Sitka Day 23: Skiff Rescue at John Brown’s Beach [Video]
Here’s a story that isn’t mine, but that I caught the conclusion of, and so it’s one I get to tell:
A few fellas were out hunting on Kruzof Island on November 11th–the night of the windstorm that brought down a slide of trees along Beaver Lake, among other things–and they anchored their small MacGregor skiff at the Fred’s Creek outlet into Sitka Sound. They holed up safely in the National Forest shelter, but outside, the storm rallied and by morning that little MacGregor skiff had sunk. Never mind about the hunters–they hopped a boat ride home and the owner thanked his stars for insurance. But no less than two weeks later, that MacGregor skiff showed up again…more than five miles across the sound, slamming against the rocks at John Brown’s Beach on Japonski Island. [Japonski is connected to Baranof Island by way of a bridge. It’s part of the Sitka city limits and is where the airport is.]
The skiff owner promptly got a call from the Coast Guard: Come get your boat. Totaled, it was, that much had already been determined. But that the boat still floated (sort of) was a marvel altogether. Almost six weeks later, my pal calls me on the phone to say he’s found an opportunity for me to get out on the water. I’ve been three weeks in Sitka and haven’t found anyone who can take me out yet (tugboats are great, but being tied to the dock doesn’t give perspective of the Sound the way a little distance can). The only catch to my coveted skiff ride? I’d have to be along for the adventure of rescuing the MacGregor skiff on John Brown’s Beach. The tide and weather were right, the helping hands all had a day off, and so it was promptly agreed that it was now or never. Did I want to go along? You bet!
Here’s a video I put together of the excursion. You’ll see I’m in the back of a small skiff with two others who are tossing a line to Rick as he ties super buoys (the big orange balls) to the MacGregor. You’ll also see us try several times to tug it free (notice the two gentlemen in my boat as they gaze to the right at the nearby rocks, always aware, always safe). You’ll see us very low on gas, too.
What you might not see is the ease with which Rick tied those knots in ice cold water (no gloves). No wonder he’s an Alaska Marine Safety Instructor. You might also miss that the tide was rising the whole time–over half a foot in the hour or so that we were out there–or that the guys all knew how many minutes until high tide and how fast the wind was coming (14 from the east). This video doesn’t show the first few attempts, wherein the bow of the boat ripped free and they had to start all over again with new knots. It doesn’t show up close the jagged aluminum edges of the skiff that could slice skin in a second. But it does show how they got the job done and…if you watch the whole video…you’ll even see some good ol’ fashioned fishermen’s singing.