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Getting the shaft, an Alaskan Trolling adventure.

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Getting the shaft, an Alaskan Trolling adventure.

Postby Salty » Sat Jan 22, 2011 10:04 pm

Getting the shaft, an Alaska salmon trolling adventure.

In 1981 I made the move from handtrolling out of a 19 foot outboard rig “Hootchie” to a 42 foot wooden power troller “Sudan”. I moved my wife, Sarah, and two sons, Kris, 5 and Karl, 3 onto our boat and started trolling in late May. We were struggling along living on the boat and mostly not catching as we dealt with various mechanical problems associated with an old wooden boat. On the fifth of July we made a move from Sitka toward Port Alexander along the outside coast of Baranof Island. The season was open and the day was one of those rare glorious sunny and calm days with the snow capped mountains shimmering and the sea surface glistening.
Approaching Eagle Rocks just north of Cape Omaney I noticed numerous sea lions hauled out on the rocks. I pulled in close so the family could enjoy the scene and idled down and then turned off the diesel so the boys could enjoy the roaring sea lions. After a few minutes I started up and put the boat in gear to head on around the Cape. The boat did not move. I ran out to the back deck to see if there was a rope or kelp in the wheel. I couldn’t see anything fouling the propeller. I opened up the engine room and checked the gear and shaft. The shaft was rotating fine. I hustled back to the stern again and leaned over far enough to observe the propeller not rotating. Diagnosis: broken shaft.
Taking stock of the situation I noted we were a bit south of the rocks but the current was carrying us toward the jagged reef. It was not a good place to anchor with the current and deep water close to the rocks. I spotted a couple of trollers about a mile outside of me. I tried raising them on the VHF but there was no response. So I took out my rifle and fired a couple of rounds to get their attention.
Gary Erb on the “Chancy” heard the shots, spotted me, and came up on the VHF. I described our situation and he volunteered to come in and take me under tow. I got a line ready on the bow and pulled my poles and stabilizers to facilitate Gary getting close enough to grab a line. He was by himself on the boat which made it difficult for him to navigate, catch, and secure a tow line.
Meanwhile the current was setting us so close to the rocks that Gary had to come in between us and the rocks and push us away before taking a line. With the ocean swell, current, and the rocks the situation was deteriorating. I saw that I would need to jump onto the Chancy with the tow line I had secured to our bow while Gary steered his boat away from the rocks. I told Sarah to remain in the cabin and stay out of the way as the boat was rolling precariously without the poles and stabilizers out.
Gary nudged the Sudan with his bow and I jumped onto the Chancy with the tow line and scampered back to his stern to secure it. It was a pretty nasty bump as Gary tried to get steerage by pushing the Sudan out of the way and keep both boats off the rocks. Sarah heard the crunch on the side of the Sudan and stepped out to try and protect the cabin. The bow of the Chancy came up on the swell and the anchor fluke caught Sarah on her chin and crushed her against the teak cabin. I watched her stumble into the cabin obviously hurt. There was no way I could immediately rush to her aide as I had to secure the tow rope, and help Gary tow the two boats off the rocks. Gary did a masterful job managing to clear the Sudan and carefully maneuver out of the rocks slow enough so as to not put too much strain and break the tow rope.
I had no way of knowing how bad Sarah was injured while we got the boats out to deep water. I went in to the cabin and discussed Sarah’s injury with Gary and we decided that as soon as we were clear he would idle down and I would climb back aboard the Sudan to check on Sarah. It was the longest few minutes of my life wondering how bad Sarah was hurt while there was no way I could go to her.
Finally Gary idled down; I pulled the tow rope until I could climb over the bow of the Sudan and check on Sarah. She was laying down, conscious, but hurting from a badly bruised jaw. Kris and Karl had gone and retrieved some frozen herring packages and put them on her jaw to reduce the rapid swelling. Gary towed us around Omaney and into Port Alexander where my parents were unloading a very good catch of over 30 kings and 100 coho.
We called a plane and Sarah and the boys flew into Sitka that evening. I spent the next day getting the Sudan towed to the inner harbor grid where I removed the broken shaft. It appeared that the silicone bronze shaft had interacted with the stuffing box over the years and crystallized to the point of eventual failure. I was lucky the break came on the seaward side of the stuffing box or else I would have had to deal with flooding in addition to the loss of mobility.
In 1981 we were experiencing tough economic times and I had to order a replacement shaft from Maryland as people were keeping inventories low and there was not any shafting of the right size that I could find in Seattle. I had to find a shaft, make all the orders, arrange financing, transportation, and machining of the shaft taper for the existing prop using the one phone line in Port Alexander. I made arrangements for the machining in Seattle so the shaft had to go from Maryland to Seattle via plane if I wanted to get it done in time to fish the rest of the summer season. I was broke and did not have a credit card in those days so arranging financing at 20% interest or so was also a challenge. Tommy Thompson at Sitka Sound Seafoods co-signed or otherwise guaranteed the loans.
After finally finding the shafting, getting it cut to length in Maryland, and then arranging the flights, the shaft did not arrive in Seattle the day it was supposed to. I tracked it down and discovered the plane it was on had a mechanical and diverted to Chicago. I found an expediter, which was a real challenge in those days from PA, got him to get the shaft on another flight to Seattle, which went through Los Angeles, and the shaft got to Seattle only one day later than scheduled. The machine shop took pity on me and put my shaft next on their work list. In a few days they had the shaft tapered, the shaft nut threads machined out, and sent it on Alaska Airlines to Sitka.
While I wasn’t busy at low tide working on the boat I spent time getting to know PA, eating salmon and blue berries, and watching the boats unload. It was a good coho year and I watched a lot of coho unloaded and heard lots of guys talking about the bite. I also spent some time hiking over to Larch Bay looking for a Juneau Dentist family whose small plane had disappeared in the area.
Sarah seemed to be healing fine and we made plans for her and the boys to come back out when we got the shaft installed.
The shaft got to Sitka but getting it to PA was another problem. Fortunately I had a friend who planned to sail down to PA the next day on his sail boat. He offered to take Sarah, the boys, and the shaft with him. I called three friends in Sitka and asked them to move the shaft from the airport to the sailboat. They claim I still owe them for that experience.
I spent several hours out on the beach in PA watching for the sail with my family and shaft on board. Sarah said she was sea sick on that rolling sail boat for all of the 13 hours it took. Finally a speck of white sail appeared and a couple of hours later the shaft was in PA. A crew of trollers helped pack it from the airplane float to the grid. I excitedly opened the box with the shaft and discovered that there were no shaft nuts. A call to the machine shop in Seattle first thing in the morning led to some scrambling and they discovered the nuts on the bench. Gold Streak prop nuts to Sitka and on the first plane the next day headed for PA.
Problem was that the tide was going to be coming in when the plane landed. And the tides were getting smaller and I might not be able to get off the grid for a week or so if we didn’t get the nuts on the next day. We put the shaft in and connected it to the gear. We put the propeller on and then waited for the plane. The plane was delayed by fog. The tide came up to the keel and was coming up to the shaft. We heard the plane coming in and I ran to the float plane dock, literally grabbed the box from the pilot, and ran back to the inner harbor with the nuts. By this time the tide had covered the shaft and prop. No problem, I just took a big breath threaded the nuts on underwater, surfaced for a breath, and then tightened them up with a big wrench. No time to put on a hub zinc.
On July 22 we went fishing and fished the rest of the summer. We did not do great but we were happy fishing. It was great to have “gotten the shaft”.
Salty
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Re: Getting the shaft, an Alaskan Trolling adventure.

Postby kjwelder » Sun Feb 06, 2011 12:25 pm

Thanks for writing this experience dad. I remember not one thing from this story.
kj
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Re: Getting the shaft, an Alaskan Trolling adventure.

Postby grinder » Wed Feb 09, 2011 8:38 pm

I like that story. I think it captures exactly what its like when all hell breaks. I like how you persevere, make it happen and finish the season. Good story Eric.
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Re: Getting the shaft, an Alaskan Trolling adventure.

Postby Salty » Fri Feb 11, 2011 5:39 pm

Thanks grinder. With a little encouragement I might dredge up another story or two. What would you prefer, surviving the tough times type of story like "getting the shaft", a humorous tale of the trolling life, a detailed story about finding the right hootchie, or one about really getting them.
If I was creative I guess I would put all the above into one great story but I am not at that level of creative writing, yet.
Salty
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