Raising The Ruth Ellen

adventure, fishing, Jake Winston

RAISING THE RUTH ELLEN

My novel, The Raising of the Ruth Ellen, is a sad, but true story, about two fishermen friends who were lost at sea in 1978. This gripping account of the circumstances surrounding the sinking and recovery of the F/V Ruth Ellen off the bottom of the Pacific Ocean will keep you on the edge of your seat and your heart in your mouth as Jake Winston and the U.S. Navy takes on the task of salvaging the vessel in hopes of providing the evidence of their death that will satisfy the recalcitrant insurance company to pay off on the million dollar life insurance policies.

The story is progressing well and I have lots of photos. We are shooting for a summer of 2019 publishing date.

divers

U.S. Navy divers preparing to dive on the wreck.

***

An excerpt from THE RAISING OF THE RUTH ELLEN

HOUR 0 – 2:30 A.M.

In less than an hour, Blake’s dead reckoning, the compass and the ancient Loran indicated they were clear of the shipping lane, although the Loran was sometimes temperamental and not always reliable. Blake gambled that they were probably safe, at least for as long as it would take to get the net aboard, and head in. He throttled back to where he was just making headway and told Oslo, “Maybe losing the radar was a sign that we need to get out of here. We’ll anchor up at Sugarloaf Island until the fog lifts, then we’re going home. It’s not safe out here without the radar.”

“Yes sir, Skipper! I’m with you. Let’s get the hell out of here.”

“Oslo, start pulling the net. I’ll swing the bow around into the wind, set the auto pilot and give you a hand.”

They were totally engrossed in pulling the heavy net aboard, when they heard a noise. Something they should not have heard, if they were where they thought they were. Blake immediately stopped what he was doing and listened. Then, he stopped the winch, shushed Oslo and listened carefully. It sounded like a deep resonant whoosh, whoosh, whoosh.

Blake’s adrenalin spiked and he raced up to the bridge to get a better look, he thought, It could be a whale, another vessel, possible a sea creature or even a submarine, but whatever it is, it’s something big, powerful, close and threatening. He knew they were in big trouble.

Blake flipped on the spot light and did a three-sixty with the powerful beam. as Oslo and he strained to see what it was. At first, they saw nothing, but as a wave lifted the Ruth Ellen high in the air, they got a glimpse of a shadowy movement twenty yards off their port bow. They couldn’t make out what it was though the fog and driving rain. Blake’s pulse was racing and his mouth was dry as he silently waited to crest the next swell. When he focused the light toward where they saw movement a few seconds ago, it was gone and the mysterious sound with it.

Blake snapped at Oslo, “Cut the net loose, on the double! Then come up here and stand watch with me. We gotta get out of here, now!” he took the helm gunned the engine and turned northeast towards Sugarloaf Island.

*** END ***

BRISTOL BAY – episode V – farewell

adventure at sea, August 1, 2018, Fishing Bristol Bay, Jake Winston, Travel Alaska

FAREWELL BRISTOL BAY

We were tied up next to three other fishing vessels at Trident’s dock, washing down the Erika Lynn and mending the net. Another gill netter pulled up alongside us and asked permission to tie off to us. Harry Jay Follman said, “Sure, but we going out again this evening.”

docked on hi tideTrident Seafood Dock approaching high tide in Naknek, AK.

“Thanks, no problem. “How did the Erika Lynn do this morning?””

“Not as well as we expected, just a few thousand pounds. How about you?”

“The same. We hope it’s better tonight.”

When we had the boat ship-shape, the skipper said, “Let’s go ashore, and look around.” I thought to get off the boat and stretching my legs was a good idea. I followed the crew across the decks of three boat and climbed the few feet up the ladder onto the dock. We headed for the nearby LFS marine store to pick up some odds and ends, and a set of Gunden’s all-weather gear for myself, the full share greenhorn.

***

On the way back, we stopped at the cafeteria in the bowls of the cannery. It was almost two o’clock, and the place was nearly deserted, except for a dozen or so shifty-eyed fishermen, who were killing time until the evening opening. We got a spartan, but decent lunch of chili and cornbread, and charged it to the boat.

***

We returned to the Erika Lynn to hang out, sleep, read, or do whatever suited us, as we waited for the evening flood tide which was six hours away. I beat Mike out of the Greenhorn’s bunk and took a short nap, after which, I sat at the galley table daydreaming about that morning’s exciting opening and looking forward to tonight’s fishing, which would be my last.

The marine radio crackled to life. It was Shady, asking for Harry Jay Follman. Kris, who apparently knew this captain, answered and told him, “He’s not here, Shady I’ll have him contact you when he gets back.”

“No, this is important, go find him.”

Kris told Mike, “He’s up at Tridents office, go get him while I see what Shady is up to?”

Mike scampered across the three boats, climbed the ladder, and disappeared. Five minutes later, Harry Jay Follman was back aboard, laughing and joking with Shady over the radio. Shady told him. “I’ve been in Egegik the last couple of days. There are only a handful of boats here with me, and it’s been a hell of a run of fish so far. I’ve already delivered thirty-thousand pounds of sockeye to the tender, Maybe you want to think about a transfer down here.”

“Thanks for the heads up,  We transferred our permit to Egegik two days ago, and we might even to be able to fish tonight’s tide. We’ll head down there this afternoon.”

Harry Jay Follman hung up, turned to me and said, “Sorry Full Share. You heard Shady and me on the radio. We’re leaving you here on the beach this afternoon and going to Egegik.”

I was disappointed. I had counted on fishing tonight’s opening before flying out the next day. I thought about it for a minute and realized, not only was I damn lucky just to be here, but this sudden change of plans presented me with a welcome opportunity to explore and photograph this part of the world.

12' pierI loaded up my suitcase and duffel bag,  bid farewell and good fishing to the crew and left the wheelhouse. I was shocked when I looked up at the dock and saw that it towered over the boat. The afternoon low tide dropped the Erika Lynn nearly fifteen feet below the dock’s deck.               Harry Jay Follman saw the look of panic on my face and knew It would be a struggle for me to climb the ladder with a suitcase and duffel bag. He quietly told Mike, “Take Full Share’s gear up the ladder for him.”

tied up 2 I followed Mike up to the slimy ladder and watched as the Ruth Ellen’s engine roared to life, and her nimble crew skillfully slipped the Erika Lynn out of the growing flotilla of boats and closed the gap in the tie-up behind them, I gave them a John Wayne salute as they headed down river for Egegik, a good three hours away.

 

***

naknek rivercropI rented a pickup for the rest of the day, and drove over to the Naknek River and checked out one of the nearby neighborhoods that was home to the year-round fishermen and cannery workers. I would love to spend a summer here. There is so much to see and do if you are a fisherman, adventurer, or boat person. That’s a tender anchored up in mid-river and a cannery in the town of South Naknek across the river.

cool house cropOn my way down to Kvichak Bay, there wasn’t much to see until I found this cool little lakeside house out in the middle of the tundra. On closer examination it appeared to be a weathered, old shack that the owner had re-roofed  with a striking metal roof. Undoubtedly at the urging of his wife or girlfriend.

 

 

 cool beachI continued south, left the road, and drove along the edge of the cliff until I found a safe well-traveled beach access driveway that lead to a  dock and storage building below. I carefully dropped onto the beach, snapped a photo, and continued down the beach. I managed to skittered around the drift wood and debris until I came upon a group of local set net gillnet fishermen pushing off from shore.

 set-netters copyThe crew appeared to be a native family. Gramps, pop, and two teenagers. I wondered why the drift net guys had issues with these folks. I think it had something to do with long ago feuds over native fishing rights and. quotas.

 

set net

set net – courtesy of Safina Center

A drift net and a set net are basically the same thing, except the set net  has one end anchored close to shore, sometimes with  a steel stake, and the other end anchored off-shore and marked by a buoy. It remains in the water for the length of the opening. A drift net is reeled off a drum from the stern of a thirty-two-foot gill netter vessel and reeled back in when it’s loaded with fish. A series of floats keep the net at the proper depth. When the fish hit the net they get trapped in the net’s mesh.

The set net fishermen pulled up to the off shore buoy and dragged one end of the net aboard the starboard beam of their skiff. They picked the trapped fish off of the net and placed the net back in the water on the port side of the skiff, while pulling the next section of net aboard the starboard side and  repeating this over and over until the arrived at the shore end of the net. It looked like pretty hard work.

 I returned to town, stopped at the D & D for a pizza and a six-pack to go, and made my way up river towards King Salmon. I stopped to see the Naknek International airport that the guys were joking about last night. air strip crop.At first glance, it looked like a junkyard for abandoned aircrafts. I was surprised when two men pulled up, and stopped their truck next to one of the several aircrafts which were backed Into the bushes. They got out and removed the tie-down straps, boarded the plane and started her up. As the pilot pulled the throttle out, the little plane shuddered, bolted forward, slowed momentarily on the steep berm, then lurched onto the gravel runway,  They turned into the wind and they rattled down the gravel runway, tires squealing, engine roaring and they were gone.

***

Eddies cropI was tired, emotionally drained, and ready to call it a day. I drove up to King Salmon and pulled up to Eddies, where Harry Jay Follman told me I could get an inexpensive room for the night. I was disappointed to  learn they were full. However, they suggested I try the nearby King Salmon Inn, or one of the fishing lodges up river.  I had an early morning flight and wasn’t interested n that adventure this evening.

KS hotel cropIt was about seven when I entered the high-end King Salmon Inn. A woodsy themed hotel/restaurant and cocktail lounge which obviously catered to the expense account crowd. They would soon be flocking here to take their turns at spending a few day sports fishing the iconic Naknek river and its tributaries. It was very early in the season, and the place seemed nearly deserted, except for several people in the restaurant and the busy, noisy bar. I banged on the little bell at the reception desk until a guy emerged from nowhere, and introduced himself, “I’m James, the hotel manager. How may we serve you, Sir?”

“I need a room for the night.”

“You’re in the right place. Our rooms are under renovation, and unavailable until next week, but I can put you in one of our very nice bungalows. The daily rate is $459.00 plus taxes.”

king salmon hotel“Look Mister. I’m just here for the night, my plane leaves in the morning. I don’t want to buy your bungalow, I just want to sleep in it for a few hours. Can you do better than that?”

He looked me over carefully, and said, “You’re a commercial fisherman. Right?”

I nodded my head. He smiled and said, “Okay, friend, One-hundred-fifty-bucks for the night and you be out of the room by eight a.m.”

“You got a deal. One more thing. I have to be at the airport by six. Can your shuttle take me there?”

He gave me an odd look, smiled and hollered at someone in the kitchen. A tall, attractive, thirty-something woman approached the desk. He smiled a knowing smile, and asked , “Can you take this man to the airport at six tomorrow morning?”

“She gave the manager an inquisitive look and said, “I’m not sure, Boss. I don’t always get here that early. Do you have a lot of stuff to check at the airport?”

“No just this carry-on and duffel bag'”

She glanced at James, winked, and said, “Sure. I’ll do it.”

I thanked them both, found my way over to my bungalow, called the rental place and told them where they could pick up their truck in the morning.

***

The next morning, I was up at five-thirty and anxious to be on my way. I walked over to the office a little before six and sat in the lobby waiting for the shuttle. When it didn’t show up by six-ten, I panicked and hollered, “Is anybody here?” A wizen old Aleut came out of the kitchen and asked, “What you want?”

“The shuttle was supposed to pick me up ten minutes ago and take me to the airport. It didn’t show up. Can you call somebody?”

pennairHe beckoned for me to follow him out to the front porch, where he pointed to a dilapidated building a hundred yards north of the hotel and said, “That’s the airport, Son.” He gave me a pathetic look and returned to the kitchen. I really felt foolish as I gathered up my bags and walked over to the airport. However, as I thought about it, it angered me to be played the fool by the hotel staff last night.

***

 

 

DUTCH HARBOR, ALASKA

adventure, Dutch Harbor, Jake Winston, Travel Alaska

DUTCH HARBOR, ALASKA

 

My friend Harry Jay Follman the president of IRI Construction company, called me  in early February, and asked, “How about meeting me in Dutch Harbor next Wednesday for dinner?” I responded with, “Are you nuts? Why on earth would I want to leave sunny Hawaii to freeze my butt off in Alaska?’

“Come on, Jake, I’ve got a serious problem up there that has me plenty pissed off.  I need to fix it, and fix it now! You could be a big help.”

“How long would we be up there?”

“If all goes well, we’ll be back in a week.  If it doesn’t, one of us will be commuting in and out of Dutch for a month, possibly longer.”

“I don’t know, Man.  I have a ton of commitments over the next few weeks. I’m not sure if I can get away right now.”

“I’ll sweeten the deal. We’ll take in the seafood buffet at the Grand Aleutian Hotel Wednesday night. I know you can’t pass that up, and If everything works out, I’ll get one of my buddies from the Dangerous Catch TV Show to take us out crabbing on the Bering Sea. Remember the last time we did that, you couldn’t quit talking about it for months. It’ll be fun.  Say yes, Jake!”

“Okay, if the crabbing is a promise, send me a ticket and I’ll see you there.”

***

shutterstock Alaska AirI boarded the Red Eye from Honolulu to Anchorage and took my seat in row 7D of the premier section. I lucked out and had three seats across to myself. My itinerary indicated that drinks were free in premium. I planned to relax, have a couple of Boilermakers,  stretch out across the three seats and sleep all the way to Anchorage. That didn’t work out. We hit a lot of turbulence, which kept the stewardess in their places for over an hour. When the drink cart got to me, I ordered two Boilermakers and a glass of ice. The stewardess was having a bad day and told me I could only have one drink from her cart now and when she returned for the second serving in about an hour, I was allowed a second drink, and please fasten your seat belt, Sir. I told her to forget the drink, and as soon as she moved on, I curled up across the three seats and tried to sleep. Twenty minutes later she was back. She woke me up, demanded that I return to my seat and buckle up. I got my iPad out of my carry-on, dialed up Spotify, my music app, and selected Kris Kristofferson to entertain me with a moving version of ‘Bobby McGee.’

I was excited to be returning to Alaska. It had been nearly five years since the last time I had been up there. I had some history with the State of Alaska that went back to 1942 when the Japanese invaded the islands of Attu and Kiska at the Westerly end of the Aleutian chain during WW II. Bronze StarMy father, Doc, was an Army dentist, who was stationed in Dutch Harbor when the Japanese bombed the crap out of the Army base there. Although I was determined to visit the site of the attack and walk the very ground where he earned his bronze star, the opportunity was elusive, and I had yet to do so, however, I was determined to get that done on this trip.

***

shutterstock_AK drill rig cropMy first trip to Alaska was in April 1984. I was running NWC Construction Co. and we had several on-going projects for two of the big-oil firms pioneering the North Slope oil fields, which were just below the arctic circle. I flew to Anchorage and boarded the oil Company’s private jet at the executive terminal, and landed in Prudhoe Bay two hours later in a near whiteout. I  gotta say, the landing scared the crap out of me.

One of the most memorable thing about that trip resulted from my smuggling a six-pack of beer into the VIP quarters of our booze and drug-free labor camp. My quarters were in a four-man Quonset hut covered by a ten-foot-high snow bank. I unpacked, and opened the single, small window, dug out a cavity in the snow to contain and cool my beer.

After a long day of greeting, eating and meetings, I returned to my quarters ready to relax, watch some TV and have a few cold beers. I soon discovered there was neither TV service, nor telephone service on the North Slope. The TV was a VCR player and a notice taped to it stated “A library of mixed tapes are available in the mess hall.” That cold dark journey wasn’t about to happen tonight. I sighed, opened the window and grabbed a beer. I popped it open and took a long swig and immediately spit it out. The room temperature beer was disgusting. I was surprised that the snow bank had acted as insulation, thereby keeping the pocket I dug out of the snow the same temperature as the room. I uttered a curse, muttered something about the only thing that wasn’t cold in this land of ice and snow was my beer. I climbed into bed and hoped that the weather would be clear in the morning so I could get back to civilization.

***

The next morning the camp manager approached me during breakfast saying, “One of the natives working in the camp told me this morning that a hunting party from his village had discovered the frozen remains of an enormous Mastodon partially sticking out of an ancient ice flow ten miles east of the camp.  If you want to see it, we are taking a couple of tracked vehicles over there  in about an hour. Why don’t you come along, we’ll be back in plenty of time for you to catch the afternoon plane to Anchorage.”

I got in line with a dozen guys waiting to board the two vehicles. As I entered, I was surprised to see a dozen expensive fur parkas attached to all the inside surfaces of the rig. They were there to keep the sub-zero cold out, and without this protection, the vehicle heaters couldn’t keep up. It was an hour ride to the site, but well worth it. It was too cold to get out of the vehicle for long, but we did so briefly,  and I got some decent photos of part of its head, a curled tusk, trunk and massive shoulder covered with a shaggy mane. I don’t know what I was expecting, but I was humbled by the experience of witnessing this two-thousand-year-old, elephant-like animal laying on its side gazing up at me from its icy tomb with a sorrowful look in his single eye. Somehow I felt a bond between us and tried to image his death experience.

***

My next trip to Alaska was in 1985. I flew into Anchorage, a small city on the banks of Cook Inlet surrounded by snow covered mountains and volcanos, to spend some time with my mentor Dick Clark, NWC’s former VP of construction, who was now running the Anchorage office. Dick’s relocation to Alaska was a disturbing story for another day. We spent the day and evening together talking about the opportunities in Alaska and his projects throughout the State.

I was staying at the venerable Captain Cook Hotel which eventually became one of my favorite hotels in the world. There was something about The Captain Cook that captured my imagination. It had this appealing sense of excitement, history, and adventure about it. It was Anchorage’s crown jewel Hotel, which epitomized the spirit of the last frontier, and still served as the principal gathering place and watering hole for those adventurous souls who made Alaska great.

Cpt CookOne of my two favorite venues at the Captain Cook was the lobby coffee shop which exuded a feeling of excitement and high energy every morning. Alaska’s movers and shakers, including politicians, oil company executives, business and government leaders regularly gathered there for breakfast. From six-thirty to about nine, it was the place to be if you were one of the players or a celebrity watcher.

My other cool place was the cellar bar/pizza parlor. If I was alone, I often shunned the expensive dining room in favor of the relaxed, working man’s cellar bar. I could always get a table, have a few local beers on tap and end the evening with an excellent pizza. It was a feel-good place hidden away from the high energy of the rest of the hotel.

***

The day before returning to Seattle, I got up early to witness the start of the annual Iditarod dog sled race. While looking out the window, I saw dozens of City trucks dumping snow on the course leading from the start line and road graders spreading it out. It was plenty cold, but there hadn’t been much snow for a week.

shutterstock_Ididarod

About nine o’clock, I joined the crowd on the street and watched the dog teams jockeying for position. At the sound of the gun they all bolted excitedly from the start line, yelping and howling as they strained to get their sleds moving. The surviving dog’s from the sixteen dog pack and their master musher’s would journey a thousand miles before crossing the finish line in Nome eight to ten days later.

***

Dick picked me up about eleven and we boarded a chartered bush plane that would fly us in and out of Valdez in one day. Our plane was an old, but reliable Beaver. It’s distinct throaty growl and short take-off and landing characteristics made it the hot rod of the arctic. We spent a couple of hours checking out the new pumping station he was building at a Valdez oil terminal. It filtered the crude oil, separating the water, sulfur, and other contaminants before sending it on to the storage tanks prior to pumping it into tankers headed for the Texas gulf. When we returned to Anchorage, Dick dropped me off at the Captain Cook and we agreed to meet for drinks and dinner at a small bistro that Dick favored across the street from the Hotel. That evening we kicked back, had way too many drinks and enjoyed each others company.

***

Four years later, the Exxon Valdez oil tanker struck a reef and dumped ten million gallons of crude oil into Prince William Sound off the shores of Valdez. That ended not only the Valdez fishing industry but the local construction business dependent on the oil industry. We closed the Anchorage office a year later,  Dick retired and moved to Princeville on the Hawaiian Island of Kauai.

IMG_3444.jpg

 

*** End of part one ***

 

Stay tuned for part two.