MY COLUMN: Boats & Ladders

My mom is one of the most easily pranked persons on the planet. She unfailingly believes that everyone around her, despite plenty of evidence of chronic deception to the contrary, is telling the truth. Her sons were quick to realize what fun this could be and have spent their entire lives telling her tall tales and then laughing at her when she believes them.

If you’re thinking this sounds a bit like the story of The Boy Who Cried Wolf, you’re right.

One wintry day my oldest brother Jamie and his school friend Bret, who was staying the weekend with us, trudged into the living room looking the worse for wear and told my mom that Jamie’s skiff had sunk on them and they’d nearly drowned.

My mom, determined for once not to be played for a fool, laughed. “Sure, sure. Tell me another story.”

They insisted they were telling the truth, outraged as only chronic tale tellers can be  when they finally tell the truth and no one believes them.

They went into more detail. Jamie’s skiff, a fourteen-foot, riveted aluminum Lund, had sunk when they tried to pull crab pots in that were too big for it to handle. When the skiff went down they struggled out of their heavy winter over clothes to prevent themselves from sinking along with it. And then their boots tried to drag them down when they filled with water. They kicked them off and had to swim to a distant shore through Alaskan waters in the dead of winter. At one point Bret, through chattering teeth, insisted that he couldn’t make it, that Jamie should go on without him. Jamie refused to hear it and forced him to keep swimming.

When they finally made it to shore they had to walk home a quarter of a mile in bare feet over frosty rocks.

“Well, I have to give you credit,” my mom said when they finished, “you certainly make it sound real. And I like the effort you took with your outfits to make it look true.  But you’re not tricking me again, I know it’s all just one of your stories.”

“It’s true!” 

She just laughed. Until Jamie showed her their feet. My brothers and sister and I ran over the rocks all summer barefoot, but Bret was from the nearby village and had lived a more civilized life. His feet were raw and bloody from the walk over the rocks. My mom was horrified and appalled, perhaps as much shocked that they’d told the truth as at what they’d suffered, and how they’d nearly died.

It wouldn’t be the last time her sons were involved in boating mishaps, as I write about in one of my latest columns. It’s about SE Alaskan boating accidents in general, and one of my brothers’ (and cousin’s) misadventures in particular



For some reason, the first part of the column is missing and there are no photos on the online version. Here’s the missing text:

Recently, while my brother Robin was visiting out here from Ketchikan, he took pictures of a non-local boat that went aground on the rocks that festoon the entrance to Meyers Chuck. The marker buoy is on a long tether and the tide was so low that it had drifted far from the rock it was supposed to mark, misleading the boater.

A few weeks before that a seine boat sank at the entrance to Thorne Bay, just across the strait from us, where we go to get groceries and fuel.

And one of the readers of my blog, who kept me informed of her trip up the Inside Passage, sent me a photo of a small cruise ship called the Alaska Dawn aground not far from Sitka.

The sad truth is, if you’re listening to the VHF marine radio during the summer months in SE Alaska you’ll hear the Coast Guard on there constantly, responding to boaters’ distress calls or asking boaters to check their EPIRBs (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon) to see if one was accidentally activated.

One summer night some years back, the Coast Guard got on the radio to describe a boater who was drifting around in a skiff without power. He didn’t have a radio, only a cell phone and the battery was dying. It was all too easy to pciture his loneliness with only a dying cell phone to link him to a connection with other humans and possible rescue. They described his location and we realized he wasn’t that far from us. My dad and other locals immediately went to his assistance.

For the rest of the column, click this link:


​Imagine that you’re hiking along a rocky beach with no sign of human habitation wherever you look. But something catches your eye in the dense forest above the tide line and you push your way through the grappling salal brush. You stop abruptly, confronted with the ruins of a very old cabin made of large, squared logs. 

You go past it, deeper into the woods, and come across a massive red cedar tree that it would take at least three grown men with their arms outstretched to span its circumference. You circle around it and find that it has a deep crease in its trunk, a crease that goes all the way up into the trees branches. And across this crease has been nailed rungs to form a ladder.

Who built the old cabin? What’s the purpose of this tree ladder? These are the sorts of mysteries you come across in SE Alaska.

My latest column touches on this as I write about The Ladders of Bush Living. You can read it at:


​Photo Credit: The first two photos are courtesy of Robin Neilson.

P.S. My sister, who usually posts my blog from Florida, since I can’t do it from here with my poor signal (it’s taken a dozen attempts just to get this blog to her), will be spending the next two weeks up here visiting family and figuring out construction projects for her MAD Island home in Meyers Chuck. But you’ll have to wait until she gets back home before I can post stories about that!


Eileen Wells

9/5/2018 01:43:31 pm

Wow! I didn’t know how easily pranked my little sister could be. Too bad I didn’t have the opportunity to try that out.😉


9/14/2018 11:49:35 am

Hi, Eileen! Yep–she’s known far and wide in these parts for her prankableness! Try it out and see. 😀


9/13/2018 09:53:27 am

This is definitely quintessential southeast! If you have spent anytime on her waters, you have a harrowing boat story!


9/14/2018 11:51:35 am

So true! And there are always lots more, right? It’s just how it is.


9/16/2018 04:43:30 pm

Yah, you just try not to freak out when it’s happening because ‘all’ the stories come rushing to you at that moment.

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