Island Journey with the Evangel - Author's Introduction

The Kodiak Island mission boat Evangel appears out of the fog in an early 1950s photo.

The author's introductory notes and personal comments, to guide you on your journey with the Evangel:

My name is Timothy Smith, fourth child of Rev. Norman and Joyce Smith, who moved to Alaska in 1952. I was born in the Territory of Alaska the following. As a young child, I learned to walk on board a small boat called the Evangel as it traveled from village to village, cannery to cannery around Kodiak Island in the Gulf of Alaska. The boat was my summer home. As the child of missionaries who operated an unusual mission boat in a spectacular mission field, I had many unforgettable experiences, often just in trying to get from one place to another. Our adventures took place in the 50s and 60s, when Kodiak Island was a remote, often hostile and always unpredictable place. The basic introduction to the boat and the other articles is in this document, but then I hope you will move on around the island using the article link listed at the end, for a unique Kodiak Island journey featuring photos and tales of the travels of the Evangel.

The author, Timothy Smith, on a skiff ride near Ouzinkie, Alaska, August 2004

The reader needs to understand that the web articles that follow are written by a man now in his fifties, but the memories are those of a child and young man. Of course there is perspective and the long view of experience. But I was not an adult in the 50s and early 60s, and so I do not know whether the actions and attitudes of the adults around me would be the same as what might be done today. I do know, however, that when I look back at those days, how I lived and what I was accustomed to, it makes me shake my head in wonderment. It was a frequently exciting, usually dangerous, back breaking, tough kind of existence. But it was also a life our family shared in common with all the other rural residents of the Kodiak Island area, so naturally, I regarded it as normal. I won't quibble about particulars or speculate much about how I would react to those things now. As a young child, I lived without running water or regular electricity, rarely used a bathtub, had hand-me-down clothes, regularly ate freshly-butchered Kodiak bear or seal or porpoise (and other more popular northern fare like salmon), and thought all of it perfectly normal. I also somehow knew I was living a wonderful childhood in a completely spectacular part of the world, and that I was not living it from a discreet distance, but immersed in it.

The element of faith is also not to be missed or glossed over in these short articles. True, I was a Baptist missionaries' kid, but that doesn't explain everything. I suppose it would be possible to have done all those things and traveled to all those places without a sense of the hand of God, but I certainly felt Him. Just the words to all the hymns we sang would have seen to that! And looking back as an adult, I see God's hand at work, but in a much different way than I would have been able to see as a child. Yes, I spent the first twelve years of my life traveling around some islands in Alaska on a mission boat. But the boat, of course, is not the hero of this story, and neither am I. The articles are not an official biography of my parents, either. And these articles are definitely not written to sound like missionary support letters! I am simply telling a story, and when the kind of work my parents were doing is part of the story, it will be included as naturally as will any of the other elements. It is my intention to simply share some of the adventures we had, publish some of my dad's spectacular photos from an era that is long gone, jog a few memories, and maybe let the mission of that little boat inspire a few people.

The Evangel in Hidden Basin after a storm, 1961

Introduction to the Mission Boat EVANGEL:

All of the journeys recounted in this series of web articles were taken aboard a 39-foot, 25-ton motor boat, underpowered and slow, low in the water, and yet surprisingly seaworthy and reasonably comfortable. The Evangel was a mission boat that operated for fifteen years (1949 to 1964) in the waters around Kodiak Island. The Evangel was owned by the American Baptists, who have also managed the Kodiak Baptist Mission since the 1890s. The boat was built in the late 1940s using a surplus Navy buoy tender hull and an efficient, if somewhat ungainly superstructure constructed by Ted Williams and his son Roger. It was piloted for the first couple of years by Glenn Chandler, and later by Norman and Joyce Smith and family. In the 1970s the boat was personally owned by Norman and Joyce, and restored sufficiently well (with a new Isuzu diesel engine) for over five more years of service. Its last known run under its own power was a trip to Ouzinkie and back to Kodiak in 1979, with my brother Kelly at the wheel. It later languished in the small boat harbor at Kodiak (due to my father's ill health) until it was moved as a derelict to a dry dock area near the Coast Guard base. It was later moved to a plot of land in the Monashka Bay area near Kodiak in the 1990s, where it was converted to a privately-run museum. It is currently in disrepair and has been extensively modified to house a private museum collection. These web articles are a more fitting memorial.

This composite photo shows a Navy buoy tender and the Evangel (same hull design)

Evangel Vital Statistics:

Approximate length: 39 feet. Draught: 6.5 feet. Displacement: Estimated 25 tons, because of the concrete ballast left in the hull from its days as a buoy tender. Maximum speed was under 11 knots, and that's if the tide was in your favor. The cabin and pilothouse could sleep up to six people, and as a floating chapel the Evangel could squeeze in up to 40 people. It was known to carry at least that many kids, plus gear, between Kodiak and Camp Woody.

For most of its useful life, the Evangel was powered by a Lathrop gasoline engine with less than 100 horsepower. As a floating chapel and home to a missionary family it was an amazing vessel, with food, supplies and fresh water enough aboard for weeks of travel for a crew (family) of up to six. But it also held enough equipment to run a small church and hold a half-dozen separate Vacation Bible Schools in various villages.

Rev. Norman Smith at the wheel of the Evangel in 1950, his first summer in Alaska. Notice the navigation charts over his head in the pilothouse.

The Evangel could hold folding chairs, a portable pump organ, filmstrip projector, record player and records, movie projector, children's crafts and curriculum, hymnbooks, bibles and stationery supplies in addition to its full complement of nautical gear. It had dual power sources (triple, if you count its hookup to city power while in port): full wiring throughout for 12-volt DC battery lighting and for standard 110 volt AC, when the portable generator was cranked up to run the projector or the record player. (Two sets of light bulbs everywhere). The Evangel floated so low in the water that it was not at all unusual for sea water to splash in the side windows in a good side swell, because the side windows were only a few feet above the waterline. If you sat on the mats that served as side benches and sleeping pads, and happened to look out the windows, it was a bit unnerving at first to realize that most of your body was below the waterline, and that the waves outside were often above eye level. But in years of facing some of the worst seas, the Evangel proved itself a worthy sea boat, and served us dependably and with some measure of comfort during the many years of her service.

The Evangel enters the bay at Ouzinkie, circa 1956

The Evangel At Work:

Every summer during the seasons it was in operation, the Evangel would make several trips around Kodiak Island. There was never a "typical" trip, because we always stopped where there were people, and some locations were so remote and so sparsely populated that we weren't able to get there very often. There was usually a north-end trip and a south-end trip, terminating in Kodiak, timed so that the summer camps near there could begin and end with the Evangel providing transportation. The villages and canneries that were regularly visited in the south end (Larsen Bay was our home port for the first six years) included Village Islands, Akhiok, Alitak (Lazy Bay) cannery, Karluk, Kaguyak, Shearwater cannery, San Juan cannery, Parks cannery and Old Harbor. We would also stop at the mothballed Zachar Bay cannery, Harvester Island and Port Hobren's abandoned whaling station as well as several bear camps, if we knew there was anyone home at the time. The north-end trip usually included Ouzinkie village (home base after 1957), Afognak village, Port Williams cannery, Port Bailey cannery, Port Vita cannery (if anyone was home), a sawmill or two and Wakefield's cannery and village on Raspberry Island.

The Evangel at a small hunting camp, 1956

The Evangel came to be regarded with great affection by the many people who traveled on her or visited her while she was tied up to some cannery dock or anchored in the bay of some fishing village. But more importantly, through the ministry of Revs. Norman and Joyce Smith aboard the Evangel, a great many people came to hear and understand the Good News for the first time. I can't tell you their story; I can only tell you mine, from the perspective of a young boy growing up in one of the most exciting times in some of the most interesting places.

The Evangel ties up at Lazy Bay cannery, and the children of the cannery workers greet us.

During the camping season at Camp Woody, we typically divided our island journeys in half, with Larsen Bay and Karluk as the farthest point on a north-end run, and Akhiok and Lazy Bay as our farthest point on the south-end run. And depending on our time available, we might not stop at every place each trip, but return later to finish our itinerary. These half-trips around the island were made necessary by the need to return to Woody Island to ferry the campers back home. We also spent several weeks every summer on Woody Island, to work a couple of camps. For years, the first camps were held the last week of June, even though the children of Kodiak Island got out of school in early May, to leave the Evangel free for a month of uninterrupted traveling. At the end of camping season, we sometimes had time for only one or two short mission trips before we had to go back and get ready for the long winter: bringing in supplies, making repairs to our land-based home, and winterizing both the camp and the Evangel. For the sake of this simulated journey, we are making a complete trip, as we used to do every May and June, with an extended stay (several articles) at each of the two winter homes: Larsen Bay and Ouzinkie.

The Evangel loaded down with kids going to camp at Long Island in the early 1950s

One Final Word:

Most of the photos are from Dad's little Argus C3 slide camera or from one of his Kodak 616 negatives, all of which he shot without a light meter! Dad's old photos are not all-inclusive or chronological, but all the shots he took are now historic and irreplaceable. The following is a generic account of a trip around the Kodiak islands, to give a feel for the Evangel and its mission in those days. It is "historical novel" in essence, with real people, typical events, but occasionally fictional sequencing, and details that have been combined and adapted to flow in the narrative. I have condensed years and events for the sake of brevity, so the account is vivid but imprecise, as good memories tend to be.

A Baptist brochure featured the author at age four (on the stern of the Evangel)

Please follow the links below to some of the places and events we experienced in our travels on the Evangel. Please feel free to share any stories you may remember of that era, the boat, and the ministry of my parents, Revs. Norman and Joyce Smith. -Timothy Smith, August 2004.

Partners for the Gospel: Norman and Joyce Smith in the pilothouse of the Evangel, mid-60s

Island Journey with theEvangel: The Evangel Heads Out to Sea

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Link to the

  • Kodiak Baptist Mission website