Hauling in a new industry — Boat haul-outs take artful engineering

Photo by Peter S. Ford. The M/V Stormbird, a World War II-era ship owned by Clem Tillion, of Halibut Cove, was pulled out last spring. A growing demand for haul-outs means work can be done in Homer.

Photo by Peter S. Ford. The M/V Stormbird, a World War II-era ship owned by Clem Tillion, of Halibut Cove, was pulled out last spring. A growing demand for haul-outs means work can be done in Homer.

By Naomi Klouda

Homer Tribune

A research vessel and a former crabber were getting hauled out on the beach below Pier One Theatre at the Homer Spit last week, an endeavor attracting its own reality show audience in the cars that pull over to watch.
The Qualifier 105 research vessel and the F/V Susitna are each more than 100 feet in length and form quite a contrast. One is a sleek white craft that’s traveled the Alaska coast for gold mining divers in Nome and field biologists. The other is a hulk that’s retired from its Bering Sea crabbing days for a new life in freight.

When Earl Brock, owner of Salvage and Sales, orchestrates their haul-out, the vessels sit on dry land in the camping grounds to get repaired by marine tradesmen. Since Homer doesn’t yet have a heavy vessel haul-out facility, the process for pulling these behemoth boats out of the water is a large logistical undertaking.

“I had to figure the process out. I had no mentor and few resources when I started,” Brock said. “I watched them do it on an easy boat and thought, ‘I would never do it that way.’”
Brock has hauled boats out in Nome, Bethel and other coastal areas since 2006. He brought his operation to Homer when requests came in last year.

For the first time, six vessels were onshore near the Homer Harbor to get their work done. The advantage allows the big vessels to remain near their own home port, instead of expensive traveling to one of Alaska’s shipyards in Seward, Kodiak, Ketchikan or Dutch Harbor — or farther away to Puget Sound.

“All of the shipyards have their own circumstances,” Brock said. “You might wait six months in Ketchikan to get your boat in. In Seward, you might get your boat in, but won’t have all the marine trades you need to get things done.”
Brock’s system uses high-powered haul equipment, industrial air bags and natural tidal power to bring even the largest boats in the harbor to dry shore. There they undergo hull work, painting, repairs or prop work.

It’s a careful series of steps based on ancient concepts probably first strategized in Egypt, Brock said.

“I think of it as a logistical opera or opus,” said Peter Ford, one of Brock’s crew. “There are so many movements. Each has to be in place and doing its part, and it has to come together all at once.”

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Plugged In: Find the Goldilocks of pocketable cameras

By Joe Kashi, for the Redoubt Reporter

Good things are said to come in small packages, and that’s increasingly true of compact, highly mobile camera gear capable of making great images, whether on vacation, on the trail or while driving to work.

I’ve preferred traveling as light as possible ever since winter hunting trips flown 35 years ago in a small Taylorcraft. There was scant cargo space or weight allowance for rifles and winter survival gear, so we quickly learned to make the most of every ounce and every cubic inch. That same challenge still faces today’s photographers, backpackers, hunters and travelers, especially those who want to make high-quality images while traveling light.

Although a cellphone’s camera function is certainly light and compact, it’s not especially versatile nor capable of making technically adequate images except of nearby subjects in bright sunshine. On the other hand, I recall with a bemused shudder the person I recently saw walking around Portland, Oregon with his family on a hot day, obviously vacationing, yet bogged down by a hulking bag of heavy full-frame camera gear. Some vacation.

As is so often true, the most sensible solution lies somewhere between these extremes. Prominent among the new cameras introduced at this year’s Photokina trade show is a variety of premium compact cameras that pack excellent image quality into surprisingly small, versatile camera bodies. These now use larger sensors with better low-light capabilities.

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Open arms — Arming future stewards with knowledge of the past

Photo by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Dr. Alan Boraas, anthropology professor at Kenai Peninsula College, discusses a Dena’ina house pit excavation with Dave Guilfoyle, an archaeologist with Applied Archaeology Australia, and assistant Genevieve Carey, near the Kenai Armory recently.

Photo by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Dr. Alan Boraas, anthropology professor at Kenai Peninsula College, discusses a Dena’ina house pit excavation with Dave Guilfoyle, an archaeologist with Applied Archaeology Australia, and assistant Genevieve Carey, near the Kenai Armory recently.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

Sparkling bubbles of laughter wafted across the tree-sprinkled knob, borne on a breeze that ruffled the frail fall foliage and momentarily disrupted its gentle autumnal recoil back into the dirt. The revelers were too far away to make out what was being shrieked and said, but the universal language of kids at play translated as clearly as the warm glow from the low-angle afternoon sun.

The creek in the ravine below swelled rich with the seasonal substance of spawning salmon. Above, people walked from a house site in the trees to a string of food storage pits lining the edge of the bluff, pausing to take in the views over Kenai to the east and Cook Inlet to the south, the landscape stained with September hues.

In this scene the time frame could have been the better part of 1,000 years ago, the people being Dena’ina villagers who lived in a collection of houses stretched out along the meandering creek. The spot was likely chosen for its access to timber for firewood and house logs, abundance of fish and game animals for food, and the well-drained soil that freezes in winter and softens for digging in the summer, allowing salmon to be stored in cache pits in the ground that would sustain the villagers all winter long.

But, in fact, it was 2014, and the people on the hillside off South Forest Lane in Kenai last month were anthropologists, investigating the remnants of those who inhabited that spot close to a millennium ago. On that sunny, mild fall day, with the sounds of kids playing in Kenai Municipal Park nearby, it was easy to picture the once-upon-a-time life of the Dena’ina villagers as calm and content.

“Working in this place I’m thinking about when people were living here. We hear kids when we’re working out here, and you imagine kids were probably running around playing (back then), too,” said Dave Guilfoyle, an archaeologist with Applied Archaeology Australia, who conducted a cultural resource survey at the site over the summer.

“This time of year they were fishing down at that creek. And somebody was working on the pits, getting ready for winter, and looking out at this amazing view across the gorge,” said Dr. Alan Boraas, anthropology professor at Kenai Peninsula College, who visited the site to consult with Guilfoyle.

Fast-forward hundreds of years, though, and the scene wouldn’t have been as tranquil. The sounds of kids laughing and breezes ruffling the trees would be drowned out by construction noises, of South Forest Lane and the subdivision beyond it to the west, of the Kenai Spur Highway to the north and, in 1973, the Kenai Armory building a stone’s throw away.

On the armory property activity has been distinctly not serene over the years — troop drills, training exercises and even tank maneuvers on the cleared field, the building bustling with people and vehicles, both military and civilian as the armory building has been used for community events and as an emergency shelter location. All without realizing that, hidden in the grass, were the remnants of a Dena’ina village.

“The first thing is to protect these areas from the Army itself, because they do training out here still,” Guilfoyle said. “The focus really for this stage is a management plan for the property, and then more research and more archaeology will be part of that plan.”

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Jellies belly up — Life’s no beach for jellyfish washing ashore in large die-off

Photo by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Jellyfish have been washing up on Kenai Peninsula beaches for the past few weeks, with the highest concentrations between clam Gulch and Kasilof. The die-off of jellyfish is part of its annual life cycle, but it usually occurs later in the year and doesn’t often leave such noticeable evidence.

Photo by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Jellyfish have been washing up on Kenai Peninsula beaches for the past few weeks, with the highest concentrations between clam Gulch and Kasilof. The die-off of jellyfish is part of its annual life cycle, but it usually occurs later in the year and doesn’t often leave such noticeable evidence.

By Joseph Robertia
Redoubt Reporter

The low-angle sun setting behind volcanoes across the glimmering water and painting the sky a vivid orange red, the last of the seasonal birds calling out overhead, the cessation of seasonal crowds and the lapping of waves breaking on the smooth stones and sand of the shore — going for an evening stroll on the beaches of Cook Inlet can be a serene endeavor in the fall.
But this year, beach walkers are finding the aesthetics of this autumnal experience impacted by a strange sight — thousands of slimy, brown, gelatinous jellyfish strewn along the surf.
“I usually get a couple of calls a year from people back in bays, but this year there’s been a lot of calls coming in, many from the Kenai Peninsula. There seems to be more washing up earlier and at once,” said Kristin Cieciel, a research fisheries biologist with the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration in Juneau.
The species of jellyfish she is referring to is Chrysaora melanaster, commonly called the Northern sea nettle or brown jellyfish. Its genus ranges along the entire west coast of Canada and the Lower 48, but this particular species makes its home from the Gulf of Alaska north to the Chukchi Sea.
For the past 10 years, NOAA has conducted numerous fisheries and oceanographic surveys around the state, of which a jellyfish component has been an integral part of a much broader fall survey for pollock, cod and salmon. The jellyfish are caught while surface-trolling in such large quantities that they’re counted not by numbers, but by weight.
“This year we had catches that were enormous. The final numbers are still coming in, but anecdotally I can say the numbers were in the tons,” Cieciel said.
This isn’t particularly out of the ordinary for jellyfish, but two things did strike her as odd. The surface temperatures were higher than average — as much as 5 degrees above average by some estimates — and many of the jellyfish she was seeing were already beginning to die.
“When they’re dead, they just float there and often with damaged tentacles or no tentacles at all, but when alive they’ll be pulsing and moving up and down the water column, and their tentacles, which are around 3 to 9 feet long and spindly, are easily noticeable,” she said.
“The thought is that this species only lives one year. In earlier winter the gametes — eggs and sperm — are released, and by fall that’s it for them. But, the annual die-off is usually later. It’s usually October that we start seeing them die off. This year I was seeing them dying in the southeast Bering Sea survey at the end of August and in September,” Cieciel said.

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Reckoning with a history at sea — New book recalls coming of age amid commercial fishing

Atcheson book coverBy Joseph Robertia

Redoubt Reporter

Of Alaska’s population — seasonal and year-round — there exists a motley crew of diverse personality types, not the least colorful of which are those drawn to the Last Frontier to fish for a living. Many arrive low on money but high on the promise of an adventure at sea. Though they can be as different as all the variations of creatures in the sea, there is at least one similarity — they don’t forget their maiden fishing season.

Dave Atcheson, of Sterling, spent more than a decade commercial fishing, though he might be better known in the community today as a sportfisherman and the author of numerous fishing-related magazine articles, as well as the angler guide, “Fishing Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula.” His early experiences at sea are one’s he’ll never forget, and are translated into his memorable new book, “Dead Reckoning — Navigating Life on the Last Frontier, Courting Tragedy on the High Seas.”

“I moved up in ’84 and immediately went on the ocean without having ever seen it,” he said.

If this approach sounds a bit foolish, Atcheson, in hindsight, agrees, though now can put his harrowing survival stories, fish-out-of-water moments and other experiences while getting his feet wet in the fishing industry to good use in his book.

“It’s a memoir of my commercial fishing days, but there’s definitely a bit of coming of age to it as well. It culminates to almost losing a boat on the Bering Sea. I was nearly killed. It was a real life-changing experience,” he said.

Because of how personally attached Atcheson is to the stories, it took him awhile to be able to share them with others.

“The time is finally right. I knew the stories were all good, but I just needed some time to distance myself from them before I could write about them,” he said.

The book depicts Atcheson’s first taste of fishing life, at age 19, seining salmon out of Seward. He was working aboard The Lancer with a skipper, named Woody, who Atcheson describes as a vestige of the past with a personality as unpredictable as the sea.

“He was a crusty captain and a renowned screamer. There wasn’t a lot of teaching going on,” he said.

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Almanac: Memories rise in sweet visit — Betty Crocker’s niece explores family’s long-ago roots in Kasilof

By Brent Johnson
For the Redoubt Reporter

Photo courtesy of Shirley Crocker. Gay Crocker Pados, of Australia, visited her Kasilof roots recently.

Photo courtesy of Shirley Crocker. Gay Crocker Pados, of Australia, visited her Kasilof roots recently.

Betty Crocker’s niece was in for a sweet treat herself during a visit to Kasilof on Sept. 9. Gay Crocker Pados, 57, of Australia, is the daughter of Betty Crocker’s twin brother, Bill. Though Betty and Bill were born in Kasilof in 1935, the last time one of them had been here is about 15 years ago, when Betty came back for a couple years.
Betty, it must be told, is not connected to the brand of baking mixes sharing her name. But her life was genuine, whereas the name brand was created from scratch in 1921 — the name “Betty” sounding cheery and all-American, while Crocker was the last name of a director of the Washburn Crosby Company, which originally developed the brand.
For Kasilof, the Crocker story starts in the fall of 1924. That’s when 19-year-old Ardith “Slim” Crocker arrived. He was from Everett, Washington, but his parents, George Milton Crocker and Katrina Kryger Crocker, divorced about 1917, when Slim was 12. For some reason Slim went to Tustumena Lake and appears there on snowshoes in the Andrew Berg diary entry of Jan. 17, 1925. Berg, a big-game guide whose diary has been crafted into a book, called him, “The slim biscuit shooter.” Such a refined name indicates the men had met earlier. Slim himself wrote in his memorabilia that he stayed at Kasilof the winter of 1924-25.
Slim returned in the fall of 1927 and spent the ensuing winter working for Archie and Enid McLane. Archie was a farmer who often cut poles for fish traps during the winter. In 1928, Slim began building his house beside the Kasilof River, at the site where a little cabin stood. It was the original cabin of Pete Jensen and Pete Madson, who had worked for surveyors setting section corners and quarter corners in areas between Homer and Kenai from 1917 to 1920. Jensen and Madson settled in Kasilof to fox farm. Also in 1928, Slim went to work for the Alaska Guides Association as a big-game guide.

Photo from the Betty Crocker collection. Jessie Parsons stands in the doorway of “Miss Mac’s Lunch Room” in 1915, which was the start of Parsons Hotel in Anchorage.

Photo from the Betty Crocker collection. Jessie Parsons stands in the doorway of “Miss Mac’s Lunch Room” in 1915, which was the start of Parsons Hotel in Anchorage.

For the foundation of his house, Slim used pipe that turn-of-the-century gold miners had left by Indian Creek on Tustumena Lake. For three winters, 1928 through 1930, Archie McLane used a horse-drawn bobsled to bring logs to Slim’s home site. Then Abe Erickson, a Kasilof fox farmer and set-netter, built the house. He had the help of a couple local men in that endeavor. The 1930 census found Slim in Kasilof and listed his occupation as “trapper.”
In activities as a guide, Slim often stayed at the Parsons Hotel in Anchorage and flew with Frank Dorbandt, a famous Alaska pioneer aviator. Fred and Jessie Parsons began their hotel in 1915. Jessie was from Australia, and in 1931 she sent for her niece, 18-year-old Alice May Duncombe. Alice rode over on the Ventura and landed at San Francisco before continuing to Anchorage. She met Slim at the hotel and married him Dec. 28, 1931.

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Plugged In: When change means return to the same

By Joe Kashi, for the Redoubt Reporter
Despite its seemingly technological and rational nature, photo gear cycles through fashions and fads just as surely and often as other consumer products.
Those marketing cycles place a premium on careful, informed purchasing. In many instances, as we’ll discuss below, buying upper-tier cameras near the end of their product cycle or as refurbished/used gear makes the most sense.
Only a handful of new cameras were introduced at the 2014 Photokina trade show, normally the most prominent forum to highlight new photo gear every two years. Most 2014-vintage introductions are modest evolutions of already-mature, capable products.
Typically, earlier models would delete some major feature, such as eyelevel viewfinders, while following models would reintroduce those same previously deleted features. In both instances, marketing would tout the initial deletion and then the reversion to earlier styles as new and exciting changes.
Panasonic’s LX100, for example, is about the same size as other Micro Four-Thirds compact-system cameras but uses a fixed lenses, unlike the interchangeable lenses found on all other M 4/3 cameras. Panasonic’s newest M 4/3 camera undoubtedly includes a fine lens, but it’s a fixed lens and thus not as versatile. That’s not an exciting new “feature,” despite the marketing hype.
Similarly, Panasonic touts its M 4/3 sensor as “multi-aspect,” but all that means is you irrevocably crop the picture when you make the image, using only some portion of the sensor. That same sensor when used in other M 4/3 cameras yields about 33 percent more pixels and usable picture area.
The LX100 has classic “retro” styling, an eyelevel viewfinder and manually set lens aperture and shutter speed dials. We had these same “features” 60 years ago. While I happen to prefer an eyelevel viewfinder and manual dials, they’re not new and exciting features to anyone with a modicum of experience and historical perspective.

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