There are a lot of horror stories involving the 40 miles of Cape Caution, which is part of the inland passage from Seattle to Alaska. Weather there is unpredictable – it’s where the warm summer waters of the Japanese current collide with the ice cold Bering Sea. There is fog, sudden storms, big ground swells and any one of a million things that can go wrong with your boat during passage, will.
We left Big Bay early in the morning and intended to put a lot of miles on our boat that day. By the afternoon, we were headed south about 10 miles southeast of Cape Mudge in the Strait of Georgia when we saw a fishing boat dead in the water.
We altered course, came alongside and were very surprised to find just two young boys onboard. They had run out of fuel. They told us that their father had gotten off in Campbell River to fly home because their mother had to have her appendix taken out.
We decided to tow them to Lund. I knew that they could get fuel there, and if their father trusted them with his fishing boat I sure would trust them to steer it properly behind our boat.
I thought that we would still get to Lund before dark, but not before the fuel dock shut down for the night. We took the younger of the two boys aboard our boat and he told us that the the two of them had been fishing with their father in Alaska for the last four years, so they already had a lot of boat-handling experience.
It was almost dark at 10:30 p.m. when we tied up at Lund and everything was secured. We went to bed exhausted. The next morning, we had to wait until the fuel dock opened so the two young boys could refuel their fishing boat, and at breakfast the story they told us about their father flying home from Campbell River began to unravel.
Their father had died of a heart attack between Ketchikan and Alert Bay while trying to land a 153-pound halibut. The older boy wasn’t sure about the legality of burying someone at sea. What would happen if the Canadian government found out? Would they impound their boat? How could they prove their dad had just dropped dead? Why hadn’t they radioed for help? How much would it cost to fly their mother to Alert Bay and their dad’s body back to Seattle? A thousand unanswered questions rattled around in their teenage minds.
After a long conversation, the two of them had decided that the best thing to do was to take their dad back to Seattle with them. He had died when they had about 2,000 pounds of fish on board and lots of ice.
Little as they were, and as heavy as their father’s dead body was, they somehow were able to drag him to the fish hold. Then one of them climbed down in the hold and moved their cargo of fish around until there was a space large enough for their dad’s body. Once they were able to get him below and lying on the bed of ice, they covered him with a layer of salmon and ice.
No, they had not called and told their mother because they didn’t want her to worry. Yes, they had driven the boat all the way south from Alaska and thought that they had had enough fuel to get all the way home. Yes, they had forgotten about the strong currents that they might have to fight in Johnstone Strait and other places along the way.
They were safely tied up to the dock and no one except us knew about their father’s death. Why bring the Canadian government into the problem? A day or so journey south to their home port in Seattle’s Lake Union and they would then be OK.
As we motored away from the dock, we wished them well and I tried to remember what I was doing during my summer vacation when I was 13 years old.
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