Snettisham 2015 - 1: Sink Failure II (Opening)

Working on Harbor Seal's filter system

Well, I am at Snettisham! Admittedly, a little dazed, probably part by the intense morning getting here (not to mention the general spring stress associated with preparation for the first trip south, or really any trip south) and the intense sunshine all afternoon. The first weekend in April was beautiful with calm seas, and, although the Ronquil was safely back form the shop, I was not yet mentally or otherwise prepared to make an excursion (the lack of snow this winter made March biannual maintenance possible). Plus, it seemed like there was plenty of time!

Taku winds raged the next weekend (even if I'd been ready) and the weekend after that Chris and I ventured up the Taku to fish for hooligan. After that I had engagements in town for two weekends, and then it was already well into May. Next weekend I'll be in the south riding in a Chevy LUV and probably couldn't go the next weekend either. So all week I prepped for the trip while still giving into winter tasks and joys (cleaning the insides of all the cupboards and drawers in the kitchen, ancestry research). While the sun continued to shine I watched the weather forecast anxiously'should I leave Thursday night and hope to wake up at Snettisham on Friday? I looked out my window at work all day noting the arc of seas on the channel. The wind was supposed to die down later, but still come from the south; when the 4:00 update indicated light and variable winds the next day, I decided to overnight.

I woke up at 6:00 a.m., took a quick shower, gave the dog a quick walk, watered some plants, cleaned the kitchen, finished packing, and loaded the boat. At 7:00 I said goodbye to Chris and headed to the harbor, pleased to launch the boat in solitude. The first problem I encountered was getting fuel through the fuel line, an inevitable spring problem the first time I start the engine. This year, my mechanic had started it in the shop so I thought it might go easier. It didn't. I squeezed the bulb endlessly and the only thing that seemed to happen was that gas dripped from the connection at every squeeze. It was so bad I finally put down an oil absorbent pad to soak it up. Was it the gas tank? Nope, the same thing happened on the other tank. When I disconnected it and squeezed the bulb, a bit of gas squirted out the connection. Was that normal? I really didn't know. The whole system is kind of a mystery. I tried starting the engine, which was willing but clearly seemed to be gasless. The connection has leaked a bit of gas the last few years, but I figured that was normal. But no matter how I squeezed the bulb or which tank I used, I could not get the line to fill and that squirting gas just didn't seem right. I looked through the tubs of odds and ends in the glove box and then rooted through my emergency kit until I found my spare connection. Some minor surgery with my leatherman and I had a new connector. It not only fit on the tank connectors more easily, it did not leak gas when I squeezed the bulb!

This was good news. I could hear something happening in the tank, but no matter how many times I squeezed the bulb, it never got firm as I expected. I counted out 50 squeezes, did a few more, and then tested the engine. It started up enthusiastically. Finally I could get underway. I brought Cailey aboard and untied the lines, then remembered that I needed to write an email to my Tlingit language professor about my final exam. As I typed away at my iphone, the boat was drifting back toward the launch ramp too rapidly, so I pulled away from the dock and put it in neutral farther away. Although it seemed calm, wind or current was pushing me to the rocks too fast so I decided to return to the dock until the pesky email was complete. I tried to make a sharp turn away from the rocks at the northern end of the harbor, but my turning radius was too great so I backed up and then turned back to the dock. That's when the steering froze. It's like when you park your car with the steering wheel turned too tightly and it gets stuck (only probably for entirely different reasons). There was no budging it. In the end, I paddled back to the dock. Not knowing anything about that system, I had only one choice: pull the boat. By then it was 8:40 and I'd been trying to leave the harbor for an hour and 20 minutes.

Chris met me in front of the high school with my wallet, I talked to Scott Lawless, my faithful mechanic, and dropped the boat off at his shop out the road. On the way home I managed to be productive, doing some of the shopping I needed to do before Mother's Day and our road trip next week (Petco and Fred Meyers's). As I was unloading the truck at home, Scott called to tell me that the boat was done! He'd jumped right on it and taken only an hour to fix it. Old grease had hardened and required a little scrubbing and some lubricant. After writing a proper email to my professor, I picked up the boat and headed straight back to the harbor and was underway at 10:30.

Poor Cailey had stood on the dock or sat in the car waiting for her promised adventure to happen all morning. Perhaps because of that, she uncharacteristically curled up on her bed and napped all the way down the channel. Half way to Arden we began to feel some swell coming from Taku Inlet, riding in the trough that became increasingly unpleasant as we reached Admiralty. An unexpected Taku. No matter, I though, we'd soon have it on our tail. At that point, it was a 1' swell or so. But it got worse and worse. By the time we passed Arden, it had built to regular two foot swells which began to throw spray over the boat now and again, and then some three footers thrown in. I would not have wanted to be going up the Taku or in the opposite direction, but it was tolerable, if somewhat uncomfortable and occasionally wet, heading south. It didn't begin to lie down until we were half way down Grand Island; by Grave Point the seas were practically calm again. At that point, the engine started acting funning, revving down, then revving up again. I think that in all my futzing around with the fuel that morning, the vent on the large tank had gotten closed, and opening it up all the way seemed to fix the problem. Between Arden and Grand, a big sea lion popped its head up to look at me and there was a whale just north of Grave Point.

The rest of the ride to Snettisham was pleasant. Another whale came up in the middle of Stephen's Passage north of Seal Rocks and there was a small passel of ducks and a few loons at the entrance to the Port. Inside we encountered a light chop coming out and were happy to get around Sentinel Point. We found the beach at the homestead greening up already, the red and amber of the lodge a pleasant sight behind. The good thing about delaying the trip several hours is that we arrived on a rising tide, a few feet higher than the rather low low tide we would have encountered a few hours earlier. I could see the deep channel from the little creek through the not-yet-so-murky water and pulled right up to the right beach in water shallow enough for xtratufs easily. About five loads and the boat was emptied of gear. I anchored her right there in the sand and packed all the gear up to the lodge.

What a relief to be here! It was about 1:00 by then and I thought I might be ready for some lunch and a welcome relaxation on the porch, but I was dreading putting up the chimney by myself, so after starting the pilots on the stove I conquered that task. 'Conquer' makes it sound like I did an amazing job'I didn't, but the stove pipe is up and the fire I lit tonight to take off the chill seems to have worked okay. Someday I'll set up a better system, but for now the stack comes up and down pretty easily and seems to work. The most awkward thing was holding the L-shaped pipe up in place while standing on a ladder and trying to secure it to the building with a metal strap and a nail.

After that I did make myself quesadillas and ate them on the porch in the sunshine with my binoculars at the ready. The sun, hidden behind high clouds all morning, shone now in a blue sky. Only a few bites in, a lovely female hummingbird came by, hovering in front of the porch and visiting the usual feeder places. I promised to make her some food as soon as I finished lunch, and she shamed me by repeatedly trying to find nectar in the pink lining of my raincoat hanging up nearby. So as soon as I finished eating I made sugar water and left it inside to cool a little while I fetched the memory card from my motion sensor camera. It had picked up only two interesting videos since February, one of which I was surprised to find had taken place only half an hour before my arrival here today!

Back at the lodge I hung up some cotton in the current bushes north of the porch and then hung up the hummingbird feeder. And then I really got to relax and spent some time enjoying the bird life from the warmth of the porch. Common singers included only Townsend's warblers and a ruby-crowned kinglet who made crazy unusual additions to the middle of what it normally a very predictable song. The bushes were more active, though. I saw a lovely hermit thrush under the currents as well as what I think was a Lincoln's sparrow; above were Wilson's warblers and orange-crowned warblers, both of which were probing the buds and flowers of salmonberries. One orange-crowned warbler worked the flowers to the south of the porch, with such stunning yellow eye-rings and prominent stripes on the breast (which I normally don't see on them) that I didn't know what I was looking at at first! Two hummingbirds, one with much oranger sides, vied for the single feeder and visited the salmonberry flowers as well. Noisy, vigorous chickadees came through, screaming loudly and appearing to tussle with one another. Crows and American pipits worked the beach, a lone Bonaparte's gull sat on the water, and flocks of scoters flew downriver. As I write this, a varied thrush is singing actively and I heard a single Pacific-slope-flycatcher earlier and golden-crowned kinglets briefly.

In the afternoon I interspersed more time on the porch, sometimes with a book, with a few other activities. First I opened up the lodge outhouse, then walked upriver to the rocky point at high tide, then made the bed in Hermit Thrush (perfectly dry, I'm happy to say), then opened up the other outhouse. Then I set up the motion sensor camera in a different location, read a little more, and finally made dinner (soup, bread, and wine). I still feel a little tense, and hope that a restful (and not damp) night in Hermit Thrush will fix me right up. I decided I wasn't up for digging the olive barrel a home in the creek today, so I expect that will be my first task tomorrow.

It was. Cailey and I slept extremely well, very warm and not at all damp. Having officially given up having her sleep on the floor last summer, she spent the night curled up next to my torso. I went to bed egregiously early and read by a kerosene lamp (rather inadequate light, so I held it next to me in bed, not the smartest strategy). The late evening sun turned the mountain on the other side of the river a faint pinkish color and, for the first time, I enjoyed the view of the hillside beyond the creek outside my brand new window (fixed last fall when I was living in the comparatively dry Cottonwood cabin). When I finally checked the time I was sure I'd slept very late, but it wasn't even 7:30, not a very impressive sleep in! But I felt better rested than I had in a long time.

I fed Cailey right away but delayed breakfast for myself until the water catchment system was in place. I put on socks and boots for this task (having been barefoot to that point since I arrived), grabbed gloves and a hoe, and headed up to the water source. Everything looked just about as I left it except that the depression where the barrel sat last summer was pretty well filled in with gravel. I moved some rocks to divert some of the water flow and began hoeing out the gravel. I started moving it upstream, then switched to hoeing it over the falls below where the barrel sits, but gravel wound up accruing in all directions. This was hot work, so I quickly stripped down to my t-shirt; thankfully the rain that had started on and off in the night took a hiatus most of the time I worked. Eventually, not very satisfied with my hole, I went ahead and placed the barrel. There wasn't enough water in the depression to fill the hose, but most of the water was diverted at that point and I hadn't yet built up a dam. I set to work at that task and raised the water level significantly. I would have liked to get it higher, but I'd reached a point where all the obviously good dam rocks had been used and further filling in gaps would have required extra work. I opened the valve, but no water was flowing. The front of the olive barrel appeared lower than the back (where the hose connects) and had a lot of water in it, so I tipped it up slightly with a rock under the lip and water began coursing through the system. I hope that the creek is at a low flow level right now and it won't be an issue, but I may have to work on the dam more later in the summer.

Back at the lodge, water was coursing out of the open valve that I use for hose connections which I'd left open to push the air out of the system; unfortunately, water was also geysering from numerous holes over about seven inches of hose about 20 feet away and less impressively through a single hole between them. A naughty bear had enjoyed itself on my hose again, probably the same one that chewed up the plastic bucket nearby. I hiked back up to the water system to shut it off so I could repair the system. First, though, it was time for breakfast, as evidenced by my stomach's rumblings as I'd been hoeing rocks earlier. I ate some instant oatmeal while my jasmine tea steeped, then rested on the porch for a few minutes before continuing work. The overcast sky and periodic soft rain was a pleasant contrast to the glare of the sun the day before. The bird songs were a little less plentiful, but the bushes were still full of life. Multiple Wilson's warblers and orange-crowned warblers continued to work the bushes and/or salmonberry blossoms along with ruby-crowned kinglets, a Townsend's warbler, and a golden-crowned sparrow that was avidly eating elderberry flower buds! At least three female hummingbirds were vying for the feeder and earlier I'd seen a male, though I never saw him feed. At one point I watched a female Townsend's warbler sit on an exposed spruce bough upriver from the porch. She was just sitting there, occasionally peering at the sky. At the same time I noticed that the whole area had gone quiet'no bird songs, only a distant 'seeuw' call, and all the activity in the bushes had ceased. Some of this could have been coincidence, but the 'seeuw' call is the hawk alarm and I wondered what the warbler's strategy was by sitting so still but totally exposed. Only the hummingbirds continued their usual activity. I waited for some time, but got back to work before I learned anything.

So the next step was fixing the two leaks. I found hose clamps, the tin cup for soaking hoses in hot water, and a coupling in the attic and picked up a hack saw and length of hose from the shed. After heating up a kettle of water I got to work, first cutting out the length of badly damaged hose and splicing that together and then wrapping hose around the single hole and clamping that down. Before I turned the valve at the top back on, I also put the filters back on the line behind the lodge in preparation for running water.

Unfortunately, my second fix didn't work very well, and I discovered that the valve for the hose behind the lodge is mildly leaking. I didn't turn the valve off right away, though, but tested the end of the system first. The filter housings looked in good shape, but I was disappointed to find a leak inside'this time from the nozzle of the little spray gun thing, the accessory on my sink. Perhaps it had a little water in it last fall that I didn't think to drain and there was a thin fracture along its main body, probably a seam. Surprisingly, no water at all came out of the main faucet while it leaked. I looked underneath the sink and, spotting the nut that closes the hot water side, thought that if I had another I might be able to simply close that input. I returned to the attic to see if I had an extra, and also looked at the old sink I'd replaced last year, but didn't find one. Probably not something I would have bought a spare for. I did see the epoxy I'd used on a gray water system repair once, so brought that down with the not very optimistic idea that I might be able to seal it. That's when it dawned on me that I had four other sinks on the property, all of which have only cold water running through them! I went to Mink cabin and very awkwardly unscrewed the cap on the hot water intake, but when I went to screw it on the lodge sink, I discovered that, of course, it isn't a simple intake fitting. The water that feeds the sprayer comes from inside the faucet system and the sprayer hose connects with a plastic snap on fitting. Back to the epoxy! I read the directions, which seemed straight forward enough, including instruction for what to do if either of the two ingredients is in a solid state, which one of them was. I heated up some water, filled my hose fixing cup, hiked up and turned off the water valve while it cooled, then plopped the vial of epoxy in to soften up.

In the meantime, I cut out the deep bear bite in the hose and spliced it together as I had the other one, then put together the gray water system outside (zip tying filter bags around the intake and exit hoses) and dug a little hole under the leaking valve to capture the excess water. By that time the epoxy was soft, so I took it out of the water to cool. It was low tide, so I went on my COASST survey walk. I started out heading downriver, as I began to do last summer, and was pleased to see one eagle near the nest and the other obviously on the nest'the new nest, the one they built last year above the nest that had collapsed. This one is much easier to see with less branches and such in the way, and the mother's head was quite clearly sticking over the top. The rest of the walk was pleasant and uneventful, the sand and silt wonderful on my feet and surprisingly not cold. I'm not sure if I'm better acclimated than usual or whether it is warmer than usual for early May.

Back at the lodge I mixed the two parts of the epoxy together and spread it around the fracture. At some point in here I had more quesadillas and a freshet-chilled Alaskan white and lounged around on the porch for a while, backing up to keep my face out of the brief period of sunshine. During this break I saw a Pacific slope flycatcher join the other birds in the salmonberry bushes.

I turned the water back on at the source and was pleased to see that my final fix had done the job. It was time to see how the rest of the water system had faired. I started with Hermit Thrush and Harbor Seal, installing the filters and housings, then turning the valve for that section on. All worked as hoped for except that the filter valve at Harbor Seal leaks a little when open, which I think it was also doing last summer. It isn't a terrible leak and at least it only leaks when it's open, so as long as it's closed while no one is using the cabin, the impact is minimal (and there is no vegetation beneath it to damage). I turned to the other half of the system, which had no discernable damage. I was especially pleased to see that the filter valve at Cottonwood did not leak, as I'd unintentionally left it closed all winter. I probably won't test the epoxied sprayer until the morning (it suggests a cure time of four hours in 70 degrees, but it's probably in the low 50s), but at least I have potable water in the next cabin over! By that time it was 3:00, so I took a jasmine tea break on top of the great fallen tree behind Mink cabin, then trimmed some of the current and salmonberries that have been growing closer and closer to the civilized benches around the fire pit. Cailey told me it was time for a real break, so I took her advice and came inside for a bit. I had forgotten how much work opening up is! I had more soup for dinner and made significant inroads into John Straley's latest novel, Cold Storage, Alaska. While in bed I listened again to hermit thrush songs while watching the pink glow of the mountain outside the door.

Curled up in Hermit Thrush

Forest at the water source

Bear bites

Low tide

I heard the hermit thrush again in the pre-dawn dimness, but he stopped before I got up. Despite a beautiful morning I found myself in a rather off mood. Maybe it was the north wind rushing down the valley (not a good sign for crossing Taku Inlet), or maybe it was because the epoxy seal I'd made over the sink sprayer didn't work (actually it did seem to hold the water in, but it found other ways out, including around the button). I wound up with a cup of hot chocolate and a granola bar on a bench, seeking out the warmth of the sun that hadn't yet touched the lower deck. Eventually I decided I'd wash the dishes, with or without running water. I was mildly cheered by the fact that with a simple connection I at least had a drain system that worked, which I'd overlooked before. I held two large pots under the outlet for the sprayer hose and filled them with several inches of water which I used for rinsing off the dishes. At least the kitchen looked in good order after that. It was time to do something more productive. I'd already swept all the porches on the walk over in the morning, so I started raking all the paths around the cabins (I'd raked around the lodge the day before). I started at the end of the boardwalk and worked my way up to Hermit Thrush, then downhill. By the time I got to the freshet I was thirsty and decided it was time for a beer even though it was only 10:00! My mood wasn't helped by realizing that the Alaskan whites I'd brought along are not twist offs (and the lone overwintered beer buried under a rock was also an Alaskan), so I had to return to the lodge just to open it. I drank it on the rocky point and tried to cheer up. As I walked out there I startled an adult bald eagle out of the trees who proceeded to circle around the emerging sand bars and land in the water. He later took off with something long and skinny in his talons. Half a dozen crows came into the trees overhead (one had been scolding the eagle) and cawed for several minutes. The highlight was a mink working his way along the rocks upriver of the creek mouth, disappearing into the trees just on the other side.

I'm not sure the beer helped my mood very much, but I finished raking and took another break on the porch of the lodge, having a snack of cheese and rice crackers. The next few hours were a mix of tasks and reading/bird watching on the porch. Yesterday I'd finally realized that the reason the floor of the lodge outhouse was too damp to hold paint was because the earth had built up over two sides of it and were now up to a couple of inches above the bottom of the siding. It was alarming how fast that had happened and how I hadn't noticed. So I took a hoe up there and scraped it out, removing many of the rocks I'd placed there years ago. It doesn't look very tidy, but at least there is no soil now touching the side of the building. I fear it is too late for the floor, though, which is quite rotten on either side.

With that lesson in mind, and memories of the constant seep in front of the shed, I turned my attention there, not only excavating another drainage ditch along the upriver side but scraping away the soil that had already built up to the level of the siding on the downriver side. I also filled up two jugs and the tea kettle with potable water from Cottonwood, dumped all the cabin sink buckets, and locked everything up. I also awkwardly unhooked the faucet from the sink so I could bring it back to town and make sure I got a proper replacement. Even if I could find the right sprayer to replace the broken one, it looked like the faucet was leaking in the inside too when I had the faucet turned on to fill the pots, so the whole thing probably needs to be replaced. With one task left to go, I spend another long break on the porch. I watched a Pacific-slope flycatcher (normally so reclusive) catch a bug in the salmonberries by flying straight upwards and returning to the same branch, and also watched the squirrel bite off two green stalks of salmonberries about 8' long and eat several inches of them from the bottom toward the tip!

Finally, as I watched the tide seep over the flat sandy bottom, I went to the last task'washing the windows and replacing the ultraviolet reflecting stickers that help the birds recognize windows as solid objects. I heated the kettle while I did other errands, then washed the windows in pairs, took off the old stickers, and replaced them. The main culprits each got four stickers, the back window just one. I left most of the existing stickers on the windows of the shed, washing them and adding a couple of new ones.  With the lodge clean, the windows covered with newspapers on the insides, and most of my gear already on the boat, I settled into one more sit on the porch. When the water had nearly covered the deep water channel leading from the seep on the beach, I locked up and headed to the boat where I sit now on a rock waiting for the tide to float my boat. It will happen about an hour later than expected because this morning the north wind coming down the river pushed it to shore like it was in an eddy before it would have gone aground normally. I had decided yesterday that 3:00 was a reasonable time to depart, so had decided not to go to the trouble of moving the boat into deeper water. It's now 3:47 and I expect the boat to float within 20 minutes. Thankfully, the breeze is now coming in off Gilbert Bay so my fingers are crossed that I will have a nice gentle following sea to take me home once I get into Stephen's Passage.

I did indeed get my following sea, and was so grateful. It was quite a battle getting out of the port, and a big relief to finally put the swells behind me. I saw a huge splash out in Stephen's Passage as we entered it, following only by blows, and we passed another whale between the bight and Limestone. The boat didn't float until well after 4:00 so I didn't make it home until around 6:30, unfortunately missing Mother's Day, as my parents had gone out for the evening. It just started to rain as I entered the harbor and I chose a slip along the inside of the float as usual, but a little farther from the launch ramp. The Ronquil was back in the water for the summer!

Enjoying the view again...