10 Weeks One Summer: Chapter 3

I listened to the wind pull at the tin siding and hoped every day would not be this long. Little did I know that the night was going to be just as long.

The Cannery

                We spent the night in the city of Kodiak. Sam and I shared a room at the hotel while Carl and John got their own. It was raining and low clouds wafted across the water obscuring the fishing boats coming and going from the busy harbor.

The air smelled of salt and fish. When the wind shifted and carried the stench from the old fish packing plant, I nearly gagged, much to Sam’s delight. We explored the city harbor and had an early dinner before heading to bed.

Early the next morning, we headed down to the harbor where Carl met us with a rented truck full of our gear. We unloaded it onto the dock next to the seaplanes that would ferry us and our gear to Olga Bay.

The two pilots that were going to fly us out shook John’s hand and immediately began to separate out the loads and check the weight on our boxes. Carl and I rode in one plane along with our personal gear while Sam and John rode in the other plane.

A wind was blowing across the harbor as we taxied out and the plane bumped along as it picked up speed and skimmed the tops of the waves. We circled Kodiak before heading out over Chiniak Bay and skirting the southeast side of the island.

About 45 minutes into the flight, the plane dropped into Olga Bay and we flew below the low thin clouds. The wind was blowing across the bay from our left, so the pilot circled the plane until he was flying into the wind and brought the plane down in the rolling swells well offshore.

We taxied for nearly five minutes until we reached the rocky beach. The pilot pulled the plane up to a fine gravel area formed by a creak that poured into the bay. The tide was in, so we did not have much room between the beachhead and the plane.

Swells rocked the plane forward and further onto the beach as the pilot shut down the plane’s engine. It took a moment for the roar of the engine to subside in my ears and I watched as the pilot secured the propeller.

Carl and I climbed out of the passenger side of the plane and we immediately began to unload. It was sprinkling and that mixed with the spraying surf which made me instantly grateful I had kept on my raincoat.

I trudged our clothing bags well up the beach to a small span of grass at the base of the retaining wall for the ancient looking cannery above. I heard the other plane circle as I ran down to the plane to form a transfer chain to quickly unload the plane.

The pilot ferried the boxes out of the plane and down the pontoons while I carried them through the swells to Carl who secured them under a tarp we had packed.

The other plane taxied up as we were about finished and we quickly headed over to do the same for them. This plane had not parked on the gravel and bobbed a bit more as I made my way over.

I stepped into a hole at the same time a larger swell crashed into me. Where the water a moment before had tried to lap over the edge of my rubber boots, I was now waist deep in freezing water. The plane was also launched up and forward and I out my hands to catch myself on the pontoon.

I waded out of the surf and the breeze only amplified the cold. Realizing I was wet and cold and there was nothing I could do about it, I waded back out and helped unload the plane.

It did not take us long. The pilots assured John that they would fly out the rest of our supplies as the weather permitted. The figured it would take four total planeloads that would try to stagger so we could unload them on the gravel beach.

Since I was soaked, I was volunteered to help push the planes off the beach. Once clear, the pilots fired up their planes and quickly jounced across the waves and disappeared into the clouds.

John went up to meet with the caretaker of the cannery while we hauled the gear farther up the beach to a ramp that lead to a wooden boardwalk. We sat and shivered despite the workout until John returned. He lead us to a nearby building that was two stories tall, though the stairs leading to the second floor had collapsed and parts of the roof looked partially caved in.

We walked into the building and were thankful to be out of the rain. The floors were well worn and had once served as offices for the cannery when it had been in operation more than fifty years prior. Now the rooms served as a common area and a bunkhouse for guides and hunters searching for giant Kodiak Brown Bears.

We had expected to be camping as John revealed he had secured us the space for the summer. It was a few miles from our survey site, but was safer and more hospitable. We hauled all of our gear inside while John started a fire in the old potbelly stove.

Sam and I got the small room off the common area which held two small bed frames. We unpacked our sleeping bags and I thankfully changed clothes. We had one narrow window that looked out over the bay.

Carl and John took the beds at the opposite ends of the common room. This room was well lit by numerous windows and had a bench than ran along the front wall and a table back by the stove.

A door lead into another small room that was painted white. It had an exit to the outside and another door that was boarded over that lead to the back of the building which was dangerous because it was collapsing. We used this room as a pantry and a place to store our survey gear.

John had warmed up some soup on the stove and we sat around the table to enjoy the warmth it brought to our bodies. John informed us that the caretaker had laid out very clear rules for our use of the cannery.

The first thing was the only two building we could go in were the cannery warehouse by the pier and our bunkhouse. There was to be no running on the boardwalk. We were not allowed to be noisy before eight in the morning or eight at night. If we wanted a bonfire, we had to have it in the ring of rocks on the beach. And under no circumstances were we to bother the caretaker.

As we finished lunch, we heard a plane buzz and we grabbed our gear. The plane was pulling up the beach and we helped him quickly unload like before. Sam ferried the boxes through the surf this time and I stayed on the beach.

The tide was going out so we had a steeper beach to climb, but we had the plane unloaded about the time the second plane came in. Carl had found a wheelbarrow and used it to shuttle boxes to the bunkhouse while we unloaded the second plane.

The whole process took less than fifteen minutes and both planes were gone, sailing into the sky which the sun was now peaking through.

We got the boxes inside and began to unpack and sort through things to make sure nothing had been damaged.

Figuring we had at least another hour until the planes returned, John went to visit the caretaker while the rest of us explored the cannery. Though the sun was out now, a heavy wind blew across the bay causing it to be choppy and surge.

We walked out on the pier which now stood nearly twenty feet above the water. The cannery warehouse had large sliding doors on the front and we pushed one open to reveal a large open space without any windows.

Using the light that streamed through the door, we could see that a couple of old crab pots had been left behind, along with a couple of old wooden crates, but nothing else. As we exited I spied a map of the cannery area on the wall that had triangles in the bay as well as names for all the buildings.

We sealed up the door and were heading down the boardwalk when we heard the drone of a plane’s engine. We rushed down the steps to the beach as the seaplane landed and taxied in. The tide was much farther out, so the pilot pulled the plane into the channel created by the creek.

It took both John and the pilot to pull the large crate out that held our rubber Zodiak boat. We rested it on the pontoon as John jumped down and the four of us carried the crate up the beach. The pilot pulled out a few more boxes that he set on the pontoons and we ferried ashore.

Once unloaded, the pilot informed John that the other plane had lost oil pressure flying back to Kodiak and had to make an emergency landing in Old Harbor. He assured us everything was fine, that the plane’s engine was misfiring and they were looking at. He told us it would take two more loads and he would try to get one more in today before the storm blew in.

He waved goodbye and pulled the boat crate up to the beachhead.

Soaked for the second time today, I hung my shirt and jacket on the line inside the cabin near the stove. The wind howled against the tin walls of the building and we could see sunlight streaming through many holes in the wall.

John found some old burlap bags that were falling apart, and we used those to plug the smaller holes while we used old boards and reused old nails to cover larger ones. It took us all the rest of the afternoon, and while we did, the promised storm moved in dark and ominous.

The wind picked up its fury and wailed against the building. Over the wind we heard a plane and watched out the window, but it did not land. I was thankful as I watched the waves crash against the beach and did not want to get wet and cold again.

The winds whipped furiously for another few hours, sweeping the clouds from the sky in time for us to see the sun slip behind the mountains. We ate dinner and went to bed exhausted, I lay on my bed and was incredibly thankful that we were not staying in tents.

I listened to the wind pull at the tin siding and hoped every day would not be this long. Little did I know that the night was going to be just as long.

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