Friday June 3rd – It’s 46°F in Ketchikan; Hilary wakes up and comments occasionally; Jennifer arrived in Providence five hours ago; 18 hours ago I ordered more engine parts, this time from Seattle. Caro Babbo strains on her dock lines against the 25kn winds that blast through the harbor.
[Part two of the conversation with fisherman Joe will get written… I promise.]
We arrived in Ketchikan, what seems like a week ago, though it was on Tuesday.
We were directed by the harbormaster to float 12, slip 7 in Bar Harbor, the North most of the three harbors. Three cruise ships were tied up along the quay, one from Princess, one from Holland America, and the third cruise line slips my mind at the moment.
On AIS, we saw that our friend Ray aboard Truce was in Thomas Basin.
Jennifer chose Bar Harbor because it is near Marine stores and closer to the ferry to the airport. Once we were moored there, the grunginess of the marina and the area showed very little advantage: the free shuttle bus that runs whenever cruise ships are in port goes there from downtown, and a day pass on the city bus is only two dollars.
On our first full day, we took the shuttle bus into the tourist area. We are at a loss as to why people would want to visit those shops, despite how very nice the people who work there are. But, then we don’t quite understand wanting to cruise on a large ship. I suspect it is something we should try once, it might be very enjoyable.
Near the Bar Harbor Marina, which is where the harbormaster’s office — also staffed with very nice and very supportive people – is a now empty, dive-looking seafood restaurant that spoke to me.
The restaurant had moved to “Dock 4.” We made a note to find it, and since we have been using very little of our entertainment budget, we thought we might go out to lunch.
The area around Bar Harbor seems to be populated with people living on the edge with substance issues and the other issues that often come along with living on the edge.
Two locals from that neighborhood joined us on the bus. A very nice woman sat across from Jennifer Hilary and me asking us questions, gossiping about the area and telling us about herself and her ‘‘old man.’’ She was drinking from a soda cup with a soda straw and carrying a to-go cup of coffee. At one point she wrinkled her nose at me and said, ‘‘they filled it with root beer.’’
Who is the coffee for? ‘‘My old man.’’
The day before, upon our arrival, we had walked the half mile or so to the Safeway supermarket. Jennifer was very disappointed, ‘‘it’s just like Seattle.’’
The ‘‘A&P’’ supermarket that I would visit on Friday is actually called Alaskan Proud; it’s not like being back in Seattle.
On our trip this morning, we stopped by Frontier Freight, the company that was holding our mail for us. There were three packages. They charge a dollar per package. We’d pick up the packages on the way home that afternoon.
We rode the shuttle bus down to Thomas Basin, passing all the cruise ships and ‘‘City Harbor,’’ which is hidden from the water by the cruise ships.
Thomas Basin looked fine, and we strolled back the way the shuttle bus had come, North past the cruise ships to Berth 4.
We found the restaurant, also called Bar Harbor, which was rather nondescript.
We went in, and were escorted to a table by a very charming petite 20-, possibly 30-something, wearing a long black skirt and a headband that looked like it was from the 1920s.
The three of us were dressed as appropriate to the weather: full foulies including Xtra-Tuff boots. The table server asked if we were locals, and then whether we had arrived on a boat.
[Asking whether we were local, was probably telling in that if so few locals go into the place that the server comments on it, there is probably a reason… and implied warning. All the food seemed to be food-service, and I would expect that Sysco shows up there on a regular basis. That’s all we’ll say about the food, and move on with the story.]
I stood by the table for a while we were getting Hilary situated. This can take a few moments while Hilary decides whether she wants to relinquish her coat, she may or may not, and other decisions.
Jennifer and I continued to chat with the server. She told us that she owned a 60-foot Colin Archer: 60 feet overall, and 45 feet on deck.
This would become an important figure as we continued to speak.
Colin Archer was a late 19th century/early 20th century boat designer known best for his pilot boats. These were sailing vessels that ship’s pilots would sail out to meet incoming ships.
The vessels needed to be fast, it was oftentimes the first pilot to reach the ship who would get the job, and remarkably seaworthy as ships needed pilots no matter the weather, and more so in bad weather.
Molly, our table server, told us that her Colin Archer was made of steel: very unusual, I’d never heard of one made of steel.
The steel sailboats that one sees most commonly on the West Coast, for that matter worldwide, are hard chined. The boats are made out of strips of steel that are welded together like origami. They have a very distinctive look.
Molly’s boat was French made of formed steel and soft chined.
The restaurant wasn’t very full, and over the course of our meal we all learned quite a lot about Molly. For instance, Molly has seven children, ‘‘We only planned on having five, but we…’’ I can’t remember her exact words, something about got delayed. In any case, two more children came along and then Molly did something permanent in the way of birth control.
‘‘How old were you when you started, twelve,’’ I teased. ‘‘I’m forty!’’ was the reply. There was moment of silence as we considered the discrepancy between Molly’s appearance and age.
Seven kids by 40 isn’t that big a number, I reckoned. Later we learned that Molly and Peter, her husband, had seven children in seven pregnancies in ten years. No wonder she was, ‘‘tired of being pregnant.’’
We had dessert, and when it came time to pay, another woman brought the check.
We gathered our belongings and clucked over the very disappointing food.
We hopped on the free shuttle bus out to “The Plaza” mall to pick up our mail at Frontier Freight and deal with KPU, the Ketchikan Public utility. I had purchased one week of Internet access that worked at Bar Harbor Marina.
Oh, I didn’t mention that while T-Mobile customers, like us, have unlimited high-speed data in Canada and worldwide, in Alaska we only get 50 MB per month. “Nationwide coverage” seems to be only technically correct.
I wanted to learn whether the Internet coverage I had bought would work in Thomas Basin. (Supposedly, Yes. In fact, No.)
While we were waiting to speak with someone, Molly walked in and called to us. Out of work clothes, wearing blue jeans, round-toed cowboy boots and a peasant blouse, she looked more than anything else like a 1969 hippie from the famous Life magazine Hippie issue. At fifteen, I so wanted to be those people.
While hanging out, waiting for support, Molly suggested that we stay at the yacht club, rather than the city-owned docks in Thomas Basin. ‘‘Speak with Jack.’’
I suggested I call the yacht club. ‘‘They don’t answer the phone. You need to go speak with Jack.’’
We spoke some more and Molly asked if we’d like to visit where they lived, see their boat.
‘‘All nine of you live on a 45 boat,’’ I asked, when the coin dropped.
The next morning, we took the free shuttle to visit Thomas Basin, meet Jack and move Caro Babbo to her new slip.
Molly arrived at 3pm with two of the girls.
I confess, I have completely lost track of the names of the children. The initials of the first bunch spell CAAKE, Caleb being oldest child.
All of the children are as attractive as their mother, well spoken, guileless and friendly.
At Refuge Bay, where the boat is kept, we climbed aboard a commercial-quality, ocean-going, working sailboat. It is the only way to describe it. One that is moving slowly in its renovation.
It is a joyous place with seven very happy children joining us for some snack cake full of the calories that children between 16 and 6 need.
The boat currently has no water storage, running water, or hot water. The water we drank onboard was rain water… That area is having trouble with the chlorination. Something about the tannin reacting with the chlorine being carcinogenic.
Conversations abounded in parallel, across the table and among everyone. The two youngest are boys and wrestled and giggled as happy boys do. Elaine (the E in Caake) is the family photographer and was happy to record the event using Jennifer’s camera, ‘‘Where’s the zoom?’’ she asked.
The children are home schooled.
On the ride to the boat I asked one of the girls, ‘‘How do you meet friends?’’
‘‘I don’t have any,’’ she answered.
I won’t spin this or put a sugar coating on it by saying there is no need for friends with so many children in the family. It stopped me, and I have been thinking about it ever since.
Across the whipping conversations, Molly and I spoke about food. Like Jennifer and me, Molly doesn’t buy prepared foods. Everything is made aboard. Molly has a commercial Hobart mixer for bread and such.
Molly and Peter have a web site, OceanVagabonds.com. Peter is quite a writer, a very good photographer and a port engineer for a local company – and the father of seven kids. I’m fascinated by this.
After a while, Molly, some subset of the kids, Jennifer, Hilary and I slowly and fondly detached ourselves from the boat, the dog and the other children and went to meet Peter.
Peter and Jennifer spent an hour or more going over charts, while Molly, Hilary and children wandered around the now empty mall; Peter’s office is on the top floor. (This part of Ketchikan closes once the ships leave: The ships arrive early in the morning and leave late in the afternoon.)
We left in two groups: Molly and some of the children walked to the Marina, the rest of us rode in the van. Molly’s group arrived first.
Peter and I talked about Caro Babbo’s engine issues, and I invited Peter come take a look.
‘‘You’re not asking Peter onto the boat?’’ was Jennifer’s reaction, implying this was too much of an imposition.
Looking at something unfamiliar, mechanical and boat related I assumed would not be an imposition, and it has seemed not to be.
Peter came below, some subset of children climbed aboard and I lost track of the rest of the group.
Peter looked at the exhaust elbow I had purchased and looked at the engine installation and pronounced the elbow as unsuitable. He was the second marine engineer to do so.
He also, surprisingly, announced that building a replacement elbow out of 316 stainless would be a fun and interesting project. Would I like him to build me one? I pay for parts, labor is free.
Now, I should be jaw dropped, but people like Peter, like me, and like my friend Erwin who joins us on Monday the 6th, do things like this.
‘‘That would be wonderful, Peter.’’
‘‘I can’t have it ready for you before you leave.’’
‘‘We’ll be back in two weeks.’’
‘‘I can have it by then,’’ he replied. ‘‘Send me measurements.’’
I figured I would just clean out the current one, and install the new one when we returned.
Instead, the old one was rotted, dumping seawater into the head. We’re currently waiting for a replacement to arrive from Seattle.
Epilogue – Sunday June 5th – Since meeting Molly and Peter, I’ve learned mentioning Molly’s name anywhere in Ketchikan provides instant credibility and makes one an insider.
Ketchikan Yacht Club is where the Race to Alaska (R2AK) terminates. Hilary and I attended a pig-roast fundraiser for the KYC entry, and have gotten to know the skipper and crew of the entry, an SJ 24 called Kermit, and many of the members.
MER Marine in Seattle shipped the exhaust elbow a day later than promised, so it will arrive Monday the sixth. Total cost of parts and shipping $500.
We do meet multi-generation European Ketchikans, but most people we meet are not. Lonnie, a Nurse Practioner with a large practice, says that half of her appointments are with first time patients, so there is a large population turnover.
By hanging out this long, Hilary and I have gotten to know a number of people, had people onboard Caro Babbo, and feel like we belong here, though we are just some people passing through.
[I’ll attach a picture gallery when Jennifer returns… The pictures to illustrate this post are with here in Providence.]