From the Magician’s Log

Saturday, July 27, 1940
"Departing Seattle for Alaska--Point No Point first stop--at about 4:30 pm. For more accurate details consult Navigator’s log. Too cloudy to use sextant but I am still reasonably sure we are still tied to the harbor patrol float.
"2:55 am. Passing Marrowsons Point in the cold dark. It’s awful goddamn wet.
"4:20 am. We ran and we ran and got wet and looked for an anchorage and finally wound up here in Port Townsend at the small boat basin. It rained and the motor had some water it couldn’t digest--but who would write a log when he has a hot toddy and a warm bed waiting for him?"

Sunday, July 28, 1940
"We have just gotten underway again. We are somewhere out in the Straits of Juan de Fuca -- a very fine place to grind valves. And we seem to be lost although we have radio beams all about us and headlands beyond number. Drifting while fixing the engine we kept no tab on where we drifted.
"Perhaps the way I steer courses has something to do with this for as I write this, with the ’mill’ on the hatch, nobody is at the helm and we have fallen away about ten points. There, we’re back. It is ten of seven now. At this rate we will get to Alaska just in time to come home. Or maybe too late."

Tuesday, August 6, 1940
"We set sail again for the wind had once more dropped. It seemed so calm, so easy, so gentle. Georgia lured us on like a lady and then scratched out our eyes like a bitch.
"We ran into tidal current which cut down our speed to four knots over the ground, into a yelling wind which was like climbing a mountain to our suffering power plant. We had intended to make Deep Cove, thirty or so miles north but the night was ink and it seemed easier to stay out in the clear and keep battering away. Through a black night we took it heavy and wet."

Thursday, August 8, 1940
"One generally associates the name Georgia with ’honey chile’ drawl, lazy glances and time killed by the million years upon a store porch. But if one will deign to examine the charts of the region north of Puget Sound (and parts of Puget Sound) he will find that the fellows who first hung identification tags upon the gulfs and reefs possessed, uniformly, a sardonic sense of the fitting. And Georgia might fall under the same tabulation as Ripple Rock (over which tides throw ten feet of snarling spume.)"

Thursday, August 8, 1940
"For days we tried to plow forth across the Straits of Georgia. No storm warnings were up for the waves only came as far aft as the cockpit. But when one pounds the caulking out of his boat upon the stony bosom of the deep he wants a better reason than mere anxiety to get going.
"Came Monday and, about noon, it seemed that the wind had dropped. On with the engine, off with the dock lines and off about noon to pass around Gallows Point and outward bound. The swells were heavy and grew worse.
"Maggie was lifting half her bow out and then dropping into the trough, for there was no regularity to the sea and nothing could keep her from slamming into it. Up bow, hover, slam, spray outward twenty feet on either side of her. With green water boiling up to my knees I essayed the sails. Finally I fought the sails onto her and somehow got aft. About then she began to heel and reel and the crash of things going to hell in the cabin was awful to my ears."

Friday, August 9, 1940
"SEYMOUR NARROWS!

"The tide was running against us out of the Cove and up Discovery Passage for we were trying to make slack water. And for some reason we lost the eddy and fought the tide all the way. It was a greasy current, boiling and slick in alternate spots. And ahead--

"The northern part of the Straits of that bitch Georgia drain through the incredible width of about a few hundred yards at a velocity from seven to twelve knots. In the center of the fairway, causing whirlpools to add to those caused by the tortuous course of the passage, is Ripple Rock.

"SEYMOUR NARROWS!

"We were nearly an hour late for slack water and already the current was running. We went scooting past Race Point. I had had so many conflicting directions on how to shoot the Narrows that I still was foggy on how I would do it.

"And then--

"A dingy Indian salmon boat was lying out by Ripple Rock. I was sure he was helpless and would sing out for aid.

"But--standing boredly amidships, a hand was spinning for salmon. North another boat was so engaged. We came through without a single swerve of the helm and without seeing so much as one whirlpool. It was much worse getting to Race Point than through the Narrows. We were not yet through. What a bore.

"But it was an awfully good breakfast.

"I relaxed with a sigh on a full stomach, lounging in a deck chair at the helm. At last things had settled down. At last we would have an easy time of it--

"And Old Man Sea said NO!

"With a roar our muffler fell off!

"I patched it up and, with open engine hatch smothering us with fumes, we somehow kept on going until we got to Salmon River (Kelsey Bay) the dock and Post Office of Sayward. We had to have an inch and a quarter pipe nipple and I had misgivings about ever finding one short of Victoria or Ketchikan and I was already dazed with the noise and smoke from the engine. But when we tried to get up to the salmon boat float we could not for lack of water (God bless polaroids) and had to lie alongside a large ship on the outside of the dock. The Columbia of Victoria. She was a hospital ship and a hospitable ship as well. The engineer dug up an inch and a quarter nipple, advised on the repair and then did most of it himself.

"There was no mooring there and so we came on to where we are now lying, Blinkinsop Bay.

"Coming in, because I don’t trust the charts, I went ahead of Maggie in the stooge, putting slowly to examine the water. The head of the Bay shoaled up. We anchored in ten fathoms (groan as I think of hoisting those hooks in the morning).

"You know, it’s a worse strain running a small boat than a big one, for in the big one the captain has time to breathe and examine his charts. And when he has anchored it is up to his mate. But here we are, lying over mud and here I am listening to every sigh, and feeling with question, every lurch, wondering of her anchors are holding in this running tide, wondering if the wind will freshen--

"It is dark and spooky in this place. I feel like I did when I was a kid and slept out one night in the Olympic Mountains, hearing cougars snarl and then seeing the tracks of one fifteen feet from my camp the next morning. This is wild, wild country. Tall and steep. The chart carries the line, ’Apparently a large valley.’ "

Sunday, August 11, 1940
"This is being written in Bull Harbor. Who would have thought this sunshiny morn that we would be off our course so far by dark.
"Tidal currents, according to the tables, were very nicely with us. The wind was favorable. We made about four knots all day. We wanted to be across Queen Charlotte Sound (for the lady could appear, what with fog, to be the better bitch than Georgia) but about three we found ourselves no more than entering Christie Passage, less than twenty miles upon our way. According we scanned the Pilot for an anchorage and found that one, ’Port’ Alexander, had had the best press agent. But after spending an hour and a half poking about Port Alexander in an attempt to obviate the necessity of anchoring in the indicated hundred and twenty feet of water, we gave it up.
"I led Maggie in with the stooge, skeptical, because an island was misplaced on the chart and reasoning that if an island could be mislaid God knows what had been done with the submerged rocks. This ’heart-in-the-throat’ navigation is a sure way to reduce--if there is any truth in the thinning effect of worry."

Sunday, August 11, 1940
"At five, having left Port Alexander to the bears, with dark coming on, a sou’wester brewing and no place to go, we hauled wake outward to plow down Goletas Channel. Hope Island was some twelve miles away and off our course and beyond Hope was Siberia as the next stop. Down, down, down came the night. Up, up, up came the wind.
"Here we are at the jump off to infinity. I bank we stay here tomorrow. I don’t know why except that we are halfway to Alaska. If I don’t die of apprehension and reef fever, we’ll arrive. Yea, we’ll arrive.
"Raining and blowing out on the Pacific. Just raining in here. Gosh what a solace, a good anchorage!"

Wednesday, August 14, 1940
"Outward bound at four thirty and hi-ho for the open deep. Waves running about thirty feet. Nearly went up on Hannah Reef when we missed Cape Caution in the murk and were heading out for the open blue. We were well inside a dotted line on the chart which bore the note ’small boats should stay outside of this line as the waters within are not well known.’ Hannah Reef, appearing suddenly through the great grey waves, was a terrifying sight for spray and solid water was being lifted, seemingly from nothing, to a height of seventy-five feet or more.
"Ducked swiftly back for the coast and continued on to Safety Cove in Fitzhugh Sound. Fished with some fishermen who were riding them wild and free off Paddle Rocks and Canoe Rocks but caught nothing.
"Safety Cove is an easy to enter anchorage with a waterfall, invisible, making music on its north shore.

Friday, August 16, 1940
"NEW BELLA BELLA VILLAGE"
"Waiting for the turn of the tide to get through Main Passage where, ’tis said, the wreck of the John Drummond is awash at low water. It is very narrow through the passage and there are numerous rocks. I hope they have found them all. Survey work or not I dislike finding rocks with Maggie’s keel.
"Got through Main and past the reefs and thence into a tough nor’wester all the way to Ivory Island in Milbanke was doing tricks and it was very late, so late that by the time we were halfway across this open Sound we were favored by the brilliant light of a full moon. There was some northern twilight left--how long it lasts! And we had a chain of rocks and reefs to navigate, mainly unlighted.
"So, with the wind on the port beam we upped sail and kept the power on full and went boooooooming through at about ten to twelve knots, the wind sharp, the moon huge, the waves restless. When we were in the clear the engine had developed some more weird noises and, gently, we went into Finlayson. This channel had lots of darkness in it and we poked along looking for Nowish Cove. Having no topographical sketch we failed to find it and one just doesn’t leave the helm like the quartermaster in the capital ship and so we ran into Tolmie Channel.
"Coming up to a light--one of about three in miles and miles of tortuous going--we had the uncertain feeling of tide rips under us and in this country tide rips are sudden and swift. On though the blackness into Tolmie Channel."

Saturday, August 17, 1940
"Rushing down from the wheel to get a cup of tea and then up again to put Maggie back on her course. Down from the wheel to look at a chart, up again to the wheel.
"About eleven I was feeling fine with the sky blue, the sun warm and Graham Reach unwinding under us. I was very busy with HO [Hydrographic Office] reports and pictures of vaguely known inlets.
"These reaches and passages are long, narrow passes, wild and deep and straight. The sharp, unmapped scarps march in column on either side, some of them glacier-chilled and frosted with snow, most of them ragged with slides and mighty with cliffs.
"Anchorages are far between unless one has a few hundred fathoms of line. The shores are merely a finger of trees almost in the water, no beach. A mile down and a mile up.
"All one sees, league upon league, is an occasional fishing boat scooting along to a better ground, sometimes four or five fishboats all lashed together, gunwale to gunwale, so that one man only has to steer.
"The winds come snarling down these highways and short seas combine with millrace rides to make seamanship a fine point of business. Now and then there is an opening into which one can duck and perhaps a bar surrounded with rocks on which one can anchor. The unknown secret of the seas here in the position of rocks, invisible lurking monsters, starved to tear the guts out of ship. A few bear, deer, birds, blue sky, countless trees, mountains and long, long, long reaches of water bound in like silver rods on flounced green cloth.
"We got into Lowe’s Inlet quite late and made anchorage by moonlight, exhausted from a nonstop run too many miles to count up on two charts."

Friday, August 30, 1940
"Days have passed and a flood of water has passed under the keel and here we have another saga to write.

"We had the crossing of Georgia, then of Charlotte the harlot and, finally Chatham, Dixon Entrance and Revillagigedo Channel, all of which are rather large bodies with the Pacific behind them and Japan the next stop. They are added to one another in such a way that if one doesn’t get you the next might and no breathing allowed between.

"Prince Rupert allowed us to get our shaft aligned again and we sailed abortively last Sunday to get no further than the Naval Examination vessel in Metlakatla Channel where the engine wearily coughed up the ghosts of its horse powers.

"Ignominiously we came back and, Monday and Tuesday, had the engine out of the ship and cleaned.

"Then, despite weather sitting down upon the already morose Prince Rupert we essayed to sail Tuesday evening, planning to anchor at the other end of Metlankatla Pass, near the Indian village and take off early Wednesday morning. And there the storm found us.

"About a hundred yards in which to swing with reefs to port and starboard, ahead and astern within spitting distance and no protection from a wind which whooshed and howled until Maggie trembled hard enough to rattle the dishes off the table. The rain millraced down until the Three Sheets was nearly sunk in less than twelve hours--in truth she was nearly gunwales under, which would require a fall of some ten inches.

"Whether on the water, eyes on the barometer. There was damned little sleep for the Maggie, having no room to swing, required constant watching though all her hooks were down. It was a matter of fighting forward against such ferocity of speeding air that a raincoat became a willful kite, to slack off on the lines and then, again, to take them up again. All day Wednesday after all Tuesday night. All night Wednesday. Seventy-two hours of yelling wind and drenching downpour. And we finally became so desperate that, visibility or not, we decided to tackle Chatham the moment the gale abated. And so, Thursday about noon, with a brisk sou’wester behind us and slate colored houses ominously indefinite above us, we sailed out.

"The passage from Prince Rupert to Metlakatla is for small boats only and is much beset by rocks and reefs so that one corkscrews through it, imitating what fishboats are in sight. The exit into Chatham is worse for the buoys suddenly give out and leave one amid reefs and islands. There is another bay besides Metlakatla and it is possible to cross over a bar at certain stages of the tide. Abruptly confronted by the last of the channel buoys and without time in a tideway to find out if there was water, we dived over the bar and into Duncan Bay and so, shakily, out into Chatham Sound.

"That is the start of the saga. Here is the background to what followed.

"Sailors are superstitiously inclined people. It is bad luck to mention a rodent of the edible class aboard ship except perhaps as a ’furry thing’ and yet I thoughtlessly sang a song of popular nature about them half the time we were in Prince Rupert. Then we sailed twice on a Sunday without getting anywhere, but having to come back. And sailors say that it is an unfortunate thing to name a vessel after an ocean as disaster will dog the ship. In a like manner it is bad to mention, in a light way, the rulers of the deep.

"Wednesday night, listening to the wind scream, I was thinking about a story I might write as a sequel to a novel in which Neptune was featured and I said I would further it, representing Neptune as stupid but tough and adding like insult to the Ruler of the Deep.

"Thursday was one long chain of appeasement to the hunger of the sea. First the jib sheet [see illustration (on page 47-- Jib sail drawing of boat sails)] slipped from the rail and went into the wheel there to stick so solidly that no amount of chopping would free it. We were in the middle of Chatham as it happened with a large sea running and I had no liking for hanging on desperately, seas running green over my face and when I had tried three times and came up soaking and so exhausted as to have difficulty in getting back on board, I quit.

"We had the main up and so, cracking on the jib, said it was sail or nothing. And Northward Ho! We gradually found a steady wind, fair, and got along at about five knots despite the seas. We said we would anchor at the north end of Dundas Island but we didn’t dare for that was a lee with a sea running. At dusk we had to pass up Nakat Bay at the side of Dixon entrance for it was too many mikes in lee to be run with the sea that was rolling there.

"And so with a long Pacific swell, heightened by wind, on our beam and a cross swell from Chatham, wind driven, and a tide running obliquely to both, we fought our way into the night and U.S. waters again. We took a bad shaking up for bilge water climbed, in the tossing, over the floor boards, making the cabin deck a minor sea in itself. Not a thing on the ship, it seemed stayed dry or in place. But the wind blew on and the darkness was grey with rain and the tiny bits of light which were our only guides would vanish for minutes at a time in the downpour and blackness, leaving us without any idea of direction for the wind was caroming off headlands and the tidal currents were uncertain and the reefs were many.

"Without doubt Neptune was getting even with us. He snatched away my cap and let it float until I almost swamped us coming about and was in the act of reaching for it when it sank lazily out of sight. With a shattering snarl our whisker pole flew into fragments and over the side. A belaying pin went by the boards. Hour in and hour out we lost things and could do nothing about it but weep.

"All in the ink save for occasional glimpses of wholly unfamiliar lights, worn out from hours at the helm with the sea banging it about, we won through the night. Ninety miles under sail through heavy seas and ink.

"But Ketchikan was in sight, we were ghosting along in the calm waters of the narrows with a tide with us for a change.

"I anchored and lashed up. The town, despite rain, was awake but we ventured toward the shore not at all, anchoring off the docks. I freed the wheel of the job sheet and then came down to a nice, hot dinner. In a cabin which was sopping and a bed which reminded one of a swamp, I dropped into heavy slumber.

"I have been up now for several hours and it is getting on toward midnight. Ketchikan we have won. We arrived in Alaska. And maybe tomorrow we will even go ashore."


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