A Good Haul (Part 1)

By , August 23, 2012

While improving our kitchen countertop is our main focus these days, the life of the homestead must continue on all fronts. Progress is uneven, but continual. Yesterday, thanks to some extra effort, we are reaping signficant benefits.

I went to town with Michelle when she went to work. Wednesdays are the primary tourship day in Haines at this time of year, so I went over to Alaska Rod’s to meet tourists and sign copies of my book, Shy Ghosts Dancing: Dark Tales from Southeast Alaska.

On Tuesday afternoon’s high tide, I had launched the canoe from the homestead and paddled around to where our kayak sits on the shore of Mud Bay. I hopped in the kayak and towed the canoe to the roadside, where I beached it and returned across the bay by kayak. This put the canoe in position to receive cargo Wednesday evening.

We had two empty propane tanks ready for refilling. We keep three tanks, and never allow more than one to be empty at a time, as a rule. We purposely waited till two were empty for hospitality reasons. A new friend, who works for a local outdoor adventure program, had enthusiastically offered to haul our propane over the trail for us as conditioning for a competition for which he’s training. While very eager to take him up on that, I just can’t see myself letting him do it without carrying a tank as well, so we’d planned to empty two tanks, then invite him to dinner. When we saw an opportunity to haul all that weight by sea, we had to change plans (we’ll find some other heavy object to load our young friend with when we invite him to dinner!).

We also expected that a periodic bulk order through Michelle’s work would arrive that day, so we knew we’d likely have a full canoe, and a good high tide for hauling. We also expected more of the same calm, windless weather we’ve experienced the past few weeks. Michelle’s last appointment of the day would end at full slack tide. I would sign books until just before then, pick up our filled propane tanks, then rendezvous with Michelle and head for home.

This plan began to seem doubtful when we heard the day’s marine forecast: 25 knot winds would develop in the evening. We’ve learned that if and when winds develop, they come earlier to our peninsula than the broadcast predicts. We would have to watch to see if we still had calm waters, and travel with a weather eye open, ready to ditch at one of several possible landings around the point should the wind become too strong.

The breeze had definitely developed in Mud Bay by the time we arrived and loaded the canoe. Wind tends to funnel through there at greater intensity than the surrounding waters, so we decided to launch, planning to ditch if necessary. Paddling against the wind with a full load isn’t easy, but we had no real difficulty. We faced an increasing chop, requiring us to paddle fast enough to plow over or through waves before they slopped into the boat. The worst conditions came at the mouth of the bay, where the first of the outflowing tide met the opposing wind, and made the water boil around us.

Then came the crucial stretch: skirting the point itself. The most direct route would require us to allow the swell and chop to hit us broadside, which is not wise. Instead, I steered a course out into the canal, diagonal to the point and the oncoming chop. It also forced us to face into the rising wind. As Michelle threw all her effort into paddling, I ticked off the safe beaching points as they passed, trying to calculate if and when to run for shore and safety.

We knew that after we doubled the last small tip of the point, we could turn sharply and ride the south wind home, paddling more easily, and only making sure that we didn’t get “pooped” by the following sea. When I called out for Michelle to paddle hard as I swung the canoe around, she felt the great relief of knowing the hard part was over. I had seen something that made me realize that may not be so.

A massive cruise ship powered south through Lynn Canal ahead of us. We would intersect its wake sometime before we reached home.

We had one good ditching beach left. But, my story has grown too long. I’ll conclude the story, and make my point, in tomorrow’s post.

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