Friday, July 4, 2008

Hallo Bay, Alaska II Video

Every single day, this place finds a new way to scare the crap out of me.

When the storm rolled in two days ago, it was the simple prospect of sitting out here in the middle of the bay as the winds built, rain poured down and the boat rocked and pitched through the night. I sat up until past midnight, moving the anchorage twice hoping to find better shelter, but the boat still bobbed like a cork. I didn’t feel sick exactly, but I sure wasn’t happy either. I finally curled up in my sleeping back, lodged my knees into a small nook in the cabin wall and slept fitfully. For about ten hours. But with a whole lot of waking up and looking nervously around.

I made the alarming discovery yesterday that with all of my planning and organized packing, I neglected to bring along more than two slim books. I have a library of close to 1000 books in my house, a pile of unread reading material that must weigh close to a ton. But it’s all safely tucked into the shelves at home.

And now I’m looking at the prospect of more than two weeks without reading material. My brain is toast.

Instead, I spent nearly all day watching ripped dvd’s and reading a book on Timothy Treadwell’s obsessive love of Alaskan bears. Good background material if I'm thinking of getting eaten.

When the wind calmed a bit midday, I checked my charts and decided that I’d be better off in Kukak Bay, just to the south. It’s only seven miles as the crow flies, but the crow doesn’t have to go out into Shelikof Strait.

Every time I tried, it wasn’t so very long before I got homesick for my crappy little unprotected anchorage. Outside the sheltered water on the inside of Nigishak Island, the seas were a whole lot less forgiving. The normal swell from two days of northeasterly wind mixed with the shallow water here and set up breaking waves from every direction. It never got truly scary, but I never made it more than three miles out, either. The waves were just too big for my comfort level. I’d rather be at a crappy anchorage than battling for my life in a capsized boat miles from any prayer of rescue.

In the relative shelter of the bay, I got bored and eventually threw my gear into the zodiac and went to shore. In short order, I was thoroughly cold, soaked and bored with the one snuffling bear scrabbling around after clams. In that short period of time, two and three foot breakers had begun crashing into the shore, ugly curling things that looked plenty big enough to flip a small inflatable and dump its contents and proprietor into the 47° ocean.

I stared at the ocean for a good long time, trying to find some pattern to the breakers. I counted more than ten big waves before I got hypnotized by it all. I could picture disaster easily enough. The boat pitching over in a wave, everything dumped into the water, me getting soaked and cold, or worse, filling up my waders and struggling to stay afloat.

I stared at it for a while longer, then packed up the gear and moved it to the water edge and waited. Big waves washed up to me, and I waited, watching one curl after another form. Finally, in a calm patch I pulled the boat into the water and waded out. I pushed through one swell, then a second before swinging up into the boat. I had to get the motor down and started. A big wave hit and I fell the boat start to roll over me. I pitched all my weight forward, barely managing to keep from flipping. Then I started yanking on the outboard and dropped the prop into the water. I was away. And shaking like a bloody leaf.

It was still a long 45 minutes back to the boat, taking the crest of wave after wave in the face and into the boat. When things calmed down I flailed away with my kayak pump to clear out some of the water. But mostly I hung on in desperation, making imperceptible progress toward the small island. It was ages before I could finally make out the pinprick white spot of my boat. It looks comically small in this vast landscape.

I feel like I’m in way over my head here.

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