As vacations go, we all agree this was the best ever. EVER. Even after 16 years.
It's 1993. The phone rings. "Hey Sal. Do you and Davey want to cruise Alaska with me for a week? I've got a great boat."
It was more than a great boat. Russ was a sail-maker in the SF Bay, and a great sailor, craftsman and mechanic. So people loaned him their boats, knowing they always came back in better shape. This would be no exception.
We arrive in Juneau July 4th, in time to see the 1st 4th of July fireworks display in the nation. They get the first sunset too. Think about it!
My brother Joe, also friends with Russ, is along as well. He is in remission from the cancer that will claim his life 8 months later. He's bald as a pool cue and wears a scarf to protect his 6'6" high scalp from scraping on the 6'5" tall ceiling. He's such a goofball, it somehow fits. In all, there are 8 of us on the 55' boat. And it's beautiful. The owner has just refinished and remodeled it... we are the first party animals occupants.
We are pleased to discover it's a two-head boat... ship-talk for the John... OK, the toilet, for you land-lubbers. Unfortunately, one is clogged... reminiscent of our last boat-borrowing adventure with Russ. THAT time, Davey and he dug into the bowels of the poop pump, which ended in a massive explosion of... well, you can imagine.... all over them. It wasn't even OURS... it had been clogged by the last party animals sailors. Crap! Literally. That's how they were dubbed the Kings of Sea-Going Sewage. This day they will regain their title.
Sewage system fixed, we motor out of Juneau. I am struck again at how someone can take a gazillion dollar boat into unknown waters with confidence. How do they know these things? Clearly, I'm along for the... well... I take good notes. And I take good pictures. And I'm humorous on occasion. Besides, he doesn't get Sailor Dave without me.
I'm somewhat of a naturalist, so we play a game. Yeah, I'm pushy, too. We each guess how many animals we will see during the week. I make a chart... "Sally's Tally". We keep track. Bears, Wolves, Orcas, Killer Whales, Humpbacks, Bald Eagles.... Puffins. That's what I want to see. Puffins. They are so danged cute. I gotta see em. Just one will do. We don't see any.
I still remember the music on board. Joe is a music aficionado and has brought a gaggle of cassette tapes. Pink Floyd, Steve Miller, Richard Wright, Dire Straits, Tom Petty, ... there are still moments where I remember the specific song that was playing. Like from Auberge. Our music is incredible. And constant.
We travel through strangely named waters... Holkham Bay... Tracy Arm. We have a nightly reading of John Muir's Travels in Alaska (told you I'm pushy) as we motor over 1000' deep water bordered by 4000' sheer cliffs. Hard jagged rocks carpeted with shrubs. Massive Sitka Spruce and Western Hemlock in the old-growth rain forest. And cascades of rippling waterfalls dominate our view. As we continue, the water turns emerald. Strange-shaped chunks of icebergs drift by, having calved from the Twin Sawyer Glaciers up ahead. Joe and Jim, our Ice Cowboys, stand sentry with fish nets to capture the ice for our GGTs... Glaciated Gin and Tonics.
On the 4th day we head up Endicott Arm en route to Ford's Terror, a stunning fjord. Our fireside Muir reading prepares us for the 60' wide entry, narrow and shallow enough to create a surging cauldron of churning water, as the tide waters try to level themselves. It's passable once a day, at high slack tide. Once inside, Muir promises a smaller version of Yosemite with an aqueous floor... complete with a miniature half-dome.
We arrive at the entrance. And wait. Armed with a tide table, we test the waters in the Boston Whaler... pretty amazing. We see why Ford was terrorized. So we wait.
We're pleased to see there is only one other boat, and 2 kayakers who are also going in. We will be trapped there together until the next high slack tide. We're happy it's only a few.
As we wait, we marvel at every hue of rust, yellow, orange, green, maroon, and red hugging the sheer cliffs which drop into the azure blue waters. Everywhere waterfalls sheet down, sometimes free falling, crashing on a ledge, then sheeting in ribbons again. (When we leave, two days later, many waterfalls will have disappeared. We're lucky.)
Once in, we moor for our two day stay. The fisherman in the other boat is catching tiger shrimp at 200'. Hot dang! Joe takes over as our shrimp trap setter and picker-upper. He and I take off in the Boston Whaler pitching crab traps overboard into the cold deep waters. He sets three, then we motor around FT for a little site seeing. On the way back in, we see the first float. "Yum... there's dinner awaiting us..." Then the second. "Come on, you buggers... climb on in..." But, wait. Where's the 3rd float? Suddenly the realization sets in. Joe pitched a trap with a 200 foot rope into deep water. Deeper than 200'. CRAP! We've lost the trap. Someone elses trap. Someone who trusted us. Who trusted Russ. Joe is beside himself. He wants to puke.
We frantically empty a tank of gas looking for it, Joe poised to dive into the frigid waters if need be, to capture the submerged float. Miraculously, we find it. In 201 feet of water, just below the surface. Wheeew. The day is saved.
We score a dozen magnificent shrimp in each trap. WooHoo! As penance for his boneheaded deed, Joe meticulously shells and deheads each shrimp. Makes him feel better.
Then Davey whips up a marinade and we fire up the Webber. Ummm... What could be better than fresh tiger shrimp, straight out of the deep Alaskan waters? The baste goes on and WHOOOSH.... up it goes in an explosion of flames. OOPS... butter and BBQ don't mix, apparently. Joe's umpteen zillion hours of deheading goes up in flames.... from what is thereafter known as Davey's Deisel Marinade. We, of course, are in stitches as Joe's face melts. We decide we like a little crisp on our shrimp.
We're in Ford's Terror for my 42 birthday. The kayakers, as it turns out, will make my birthday something special. They approach our boat in need of something. We comply, then offer them cold beer and hot chocolate chip cookies, fresh out of our oven. What a score! Later that day, they return with a zippy full of fresh picked salmon- and blue-berries. Wow... great trade! The next day, the 8th, Russ makes us a berry cobbler for my birthday breakfast. What could be better?
As Joe, Davey and Russ go ashore to burn our garbage, they keep one eye on a lone black bear further up the beach, ready to high-tail it in a heartbeat if it gets rattled. Through binocs, I can see a single tree shaking up the beach. Hmmm.... Later her two little cubs emerge. She had sent them shimmying up the tree for safety!
As we leave Ford's Terror, we realize we have just spent 2 days in a true wonderland of the world, and that John Muir had it right in his 1880 trip. "... we found ourselves on a smooth mirror reach between granite walls of the very wildest and most exciting description, surpassing in some ways those of the far-famed Yosemite Valley." Wow.
As we motor West down Endicott Arm, we see the most amazing site of my life. Of any of our lives, for that matter. Read about it in Alaska... the Adventure Continues. Coming soon.......
My favorite vacations... Part 1. Sandrailing in the Oregon Dunes
My favorite vacations... Part 2. Patagonia and a Capture Moment in time