Anarchistic musings from a SE Alaska harbor
By Ed Sasser

A Little Excursion

As the March winds of Eddy's Chuck give in to, well.....the April winds of Eddy's Chuck, I find my thoughts drifting back to the events of last April.   I always counted Harriet Hogquist as a veteran live aboard even though she spent a good share of her later winters in her cabin up island and was usually underway most of the summer.  I'll always remember last April.

"A little excursion" she would call them:  Taking unsuspecting Cheechakos and relatives visiting from "the states" on extended voyages through the islands and inlets of SE Alaska. She'd bash into 10-foot chop and ride incoming currents into inlets with wild abandon.   At 95, she could still out skipper 'most anyone I knew on the island.  We would drop whatever project we were working on and scurry to "B" float to meet her when she returned from these excursions.   Most of the times the green passengers would be incapable of helping to tie up and were fortunate enough just to get off the boat without tripping on a cleat.

It was the second week of April last year when one such crew abandoned her.  Several of us were on the dock.  She took her time appearing from the cabin after we tied her off. She looked a bit dismayed.

"What's the matter?" Tina asked through the pilothouse port.

"Just wasn't ready to come in," Harriet offered.  "The Kings are hitting early on the point and this bunch of tenderfoots just couldn't take it." Her wry smile betrayed her tired heart.

The news that the Kings were in early would spread up the docks quickly.  Each of us seemed to have something to do to our boats before we could head out for our share of the fabled King Salmon.

"Any of you want to go help me finish what we started?" Harriet pulled what looked to be about a 32 pounder out of the cooler.  It took both of her spindly arms to do it.  None of us could resist the offer, even though we knew there were too many of us for all of us to fish at one time.

So Stan, Candy, Bud, Bev, Larry, Brent, Sheila, Herb, Tina and I all ran for our own boats to grab the gear we perceived as necessary for three hours at the point.  I can't think of anyone in history who could have gotten this group to agree to do such a thing.   But she could.  Considering we could realistically fish only four poles at a time, we were obviously there for her company and to make sure she got the "pole time" she wanted. We ended up catching 10 fish by rotating the four poles.  We each took a pole for 30 minutes or until we caught something, then rotated it to the next person.  But that wasn't the most memorable part of the trip......

After the thrill of the first few fish, after two hours of steady trolling at 1.4 knots in 47.5 degree water, after varying the depths of the downriggers so some were at 80 feet and some at 150 feet, after the snacks and the recent bear stories but before it was time to pull bait and head home, Harriet dropped this on us.

Listen to her:  "I don't have much time left," she slumped.   "I've got family who would argue against it.  I know officials who would try to prevent it.....but you folks could manage it if anyone could......"

The galley was silent but for the drone of the big Cummins diesel and the slight whir of the anemometer.   What the hell is she talking about, I was thinking.

She blurted it out:  "I want a Viking funeral...you folks could do that for me."

Larry started stuttering:  "Ya mean, ya mean, ya mean where the boat burns with you in, in it?"

"We can to that," Stan spoke for the group.  Nobody argued.

We fished in silence for a while, pulling in several nice Kings that would normally have resulted in cheers.  We were happy about the fish; just distracted by the responsibility we had all just taken on. 

At long last, Harriet counted the fish in the cooler and the overflow in the burlap bags on the cockpit floor and declared, "Time to head back....it'll be getting' dark by the time we make port."

As we brought in the gear, she closed the trolling valve and moved the throttle forward.   The big Cummins growled as she slowly increased the RPMs to a steady 1750.  We watched the passing shoreline of the outer islands for bears, eagles and ravens.  The blue grouse were moving below the snow line and the first whale of the season could be expected any time now.  Outsiders think we locals are jaded by the natural wonder of this place but the truth is, when a whale broaches, we glare like tourists.  We watched wildlife until we made the turn into the narrows and the fog closed in.  We came back on RADAR and made port just as the sun was setting.  Harriet knew her times from point to point....in more ways than one.

Not a week passed before the news made its way around the island.  It might be on the mainland radio station tomorrow but today the news in Eddy's Chuck still spreads like this:  Family member to worker on the dock; worker on the dock to fisher in the cockpit; fisher in the cockpit to friend via VHF-FM (first Channel 16 for a hail then a chat on Channel 68); friend to another friend up island on CB and on and on.   Counting those who overheard each of these exchanges, it didn't take long for everyone in Eddy's Chuck to find out that Harriet died at 5:10 that April morning.

My feet got cold thinking about the responsibility we had taken on. But, four days later, there we all were, the 10 of us and some other trusted harbor souls, heading down the narrows in a convoy of seven boats, chatting softly on channel 68 in an insider's code.   Stan was driving Harriet's boat: "Bo III" (I'll tell you some other day how that got it's name).  The official funeral and burial had taken place the night before.  The weather had been cooperative.  The family had been well behaved. The service had been lovely. The flowers had been splendid.  The casket had been ...... well ..... empty. 

The officials from the mainland had returned to the comfort of cable TV and reliable electricity.  The family had taken the morning floatplane out.  It was just us now:  us and a promise.

The plan was a radio-controlled, small explosion from 300 meters or so away from the Bo III.  Harriet would be consumed in the resulting hot flame as was her wish and our promise. Stan was in charge of a small amount of plastic explosives and detonators.   An ex "company man," he had appointed himself in charge of such things.   He just hadn't told anyone else.

Larry had loaded several jerry jugs of gasoline onto Brent's boat that morning.  I had boxes of old flares.  Herb, a black powder nut, had brought more black powder than was legal to load at a marina without being designated capable of loading "cargos of particular hazard".

We each passed our vessels ceremoniously abeam of the "Bo III," throwing flowers into the cockpit while the lyrics "those in peril on the sea" drifted over the mist from the deck speakers of Brent's converted work tug.  Here's what we didn't know at the time:  each of us was adding a little something to make sure the "Bo III" actually burned and sunk!

Brent read a beautiful eulogy over channel 68.  Each of us then gave a favorite quote of Harriet Hogquist's.  Mine was one Harriet said often and we'd all heard:   "The only thing the mainland has that Eddy's Chuck doesn't have is a better view of Eddy's Chuck."

Brent then indicated it was time for Harriet's "final excursion" and cued Stan.  

Later we would find out that the resulting explosion could be heard from Petersburg to Sitka.  The wave caused my boat to rock from cap rail to cap rail.  I was in the pilothouse but my friends on deck reported feeling a wave of warm air pass by at the speed of light.  There was soot in the fog; we breathed it in as we motored and sailed quietly back to Eddy's Chuck, whispering quiet apologies to Harriet and knowing she would understand our intent.

Stan stayed behind to make sure the remnants of hull would sink.  All four square feet of it.

On the way back, we could hear her voice in the din of the diesel engine:    "Just wasn't ready to come in......."

Ed Sasser

(*Eddy’s Chuck Alaska is a fictitious harbor populated by real Alaskan Noodlers.)

Copyright 1999-2000 by Ed Sasser. All rights reserved.


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