The Secret Life of Alaska Fisherman


Imagine you’re on a trip to SE Alaska in your yacht or your sailboat and you see a fishing boat up ahead of you on a broad bay along the Inside Passage. As you draw closer you realize something’s not right. The boat isn’t under power and there’s no movement on deck, no sign of anyone onboard. What would you do? What made me think about this is something my brother told me recently after he fetched some fuel and groceries for us in his fishing boat. The tides were a mess, they were super low high tides that came in extremely slowly. Our skiff wouldn’t float so I wouldn’t be able to go out and meet him to offload the fuel and groceries from his boat. He thought he could bring his boat into our little tidal bight later on in the evening just before dark, but even then our skiff wouldn’t float. It was decided that I’d walk out on the big breakwater log that stopped the worst northerly swells from assaulting our floathouses to meet his boat.

The problem was, the breakwater log had been out there for a long time and had been severely eaten up by wood-boring sea gribbles. It wasn’t much more than a floating slab and wasn’t as stable as it used to be. It was the only option, though, so when Jamie called and said he would be here in a few minutes, I left my floathouse, clambered over the rocks and stepped onto the big log that was tied to shore. It has a lot of burls and moss growing on it, but wasn’t as tippy as I’d feared it might be.

I got to the very end of it where it had the least stability and balanced there, waiting for Jamie to arrive. I could hear his boat growling along, but it was taking him longer than a few minutes. I occupied myself by swatting noseeums, taking photos of the sunset, and trying not to fall off the log into the jade green water. Jamie’s boat finally entered the bight. He was having some engine problems and I wondered if that had been what had delayed him, but when he finally reached the log and I helped tie his boat to it, he said, “I’m sorry it took so long to get here. I was drifting farther out than I realized.” “Drifting?” I asked. He said that he’d shut down his engine and let the boat drift while he slept, waiting for the tide. “It made me think of Ray. He used to do that all the time.” Ray was a close family friend who died last year and had been the captain of the large fishing boat Jamie had been a deckhand on for many years.

“You mean,” I said, “that you guys would just drift around in some bay with everyone sleeping inside?” “Yep. It was super peaceful.” I’d never heard of such a thing, but I couldn’t see why not when I thought about it. In the more remote areas there’s very little traffic, and most of the water is extremely deep out in the middle of bays, and if the weather was nice–why not?

​As I thought about that he handed me out 9 jugs of gasoline, each weighing around 40 pounds. I had to carry them along the log and line them up, walking back and forth as the log rocked. They took up most of the space on the log so it was tricky getting around them. Finally he handed out a bag of potatoes and assorted other groceries. “Where are you off to now?” I asked as he started the engine back up. “I don’t know,” he said. “Maybe I’ll go back out there and drift some more.”


Mark Morse

5/20/2021 05:24:33 am

Just another day at the office T! As always a great slice of life in the Bush. Unfortunately what struck me most was the mention of Ray’s death. It flooded me with memories of running around the Chuck with him. To think that we were 9 yrs old is unfathomable. We ran around bear country unsupervised and navigated the tricky tides in a little aluminum skiff from sun up to sun down. Nothing was off limits and we always had boysenberrys to snack on. I’d love to hear Jamie’s take on how he was as a captain. He certainly had enough time on the water. Send my love to your Mom. God knows there’s been enough loss in that family. So glad the book is doing well and love the bit about sharing reviews with Mom and Dad. To me it underscores their tremendous pride in you!! Send me ur details to and I will send money for a signed copy of Ruins and shipping. Enjoy your summer and I will try to stay in touch better than I have.

Guillermo Sanchez

5/21/2021 10:27:41 pm

Happy that you’re back. Love your stories. And thoroughly enjoyed your book also.

Dot Bardarson

1/30/2022 03:52:56 pm

Just finished Raised in Ruins. Loved it. In many ways it mirrors our experience living for 5 years at an outlying salmon cannery in Chatham Straits. (1962-1967) Chatham Cannery. Built 1998. I too have written a book about it, but not published. Lots of photos. Raised 3 children there & they thank me every day. Also worked there painting signs, cannery store, and packing salmon roe, working with the Japanese technicians. I would love to follow your current adventures & maybe share some of mine. Dot

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