Safetyhat, can save your life in many ways

1967 Muchalat Inlet, full storm. Nils and me worked up Jacklah River, thinning forest, and every two weeks we would make a trip to Gold River, for supplies like fuel and oil, and food staples. We had a 15′ aluminum boat with an 15 hp. outboard. We dragged the boat so far up the river, that nobody could see it from the sea, we did not want to worry anybody going by. There was not much traffic.

This one day we were committed to make it to Gold River. The pulpmill was under construction at the time, the townsite consisted of a few mobile barracks and a large camp for the logging crew to the East Asiatic Co. that owned Thasis Logging. We would bunk there and get supplies from the cook. Mostly; salt, sugar, oats, and more oats, flour for the bannock, dried peas and beans, of many kinds. Everything light to carry, and nothing that the bears could smell. Tin cans of anything was nice, they have so many useful purposes when emty. I still collect tin cans.

 We had no VHF radios, the hand-held did not cover that far. In fact, we were not supposed to work there for a while in the summertime, it was fire season, and restrictions on activities, but we had permission from the big boss, Dick ……, the company foreman. It had been raining all week or two, another problem was to dry our work clothes, living in a small tent, and the clothes dryer was a line between two branches.

It was always a treat to “go to town”, get large hot meals at the camp, showers with hot water, a shave, get news; one time we came to town, the Six Day War in the Middle East had happened, and was over, and we did not know; not much we could do about it, but nice to know.  We got to look at the air photos, to see how much we had worked since last time, and the new areas to work on next. The Jacklah valley is so steep, that the only place a helicopter can land, is on the beach, several miles away from the camp.

As we launched the boat this day, we could see that the water was rough, but not that bad. We had an engine, and we would run with the wind to the pulp mill area, the Government docks were not completed at this time. The clouds were dark, and it was late afternoon, but we were committed to go to town.

One oar was missing, , or may be it was never there, we usually never needed it. Just in case, I walked the beach until I found a board that one could paddle with, and as a last intuition, I trew the aluminum hard hat into the boat, it usually hang on a branch until we got back; there was no pail to empty water with. These two things saved our lives this fine summer day.

The Muchalat Inlet at this place is probably a mile across and we had a few miles to go, with the wind. Nils grew up in Svolver, a small town in Lofoten, the spectacular coastal area of northern Norway. He was used to the ocean and rough seas, and not scared of it. I grew up in Aalesund, on the west coast of Norway, and was very comfortable with the seas, and also, not easy to scare.

But we took chances, and this day our options ran out. When we left our south side of the inlet, the storm was already blowing, clouds were dark, rain heavy, and the wind; storm. We had a plan, we would cross the inlet, get some lee of the north side, and cruise to the pulp mill area, along the north shore.

About in the middle of crossing, the one large wave struck, over the stern, over the engine, flooded the boat. We had been riding the large waves, but this one came too fast, huge whitecaps, and was breaking. The engine stopped, frantic attempts to start it was futile. The boat half full of water, now with no steering, if we came sideways to the waves we would be flipped like a pancake.

This is where the hard hat became the bailing bucket, a full-time job from now on. It was too late to turn around, we could never paddle against these waves and wind. Our only option was to go with the waves. We did not have to talk, we knew what to do, one oar in the water to keep the steering, ride the waves. One man emptying the boat, now waves struck continuously, over the stern, and more water to bail. When not bailing, I grabbed the board I had found, and helped paddling.

Life jackets had never been in a boat like this, and if there were any, they would not have helped at all, before we were in the water, and then it would be too late.

But; for all reasons, never leave the dock without life jackets, proper jackets to your size and weight. They can save your life.

We were not able to cross the inlet and get some lee, so we tried to steer towards the mill site, that we could not see, and now it became dark. It was about time to pray. We started singing in stead, none of us could sing, that did not matter, nobody could hear us anyway; it was instead of praying. God listened, he liked the old songs from the Vikings that did not knew when to give up.

At some times the boat was so full of water that it was critical, but at the same time, the reason that we were not flipped over. The lower the boat was afloat, the more waves came over the stern and railing. The hard hat kept us afloat. I was probably to young and too innocent; the Devil never spoke. We both knew what to do to keep alive, and never spoke. But it was close, many times, and indeed the whole trip lasted for many hours, until about nine or ten that evening.

This is not easy to write about, but one never forgets, high black waves coming from behind, froth and foam on the whitecaps, knowing they would break over the boat, now just a floating device. With the engine running, we could have made it reasonable well. The one oar and the board, was mainly to steer the boat, and the forward progress was from the wind.

After about six hours, we made it to shore close to the mill, where we secured the boat by pulling it ashore, and walked to the mill site.

Dick was there, alone, on a emty beach, he had been expecting us, and was now worried, but had no boat that could go out for a search, or no help if he had one. We did not speak of it, that night or later, we did not have to. We hugged each other, holding back the tears. Young, big, strong boys; brought to the edge and back. 

 

 

 

 

Jacklah River, the first picture is of the boat at the inlet

Advertisements
This entry was posted in Nature, Short stories, Work. Bookmark the permalink.