Island Journey with the Evangel 7

Heading Back Out to Sea

(Harvester Island, Zachar Bay and on to Uganik Bay and the Village Islands)

 

 

Author’s note:  The time period of this article is of a typical trip we usually took in the spring: heading from Larsen Bay to the town of Kodiak by way of all our usual stops in the bays and islands on the Kodiak Island side of Shelikof Straight, a fifty mile-wide stretch of often rough water that separates the islands from the Alaska Peninsula.  The year of this voyage is roughly 1957.   But the photographs include many from our last Evangel voyage in the summer of 1964, and feature photos from my very first roll of film (shot using a 616 Kodak box camera) along with slides from my Dad and my sister Jerilynn. 

 

Rev. Norman Smith tightens a new propeller for the Evangel on the beach at Larsen Bay, before heading out on our summer voyages.  Keeping a wooden boat seaworthy in the North Pacific is a time-consuming task, and our springtime duties included scraping and painting the hull, repainting the superstructure and even overhauling the engine.  By the time I was old enough to remember, the Lathrop gasoline engine on the Evangel was considerably older than the engines in other local vessels, and Dad had a hard time getting parts.  He would make his own head gaskets out of thin sheets of cork, carefully tracing and cutting using the previous one as a pattern.  The Lathrop ran from1950 to 1970, an incredible length of time for a gasoline engine, a testament to Norman Smith’s patience and skill as a mechanic.  If he had not been such a careful steward of the equipment, he never would have been able to continue a boat ministry in some of the most challenging waters in Alaska.

 

Preparing to Set Sail:

It is finally springtime, or at least my older siblings are out of school.  It is early May, and in the tradition of the village schools, there won’t be another school day until early September.  Families all around the island are repairing the nets, painting the seiner or heading out to the gill net site to see how the cabin fared the winter.  The Smith family is no exception.  Dad has gone to the Evangel and fired up the oil stove to help rid the boat of the winter mustiness.  He is checking tide tables to see when would be the best time to slap a new coat of copper bottom paint on her.  And we are packing up clothes, hymnbooks, filmstrip projectors and the rest of our gear for another summer of travel adventures aboard the Evangel. After a couple of days of bustle and preparation, the time finally comes to let loose the tie lines and head out.

 

It was always exciting to start the engine, untie the lines and head back out to sea.  This photo was taken through the open window of the Evangel’s pilot house (in waters near Kodiak).  The ship’s bell hangs above.  Dad often opened the front pilot house window in good weather, to catch the invigorating breezes off the ocean.

 

A Visit to Harvester Island

Most of our destinations are not distant this time (such as the long open-water trip between Akhiok and Karluk), but are a series of canneries and homesteads on the Shelikof side of the island that are our usual stops, where we can find some of our favorite people.   The Evangel goes only a couple of miles, just barely beyond the waters of Larsen Bay, when we drop anchor and scurry ashore at our first stop: the Swans’ place on Harvester Island.  Edith Swan is one of our family friends, and a strong Christian, and she and her husband (we always call him “Swanie”) have quite a menagerie of interesting animals at their homestead.  A pet crow, a diving dog and a sheep or two are all part of the Swan family.  We have even been known to transport crates of goats and other livestock for them and for other families we know down the island.  We have a nice visit, and by the time we pull up anchor and leave, it is late.  I curl up in my little green sleeping bag in a little compartment over the stairs in the Evangel, and fall fast asleep. 

 

We stopped in frequently at Harvester Island to visit our friends the Swans.  This photo was taken in the early 1950s.

 

Dad hiked up the steep hill behind the Swans’ house (foreground) and shot this picture looking across the channel toward Kodiak Island.  To the right, just out of frame, are the remains of the Uyak cannery, which we used to build our new warehouse in Larsen Bay.

 

Noel enjoys Bozo, the diving dog, in this photo on Harvester in the early 1950s.  Here Bozo is merely fetching a stick, but if you threw out a heavy whale bone, he would dive down and get it.  We loved seeing things like that on our travels!

 

(From the early 1950s) My sister Robin pets Binky, the lamb, while “Swanie” sits on his well on Harvester Island.  To our right appears to be an infamous pushki plant, which can irritate the skin like poison ivy, and grows in abundance in the Larsen Bay area.  In the background is a field of lupine.

 

Two Photos from Parks Cannery:

 

(From 1962) The Evangel ties up at Parks Cannery in Uyak Bay, a cannery close to our home port in Larsen Bay.  Parks was one of the other places we visited often, especially while based out of Larsen Bay.

 

A group of cannery workers and their children join Joyce Smith (top left) Estelle Marlin, missionary from Kodiak Baptist Mission (next to Joyce), and my sister Robin (on the ramp in the foreground) at Parks Cannery in the summer of 1953, after holding a service in one of the cannery buildings.  Part of the Evangel Ministry was to provide Christian witness and fun activities for the many kids whose parents were busy fishing or working in the canneries.

 

On to Zachar Bay and Out to Shelikof Strait

It is Dad’s intention to cut across Uyak Bay and down into Zachar Bay, tie up at the old herring cannery, catch some sleep, and visit the Imlochs in the morning.  They are long-time friends of Mom and Dad, and always make for an interesting visit.  The last time I was there we had sourdough pancakes with canned Rath sausages, a real delicacy to me.  Then Mr. Imloch had made me a birdhouse to take back to Larsen Bay.  Mrs. Imloch has made friends with a local Kodiak bear they named Chester, who wanders around outside their house from time to time, seemingly more for company than anything else.

 

Chester the bear, in these photos from Mrs. Imloch’s scrapbook.  The photos were taken in 1959 at Zachar Bay.

 

We don’t get a chance to see Chester, because as we are sailing down the bay, we meet the Imlochs in their boat, heading out!  There is a midnight visit in the bay, with the two boats tied together, and coffee and sodas and cookies all around.  I hear the laughter and bits of conversation in the dim twilight which passes for nighttime this time of year, but I’m too tired to hop out of bed and go aboard.  I’m sound asleep by the time the two boats part company. Dad later ties up to a “dolphin” (piling stuck out in the bay for mooring or navigational purposes) and catches a few hours of sleep. When I wake up, we are on our way to our next stop: Uganik Bay’s San Juan cannery and what we call the “Village Islands,” a collection of homesteads and bear camps scattered along the bays and inlets.  Mom is about to serve breakfast when we pass Little River Rock, a full-time hotel for hundreds of sleek brown sea lions.  I clamber out on deck to have a closer look, and can hear and smell them as we pass!

 

Little River Rock, home to hundreds of sea lions, and a memorable landmark as we head toward Kodiak.

 

This photo, which my dad took from the window of a Grumman Goose in the winter of 1966, shows Uganik Bay, home of the San Juan cannery and the Village Islands.  My experiences there were always by sea, but this photo shows the fjord-like topography of so many of Kodiak’s bays.

 

San Juan Cannery in Uganik Bay

We stop at San Juan cannery, the home of a fleet of emerald green and white seiners (the Evangel’s color scheme is white with “San Juan” green trim even though our home base is among the Halloween-colored black and orange seiners of Alaska Packers cannery in Larsen Bay!)  We hold a prayer service on the boat, and show some movies and film strips for the off-duty cannery workers in the mess hall.  We stay a little longer than we expected, because a major gale kicks up, and no one is traveling.  I try to walk around on the dock, but the wind takes my breath away, and the williwaws (sudden downdrafts which roar off the mountains) are so strong that the only way to walk is to lean into the wind and crawl along.  Another night and the weather is calm again, the sun is bright and there seems to be no trace of the storm.  I am grateful that we will spend another day in the comparative shelter around Uganik Bay visiting some local families, so that by the time we head back out to Shelikof Straight, we should have calmer seas.  Before we leave, I walk down the shoreline to an abandoned shack I saw when we arrived.  As is the rural custom, the building is unlocked and unmolested.  Walking in, I see curtains made from flour sacks, shelves of “Blazo” boxes lined with oilcloth, and a large table made out of scrounged plywood and two-by-fours.  Just like home!

 

This is a Baptist minister’s work?  Rev. Norman Smith rows the skiff to the beach with the Evangel in the background in this faded slide taken in the mid-1950s.  Heading to shore in a skiff was a daily experience during my early upbringing, and it typifies my parents’ unusual ministry.  More than half the challenge of this work was just getting there!

 

Village Islands Friends: the Owen Family

Our next stop is at the homestead of the Al Owen family.  We drop anchor in the bay, and hop in the skiff and head to the shore.  Al Owen is the local representative in the legislature, but he and his family live out in the “boonies” with a little dock and a comfortable two-storey lodge with large windows.  My sister Jerilynn is friends with the elder Owen daughter, and the adults have much to talk about after a long winter.  Dad and Mr. Owen are soon walking down to the little dock to check out some piece of machinery in his diminutive cannery.  I visited one little cannery such as this where the entire operation was run by a Willys Jeep up on blocks and connected to the line with a series of wheels and belts!  The Owen operation is a little more advanced, but not by much, consisting of a series of ragtag shacks on a none-too-sturdy looking dock. 

 

Rev. Norman Smith, in the skiff, heads out to the Evangel from the beach at the Owen homestead in Village Islands.  I took this photo out the large window on the second floor of the Owen home, and it is from my first roll of film, the summer of 1964.

 

Meanwhile, the ladies are discussing all the local news over tea, which is not “my cup of tea.” So I amuse myself by walking around the Owens’ homestead, noticing their well-fenced garden and checking out the beach.  I know not to go too far, because there are undoubtedly plenty of bears around, much less friendly than Mrs. Imlochs’ Chester!  It is eventually time to leave. Mom and Dad often give the families we visit a couple of inspirational books and devotionals (and likely as not are a few cans of salmon or a jar of something local to enjoy) but I didn’t notice anything other than a few adults enjoying each other’s company.  Soon we are in the skiff (the Opheim-built “Rockin’ Robin”), dad pulls the cord to start the little blue eighteen-horse Evinrude “kicker,” and we head back to the Evangel. 

 

On the Owens’ dock in 1964 (Left to Right): Al Owen, Rev. Norman Smith holding Oscar the pup, my brother Kelly, Al’s daughter Genevieva Owen, and my sister Jerilynn.  From my first roll of film.

 

Village Island Friends: Nan and Daniel Boone Reed

The next place on our route is the homestead of Nan and Daniel Boone Reed, one of my all-time favorite places to visit.  Nan hails from New Jersey, and Dan is a Native Alaskan.  I’m too young to be curious as to how they met, or how Nan feels about living in this remote and often difficult place.  For me, they are just neighbors we get to visit a couple of times a year.  They have no children, but they have one of the most interesting homesteads on Kodiak Island, plus a disarming friendliness that puts me at ease.  Besides, they have goats, two donkeys, and a collection of ancient native artifacts that Daniel has found at nearby village sites.  I am amazed at all the strange things Nan and Dan have in their large one-room house, hanging from the rafters or propped against the walls.

 

My brother Kelly likes Nan and Daniel Boone Reed’s place as much as I do!  From my first roll of film, summer of 1964 (the last island voyage of the Mission Boat Evangel).

 

I amuse myself turning the handle of a grinder and knife sharpener with a spinning stone wheel.  Dan takes us outside to view his latest artifact finds, and then the conversation turns to dull, adult topics. Once again, I find my own amusing little kid world, while the adults talk seriously and deeply as good friends do. I take a little walk around the homestead. On the way out to their barn, I am suddenly surrounded by a group of way too inquisitive goats.  This is the only place I have ever seen goats up close, and I am definitely not used to their intent gaze and pushy manner!  Eventually I wander past the goats, who seem to have forgotten me once they notice I’m not feeding them, and take a look at the two donkeys, which gaze at me politely while I keep a respectful distance.  For a kid familiar with deer and bear and any manner of sea animals, farm stock are the unusual creatures, and to me, this is like being at a zoo! 

 

Kelly inspects some of the ancient Native artifacts found near the Daniel Boone Reed homestead.  Photo by my sister Jerilynn, summer of 1964.

 

I thought this was a cool shot when I took it, having never seen donkeys before.  (From that first roll of film, 1964)  The barrel is their drinking water, hand carried by the Reeds, and the fence in the background protects a tree from hungry animals.

 

Far too soon for my taste, we are heading back to the skiff and out to the boat after hearty good-byes.  If Dad and Mom did any “missionary work” while visiting the Reeds, I didn’t notice it, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t going on.  As a child, I often get the impression that Dad and Mom’s ministry consists of having a lot of friends to visit, and in a sense that’s not wrong.  I can’t think of any place around the islands where an approach of “I’m a missionary—sit down and listen!” would have been an effective method.  The style of Norman and Joyce, after years of friendship evangelism, is perfectly suited to this rural and relational environment.  Years later I find letters on file in Dad’s office from dozens of island residents, requesting letters of reference, Bibles, asking for prayer or thanking them for some small, seemingly insignificant act that nonetheless demonstrated the Gospel.  But for me as a young child, this is all just another day in the Evangel, getting to visit some cool places, see familiar faces, and have fun all summer.

 

The Evangel ties up to a small dock at a hunter’s cabin in the summer of 1957.  In the lower left is a bit of our 18-horse Evinrude “kicker.” This place is typical of the dozens of campsites, homesteads and hunters’ lodges we would visit when we got the chance.

 

Occasionally the Smith family would take a few hours to relax in some secluded spot before hurrying off to our next destination.  Here the Evangel has dropped anchor and my mother, Joyce Smith, is enjoying some summer sunshine in the spectacular scenery of a quiet bay.  We would sometimes have a nice picnic on a beach somewhere before setting sail for our next destination.  These little side stops allowed us to see much of the islands in all their beauty.

 

On Down Shelikof Strait

In fact, as we head down the bay toward the more challenging waters of Shelikof Strait on our way to Port Wakefield, we are honored by the presence of a couple of whales, who find the plodding monotony of the Evangel’s engine momentarily interesting.  One whale comes up right beside us, spouting with a loud whoosh.  If you ate sea critters and then held your breath for a half an hour, what would it smell like once you exhaled?  It takes a good half hour before the stench of whale halitosis clears from the cabin, in spite of the fact that Mom opens a couple of windows, so I go back on the stern for awhile, where I can bask in the comparative fragrance of engine exhaust fumes! 

 

We often saw whales “up close and personal” on our travels.  This is a frame from the 16mm movie footage Dad shot in the 1950s.

 

The Evangel cruises through peaceful waters to its next destination in this photo colorized by the author from the early 1950s. (We were always too busy to take many pictures in bad weather!)

 

Next stop: Port Wakefield, Port Vita, Afognak and Port Williams (The Northern Communities)

 

Written by Timothy Smith, web author. See the About Me page for more information. Always feel free to send me comments, suggestions or corrected information about this article or any of the articles on this site. (Write to: Tanignak@aol.com) This article and website is © 2005 Timothy L. Smith, Tanignak Productions, 14282 Tuolumne Court, Fontana, California, 92336 (909) 428 3472. Images unless otherwise listed are from the collection of Rev. Norman L. Smith or the Timothy L. Smith collection. This material may be used for non-commercial purposes, with attribution. Please email me with any specific requests. You are welcome to link to this site.

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