There’s a Boat at the 4 Corners by Kate Boesser

Fritz (short for Frederick) has a tee-shirt that reads “Bundin er batlaus madur –bound is boatless man.”  He subscribes to Wooden Boat magazine and Messing About in Boats.  His grandparents on his mother’s side came from the fjords of Norway, so he is l/2 Norwegian.   He loves to build, repair, fish from, and journey in boats.  He spent the first thirteen years of his life in Sitka, living on Sheldon Jackson campus across the street from the beach, rowing with his neighborhood friend in a small wooden rowboat.

AS A CHILD

When Fritz moved to Juneau as a teenager, his dad bought him a 16-foot wooden skiff and an 18-horse engine.  He began to teach himself how to repair and replace boat engines; how to wire and repair boat electronics; how to build wooden boats.

FRITZ AND KATE ON the “RED WITCH”, a  56-FOOT KETCH

Fritz and I crewed on a 56-foot ketch, named the Red Witch, out of Juneau when we were 20.  We were running before a storm outside of Baranof Warm Springs when 19-year-old deckhand friend John raised the sail but over-stretched the winch’s reach.  Screw-bolted into the wood, it actually ripped out of the mast and hit John in the chest.  It could have killed him, but he was unhurt.  We made it back into the protection of the cove, where we all took hot tubs and hiked the hills of natural hot springs to avoid the raging captain carefully re-mantling the winch so we could continue on our journey.  A few days later we hit an unseen iceberg south of Juneau in Taku Inlet, heard the screaming blame of the captain one too many times and decided to leave the ship for good once back in Juneau. This was not the captain for us, but we certainly had sailing in our blood from then on.  Two things remain to this day – I am willing and capable of going out in any weather to deal with lines, then coil them carefully for the next person. The second is that I can tie a fast bowline knot, which I use to this day for tying up everything.

KLEPPER KAYAK and 22′ SCOW SLOOP, the “SOLEGLAD”

In 1977, at the age of 23, we moved to Gustavus with our klepper kayak.  For the first three years or so, Fritz traveled in the kayak either alone or with a friend up into Glacier Bay for two weeks each spring.  About this time we found ourselves moving up in the boat world.  We first rescued a small plywood skiff from a Juneau beach.  After two years, we acquired the 22-foot Soleglad, meaning sunset in Norwegian.  This scow sloop with lee-boards had been built by Manual from Haines in 1952, the year of Fritz’s birth. Fritz and my brother-in-law Jim  sailed it down Lynn Canal and Icy Strait to Gustavus.  We spent the summer when our oldest daughter Lena was two years old sailing and motoring all over Glacier Bay.

As a mother, then 28 years old, I found myself losing confidence in myself when afraid for the safety of my child.  I was no longer the 20-year-old sailing off on the ocean among men deck mates.  Now I felt responsible for others.  It surprised me as much as Fritz that I worried so much on the sea.  Though I never got seasick, living on a small sailboat in Glacier Bay I had to deal with my fear to enjoy life on the water.  I kept a small journal.

 

JOURNAL ENTRIES FROM the “SOLEGLAD”

The weather was a daily challenge.  I wrote in my journal on June 17:  “Left at 10:30 a.m..  Still and calm in the morning, with sunshine!  Sailed into north wind tacking back and forth, back and forth.  Saw Thunder Bay [park passenger boat], Nunatak [park resource boat], and one other boat. We narrowly missed the Thunder Bay, and I’m not sure they saw us in the fog.  Rather frightening.   Sailed up to Rowlee Point, motored around into Wachusetts, tried sailing more with NE/W shifting winds.  Good sea and spray all the way up Wachusetts.  Left all green, looking bleaker and greyer and choppier.  Glacier and outwashes seem to have changed since chart was made.  Anchored east of glacier face with howling west wind off glacier and slapping sea.  Saw terns today and a seal at our anchorage.  We’re being a seal at our anchorage.  We’re being strong with Lena.  She’s getting potty-trained, sleeps a lot, and is very helpful.  She likes the motor.  I’m worried about it being so windy and exposed and bleak here.”

Two days later:  

 

Left at 10:00 a.m., motored/sailed in next to no wind and hard rain, anchored on the south side of the inlet to wait for the fog to lift so we could see inlet.  Left about 2:00, motor/sailed over to north side, at base of hills before Plateau Glacier.  Anchored and hiked up in hills.  Sun came out!  Lena ran.  Everyone happy to be out and in the sun.  Fritz photographed.  Dwarf fireweed, dryas, willows, alder, tiny white flowers, moss and rocks on otherwise bare gravel outwashes, peaks and valleys.  Glacier covered with dirt and hardly distinguishable.  North wind up on outwash.  Back to boat, sailed out inlet into roughening seas and Kate thought too much wind.  Tacking into it and making no headway.  Dropped sails and motored in behind an island on the north side, barely an island with just enough water to get in two hours after low tide.  Black clouds and weather moved overhead to western calm and quiet, green and birds and protected.  Had cocoa and went to bed 10:30 p.m.  Saw seals very close and dolphins, gulls, terns, oystercatchers today.  Need to get more firewood soon.  Lena didn’t do well today, frustrating us.  But she was calm when I was scared, smiling and singing.  I don’t like rough sea or heeling over at all. “

Little did we know that Lena would grow to learn the sea and comfort with boats, like her father.  She would become a National Park Service ranger, driving and working on boats during her career. Fritz himself has worked for the park for twenty-five seasons, driving and teaching others to drive the Serac, a pilot boat for rangers being taken to and from daily cruise ships in Glacier Bay, and an emergency vessel for the Bay.

BERTRAM-HULLED POWER BOAT, the “TYEEN” and NEW ENGLAND LOBSTER BOAT, the “CAROLUS”

Fritz purchased the Tyeen, a Bertram-hull power boat, from a local charter-man and continued to charter himself for several years.  It was followed by a 22-foot New England lobster boat we named the Carolus after the Glacier Bay reef rocks where the mouth of the Bay meets Icy Strait north of Lemeisurer Island.  These partially submerged rocks at low tide harbored us from strong currents more than once in the Soleglad.  Fritz did charter fishing from the Carolus for two years, while I fileted fish in the evenings on our plywood table set under the spruce trees.

22′ SAILING SKILLYGALLEY SHARPIE, the “WOODWIND”           

We switched back to sailing with the Woodwind, a 22-foot sailing Skillygalley-design sharpie fitted with a centerboard.  Fritz did sailing charters to Pleasant Island and Point Adolphus.  We watched whales up close as we turned off our motor and were able to sail quietly among them along the Chichagoff Island coast.

We adventured as far as the outer coast, heading for the hot springs off Yakobi Island.  Leaving the relative protection of Icy Strait between Hoonah to the south and Glacier Bay on the north, one sails through either South Pass past Dad’s Rock and the entrance to the Hobbit Hole of the Inian Islands — known for its swirling waters and wild currents — or North Pass, past Dundas Bay and the sea lion rocks in the Inian’s western isles.  From there one moves towards the swell of the open ocean.  There’s a protective cove called Soapstone Harbor, into which we motored, past the remains of a concrete wharf base standing in the water looking for all the world like the Holy Grail itself in the setting sun.  Through a short dense forest one reaches Bingham Beach facing north, with incoming ocean swells, a long beach bordered by giant-sized standing stones, with shy Sitka black-tailed deer wandering the edges in the beach grass.

OUTER COAST

South through Lisianski Inlet, past other rock formations at Column Point, we sailed on to Lisianski Strait, and on into the growing swells at the western edge where Yakobi and Chichagof Islands meet in a graveyard of far-stretching islands hugging the wild coast.  Our careful route drawn in pencil by a  Gustavus friend sent us out and disconcertingly farther out, from one white crest-pounded island to the next, when my instinct and heart reached back for the islands closer to the mainland, yet knew this was the only safe route. Finally out farther west we reached Urey Rocks, then Three Knob Rock, and could finally turn back east towards Porcupine Island, noting the weather-beaten quill-like trees along its back.  We slipped in between rocks which we could almost touch on either side, well-named Caution Pass, then into the water-drenched entrance to Mirror Harbor at Fairway Rock, where one time we lost our dingy and had to return through the crashing water to catch the line.  On the way into the harbor, seals sat on barely-submerged rocks looking like they were floating on the surface.  It was a miraculous protected harbor, with a rugged path to the hot springs, on a beach strewn with giant boulders and any weather the sky hoped to throw down.

 

HOT SPRINGS

Through freezing rain, lovely hot water, raging wind and storms, we have spent a number of summer and winter adventures at the Hot Springs.  The journeys to and from the Outer Coast are when I truly learned, as my friend Fran  describes it, that being on the ocean can mean “weeks of boredom interspersed with moments of sheer terror.”

                                       Inline image 4 Inline image 5                      40′ BOLGER DESIGN, “The GREAT SEA”

The day came when we decided to sell the Woodwind.  Then in 1996, Fritz embarked on a new ten-year adventure, building a catamaran he had designed for him by Phil Bolger, a famous New England designer. Its name would be “The Great Sea.”   It wasn’t easy to build.  Fritz had to build one hull at a time at an angle instead of upright due to the low ceiling inside his boat shop, then pull that form out into the field, before building the second hull.  Once that was finished and pulled out, he built a temporary roof over the two and continued with the house and other pieces inside the warm shop.

BOAT LAUNCH  

We launched her on April 26, 2006, my friend and I riding in the front of each hull like figureheads.  The whole school came to watch, and people stopped along the road to see it being pulled to the boat harbor. We celebrated with champagne and  turquoise cupcakes with sea salt as the Great Sea was launched into the Salmon River.

GLACIER BAY CHARTERS

We worked three intense summers chartering the boat up Glacier Bay, in Icy Strait, and out to the coast and back.  We met wonderful people, kayaked with whales, climbed with guests next to glaciers and ice.  Most memorable was a family of three generations from Calcutta, India, come to see the glaciers in Glacier Bay, on our boat for five days.  We took them to Reid Inlet, past humpback whales through colorful seas and into the protection of the west arm.  The grandfather had been a climber in India and Nepal in his youth, and he wanted to hike to Reid Glacier.  We skiffed from the Great Sea to shore, climbed through mud and rock along a shifting run-off water-streaked trail and across raging creeks until we came to the house-sized grounded icebergs  before a deep blue fast-moving outpouring of freezing water under the glacial spires.

I remember the dark-faced grandfather, tall and thin, striding along with his wide stride wearing white loose cotton pants tucked into xtra-tough Alaskan boots, covered in a large orange float coat, hands grasped behind his back, smile on his face beneath the unearthly crags.  His son, wife, and grown grandchildren moved with him over the rocks, in a place so very different from the one they’d left only a week before.

WHALE WATCHING

It’s hard to describe kayaking with whales.  They are so busy feeding that you must be careful and remember that they might just miss you in their feeding frenzy.  A high level of care and calm are necessary, not just for oneself, but for the guests paddling with you.  Seeing a whale at any distance takes your breath away.  Having one dive under you and surface on the other side is beyond description.  Seeing the giant eyes, the immense and sometimes slapping fins, the tails raised while diving, the young with the old, the groups of whales feeding and moving together, and sometimes breaching out of the water together – these images are so striking as to never forget.  I am changed each time I am in the water in a kayak near whales, and I have seen guests changed as well.

LIVING ABOARD IN SITKA FOR THE WINTER

We took the Great Sea to Sitka for a winter,   coming up on starving deer waiting out extreme winter conditions on the beaches of Southeast, learning how to negotiate Peril Straits with its strong currents, and climbing hilly islands to find crosses from people killed in these waters over the years.  We froze in at night where coves were shallow, watched colorful sunrises and sunsets, moved from deadly stillness to wild waves in short lengths of time.  At tune we found ourselves fighting currents to remain moving forward, anchoring under towering mountains in narrow coves.

Inline image 8

WEATHER SERVICE

We worked for the Weather Service of Juneau late one fall, running back and forth across the waters of Icy Strait on the Great Sea, ground-truthing satellite information weather in winds over 20 knots.  It felt like being on the Red Witch again, not thinking about fear – just getting out and doing the work and making it neat and correct, then heading back to shore.

 

STRETCHED LIGHT DORY

One day it came time to sell the Great Sea, return to work for others, and build smaller boats.  Fritz built a small rowboat for a Juneau friend who wanted a replica of the one she first rowed in as a child, a large Bolger-designed Stretched Light Dory for neighbors in Gustavus, and a remarkable light-weight skin-on-frame oak and spruce rowboat with hull covering of Dacron, meant for gentle shores.  

ASH GOAT ISLAND SKIFF and CLIPPER CRAFT, the “SCOTER”

Fritz built a sleek plywood, spruce and ash Goat Island skiff, a 15 feet long sleek rowing boat he painted bright red boat, then sold to a National Geographic “reality” TV show. After the Great Sea, the dory, and several rowboats left our lives, Fritz renovated the Scoter, a 23-foot Clipper Craft, which carried our family well. The Scoter was sold to fund the next project:  the 8 x 18-foot bright red power catamaran named the Red Raven, perfect for taking the grandchildren to the beaches of islands near home, but too small for long trips or carrying much weight.   (Above:  (“MV Scoter”)

18 X 8′ POWER CATAMARAN, the “RED RAVEN”

The Red Raven, now for sale, sits out this winter under blue and white tarps between our house and my donkey pasture.   Near it is the newest boat in the yard, an All-Weather 26-foot double-ender power boat, big enough to carry our granddaughters and their parents and take us farther for longer with comfort.  I hear the hammering and power tools in the yard as I write.  Even though it is winter, a light shows through the semi-opaque white plastic covering the boat, showing me Fritz is busy at work inside, though it is snowing and 20 degrees Fahrenheit outside.

                         

LOVE OF A MAN AND THE SEA

(Above left, “Allweather” 2018 and at right, “Blue” with sail)

I often think of the framed quote Fritz hung on the wall of our catamaran, the Great Sea, by the ancient Greek philosopher, Xenophanes, which speaks of the elements we find ourselves at home in:

 THE GREAT SEA

The sea is the source of water and the source of wind;

for neither would blasts of wind

arise in the clouds and blow out from within them,

except for the Great Sea,

nor would the streams of rivers

nor the rain-water in the sky exist but for the seas,

but the Great Sea is

the begetter of clouds and winds and rivers.

“The Great Sea” at anchor (above); Fritz driving the NPS “Serac”

I love this boat man, builder of boats, knower of the Great Sea.  I know it’s rare to find a  boat builder who goes on to sail or motor the boats he builds and repairs. Our adventures on the ocean are amazing and continue throughout our lives. They are where we meet, what we share, myself and my anchor of a man.               

Baby cradle made by Grandpa Fritz for his granddaughters, Layla and Fiona Ohlson

  “Rowing into the next of life’s adventures…”

 

 

 

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