Monthly Archives: October 2017

Overcoming Reputations

Yakutat is a truly incredible place.  Incredible fishing,  incredible mountains,  incredible glaciers…  even incredible surfing and many other “incredibles”.  But it is far from perfect.  One of our shortfalls has been in aviation and the services available here at the Yakutat Airport.

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Teen and I started Yakutat Aviation Services as a means to change our local reputation as being a black hole for services.  We have a reputation within the aviation community as a place to avoid and we have been lugging this rep around for decades. It isn’t any one business’ or person’s blame,  but a build-up of a lot of horror stories and dissatisfied pilot visitors.

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That said…  tonight we had a “Queen Air” stop in for fuel.  The pilot said he was planning to fly non-stop from Ketchikan to Homer without refueling,  but another pilot in Ketch told him what we are trying to do here and he decided to stop in and support us.  Bought 140 gallons of fuel that would not have been sold here had we not started YAS.

A year ago,  there was an article in AOPA Pilot magazine about flying the coast from Anchorage to Juneau.  They did NOT stop here,  but most of the photos illustrating their article were taken within the Borough.  OK,  they definitely stopped several times in Yakutat,  but they avoided the airport and didn’t spend a dime here.  In the “letters to the editor” in the following issue,  someone wrote that he understood how they wanted to avoid buying fuel in Yakutat…

I don’t want to point fingers at the old traditional supplier,  but they are principally a wholesaler and not a retailer.  They don’t provide retail “service”.  But that is what we are doing now.

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On my flight down to Juneau for my heart test,  the Alaska Airlines pilot came back to our row and handed me a magazine that featured a cover article he wrote.  Burke Mees is a neat guy,  although I don’t know him well.  He flies the CAF BT-13 up in Anchorage most weekends for tours in their great old WWII trainer.  I first met Burke a few years ago when he and another pilot burned through some of their ground time and walked over to the hangar from the AS jet.  I told them about what we were planning to do with the hangar and museum,  etc.

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This past spring,  Burke flew with the owners of an experimental “Gweduck” up to the Anchorage Airmen’s Show.  They stopped in at Yakutat for fuel briefly.  The Gweduck is basically a modernized kit Grumman Widgeon with all composite parts,  so landing in saltwater doesn’t corrode the hull.  Really neat plane.  Their stop in Juneau was featured as the headline front cover story on the Juneau Empire at the time.

Burke said he mentioned us in the article,  but to my surprise,  he does a LOT more than mere mention…

“YAKUTAT

For those of you who have made this trip,  you’ve probably avoided landing at Yakutat because of the imposing Mount Fairweather-sized gas prices that loom large on the horizon and cast a long shadow on the coast route.  I can report that this is no longer a problem.  Bob Miller recently started Yakutat Aviation Services,  and now prices are considerably lower for both 100LL and Jet A.  Bob is a local entrepreneur who lives with his family in the old WWII hangar on the field,  and he also owns the 1941 DC-3 in the hangar.

This airplane is a piece of history;  it started out as a military C-47 and saw wartime service in North Africa,  Sicily,  and over Normandy on D-Day.  After the war,  it spent a lot of time flying commercially in Alaska,  including with Cordova Airlines,  which later merged with Alaska Airlines.  The airplane’s story is written on its airframe in patched German bullet holes and corrosion from making Alaska beach landings.  Bob plans to use proceeds from the fuel sales to get the plane flying again.  If you’re in Yakutat you should make a point to check it out.”

How’s that for cool?!?!  Granted most of you have probably never seen or read Water Flying magazine (I know I hadn’t…),  but it is the bimonthly publication of the Seaplane Pilots Association and a really nice/interesting magazine.

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Nice to see we’re starting to make a difference.  Yet another weird risky thing Teen and I are doing in little ol’ Yakutat.

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Yakutat’s Local Election – 2017 Edition

We had our little local election for assembly and school board on Tuesday.  Preliminary results are as follows:

Yakutat Borough Assembly – 3 two-year seats…  We had four candidates:
84 regular ballots cast,  6 “question” ballots and 10 “absentee” ballots

Nick Holcomb – 65 votes
Daryl James – 64 votes
Adam Kohne – 56 votes
Carol Pate – 23 votes

Yakutat School Board – 2 three-year seats and 1 two-year term remaining on a three-year seat…  There were no candidates who applied to be on the ballot:

Write-in Rose Fraker – 22 votes
Write-in Justine Wheeler – 9 votes

We also had 7 write-in votes for Rose Fraker for the two-year term.

One School Board seat will remain vacant unless someone has a significant number of absentee write-ins,  or they appoint someone.  With all the budget woes and declining enrollment at the Yakutat School District,  it is sad that no one bothered to put their name in as a formal candidate and that we can’t fill three seats in our community.  But of course I didn’t put my name in either,  so I can’t really say too much…

The Canvass Committee will meet Thursday  October 26th,  2017 at 3pm at the City and Borough Office to open the absentee ballots and evaluate the question ballots.  16 votes can’t change the outcome of the election,  so although these results are technically unofficial,  this is official…

2017 Unoffical results October 17 in PDF

Canvass Comm Notice 10-26-2017 in PDF

 

My Health Update

Since I’m still getting concerned calls and e-mails,  I figured I better give you an update on my little health scare…

Hearing when I came home that some folks were spreading the rumor that I had a heart attack (something that would make me lose my pilot license) and that I was going to lose the lease on the hangar (I own the hangar,  so not likely),  I should probably set the record straight.  Yes,  it was a dramatic event that could have cost me my life,  but it didn’t…  The circling vultures can go look for another carcass now.

Monday Sept 11th,  I had a blood vessel in my stomach burst.  It is officially called a Dieulafoy’s Lesion,  which just means a blood vessel near the surface in the stomach region.  I had one of these wayward vessels right where my esophagus attaches to my stomach and it decided to pop.  Just a design flaw with me and it would have popped at some point.  Better to happen while in town than at the cabin,  where I’d have to fly myself back to town under duress…

So it popped and after throwing up blood a couple times through the day,  I acted like a “guy” and laid on the couch telling Teen “it’ll clot”.  Yep.  It basically clotted once there was no more blood to bleed…  The third time I tossed my stomach contents,  my vitals started to crash and even I was convinced it was time for 911.

I’m very healthy and active with a very strong heart,  which is probably why I’m alive.  I also think it contributed to masking just how serious the situation was.  In the ambulance and in the local clinic,  as long as I was lying down,  my vitals looked pretty good and stable.  Sit up,  or try to move much and it was like I was finishing a marathon and completely out of breath with 150+ beats per minute.

I was medevacced to Juneau via Guardian Flight (I highly recommend everyone get medevac insurance even if just for your one-week trip – a medevac flight costs upwards of $70,000 and is completely covered with our annual $120/year for our family).  At Bartlett Regional Hospital,  they had to give me 7 units of blood to stabilize me.  Most people only have about 8 pints total…  I have had a couple doctor friends tell me they are surprised I was able to survive this unscathed at all…

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My sis and I…  No longer bluish-white,  but far from feeling better

 

The primary concern was over my heart…  I spent more than a day essentially without blood to pump,  so they were looking at the potential damage this would have done to my heart.  Even before they did anything to stop the bleeding,  or look for the source,  they had me getting an ultrasound and MRI of my heart.  They needed to scope my stomach,  but were afraid I may not come out of the anesthesia if there was a serious heart issue…  So we waited another full day before the first scoping.  Fully under and intubated,  they located the lesion and put an alligator clip on the bleed.  No visible ulcers and my stomach looked good in spite of my frequent use of NSAIDS…

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Alligator clip in lower right – thought about having a blog pool for when I’d pass it as a fundraiser for the museum.  Still waiting…

 

About 12 hours later,  they intubated and scoped a second time.  Bleeding had stopped,  but they cauterized around the lesion just for good measure.  By the time they brought me out of the anesthesia the second time,  they had the full 7 units in me and I was finally feeling well enough to move around.  They still wouldn’t let me eat or drink anything (including water),  just in case they needed to do another scoping.  It was 5 days before I was allowed to swallow anything but spit.

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My first “clear liquid diet”

 

 

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The halibut tacos my sister had while I was still not allowed to swallow…  Thanks sis!

 

By Friday night,  I was well enough to move out of ICU and onto the regular floor.  This also signaled their willingness to let me have some liquids.  Chicken broth never felt so good going down!  Within a few hours,  they let me have solids,  so my dam burst and it was sandwiches,  soup and milkshakes every two hours until they had enough and released me Sunday morning.

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Feeling better and getting some exercise

 

Because of the potential heart damage concern,  they wanted me to take the nuclear stress test before I went home to Yakutat.  The earliest I could be scheduled for the test was the following Thursday,  so we were in a Juneau hotel for another week.  Thursday came and the insurance still hadn’t pre-approved the test.  They wanted me to stay through Monday to try again,  but this is mid-September with 1/3rd of the fly shop’s total annual business in one month,  a mail plane every morning at 4am to load and offload,  1-2 extra cargo plane flights daily loading 5,000lbs of commercial fish,  hangar winter storage starting to come in and a new aircraft fuel facility which still doesn’t have its self-serve credit card system functioning,  so we have to meet every flight and give them “full-service”.  All handled by Teen and Tanis.  They did a great job keeping all the plates spinning.  I couldn’t sit on my butt in Juneau any longer.

So this past week,  we headed back to Juneau for the test.  Preliminary results are that I do NOT have any long-term heart damage.  My full day delay in getting medical care didn’t cost me my life,  or my pilot’s license,  or end my commercial fishing and physically demanding lifestyle.  Just a few months of easing back into doing things and rebuilding my strength and stamina.

A friend who missed fishing this year had heart surgery a little over a week before my little emergency.  I have lost a couple friends and family members this year,  making my little adventure seem not so urgent in the overall scheme of life.  I’m on the mend and will be back to being fully healthy and fit in pretty short order.  I have much to be thankful for.  Especially thankful for the outpouring of support and encouragement so many have given to me and Teen over the past month.  There were far too many cards,  e-mails and phone calls to respond to,  but you are all a wonderful blessing to us.  And tremendous appreciation to my wife and kids,  who stepped in to keep all the stuff on my plate moving forward and keeping us from going under.

My mom and sister flew up from Seattle to be with me down in Juneau and it was a tremendous relief to have them there.  I also have to share one little story…  I’m in ICU and a guy walks past the windows (there is no privacy in ICU as described by my nurse as “I see you”) holding a vase of flowers.  A moment later,  he comes into my room with a bouquet from my CONGRESSMAN!!!  He is the personal assistant for Congressman Stutes and he offered his personal car to my sister if we needed to get around while in Juneau.  Only in Alaska!  If you don’t have a congressman like this,  you need to move,  or get a new congressman!

I’m still a bit weak,  but I hope to be out fighting a couple steelhead in another two weeks.  I’ll keep you posted on whether or not I can pull that off.  In the meantime,  I am so appreciative of the literally thousands of friends that I have had the pleasure to get to know because of the fly shop and through this blog.  Thank you.

Like I said,  this was just a little “design flaw” in me and this event would have happened at some point.  Just one of those things and nothing I could really have prevented.  It all worked out OK in the end and can be a good lesson in arranging our priorities in life.  There are a lot of things that aren’t nearly as important as we think they are at the time.  Life,  health and the love of friends and family…  The rest is just noise.

Bob

Watching the Temperature

Mid-October and we’re all waiting for the arrival of our fall steelhead run.  The key trigger to push fish into the Situk seems to be water temperature.  As the temp drops into the 6-4 degree C range,  we see fish pushing in. That’s 43-38 degrees F for those of us that are Celsius-challenged…  Once it drops much below that range,  they tend to stop until we ether see a mid-winter warm spell,  or the eventual spring thaw in April.  Really,  about 36 degrees is where everything comes to a halt for the winter for additional incoming steelhead.

As of right now,  we’re still hovering about 2-3 F degrees too warm.  We have been seeing the average temperature drop that much over the past week,  so in another week,  the trend should be right about where we want it to be.  Almost there!

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Looking like a November 1st start for our fall run,  with it improving daily through the first half of the month.  Getting closer,  but no reports of any steelhead in the river yet.  Chris went fishing the past couple days and hooked into a lot of silvers and dollies,  with a couple resident rainbows to round things out.  Also landed a gorgeous sea-run cut on Tawah last night.  He thought he had a steelie that took a drifted egg,  but instead it emerged as a HUGE dolly up above the bridge.  Nope,  not yet!

On the Mend

It is once again stormy and nasty up here,  after a two-day sun break,  which followed a week of back-to-back storms.  This latest round is supposed to be intense,  but die off quickly tomorrow.  The rain started at 2am and the wind hit around 5am.  Not a fun day to be outside.

Flows on the 4th topped 1,600 CFS,  dropped to 1,100,  back up to over 1,300 and then yesterday bottomed out around 800.  So the Situk is basically unfishable right now.  The commercial season ended on Thursday,  with the big “fishermen’s party” at the Glass Door Friday night.  Our salmon season is coming to an end for 2017.

Still some fresh silvers coming into the Situk system,  but with the water the way it is,  you’d be hard pressed to make contact with one of them.  Tawah is where most of the late season sport fishermen are concentrating,  while the outlying fly-outs like the Italio are still going strong.  Chris comes back from his season on the Akwe tomorrow, so I’ll get his impression of what that run looked like and whether it is still going on.  I bet the Akwe is raging though,  regardless of how many fish may be in there!

And I’m doing much better with a little more energy each day.  It has nearly been a month,  so I’m beyond frustrated with not being able to do much.  So many things I need to get done,  but so little resources to make it through the day without a nap,  or some “quality time” sitting on my butt.

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A juvenile eagle in his nest,  where he should be…

 

But I’m not the only one on the mend right now…  This happened over a week ago,  but thought I’d share…  A juvenile bald eagle was found with his leg caught in an old abandoned trap out in Russell Fiord.  “Frustrating” that we have a trapper,  who doesn’t retrieve his traps at the end of the season,  or at least trip them…  So the eagle was found with a broken leg and the folks at the Forest Service went in and pulled him out.

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An eagle in a dog crate,  where he shouldn’t be…

 

He was shipped off to Anchorage on ACE Air Cargo,  along with about 5,000lbs of fresh coho salmon…  Probably not the nicest cargo for a hungry and injured eagle to have to smell for the whole flight,  but that was the first available flight out.  Hopefully he is healing and can be released at some point.

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This is a time of year when we have to be careful driving around the airport and out toward Cannon Beach.  With all the salmon spawning in the man-made drainage ditches around the airport,  you have dozens of eagles sitting on the shoulder and/or in the middle of the road where they drag fish out of the water and onto dry land to feast.  Tawah’s January/February silver run can be a tremendous attraction for the eagles with little to no food for them to get through the dark and snowy winter.  You’ll see horrific scenes of blood all over the snow till you realize it wasn’t a dog getting hit by a car,  but a big salmon smashed and splattered all over the place.

Ahhh…  life in Yakutat.

Loading the cargo into the ACE Beech 1900…  Fish first,  then putting the bird in behind the net.  I didn’t hear what happened to him after he departed YAK,  but hopefully he will survive the ordeal.  Thank you to the Swansons for helping this guy out and helping load him.  Not that he weighed much…  They are amazingly light.  I still wasn’t being allowed to lift anything by orders of my wife.  I hate just standing around watching other people work.