offer is some drying before the plummeting nighttime temperatures freeze them in place, I would awake to find them frozen solid. Which I would then spend half an hour kneading them inside the heat of my sleeping bag to flex them enough to wear. My body heat the only furnace in the dawning days here.
Before we retire for the day, I look at Jim and say the obvious “I don’t think we should return.” No one knows where we are. No one would look for us here, let alone at Boulder Bay. The promise of a two-week well-paid contract fooled us into believing we would be back before anyone would notice. I did not tell my family on our last call nor any of my roommates before my departure. Jim was a loner; it has been months since he reported to anyone. Now four weeks gone and I have missed my monthly check in. My mother will surely be worried by now. The only person in the world aware of our location is Harry Waterfield and it seems his interest in us is not prevalent.
Our blind confidence will surely be the means of our demise,
Jim agrees. We should stay. There is more traffic at the lagoon with hunting season starting. The lagoon is a prime spot for seaplanes for drop offs and pick-ups during the season. We can send a message with imminent encounters if necessary.
We will worry how to report this to Harry another day. If that other day occurs. For now all hope of his return is as exhausted as our weary bodies.
About the Author
I have always ended up in unexpected places. So I present a collection of my tales told over the years. Places that due to circumstances I might never go on my own accord.