I’ve finally had to get back to business this past week. I had a nice 3 week idyll in Anchorage hanging out doing nothing, but it was time to get to work down in Kenai. Thor and I have moved into our trailers on the grounds of Pacific Star Seafoods, a cannery right on the Kenai River. We’re only about a mile away from the river mouth, so the commute will be pretty reasonable once the season starts! This week’s featured image was taken from the banks of the Kenai River around Old Town, looking back at our cannery’s docks from a couple of miles away. The cannery itself is only about half a mile from town, and I get good internet speeds there with my AT&T data plan. These two things have made my work experience completely different this year compared to working at Yes Bay, it’s a game-changer. I also have my own trailer, it is fantastic to have my own space! Over in Thor’s trailer is a fridge and microwave, so we’ve got the food preparation aspect of our camp covered.
The only negative thing I have to say about my accomodations is our finicky power situation. There’s too much load on the outlet that we are having to use to power both of our trailers. It’s fine as long as we keep our heaters off, but with them on (along with the fridge and whatever else Thor and I have powered on at the time) we trip the breaker. Unfortunately Kenai is very cold at night. It’s a lot colder here than in Anchorage, there’s always a chilly wind blowing. My trailer is super drafty, so without a heater going it gets pretty frigid. I’ve got to wear a couple layers of clothes and a knit hat under a couple of blankets to stay warm. It’s kinda crazy that it’s the beginning of June and I’ve got to bundle up like it was the middle of winter down south! That’s Alaska for you!
Work has been going well so far. These past few days have been spent patching, stripping and hanging nets on Thor’s boat, named the Cheryl Lynn. The way nets work on a drift boat is there are sections of the net (called shackles) that are around 100 yards long. Three or four of these shackles are wound around a huge roller that looks just like a conventional fishing reel. Our first project of the season was to take off all the nets and inspect them. Depending on the severity of holes in the net, our options were to mend the damage or just scrap the whole thing and tie on a new one. The first shackle wasn’t too bad. Thor showed me how to patch a basic hole, which took a surprising amount of effort for me to get right. I’m pretty good with tying knots, but it takes a bit of practice to translate that skill into repairing nets. After a day or so, I was pretty competent at doing basic square holes. I worked on the small ones while Thor took care of the really big rips.
We got the first one done, and wound it back up on the reel. The other three shackles were too damaged to attempt repairing, so Thor showed me how to go about cutting out the old net from the ropes that hold it together. There’s a top rope with floats called the cork line and a bottom rope with a lead core called the lead line. Stripping a shackle requires taking a permanent marker and marking where the knots holding the net are located on the cork and lead lines, then slicing off the knots. Reattaching the net requires a simple stitch that is endlessly repeated. Stripping and hanging is very monotonous, but I actually really enjoyed it. It was a lot like trimming weed, I just popped in my earbuds and listened to my favorite podcast while I stitched away.
Other than starting to get our boat & gear seaworthy the past week or so, Thor has been busy getting ready for his art show at the Kenai Art Center. He and his father are big names in the Kenai art scene, actually Thor’s mom and dad were founding members of the center. Unfortunately, they both passed last year, but Thor is keeping his family’s art alive. Along with his art, Thor included a few of his dad’s pieces he thought people would like to see. I helped him move a lot of his canvases from Anchorage down here for the show, but there were a few at his family’s homestead outside of Kenai he wanted to bring as well. I’ve heard about the old family homestead a lot, so I was stoked to go check it out when Thor asked me if I wanted to go over there with him.
Thor and his family first came up to Kenai back in the late 50’s. Back then, it was at the height of people coming up to Alaska to stake their claim on property. You were entitled to 160 acres if you lived on the land, built a residence, and farmed at least 10% of it within 5 years of your initial claim. Thor’s dad brought his family up from Iowa and they came up to Alaska looking for a fresh start (like pretty much all of us then and now). He found this piece of land that was out on a isthmus between a couple of lakes and figured that was the best place to set up shop. It is a pretty place indeed. I’ve included pictures of the house and the views from either side of the driveway. These days, Thor’s son has taken operational control of the house and offers it up on Airb&b for rent. The day Thor and I went up there to get the art, a Hawaiian family was there getting their party on. They were good island folk, and didn’t mind Thor and I invading their privacy to get some canvases off the walls. The property still has about 90 percent of the initial land claim given to it. Thor’s parents broke off about 20 acres to the town for a senior center to be built, which actually they wound up spending the last days of their lives in. The Evensons were (and are) such pillars of the Kenai community, it’s nice learning about their history in this town.
A couple of days ago the art show went down, and it was a great success for Thor! He sold some pieces and the opening day went really well for him. He’s done interviews for the local paper and radio station, so word got out and quite a few people showed up. Everyone I met at the gallery has a lot of respect for him and his family, and it was really cool to be on the inside of such a cool local artistic shindig.
A selection of my favorite pieces. Thor had quite the variety of art to show, there was something for everyone.
I attended the opening for a bit, then I broke away and wandered around town to take some pics. I just love the vibe down in Kenai, there’s just so much history around old town. Next door there was a bunch of old cabins that were all restored, and there was a nice lady posted up there that took me on a tour to tell me all about their history. It was a great open-air exhibit, there were historical cabins outfitted as close as possible to how they were in the past. There were cabins staged as a school, grocery, residence, and shacks for fishing and trapping. Alaska is such a relatively new place that history doesn’t have to be that old to be noteworthy, as a hundred years is about as far back as it goes. With the harsh winters here, you really have to try to preserve history around here if you want to keep it around. Kenai is doing a pretty good job of it as far as I can see.
I wasn’t far away from where the old Russian Orthodox church was, so I walked on over there. I’ve been meaning to get some shots of the church, as well as some other old cabins located nearby.
I really like how the blue of the steeple matches the sky. I’m no fan of organized religion, but I know a beautiful building when I see it.
My favorite historical cabin in Kenai.
This past weekend I decided to change up my living situation. Thor and I have been headed back to Anchorage on the weekends, and I’ve been staying with him at his place up to this point. Bethan’s aunt is down in the lower 48 for an extended period of time, so I was given the opportunity to stay at her vacant house when I’m in town. It’s a super nice 2 story house in the suburbs of south Anchorage, it feels like I’m staying at an Airb&b. All Bethan and her mom ask of me is to water all the plants in and outside the house whenever I stay there. It’s a great deal for me and them, it was nice to have so much room and a really comfortable firm bed to sleep on. Staying there will really help me recharge during my weekend downtime this season. It’s walking distance to a couple grocery stores and right across the street from some great hiking trails, so it’s got everything I need right close by.
At last, today (Monday the 6th) we got the final net hung and on the boat. It was very satisfying rolling the last length on the net drum, I feel like I just loaded a spool of fresh line on my favorite reel! It took a couple of weeks, but Thor says we’re still ahead of schedule. The fishermen are starting to stream into the cannery boatyard to work on their boats and get their nets ready for the season. I’ve already met some interesting characters, fishing always attracts a motley crew! Thor’s been fishing with most of these guys for decades, he’s constantly telling me stories about his fellow fishermen and their boats. I talked to this one younger guy today, he just came up from Seward where he put 70,000 lbs of reds (sockeye) on his boat in the past week and a half or so. He seems to think such a large haul bodes well for our season over here in Kenai. I sure hope so! Thor says he thinks this will be his last season, so it’d be good for him to cap off a 60 year fishing career with one big last hurrah. Of course it would be good for my finances as well! Now that we got the nets done, it’s time to get working on the boat itself. Hopefully (knock on wood) we won’t have any major mechanical issues with the Cheryl Lynn and it’s smooth sailing to opening day here in a couple of weeks. I’m ready to get out on the water and get my fish on!