Breaking Summer's Back
Marine Weather Forecast for Shelikof Strait: Storm Warning.Today, NE wind 20 kt. Seas 4 ft building to 6 ft in the afternoon. Rain. Tonight, NE wind 30 kt increasing to 40 kt after midnight, seas 10 ft building to 17 ft after midnight. Rain. Sunday, NE wind 55 kt. Seas 25 ft. Rain. Sunday night NE wind 50 kt diminishing to 35 kt after midnight, seas subsiding to 18 ft. Monday, E wind 25 kt. Seas 10 ft.
The old-timers say there’s always a fall storm that breaks summer’s back. It looks like this is it. This forecast tells us it’s time to seriously batten down the hatches. We stow our buckets, totes, brailer bags, and boat hooks, lashing down anything weighing less than 50 pounds. We put out an extra anchor, tighten our lines, and double check our knots for chafing to ensure our skiffs will ride out the storm in one piece. Rather than risk our nets getting shredded, wrapped up, and filled with kelp and logs, we pull them out of the water. On shore we throw boulders and pallets and coils of line on top of tarps and loose webbing and strap our raingear down tight to the cabin.
A thunderous rumble, as if from a freight train, signals the coming of the wind. It compresses and builds pressure on the backside of the mountains, releasing straight down their sheer slopes and slamming into our cabins. With a boom it hits, shaking the buildings like a 6.0 earthquake – definitely much more foreceful than the 5.4 earthquake that hit in August. Rainwater sprays in along the frames of our old, rickety windows and our ears feel the pressure change with each big gust passing through. An eagle crash lands in the ocean but swims to shore and we feed it a salmon carcass as it struggles to dry out.
Williwaws, the local name for micro-tornadoes, lift the ocean into a white mess of wind-blown spray, smoking into fast moving, swirling tendrils carrying deadly force in excess of 100 miles per hour. Our skiffs buck wildly and strain at their lines. We eye them uneasily, getting up in the night to peer into the darkness, hoping they are still there, right side up. It's quite the experience, one that can prove deadly to unprepared or even prepared mariners.
The awesome raw power of the Alaskan weather helps put our egos in the right place. Humans aren’t the biggest, baddest things out there, not by a long shot. Bending with Mother Nature rather than fighting against her is the intelligent option.
After more than 100 days of hard fishing, everyone – even our 20-something crewmembers – appreciates this enforced rest day that allows our muscles to recover somewhat, and we look ahead to the end of the fishing season coming soon and to the change of pace and lifestyle that fall brings. When the storm breaks, there will be a change in the air. The quality of the light will be different, the air cooler and crisper, and the land will be shedding its greenness in favor of golds, lustrous reds, and browns. As we weather this storm next to a warm fire with a hot drink in hand, we are thankful to be part of the land and sea around us, protected from the intensity of the kinetic energy by our little plywood cabin. Into our ears float the words of that famous bard, Bob Dylan:
‘Twas in another lifetime, one of toil and blood
When blackness was a virtue the road was full of mud
I came in from the wilderness, a creature void of form
Come in, she said
I'll give ya shelter from the storm…..