Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Signs of civilization, for what it's worth

I hit the water early today (5am) to keep the option open of paddling all the way into Juneau, some 35 miles, if the spirit, or driving rain, moves me. It was a beautiful morning as the sun was shining on the mountains of Admiralty Island as I crossed Port Snettisham.

Lots of gill netters operating in this section. I guess the salmon like this part of the coast where the waters are deep right off the shore. I've come to recognize that where the fishermen like to fish is where I'm not going to find any campsites because the terrain is too steep. And that whole section to Stephens Passage is steep-to.

I had an interesting encounter with a fishing vessel as I was crossing the mouth of Taku Inlet. The last of some lingering fog had disappeared, and it was a beautiful, calm sunny morning. The 3+ mile crossing was easy, though the cross currents were pretty strong.

As I neared the far shore, I could hear a boat approaching from behind me. I glanced back and could see it was one of the gill netters not too far off my starboard stern. As it neared, I expected it to turn or to cut its engine. Maybe the skipper is a kayaker and wants to shoot the breeze for a few minutes, I thought. When the boat was 50 feet off my stern, I could see what looked like a young couple on the bridge, both waving me aside. There was no one else near us, but I turned away in case there was something I was interfering with that I wasn't aware of. Maybe I was in the exact spot they wanted to put their net. I don't know. As they went by, at no more than 50 feet, I could see that they were both talking to me, but I couldn't hear anything over the engine noise.

Just as they moved past me, I realized I had better steer further away from their wake. And when the wake did hit, it completely washed over my deck and surfed me sideways so I had to brace on my paddle. And the fishing boat motored on. I could imagine them giggling over their little prank. For me, it was the only rude act I've encountered on my whole trip. I guess you have to figure there are a few like that no matter what world you're in.

Then I saw that the boat had pulled up alongside a fish tender about a half mile ahead, and other boats were headed in that direction, too. I paddled up to have a word with the skipper and discovered there were 3 on board--the skipper, a young guy in his 30s and 2 teen-aged boys. I called the skipper over and told him that had been a dangerous stunt back there, and he was immediately apologetic. He said he had been asleep below, but that the boys had said they had slowed down for me. There was no way for me to know, but I hadn't noticed a change in the engine rpms.

Then one of the boys chimed in, saying they were headed straight for the tender the whole time. I asked them if they thought I had changed my course, and he said, "No, but we were just maintaining our course, too."

That's when the skipper spoke up again and said all the right things--it was their fault, I'm sorry, I'm responsible, it won't happen again, you're in the right, etc. And he sounded sincere. I only hope those kids learn something from it.

Teen-aged boys... You have to wonder how so many of us survived, don't you?

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