Category Archives: Life in Yakutat

What it is like to live year ’round in this VERY small community.

How to Make Contact…

Just want to make sure everyone understands why I may not respond to a phone call…  I’m not being rude,  but I have a LOT on my plate.

I do not carry a cell phone and I refuse to be chained to a device.  I have one because I have to have one now to sign into a bank account,  but it sits on my desk on silent.  I will never answer it.  If you want to talk to me,  call the business line at (907)784-3087.  I answer it as “Yakutat Aviation Services,  this is Bob”.  Don’t hang up if you think you mis-dialed…  It is still the fly shop.  I just answer as the business that actually makes me money.  If you leave a message,  I will call you back.  BUT…  Since my long distance is not included on my cell phone package,  I use a good ol’ fashioned calling card,  which only allows 4 rings and then it disconnects.  If your voice mail is set to more than 4 rings,  I can’t leave a message.  So if I can’t get through to talk to you directly and I can’t leave a message,  I don’t have time to try back multiple times.

Please feel free to call me back after a day if you don’t receive a call-back.  Also,  if you e-mail,  understand that I get hundreds of e-mails a day.  I cull the spam and jokes,  then try to respond to each question I get.  Some days are pretty hectic between aircraft fueling and construction and the fly shop,  so sometimes your message can disappear up the inbox list of messages really fast and I don’t have time to go back through to find it a thousand messages up the list…  So if I don’t respond in a day or so,  please re-email and I’ll see it again and answer.  Unless it is another hectic day and I miss it again…

I’m here to answer any questions you may have and help make your trip a good one.  That has been a joy over the past couple decades of my guide business and fly shop.  But…  In the future,  you’ll need to start transitioning over to your lodge,  or whatever service provider you use in town.  With the fly shop closing,  I won’t be talking to fishermen every day to glean an understanding of what is happening on the river like I do now.  I won’t be in the loop.

As for the shop…  we have a big supply of flies,  beads and souvenir shirts.  We have an odd selection of uncommon colors of fly tying materials (which was kind of always our specialty…  weird colors),  still a lot of hooks and every possible color of Glo Bug yarn.  Especially the ones no one ever stocks…  But we are nearly out of anything with the Simms logo…  I’ll post what we have left at some point,  but we are NOT mailing anything out.  We started off doing that,  but since I’m losing money on everything as it is,  I can’t afford to eat the cost of an item that the USPS loses.  So far this spring,  we have lost a couple expensive items we mailed.  Insuring a shipment doesn’t mean the USPS will reimburse me for the cost of the product.  A missing item means I’m screwed…  We’re not going there again…  You can prepay for something and I’ll save it,  but you have to show up to get it.

OK,  I’ll get a fishing report posted next.  Just wanted to clear a few things up,  as our fly shop life winds down this season…

Dark Fish?

I can’t leave the airport,  but I sent the kids up to 9 Mile to take some photos of the snow…  Here is what they took…

Tanis said it looked like about 2 feet of snow on the trails and 4 feet in the road beyond the plowed part.  Looking like the snow is gone from the immediate river bank,  which is helping to warm the water with the dark dirt exposed.

Been hearing of an occasional dark fish being caught throughout the lower and middle river.  As of tonight,  there are fish above 9 Mile and many are dark.  I had figured the dark ones earlier were just the ones that didn’t make it to the lake and had to over-winter in the deeper holes of the river.  Possible that we’re starting to see some fish out of the lake,  but this is the first real sign of that and it could be that they are just upper river winter fish and not yet lake fish.  But could be…

Flow is down to 268 CFS this evening and water temp hit 43 degrees.  Last night,  it dropped to 34.5F as it has been every night…  And just a little food for thought…  This is the current weather advisory from the National Weather Service for Yakutat and the northern Southeast Panhandle…  I’ll post it without comment…

This would be great if it was April 1st…  It’s not!

The Weather Report

Quite the day out there today!  Total white-out.  We have a LOT more snow than the weather warning was predicting,  although it has warmed up and seems to be changing to rain.  On top of heavy snow…  Watch your roofs…

I was going to post the photos of the last scoop of the snow pile,  but we have a snow pile again…  So much for that!

Instead,  this is the view from my office window looking directly toward the Alaska Airlines terminal and toward the wind-sock…

What a great day to stay inside!  Hope the steelheaders are bundled up and having fun.  On a better note…  We have actually “completed” our first rooms in the hangar!!!  The fly shop never did get the floor trim because we had to populate it before I could get that done way back in 2008.  The next four rooms in the first floor are all trimmed (although the window sills need to be placed after we pull the windows out this summer to put up the new siding outside).  I’ll hopefully have the gym equipment coming on the next barge,  which will temporarily be going into these rooms until I finish the new dedicated gym space at the back of the hangar bay…

Planed local spruce in 1×6 and 2×6,  sanded and Varathaned three times…

Installed before,  during and after…

With the barn doors…  The doors still need some brackets and stoppers before we Varathane them…

Winter Ain’t Over…

We’ll just post this without comment…

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Fly Shop Opens April 1st

Situk River Fly Shop will be opening April 1st,  10am to 6pm except Sundays.

This will be the last season for Situk River Fly Shop.  It has been a wonderful run,  but the travel restrictions imposed by our heavy-handed government has killed us.  We’ll be selling down our existing merchandise and not reordering.  Although this is looking like the end…  I’m always hopeful we can come back if the world pulls its head out of it’s butt,  therefore I will be following the dealer requirements for Simms and Sage…

They require that any currently available stock from the company can not be discounted.  For the most part,  our inventory is older stock and not bound by this restriction.  We didn’t order replacement inventory last year,  since we could see the writing on the wall and tried unsuccessfully to weather this as best we could…  So…

Almost everything in the shop will be at 40% off.  40% is the mark-up both Simms and Sage allow for their products,  so we’ll only lose the shipping cost.  And the 5% credit card processing cost.  And all operating expenses.  And I won’t be getting any salary.  And…  I think you get the idea.  There are just a couple items that we can’t discount,  like lip balm and shoe laces…  but pretty much everything else is in the bargain rack.  Inventory for the steelhead run should be pretty good,  especially for flies,  but as the year progresses,  we’ll be looking more and more like our first season when we sold out of just about everything by May 1st.

If there is something specific you need for the coming season,  I can still special order most Simms and Sage products if you give me a couple weeks notice,  but anything special ordered will have to be at SRP.  Which would be the price anywhere else,  or our price if I wasn’t going under…

In April,  we’ll still have a LOT of snow around the hangar.  Tanis has been good at keeping a path along the front of the building,  but not the entire parking lot.  Plenty of room to drive and park in front of the shop,  right along the building wall.  There also should be enough room for you to turn around.  Not at the moment,  but we still have a couple weeks.  Here is the driveway from the second floor…

Thank you everyone for your many years of support.  Teen and I appreciate you and your friendships.  This is a tough time,  but we’ll get through it.  We are continuing to work on the hangar and don’t have any immediate plans to escape Yakutat anytime soon.  Maybe I’ll even get to see you on the river once in a while…

5 Weeks to Go!

February is winding down and winter is dragging on.  But the days are getting longer and we can see light at the end of Alaska’s long winter tunnel.  It is 10pm as I start typing this and Tanis woke from his couch nap with too much energy.  He is out snow blowing in the dark with our new snow blower in front of the neighbor’s hangar.  Hope Pat isn’t trying to sleep…

The past week,  we have seen some pretty cold temperatures for Yakutat.  Two weeks of nights getting to around zero,  with daytime highs scratching just under 20.  That is Fahrenheit,  for our friends over-seas…  Hard to complain too much with what is happening throughout the rest of the country right now,  except Florida…  Frightening to see what happens when Alaska weather hits Texas…  Our thoughts and prayers are with you down south.  You should burn more of your own oil for power and heat.

The past several days have been a lot warmer,  with temps getting into the low 30’s.  Had some rainish sleet on the 17th and 18th,  but back to snow now.  The ramp has a couple inches of fresh snow since the DOT plowed the pavement clear,  on top of a half inch of polished ice.  What a mess.  But no snow pile…  DOT keeps building it up,  then taking it down.  Last year,  we had so much snow that the pile knocked our internet out in early March,  not to come back again until late April.  “Fortunately” the fly shop was mandated closed,  so we didn’t have to process credit cards via the non-existent internet.  They are doing what they can to limit the impact on us this year and it is greatly appreciated.

So…  the river is frozen solid at 9 Mile,  with a thick sheet of ice as far up and downstream of the bridge as you can see from it.  We have about 2 feet of snow depth in the open,  with not much in the trees.  The road to the river is plowed and easily navigable,  so no real risk of that being an issue come April.  Or not much of a risk…  Because of the cold snap,  we have thick ice on the lakes now and getting an insulating layer of snow on top of that will keep the lakes colder even as the warmth starts to creep into the air.  Still not a lot of total snow,  but enough.

After saying it was looking like another warm winter and therefore early steelhead run,  we are now back to an on-time run with our current conditions.  March is just around the corner and we are definitely NOT at risk of the run showing up anytime soon.  We can breath a sigh of relief,  knowing whatever happens with the number of people allowed to enter Alaska from the outside,  their timing will be relatively in line with the fish coming in.  My guess is we’ll see a LOT of Alaskans coming this year after being forced to take last year off,  and out-of-state travel will be less than half of what we’d expect on a “normal” year.

Tanis has been busy with the snow blower ever since it arrived on ACE Air Cargo in January.  No snow,  but he was out practicing with it on bare pavement.  Now,  we have had some snow for a month to actually blow.  Keeping the path to the shop open by blowing all the snow into two piles in the parking lot that will undoubtedly still be there into May.  After the first real snow of the year,  he made a big pile about 40 feet long and 15 feet wide.  I already mentioned previously that some kids from town came out and helped mine dig a tunnel all the way through the middle from end to end.  Once night came,  they carved shelves into the snow and lit candles for a nice glow.

The second storm a couple days later brought a second big pile of white.  Tanis alone dig another snow cave,  but this time just made one entrance and hollowed out a big cavern in the center.  He insisted I had to spend the night out there with him,  but I politely declined,  as another storm hit that night with 60-70 knot winds blowing the entrance shut with more snow.  The sun came out the next day while he reopened the doorway and enlarged the cavern.  OK,  we put down a tarp floor and loaded it with pads and blankets.  Made a flap door with an old wool blanket and settled in for the night.  The first of the clear/cold nights dropped to 7 degrees.  Actually warm and comfortable inside!  With my old-man bladder (ya,  TMI…), I was up a couple times in the night.  The first time,  I poked my head back inside the flap and it was just as cold inside as it was out.  The second time,  I had accidentally woke Tanis,  so he lit a candle for me to see my way back in.  Opened the flap and my face was hit by an amazing warmth.  From ONE little candle!  What a difference!  It stayed lit for a while!

Now the rain this week has made the fort a couple feet shorter,  but the tunnels haven’t collapsed.  Can’t say I’m eager to spend the night out there again,  but it was a blast to camp in the yard with my little boy again,  even if he is 21 now.  Haven’t truly winter-camped with him since he was about 7.

We also had a great visitor – the Ozark Air DC-3.  They were bring the plane back up from Montana where it spent the past couple years after their last visit.  She was supposed to do some tourist flights down in the real world,  but then the world ended and she just sat.  On her way home to ANC,  she had some mechanical issues in Sitka,  so spent a couple months there getting fixed up and back in the air.  On their way over Yakutat,  the weather was going down in Anchorage and getting dark,  so they turned around and overnighted with us.

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This is a beautiful plane with passenger config,  galley and lav.  They are planning to do flightseeing tours around the Anchorage area as Golden Era Aviation,  in period uniforms once they get the FAA stuff all set.  Their website isn’t ready yet,  but I’ll let you know when it is…  These photos I stole from their preliminary site…

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OK,  Tanis just came back inside…  About 6-8 inches of new snow since 6pm when DOT left for the day.  Tomorrow is going to be a mess outside.  Glad to be working INSIDE tomorrow,  mudding and taping the holes in the downstairs bathroom ceilings.  Had to cut out access holes when I needed to replumb the water system with PEX several years ago.  Yes,  PEX can burst when it freezes,  contrary to what they say…  Getting a little more done on the hangar…  Trying to do SOMETHING every day,  no matter how piddly.  You eat an elephant one bite at a time and this hangar is like eating an entire herd.  Several herds…

Winter Arrived…

OK,  we’ll see of the spring steelhead run is back on track for a normal season timing…  We have winter in Yakutat,  at last.  A couple days ago,  we were hit by about 6 inches of snow.  Pretty warm/wet snow.  Tanis has been busy playing with the new snow blower.  We have needed one for many years and finally decided to put the money into a good one instead of eating…  Since it came,  we haven’t had any snow to blow.  About 1/4 inch fell  a week ago,  so Tanis was out trying to see if he could get some to go through the auger…  Not an issue now!

He circled the parking lot over and over a couple days ago to blow all the snow into a single pile.  Then a bunch of local kids came over and they dug tunnels through the middle and carved out recessed shelves to hold candles.  It really looked amazing with the candle glow,  but night pictures doesn’t do it justice.

We were expecting 2-3 inches last night.  Woke to about 8…  With a driving wind straight out of the north.  Brrr!  It has been a few years since we have seen snow drifts like this – INSIDE the hangar!!!

The snow drifts on the ramp were deep enough to get the State DOT plow truck stuck…

 

Still not a lot of snow accumulation for the season,  but if this week is establishing a trend,  we may be back to expecting the steelhead run to be “normal” instead of early.  Only time will tell,  but just thought I should give you a heads up.  Sunny and cold tomorrow,  but then the forecast is back to snow for most of the week.

It has been a while since we saw snow up to my second floor office windows…

OK,  just kidding…  Just plastered to the bottom of the window because of the flashing sill…  That would be an interesting winter…  Gotta fuel these glaciers somehow!  Yakutat’s seasonal record for snow is 403 inches at sea level (33 1/2 feet).  Plus the usual 200 inches of rain…

Vacation 2020 – Part 5 – Rangiroa

OK,  second time trying to post this…  The formatting went screwy the first time and I had to redo it nearly from scratch.  Still messed up a bit,  but at least readable…

Time for my last French Polynesia vacation post…  One year ago today,  Teen and I were roasting our buns in tropical paradise in Rangiroa.  With our 7-day cruise in the rear view mirror,  we left the hotel,  took a taxi to the Papeete airport and boarded the turboprop commuter Air Tahiti for the Tuamotu Island chain.  For a refresher,  here are the other four posts…

Rangiroa is the second largest atoll in the world.  Also considered one of the top 10 dive locations in the world.  The Tuamotu islands are older than the Society Islands that consist of Tahiti,  Moorea,  Bora Bora,  etc.  So much older that their volcano islands at the center of the atoll have nearly all collapsed leaving just the outer atoll rings.  The two largest are Rangiroa (of course) and Fakarava.  During our pre-trip research phase,  we were looking at the “islands for sale” in French Polynesia and the entire atoll Nengo Nengo was for sale for a measly $65,000,000.  It used to be a black pearl farm.  Has a small air strip.  I was planning all sorts of great things with my atoll as soon as I won the Mega-Millions lottery,  but alas,  my tickets were not winners.  But I was a millionaire for my entire trip!  Yay!  Didn’t get the bad news till we were back in Seattle.

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The Tumotus are also where the French government did all their nuclear bomb testing,  so some of these islands are a little problematic…  The no-go atolls are out of the map to the right,  far enough away from Nengo Nengo to be just fine…  Since my lottery ship didn’t come in,  maybe if I put up a Go-Fund-Me for all of you to buy me a tropical atoll?  I’ll send pictures as a thank-you…

As cool as Bora Bora was,  Rangiroa is a pretty darned special place too.  Small village with really nice people.  One big “resort” that wouldn’t really hold its own in Bora Bora,  but was a real treat to stay at.  And some scattered little Polynesian equivalent of a B&B’s.  Reading about the restaurant options,  they have a couple pizza places and local dining options that are really just someone feeding you in their living room,  or back patio.  One that sounded great was a place that essentially brought you plates of meat for as long as you hung out on their old dump-salvage couches.  Outside.  Another had good reviews of the food,  but the service consisted of the owner being rude and yelling at you in French if you didn’t speak Polynesian,  or French.  Other than ice cream bars at the grocery stores,  we ended up just eating at the resort restaurant.  By this time,  I wasn’t quite as panicked over food as I was at the start of the trip.

In August,  I took Eden down to Juneau to get her braces removed.  While cooped up at the hotel,  she turned on “Shark Fest” on Nat Geo.  They were talking about finding the largest sharks in the world and were heading to some remote Pacific island.  Well,  this image popped up onto the TV…

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AHHH!!!  That’s Rangiroa!!!  What?  25 foot sharks???  WTF?!?!

“Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water…”

I’m kind of glad I didn’t see that show before we went there…  Anyway…  Air Tahiti is the commuter airline for French Polynesia.  They fly all over the south Pacific islands including the Cook,  Gambier and Marquises.  They fly primarily ATR’s (a European equivalent of the Dash-8/Q-400’s Horizon Air flies) in two seating capacities (seven with 68 seats and two with 48 seats),  plus they have two Twin Otters on wheels and three KingAir’s.  Our ATR to Rangiroa was OK.  Nowhere near enough air out of that little vent,  but at 90+ degrees and 400% humidity,  anything short of me crawling into the ice cream display case at Carrefore wouldn’t have been enough.  Sunny in Tahiti,  but absolutely pouring as we landed in Rangiroa.

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A couple ATR’s on the BOB ramp in Bora Bora, stolen from their website…

Like I said,  it was absolutely pouring when we landed.  Big towering cumulonimbus clouds and bumpy as heck.  The land of the atoll is just a really skinny ring with spill-over breaks all around separating it into a bunch of islands (motus) with little saltwater streams in-between.  The rain squalls were intense,  but always brief.  For our first couple days there,  it was a typical tropical stormy time.  Some short sun-breaks,  but the torrential rains would be right back again.  Overcast most of the time and really muggy.

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Had to take a picture of the local “garb”… More scooters than cars, this guy was waiting for bags with flip-flops, board shorts, helmet and cheap raincoat worn backwards… The raindrops are the size of bumble bees and hurt when you get whacked! I’d want my chest covered too while riding my motorcycle!

We were picked up at the airport by the Kia Ora Resort & Spa,  along with another couple.  We took the back seat and the other couple got drenched from the leak in the roof.  They were from Massachusetts and would be staying for 3 nights.  Their mission was diving.  My mission was to find some air conditioning!  Check-in was a little odd and it seemed like we were the only people at the resort…  Had several employees hovering over us,  which was a little creepy,  but they just wanted us to be well-cared for.  I think.  I think most Americans are a little needy in this environment,  so I’ll cut them a little slack.  Once checked in,  both couples were whisked away on a golf cart to our rooms.  The MA couple were deposited at the bridge to their over-water bungalow.  We continued on to beach bungalow #11.  I think “kuriri” means eleven in Polynesian,  but it could also mean “cockroach”…

Just a quiet first day hanging around the bungalow.  The greatest feature of the resort was the private cold Jacuzzi right out the back!  What an incredible relief from the heat!  The room had air conditioning,  but it didn’t seem to keep up very well with the heat.  We were warned by the taxi driver that morning that Rangiroa was a lot hotter than Tahiti and she was right.  Have I mentioned how cool the people of Polynesia are?  Our taxi driver in Papeete worked at the Kia Ora and met her husband in Rangiroa.  Had lots of tips that we ended up ignoring because we were too lazy to do much.  This was a relaxation trip!

Our only “activity” that first day was making two trips to the hotel restaurant…  I asked for a sundae with chocolate and caramel.  She brought me this huge vat of ice cream and sauce.  I was in heaven!

Teen accidentally took a photo of the lady next to us at the restaurant that first night…  She was really sick and looking back may have been COVID patient #1…  We struck up a conversation and found out she was actually there to look at islands to buy for her and her husband.  She had been to see one that day and was scheduled to go to another tomorrow and asked if we wanted to tag along.  Um…  Heck ya!!!  Then I told her the name of the island she was scheduled to see tomorrow,  since these islands were among the ones we had been dreaming about,  but had settled on buying Nengo Nengo…  She was a little shocked that I knew the name and quite insistent that she had first right to buy,  since we were just tagging along…  Um…  OK.

Well,  Elizabeth was really sick the next day and was supposed to fly to Bora Bora to look at more islands,  so we figured that was the last we’d see of her and no island-shopping trip for us.  Instead,  we spent the next day riding the rental bikes to Tiputa Pass and the public dock.  Then some snorkeling right in front of our bungalow around the coral heads there.  At sunset,  we sat watching sharks cruise through the shallows looking for dinner right where we had been.

The bikes were really dorky bikes.  As in very “old lady-feminine” style bikes.  Even the stray dogs were embarrassed to look me in the eye as I peddled past.  Nice basket on the front for my purse.  Just needed pink tassels on the handlebars to make it perfect.  And apparently they were brand-new!  They bought these things on purpose.  Probably because no one would ever consider stealing one…

Well,  by day four,  Elizabeth had reemerged and was feeling better.  She had delayed her schedule because she was so sick,  so asked us again if we wanted to tag along on her real estate tour.  Teen didn’t want to go,  so I said I would meet her at the front desk area the next morning.  By then,  Teen had changed her mind – a decision she would soon regret – and the three of us met our tour guide Hugo (who didn’t like being called captain).  We loaded into his pick-up and headed to the public dock,  where his son waited with their boat.  Fiberglass open skiff with a canopy cover and driver console in the back.  He warned us that the winds and waves would be pretty strong,  but much worse heading back after we saw the island…  He was right!

That morning,  we woke to seeing the Windspirit coming into the lagoon and anchoring right off from the resort.  We were originally supposed to be aboard the ship this week as well,  but the second cruise was booked full.  The last day on board,  they were asking if anyone wanted to stay for the next cruise since they had some cancellations,  but we were already set for our 10 day Rangiroa stay.  Too late!

We were still having squalls pass through pretty regularly with an occasional lightning flash.  Remember,  we did pick the wettest season,  so one should expect to see some wet weather…  That had the lagoon water whipped up into a froth at times and a pretty good 5-foot swell.  The swell frequency inside a body of water like a lake or atoll is very short,  so no way to really ride the waves.  You just get slammed into the next wave and all the waves had very steep sides to them.  Teen was not enjoying herself.  For me,  it was an amusement park ride…  I sat way up in the front to get maximum splash when we slammed down again.  Weee!

Our first stop on our tour was at the Blue Lagoon.  This is Rangiroa’s #1 thing to see.  The atoll ring splits and created a big deep-blue lagoon with a nice sandy bottom for about a mile across.  It is a gorgeous glimmering blue pearl that you can pretty much wade all the way across.  Through all the sharks…  Thousands upon thousands of small lemon and black tips swarming around you.  It is like a baby shark nursery.  The really big predators can’t get in and out very easily,  so a good sanctuary for the littler ones that don’t want to be lunch for their moms and dads and uncles and aunts.  We first anchored just outside,  Hugo tossed pieces of fish into the water and created a baby shark feeding frenzy.  Just before he started,  I had my camera under the water taking movie clips of the sharks swimming around the boat.  Hugo then suggested I get my hands out of the water-fast,  as he tossed in the first piece of meat…

Hugo owns a small motu on the side of the Blue Lagoon that he brings customers to and have a BBQ.  We walked over to that and watched the sharks follow us.  A couple freshly squeezed pups tagged along with us in the ankle-deep water between motus.  Hugo said they were so small,  they likely were pupped within days.  They either need to find really shallow sheltered water quickly,  or mom will eat her kids.  Nature is a tough neighborhood.  I need to upload the movies,  but our connection in Yakutat makes that tough…

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The for-sale island was not really all that great…  Very hard to get to with coral heads way out into the lagoon.  Great snorkel area though!  We had to anchor a LONG way off shore and wade in.  The shallowest we could anchor was mid-chest deep.  Access would be tough.  It was actually three small motus clustered together with the middle one high enough to build something and enough trees for wind protection.  It was a stormy day,  so seeing the wave action and wind batter the island was a good sales turn-off.  Not that I can afford an island…  Beautiful pink sand though.  One of the side motus had someone squatting on it with a bunch of junk,  makeshift shelter and some lawn chairs stolen from Hugo’s island a couple miles away…  Hugo wasn’t very happy about that.  He said they were most likely lobster fishermen.  So fresh all-you-can-catch lobster between the outer reef and the motu.  Buying it is looking better…

And here is the island that was for sale…

The trip back to the public dock was grueling.  On our way to the Blue Lagoon,  we were mostly going with the wind and at least quartering with the waves.  On the way back,  it was straight into the worst of it.  Took about two hours to make it back.  Teen just wanted to get back to the room,  but Hugo had other plans…  Just inside Tiputa Pass is a big sandbar with the currents surging in along both sides from the pass.  In the shelter of one side of the sandbar,  you have what they call “the Aquarium”.  Close to town and easily accessible,  this is where all the wimpy tourists are taken to snorkel.  The ones that don’t want to dive for huge sharks…  And that would be me…  The sheer number is fish and quantity of life is staggering here!

When I would pop up,  Teen (still in the boat) would ask me if I had seen the shark…  “Yes,  of course!”  The next time I popped up,  she asked me the same question again…  Duh!  I had been following a big shark around the boat taking movies of him below me.  Oh,  Teen was asking about the one that was following ME around the boat on the surface…  Um…  Nope.  This being my 4th time snorkeling on this trip,  but my 4th time ever…  This was amazing.  Wow!  Especially in 85 degree water…  OK,  time to head back and eat more than a protein bar and an apple.  I can’t say enough good things about Hugo.  If we ever return to Rangiroa,  I would love to spend more time with him and his son on the boat.  Incredible people.  No idea how to get a hold of him though,  since Elizabeth set up out trip.  Oh well.  Probably never see him again.

The resort also had the weirdest little mini-cars to rent,  but I don’t think there was any way in heck I was going to fit my fat butt inside, so we settled on the scooter.  Nice to slip on a sweaty communal helmet in the tropics!  We had been turning right at the end of the driveway for the bike trips every day to Tiputa Pass (and the little grocery store by the dock each night for another ice cream bar).  With a gas scooter,  we turned left and headed to town.

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Tiputa Pass is the deepest passage and the one all the shipping comes through.  Got to see a big Polynesian Coast Guard cutter come in twice.  Avatoru Pass is at the other end of town and is wider,  but much shallower and not great for navigation.  The tides here only change about a foot – even on a full moon – so not much of a change along the shore.  But it still sucks a massive amount of water into the lagoon through the passes.  Tiputa Pass has big standing waves during the peak tidal change,  where the dolphins like to play.  The resort loads up the leaky shuttle van with tourists each night to see the dolphins.  We peddled the bikes instead for some exercise.  I never saw any dolphins (Teen saw one).  Just never timed it right.  They play in the standing waves.  Instead,  I took to watching the shoreline.  The shore waves were small,  but each time the water would rise before the wave tumbled over,  you’d get a creepy glimpse of sharks.  These suckers are everywhere!!!

OK,  back to our scooter trip…  Just a few shacks and modest houses along the lagoon-side of the road till you reach the airport,  which is on the ocean side of the road.  Then you have more houses on both sides.  Crossing several small sloughs,  most are just trickles.  One had three local stray dogs fishing in the rivulets.  They were fun to watch,  but I forgot to take pictures of them.

About 2,500 people live in Rangiroa with most of them in Avatoru.  Tiputa is across the pass on another motu.  As we were getting ready to leave the first grocery store,  Hugo taps me on the shoulder and says hello!  Such an infectious happy personality.  I guess running into someone in Avatoru is about as easy as running into someone in Yakutat…  We just drove from end to end of Avatoru and didn’t cross the passes.  Our drive enabled us to hit three grocery stores and two churches.  Then back to the resort for another dip in the Jacuzzi and another feeding at the restaurant.  Different servers most days,  so the ice cream sundaes were small and disappointing.  Wednesdays and Sundays,  they have a buffet followed by a jiggling dancer show.  Good thing it was dark so I couldn’t see just how raw the meat was.  And just more of the fancy French dessert things on these nights.  Yuck.  We managed to miss both opportunities for the floor show…  Instead,  we took quiet walks along the grounds and dock with no sign of people anywhere.  One night,  we are done with dinner,  then walked to the end of the resort dock.  The restaurant is on shore,  with the bar out over the water and the boat dock extending a couple hundred feet beyond.  There is a 10 foot gap between the bar and the dock with connecting bridges.  There are lights into the water from under the bar.  Lots of fish and an occasional shark will cruise through.  Then…  A big 12 foot shark came along between the dock and bar,  then disappeared into the darkness.  Sharks,  sharks,  sharks and more sharks!!!

A wonderful trip and 10 days was perfect for Rangiroa.  Brian and Kaytee had the option to stay at a private island on the far end of the atoll managed by Kia Ora (if you don’t remember Brian and Kaytee,  their video inspired us to go to Rangiroa in the first place and here it is again if you missed it…),  but they were no longer offering that option.  That would have been really nice.  Oh well.  Wonderful trip included the infestation of geckos in our bungalow.  This room was essentially made of wicker,  so not exactly air tight,  or critter tight.  Every evening,  the geckos would come out and be active,  chirping to each other and scurrying around the walls and ceiling.  I swear there were hundreds of them in our three room bungalow…  They were adorable to watch.  Not adorable to watch were the giant flying cockroaches!  Not exactly an infestation,  but a half dozen of them seen over the week was plenty.  And if you see 6,  there are probably thousands???  I managed to kill all 6 though.  Although they are probably some special Polynesian moon bug that is sacred,  or something and I’m now cursed…

The resort has paved trails throughout all the garden and beach bungalows.  The garden ones have small private pools and 6 foot high stone privacy fences around them.  The fitness center isn’t much.  Their treadmill broke,  so it had been shipped out for repair.  Just two upright bikes,  a LifeFitness cable cross-over,  adjustable incline bench and a set of dumbbells up to about 25lbs.  Better than nothing,  but I’m guessing most people don’t come here to lift.  The air conditioner in the fitness center worked really well!  Ours seemed to get worse throughout the trip and since the resort was empty,  we could have easily changed rooms if we asked.  We didn’t.  At night,  we had to open all the windows and hope for a breeze.  That’s when we learned that Polynesian bugs are as bad as Yakutat bugs.  The mosquitoes are tiny!  And fast!  You can’t squish one if your life depended on it.  They are P-51’s compared to our lumbering B-24 mosquitoes.  And some mystery gnats that ate us alive!  Teen got hit the first few days and I couldn’t figure out why she was whining.  Then they must have depleted her blood supply,  so they moved on to me.  The can of Raid! from the store didn’t help much and I just longed for a can of Ben’s 100% DEET.  But only for sleeping.  Yes,  we sprayed ourselves with Raid! and learned that doesn’t work as repellent…

Our last night at the resort,  we had the good server again.  She brought me a huge sundae that I devoured in about a minute.  Then she came by and surprised me with another huge sundae and all the server girls stood giggling and watching as I polished that off too.  Do they not eat ice cream in paradise???  I would!  Especially when it is so hot!  I guess I was entertaining for them.

We stayed at Kia Ora for 10 days and now it was time to head back to the airport.  Packed up our bags and hung out at the lobby playing travel Boggle till they were ready to take us in the van.  We flew the ATR back to Papeete and had two nights at the Inter-Continental.  Rented a car and drove around the entire island.  Had dinner at the food trucks downtown.  Our last day,  we checked out of the hotel room,  but the flight wasn’t until midnight,  so spent the day roasting in the sun at the pool.

What an incredible trip.  I can’t wait for us to go back and do a lot more of the activities.  An active trip instead of a relaxing trip!  Planned to do the same cruise on the Windspirit,  followed by three nights at the Tahaa resort in an over-water bungalow,  then on to Bora Bora for 10 days.  And then the world ended and we’re sitting here in Yakutat,  dreaming about traveling without a gag over our mouths and cotton swabs shoved up into our brains.  A business going under and no ability to afford a trip down the hall,  let alone to paradise.  Except we live in paradise…  Sometimes I forget that!  We have rain all through the coming week,  but once we get another dry day,  how about we go to the beach and walk along the sand for a while.  Not seeing another human the entire time!  Maybe see some whales spouting just outside the surf-line.  Yep.  We’re already in paradise.

It was the weirdest thing…  We deplane into buses again somewhere out on the LAX ramp.  Everyone on our bus was still in a good mood and happy.  Vacation-mode.  One younger guy said he wanted to keep his phone on airplane-mode for a week,  so he didn’t have to come back to reality.  Then,  the bus passed a sign that said “Welcome to the United States”.  Most people didn’t see the sign,  but instantly,  everyone on the bus changed into bitchy-crabby-jerk mode.  Like a light switch.  It was a sight to behold.  Yes,  we’re “home”.

My mom had had Eden for the time we were in Tahiti in Seattle.  They drove to LA to pick us up and we all drove back to Seattle in time to get Teen on flight AS 61,  so she could close out our billing and we could pay for our jet fuel bill.  I stayed with my mom for a couple more weeks.  We drove down to Mt Bachelor for the anniversary of smearing my dad’s ashes down one of his favorite ski runs and I taught Eden to ski for the first time.  I may post a 6th installment at some point,  but that part of the trip didn’t end till February 10th.  I have some time before I need to relive that.

Thanks for coming along for our trip.  We should all meet in Tahiti next January!

-Bob and Teen

What it Took to Get Here – Part 4

OK,  Happy New Year!  We have already survived 4 big storms this year,  but now we get to remember back to the first ones in the hangar…  For starters,  it was a heavy snow year that made it very difficult to get in and out of our new public entrance.

It wasn’t the snow that was the problem.  It was the warming spell that followed…

The hangar apparently had some leaks!  First,  the snow pushed up against the side of the building blocked any drainage of the rain and melt,  flowing in through the doorway.  We have had to keep a drain trail shoveled all winter ever since.  Then…  we had all sorts of leaking problems from the 3rd floor roof drainage system.  Water poured down through the second floor and then completely soaked all out drying trim wood.  We had to cart all of it back out into the hangar bay,  so we could soak up and dry the room out.  Ceiling sheetrock damaged all over the place.  What a great start to the new year.

Then  everything froze solid and we had some beautiful sunny days,  but bitterly cold.  The roof drains are all plugged with ice.  We sheeted the 3rd floor with plastic and stuffed it down the wall hoping any leaks would drain off and down the outside wall.

Problem kind-of solved,  time to start tiling the floor.  We are down to 3 months and one week before our grand-opening date of April 1st…

Oh wait!  Did I forget to mention there is no water at the airport and it is in single digits?  I made sure we had a couple fish totes filled with water ahead of time for the water supply to mix the mastic and grout.  Ya…  about that…  By this time,  they were completely solid ice.  We had to fill buckets with snow each day and have the jet-heater blast them all night so we could have a little water to work with the next day.

The grouting went well.  Now had to spend several days buffing the surface after it dried for three days.

Then the real fun happened…  Prior to Cascade Air taking over the lease on the hangar,  the city leased it.  The city owned the power plant,  so didn’t care how much power the hangar consumed.  There were electric pipe heaters throughout the roof drains.  Apparently Cascade was a bit shocked to see a $5,000 power bill in the winter,  so they disconnected all the pipe heaters.  And left for the season…

More damaged sheetrock,  more flooding,  more plastic sheeting and cutting out a quarter of the drain pipe to redirect it out a window after the PVC pipes burst.

More and more buffing,  polishing with wax,  then bringing the trim wood back inside to dry again.  T minus 5 weeks and counting…

Creating trim from raw green wood…  I bought a little DeWalt planer that was OK for planing 1″x4″ trim.  Not so great for planing 20 foot long 2″x12″s.

Now what to do for a sales counter?  We have this platform along the back wall,  what to do with it?  This is March 15th.  Two weeks to go…

Counter still needs to be clear coated and needs glass,  but pretty happy with how it turned out,  without a plan…  Now we need more displays.  Carried the rest of the wood back into the hangar – again – cleaned up all the dust and started to think about what else to build…

I think things are coming together OK,  winging it as I go along.  Teen is absolutely freaking out!  This is what the shop looks like on March 28th,  four days before we open:

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T minus 4 days and counting… fast!

Who’s ready for a humiliating opening day?  “Grand”?

My good friend and silent business partner Mark arrives today to help get the rest of the stuff built and ready,  along with the big shipment of glass for the counter,  computer equipment and all the IKEA stuff to help get us by.

Peeling tree trunks and putting the tables together green…  Would have been nice to have the branches dry a little slower,  but they were cut same day,  peeled of bark,  cut to length and assembled all at once,  so the big cracks remain.  Not perfect,  but close enough with three days left.

OK,  last full day before we open.  Actually most of the fear is gone.  Just need to finish up a few things,  clean up and pull out the inventory.  Little things like doors…

Alaska Air called and said our glass was ready to be picked up.  The igloo was out on the ramp waiting for us to come and get it.  The crate the glass was shipped in collapsed inside the igloo.  We open tomorrow.  If the glass is broken,  we have no sales counter.

Nothing was broken!!!  Thank you God!  Meanwhile,  as Mark and I finished up the building and creating,  Teen had help from Hae Sook,  a local friend who was kind enough to come out and help wash windows.

We are out of time at this point,  but we’re still building displays.  I had ordered a rod display rack from Sage,  but it never came.  Still hasn’t…  So better build something.  Display for the rod cases,  but my brand new 1/2″ DeWalt drill broke!  That was really the last thing to go wrong.  One final clean and out comes the little bit of merchandise we had.

It is now 4am April 1st.  Time to go home and hope for a little sleep before being back at the hangar in 4 hours…

Day one,  we had about two dozen locals come out for a visit.  We sold a hat…  The next day,  we had about a half dozen locals and sold a hat and a shirt.  Then…  it was a LONG two weeks before we saw another customer.  What the %$#@ did I get ourselves into?!?!

A couple weeks later,  the floodgates opened.  Our meager supply of merchandise was gone before the end of the month.  It would take more than a month for our emergency orders to arrive,  long after the steelhead season was over.  By May,  “potential” customers came in and expressed that we had a nice shop,  or WOULD HAVE if we had some merchandise to sell…

And the rest is history.  Sort of.  It was an incredible ride and I’m trying to hold myself together right now after going back through these memories.  You guys made this shop what it is and I thank you for your support,  your friendship and for the knowledge you shared with a moron who thought he could start a fly shop in a tiny village having never stepped foot in a fly shop before.  You all made this possible.  Thank you.

I don’t want all this work and everything we all built to go away.  I would love to see someone carry this on into the future,  but if that doesn’t happen,  maybe someday we can start again and bring this back again.  Maybe a little hope for the future.  We’re not going anywhere.  In the meantime,  we’ll sell down the remaining stock this coming year and then…  maybe…  you may even see me on the river again once in a while.  Stranger things have happened.

What it Took to Get Here – Part 3

OK,  I figured this would be just a single post,  but here we are…

Starting to come together,  inside and out!

Back to the river for my guide season…  Trying to juggle two existing businesses while starting a third…

Yes,  Teen’s last season helping in the kitchen and on rare occasion guiding with me.  Fun times.  Back in town in October,  we concreted in the new fence posts,  then had some time to kill while it set for a week.

Needed a few days to let the concrete set,  so…  Took the kids to Cannon Beach and started the arduous process of winter hangar storage.

Had large electrical vaults in the shop floor that had to be filled,  so after getting the hall and offices electrical done,  we insulated and sheetrocked those.  Then filled the vaults and holes with sand and concrete.

Now to move the fence…  This was a VERY LONG day!  Had to have the airport secure before we could leave for the day.

The fence is now gone!  Hall and office mudded,  taped and painted.

We planned to use locally milled Sitka Spruce for all the trim in the shop,  so time to bring all of that inside to dry.  The floor was in really bad shape in this room.  The worst floor in the entire building!  Fortunately we planned for big 16″ tile that could span a lot of the “imperfections”…

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Making progress… Can almost see some light at the end of the tunnel…

Getting closer!  And almost Christmas!  In December,  we planned to have a two-day open-house to show the community what we had been up to and what we planned for the future.  Still had a LOT of clean-up before it would be presentable though.  We had our initial order of shirts and hats,  a handful of supplies we acquired from a fly shop that went under in Utah and two sheet cakes.

OK,  a few people came out to see what we were up to,  but not many.  We had a lot of cake to eat by ourselves and a lot of Pinochle to play with my mom and Teen’s mom and dad with us.  A thousand aces,  800 kings,  a double run,  a run with aces round and my mom’s double pinochle…  We played a LOT of cards.

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As 2007 came to a close,  we were riding high.  Excited about the future and ready for anything that could come.  What could possibly go wrong?  The new year didn’t start the way we expected.  It was a train wreck that will be in part 4…