Thursday, July 13, 2023

Our Small Boat Summer

 We sold our cabin cruiser this spring after ten years of adventures along the Southern coast of the Kenai Peninsula. It wasn't an easy choice, selling the boat and leaving ourselves stranded on the beach, but it felt right when we put it up for sale last summer and it didn't feel bad --well, maybe a little-- when I watched it leave on
a trailer heading up the Seward Highway destined for Valdez. They say the happiest two days are the day you buy a boat and the day you sell it. This was definitely not true for Madelyn and I. I was anxious and Madelyn unsure when bought the boat from a fellow in Juneau and had it barged to Seward. Funny-not-funny story: When we bought the boat the deal was would go on a barge to Seward, but the seller dilly-dallied and miss the barge departure day. The boat had to go on the next barge, which as luck would have it, was bound for Anchorage, not Seward which meant I had to trailer the boat 125 miles from Anchorage to Seward instead one mile from the freight dock to the boat harbor. Oh well. 

For ten years we had several trips each summer that took us to the Chiswell Islands and Aialik Bay, Day Harbor and Rugged Island, Driftwood Bay, and Holgate Glacier. The Willet was a twenty-seven-foot Albin Famy Cruiser built in 1984. It was a slow comfortable boat and great for overnighting in coves of the Eastern Kenai Peninsula. As time and circumstances changed we had to say goodbye to the Albin and now we're having a summer without moorage fees, insurance payments, or maintenance chores. That's not all bad. And one benefit of the nasty weather we've had so far this summer is that there are few days we miss being out on the water. Out on the cold windy ocean anyway. 

For Madelyn and I, there is a rhythm to life that changes over periods of years, and we immersed ourselves in different experiences and challenges. There were summers when we energetically hiked the trails of the Eastern Peninsula. Once the B&B chores were done we grabbed our knapsacks and headed off into the woods. We had our horse years (well maybe decades), and house-building years all of which consumed us and made us richer in so many ways. 

During the Willet years, we were intently focused on boat care, trip planning, and finding new places to explore. We were rewarded with experiences as diverse as catching a fifty-pound halibut in fifteen feet of water while anchored in a cove and the next day having to go overboard to unwind a tow line from around the propeller shaft. We got to watch bubble-feeding humpbacks with our grandkids and help them catch salmon, lingcod, and their favorite, rockfish. 

But now that focus is lost, perhaps ripped from us with by the storms of life, but regardless of the cause we have moved on to smaller boats. I'm kayaking and canoeing more and sharing those joys with my family. Our teardrop camper is our new yacht and with what's left of summer you will find us paddling some Alaska lake rather than bouncing over the afternoon chop on Resurrection Bay. Yes, the reach of a big boat takes one out to the big water where the whales and big fish wander, but the stealth of the small boat takes one close to a month-old loon chick or across a lake to a new trail over the next mountain. 

The simplicity of a small boat gives rest to the mind and makes room for clever stories and fond memories that rise when all there is on the checklist is lunch, raingear, and bug dope. Sometimes I'm rowing the nibble wherry that Pop Yerden built others I drop into a kayak. There is no lack of choices at hand. Pausing now, I look at the flat water of Bear Lake with the morning sun silhouetting the mew gulls on its sheet metal surface, and I'm drawn to paddle out in my old kayak to scratch lines on its surface, lines that never last. I imagine entering the kayak with that clumsy caution of donning a pair of pants by dancing on one leg at a time. Once in the cockpit, I am paired with the boat, wearing it in fact, so we are a unit of one, crossing flat water to silence nagging demons with the whisper of paddles and the rhythm of muscles. 

In this, our cold and wet small boat summer we'll make ourselves anew one more time for the world is full of charming coves, scenic trails, and picturesque campsites waiting around the next cape or over the next hill. Life is about finding some of those places and being in them for a time.
I'm going there now. The lake is waiting. 


  1. I love this! So many good memories of Bear Lake. Of the Walker family and those wonderful ponies Jube and Janie!💕

  2. So glad you remember those good times. More good times to come.

  3. Beautiful reflection Dan. I sometimes lament the simplicity that life with young kids brings, but your essay reminds me of its joys.

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