A Short and Perilous Voyage on the Eskimo-built schooner Good Hope, 1928.
Years ago Amos and I were out in my canoe for a day’s paddle. The sound of the horn on Sentinel Island Lighthouse rolled across the mirroring sea from six miles away. The water lay smooth in the breezeless air, a rare, brassy-calm Southeast Alaska day when one could see a herring dimple the surface a hundred yards distant, and an Arctic tern swooping down to snatch a minnow met its perfect reflection rising from the deep. We landed on a rocky islet to stretch our legs and enjoy the smoked salmon we’d brought along for lunch. Kelpy, odors hung over the exposed rocks. Landing a canoe over rocks armored with barnacles as sharp as shark’s teeth and eager to shear wood and canvas requires care and a bit of art. Mindful of the flooding tide and of my vulnerable craft, I lifted the bow and walked the canoe in hand over hand along a gunwale to clear the barnacles, and carried it well up into the goose tongue and other sea grasses. When safely above tidal reach, I set it down and rolled it over. As I returned, Amos, who had been watching me, asked, “Aren’t you going to tie the canoe down?”
“It’ll be OK”, I said, surprised, “the tide can’t reach it.”
This did not satisfy Amos “I tie my canoe down,” he said, “even if it’s in the middle of an Iowa cornfield.”
She had a diesel engine. To start it, a blowtorch was used to heat the top of the engine. Since only eight inches of clearance separated the top of the engine from the deck above, the ceiling was frequently set afire, so someone had to stand by with a bucket of water.
“Well, we were on board. We boarded the previous night. The Captain had given us a box of grape nuts and about half a can of Carnation evaporated milk between the five of us passengers. There was Father O’Riley and a pioneer woman from Nome and Fred and I can’t remember the rest of them. Time went by. It got to be noon the next day and then later, and we were all pretty hungry. Father O’Riley and the Pioneer Woman formed a committee and went up to the wheelhouse to ask for something to eat. Captain Ivanof replied, ‘What about those grape nuts?’”
“I went up to the wheel house to see how things were. You know, it was so dark on deck I could not see. I carried a lantern up and when I went in the wheelhouse all I could see in the shadowy circle of dim light it cast were the bodies of about ten Eskimos sleeping on the floor and everywhere around the wheelhouse. It was the crew, and also just people who had jumped aboard. If they could pay, that was allright, but if they couldn’t, they went anyway.
“That’s how we got to Unalakleet. Captain Ivanof came aft and said we’d have plenty to eat when we reached Shaktoolik. His father owned a store there. But the only thing we got there was a slab of beluga meat. We were getting kind of sick from lack of food and because there was a bunch of walrus heads laying around on deck for the tusks to rot free.”
“We put in to Shaktoolik to deliver mail and at 6 PM we set forth into the rough waters of Golovin Bay. Blowing up. In the churning seas at dusk, whatever we’d eaten of that beluga whale went over the side. We got into Bluff. Old mining town. No people left now. But there were two little girls playing on the beach. Later I read in Alaska Magazine something about a girl growing up in Bluff. I wrote asking if this were one of the girls I had seen, and you know, I got a letter back from both of them. Their father was a big German with a beard or a German with a big beard.”
“We had trouble with the engine and so now were under sail. Got into Nome roadstead in the morning. A woman who was a great sourdough said, ‘You boys don’t know anything about the North,’ and she threw away our aluminum pots and pans and gave us some cracked pottery. She called it Chippendale.” (I think this was one of Amos’ jokes, probably something he used in his lectures.)
In 1986, just in the nick of time, with Amos on his deathbed, I projected the 1928 black and white film in his house on Douglas Island and took notes as he narrated it. Film and notes now reside safely at the Oregon Historical Society, along with others of his films rescued from the refrigerator-sized safe that leaned, propped up, among the Sitka spruces in his yard.
As to the romantically named Song o’the Winds, Amos said he left it at Russian Mission, and that may be the case, but he also told me that it was stowed aboard the Boxer when she departed Nome in 1928. Amos read my notes on his trade of a .30-30 rifle for two King Island Kayaks when they called at the island after leaving Nome. (see following story) I had recorded him as saying that Song o the Winds was stowed in the hold of the Boxer. He did not make a correction. Amos died in Juneau, aged 84, in 1986 so there is no way now to know if his canoe survived.
However, I tie my canoe down now, even in the middle of an Iowa cornfield.
By the men who moil for gold,
The Arctic trails have their secret tales,
that would make your blood run cold.
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
but the queerest they ever did see,
Was that night on the Marge of Lake LaBerge,
I cremated Sam Magee.…
I took this shot in September, some weeks before freeze up.
On 14 May 1920 the Navy transferred the wooden sail training ship BOXER to the Department of the Interior for use by its Bureau of Education in Alaska.
The Department of the Interior obtained BOXER for use by its Bureau of Education in Alaska. Funds for installing an engine and repairing the ship were included in the Interior Department appropriation act approved 24 May 22 and the ship began operations in May 1923. Every summer BOXER, now an auxiliary schooner, carried a heavy tonnage of supplies and equipment, teachers, doctors, and nurses from Seattle to remote settlements on the Alaskan coast and adjacent islands as far north as Point Barrow. For many settlements the annual visit of BOXER furnished their only means of communication with the rest of the world. On her southward voyages she brought out teachers and doctors whose terms of service had expired and carried for Eskimo herders reindeer meat that they wished to sell in the States. On 14 Mar 31 the Secretary of the Interior transferred these functions to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and at the same time a larger replacement ship, NORTH STAR (see IX-148) was ordered. In early 1941 NORTH STAR was ordered to the North Atlantic for patrol duties as a Coast Guard cutter and BOXER was reactivated to carry out Alaska supply duties during the emergency. NORTH STAR was returned to the Interior Department at Seattle on 15 Jun 45 and, while undoubtedly a welcome replacement for BOXER and other temporary vessels used during the war, was quickly found to be too small and old for postwar Alaska resupply service. Two larger vessels in succession continued this service until 1984.