Taku Harbor, Traveling from Juneau to Endicott Arm – Waiting for Weather

23-JUL-2016 – It’s 8:50 am. It’s been blowing fairly hard since shortly after we arrived here in Taku Harbor yesterday around noon.

Blowing with a vengeance really started during the night accompanied by the predicted hard-driven rain. The rain and wind continues this morning.

Jennifer liked this place because it has no-fee floating docks (called floats in the local parlance), with a floating boardwalk to shore.

There is a second float southwest of the main floats, where we are, that is much better protected.

We motored down from Juneau rather than sail for a few reasons: The first is that it is a weekend and we wanted to be certain to have a space on the float. Even though the weather was not good and correctly predicted to be atrocious, this float pretty much filled up.

The second was that the wind was predicted to be on the nose, which would have made the trip down much longer since there was very little wind for the first twelve miles: Rolling glass for much of the way.

When we arrived, Dave, who owns Shad, a converted something-or-other, met us and asked how it was out there? It was at the time, not very bumpy, two-foot short chop.

Shad – A converted, pre-statehood, federal wildlife and fisheries vessel
Shad – A converted, pre-statehood, federal wildlife and fisheries vessel

His son was coming down in an 18-footer, closed boat. Even though his son was twenty-five, he was new to boating and Dave had the normal concern any father would.

Jennifer commented to me privately later, that if his son decided not to come because of the weather, there would be no way to tell Dave because there is no VHF or Mobile phone reception here. (Which turned out to be wrong. Dave uses a sat-based text messaging product.)

Although, as I think about it, the Coast Guard would be able to relay the message, because, as Dave explained, there are Coast Guard repeaters on the tops of all the hills around here.

Whether the Coast Guard would is open to discussion. The Canadians certainly would, and I expect the Americans would as well, but don’t know. We run into Coast Guard personnel all the time in any of the bigger towns: Sitka, Juneau, Ketchikan. I should buttonhole one and ask all these questions.

Hilary was up a couple of times during the night. Her incontinence is worsening to include lessened bowel control, which is messier and requires greater attention.  Being away for the day ashore, I realize we need to start carrying a diaper bag.

Hilary notating the books she reads.
Hilary notating the books she reads.

Hilary’s contact with the real world continues to slip. When I reflect, I’m not sure how much constitutes real schizophrenia and how much is just being a three-year old.

She started a while ago having conversations with her stuffed animals, and yesterday she has having a conversation using the handheld Garmin as a phone. But then any three-year old would do the same thing.

No conversations with people who aren’t currently there; many, many references to non-existent people who were just here. She has also started to complain more and become more possessive of things. The possessive, ‘‘that’s mine,’’ just takes a little patience. With no object permanence, that ownership quickly fades.

We need to remember, no liquids after a certain hours, or we’ll be changing sheets during the night, even with new underpants immediately before bed. None of this is really bad in day-to-day life.

Hilary always knows Jennifer and asks for her when she is out of sight. She mostly she knows me, and even when she doesn’t she is never afraid.


Taku Harbor is surprisingly open to Stephen’s Passage, which is known for getting rough quickly and unexpectedly.

A short while after we arrived, Alaskan Quest, a sixty-five foot, 148,000 lb steel-hulled charter boat arrived. The husband and wife team tied up across the dock from us on the inside expertly. Tom, the husband of the team, knocked on our hull as I was getting lunch prepared.

He kindly and with strong belief and confidence suggested that we move from the outside of the dock to the inside. It was going to get rougher as the wind came up. He told me he’d seen fenders on boats docked where we were end up on the dock, rather than between the boat and the dock.

I told him that sounded like a good idea. I’d need to speak with my partner, as she skippered the boat under power. Jennifer heard part of the conversation, put on a jacket and went onto the dock to speak with Tom. Ten minutes later, they had formulated plan to bring Caro Babbo around Alaskan Quest and into the inside left had corner of the dock.

Tom said we’d sleep better there. This morning I realize he might have meant in the literal and figurative sense.

The water around the dock shoals (shallows) quickly at low tide… there is approximately a ten foot tide, so at high tide, it is not a problem.

Tom had asked me how much we draw*. When I said five feet, he smiled and said that we should be okay, he draws six.

I bled the fuel line, which surprisingly did not need bleeding. Jennifer started the engine and allowed it to warm up – Mechanical diesel fuel injection really does need to warm up.

Tom tied our bow line to the middle of the end of the dock around which Jennifer pivoted Caro Babbo. She drove alongside Alaskan Quest, nipped into the dock at a close to a right angle so our rigging wouldn’t get caught in their boat’s anchor, turned sharply and came to a stop in the tight forty-foot space.

Tom had arrived with a very large fender ball to pad against the dock, but Jennifer didn’t need it. The maneuver was excellently done.

Taku Harbor once held a town of 1200 people around a cannery. A small grove of pilings is still visible as is a number of machinery remnants and a few wooden residences and bunk houses, all of which are being reclaimed by nature.

Grove of pilings from when this was a 1200-person town
Grove of pilings from when this was a 1200-person town.

Dave spread his arms indicating the entire shoreline, left and right, and told us this was all wharf.

Dave told us places to walk and where parts of the town were, but as we all considered Hilary, we decided a walk with easier (or perhaps existent) trails would be better.

There is a lake a mile or two around the harbor and up. He said the trails have disappeared and friends have had trouble finding the lake, even though Dave was sure they had come very close.

‘‘Do you have bear Mace?’’ Dave asked. Jennifer replied we had an air horn. Dave looked doubtful. Jennifer asked, ‘‘do we need it?’He told us brown bears had moved in and there had been one on the floating boardwalk to the floats.

When the brown bears moved in the black bears left because, ‘‘the brown bears kill and eat the black bears.’’

As we walked over to Shad to pick up the bear spray, ‘‘Feel the noise,’’ was playing. I’ve moved away from listening to music from then, and was surprised how comforting it was. It brings back memories of a success and a secure time living in San Diego. There is nothing like being young and making lots of money.

The woman on board said Dave wasn’t there and the bear spray was with some friends at the Alaska Park Service cabin across the way. She told us Dave took a picture of a brown bear on the boardwalk… it wasn’t an unattributed statement that a brown bear had been there. Dave was witness. This changed things for us.

When we walk in the woods, Jennifer calls out ‘‘Hello, bears.’’ I wonder if the bear will respond in Yogi Bear’s voice or the voice of Smokey the Bear. It is moot, because we never see a bear. None of us seems disappointed.

This sign explains that these floats are for sport fishing and recreational users. Commercial boats should us the other two floats in the harbor.
This sign explains that these floats are for sport fishing and recreational users. Commercial fishing boats should us the other two floats in the harbor.

At the shore end of the boardwalk is a white sign explaining that the facilities were paid for by various federal and state taxes. The float, like others in Alaska we have used on this trip, are free to use. The cabin needs to be reserved; I don’t know if there is a fee.

DSCN6412Along the way to the cabin we found an abandoned two-room house with a Maytag wringer washer in utility room outside the kitchen. Inside, the lighting fixtures were combination gas and electric, something I’ve never seen before. Gas flame goes up, electric light socket points down. The bulbs were all removed, not broken off.

(Jennifier has seen these in Atlanta. They’re called gasoliers.)

On the kitchen window sill was an old battery charger that only charged D-size batteries.

The kitchen held a porcelain double sink. The bathroom held a stainless-steel sink and a toilet, shelves for linens but no shower.

On the way out we discovered a 1974 National Geographic on a shelf next to the washing machine.

The path to the cabin was well worn. When we knocked on the door, a voice called, ‘‘come in.’’

I don’t lived in an environment where a knock on a door is answered with ‘‘come in,’’ though I once did. I thought of growing up in Toronto and times long past: having employees and an office with a door.

The couple inside were surprised when it was us. We asked for the bear spray and the woman attempted to explain how to arm and fire the device that looks a pint water bottle in a nylon cozy.

Along the way to the ruins Jennifer spotted evidence of a very large bear.

[Hilary has just interrupted me to explain about Don (her deceased partner – she doesn’t know he is gone). She points to screen of my laptop; I sit across a table facing her, so she cannot see the screen.

She wobbles her fingers over the vertical edge of the screen and after I ask her to repeat what she has just said, she surprises me by holding onto the topic (Don) and says, ‘‘I think Don needs to walk around here,’’ with four fingers to the screen, ‘‘and look around. It is sort of yuckee.’’

As I transcribe this she looks away and then looks back to call me and says, ‘‘Don’’ and then as we all do when we use the wrong name for someone, says, ‘‘No, John’’ and continues with a sentence. To call me John is a very, very rare happening, and reinforces the tragedy of all of this.]

As Jennifer, Hilary and I walk, we come to a fork in the path and take the path that leads to the beach. It is low tide. The bottoms of the pilings in the piling grove are exposed. Someone has created an art installation by embedding machinery parts into the tops of the shorter pilings.

A poured concrete building whose roof was once probably level with wharf contains a very large machine with an armature, a flywheel and permanent magnets arranged around the armature.

DSCN6467SMAIn one of the pilings is a vertically embedded shaft with a gear at one end and two chain sprockets along the shaft. Any bearing surfaces have long ago been rusted into being unrecognizable.

Hilary is still nimble, but relies on a hand when she walks on uneven surfaces. Together the three of us circle the building and find random piles of fired brick completely without mortar. Did the mortar wear aware in the surf?

We also found a series of iron arches lined with firebrick. What have we found?

On the way back to the boat we stop to return the bear spray to Dave and the woman on board. We don’t say much, and leave quickly as the woman pulls some Quesadillas off the stove for lunch.

We pass the rest of the day quietly. Jennifer speaks with Tom once more. She comments how much she likes a quiet day reading when it is raining outside. I find I do as well, but wonder how long before the need to accomplish something will over take me.

Jennifer is reading a murder mystery and I am reading, ‘‘All the Devils are Here,’’ about the most recent financial crisis.

The beginning of the book wound me up, because I remember it unfolding and being so upset at it all. As the book progressed and dived into the details I have become less emotional and more interested in the mosaic that caused it all. (The crashed real estate prices allowed me to buy enough rental properties to stop working, so I benefitted directly from the crisis and lack of morality that contributed to it.)

One observation made by someone in the book as he starts to get an understanding of what is about to befall the financial world is that financial crises happen every four to eight years. It is only based on this observation that he decides to look for the next crisis in order, solely, to profit from it. By selling short, that individual does. It’s getting to be time for the next one, it seems.

For dinner, I made white beans as a starch side, sautéed cabbage and onions as a green, both had tomato sauce and rosemary added to them, and a fillet from a sockeye salmon I bought on the dock in Juneau. I blew the timing and overcooked the salmon. I made a loaf of Semolina bread, which I forgot to serve. For dessert I made vanilla pudding using fresh whole milk that we bought in Juneau and are keeping on ice. We served the pudding with some store bought Danish raspberry jam.

I was up a few times during the night checking and adjusting lines. With no large vessel across the dock from us, we still rolled and pitched but nothing like we would have on the far side.

Hilary was up a few times. I needed to change sheets and underpants about five am. Both Jennifer and Hilary slept until about nine. Brunch was gravlaks made from a fillet of the sockeye mixed into scrambled eggs served with toast from the Semolina bread.

Hilary had been up momentarily throughout the morning having bread with jam. Once she took a bite of the bread without jam and started to cry because she didn’t like it. Additional jam and very sweet coffee with milk fixed the problem.

By six am the wooden, 1931 charter boat, Discovery had left (we would see discovery again in Fords Terror). By seven, Alaskan Quest was gone.

When we arrived yesterday, Misty Fjord was docked behind Shad.

On the dock, with the captain, was Scott, the Misty Fjord chef who we had met in Baranof Warm Springs. I called Scott by name, who looked at me with some surprise mixed with almost fear. He, Jennifer and I had joked once about his peripatetic lifestyle when I made a joke about outstanding warrants. The look on his face made me immediately think of this, paternity suits and jealous husbands.

When he recognized me, he put out his hand, and introduced me to the skipper. He and I talked about food, but the look on his face was the same as everyone I first meet in the company of Jennifer. It held the question, ‘‘Yes, but where’s Jennifer.’’ I told Scott I would send Jennifer over to say hi. He expressed a genuine interest and asked that I do that. Such is the life of being Jennifer’s partner. It gives me great joy.

It’s 11:50. It has been blowing consistently. A sixty-five foot motor vessel arrived about 8 am from Endicott Arm. The woman working the dock lines told me it was bumpy out there.

Hilary has been asking about leaving and going someplace or going home every fifteen minutes or so. We said we’d go about noon, so it is time to get ready.

*Draw refers to the boats draught (draft?), the distance the boats descends into the water. When looking for a slip we say either, ‘‘We draw five feet,’’ or ‘‘We need five feet of water.’’

Posted 31-JUL-2016

Author: johnjuliano

One-third owner of Caro Babbo, co-captain and in command whenever Caro Babbo is under sail.

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