ALASKA BE DAMNED, has become my number one seller. I've received many e-mails from readers who enjoyed the story but didn't write a review. Many of them, Alaska Fishermen, are living the experiences set forth in my novel. Just recently, I received a box in the mail which contained several ounces of THALKUSH. (dried sea lettuce, harvested from Prince William Sound). I was overwhelmed with gratitude as it really enhances the flavor of seafood; even the warm water CORVINA & DORADO I favor here in Panama.
Since ALASKA BE DAMNED Is being featured in several blogs this month, I decided to run the back-story again.
(The cover for this novel was taken by my father in 1956)
I believe it’s very important for readers to understand that this novel does not slam the state of Alaska. I loved living in the ‘last frontier’. I appreciated and marveled at the people, their attitudes and their rugged spirits. The diversity and beauty of Alaska is breathtaking. It’s also dangerous. A brown bear can eat your ass but you can also be eaten by the parasites that prey on the working class and business-folks of Alaska. RWH
My number one novel in sales was written during and just after I left my stint as an Alaska commercial fisherman. Those years, the middle-aged life chapters, were truly chocked full of excitement and adventure. The money was good but the adventure of the unknown was omnipresent. One could be at anchored in a small inlet that was as calm and smooth as a mill pond. Three hours later a williwaw would stir that cove into a cauldron of wind, waves and chop. Dragging anchor was a given so the danger of crashing on the rocks was always a threat. Factor in mechanical problems, drunken deckhands, fish prices, and the ever-present weather conditions and you have an exciting time in Alaska; an adventure every day.
One aspect that spoiled the experience was the constant harassment by the U.S. Coast Guard, the fish cops, and the red tape of just doing business from a boat. It was enough to curdle a person’s milk. In my case, I elected to push back. That was an adventure that is partially chronicled in my novel.
One of the most disturbing aspects of cruising around Alaska was learning of the large number of people who die in boating accidents on an annual basis. Many of them unreported. Fortunately, my crew and I were able to rescue -- not just lend a helping hand, but actually rescue from certain death over a dozen people. Nine separate incidents where lives were at stake, my crew and I saved the day. Our reward was undying gratitude from not only the people rescued but also from the fishing fleet in general. Unfortunately, we were chastised by the coast guard (notice I didn’t put them in caps?) The castigation came from not following protocol and procedures. I had made decisions based on the most expedient method to save peoples lives and property; including ignoring voices on the radio that were disrupting and contradicting my rescue processes. I always strived to help the poor souls that were either drowning, near catastrophe or in distress. Most times I was breaking rules and protocol set forth by fifedomes of the Coast Guard watch commanders. I always assumed it was more important to save a life rather than succumb to authority. It’s been my personal millstone for the better part of my adult life.
Sitka, this is .
Listen up, Ensign Pulver, ‘cause this is my last transmission to you. The wind
is blowing out of the north at eighty knots and Wolf Bay
has breakers upward to sixty feet. This is a Class A storm, Pulver. Do not, I
repeat, do not send a cutter, a battleship, or any other type of vessel into
this storm. All parties are fine… doing five by five. We have ample supplies
and shelter, but the radio battery is almost gone. I will oblige you with
paperwork after this is over. Do you read me, Ensign Pulver?” Chatham Strait
I think the crowning moment in their stupidity and my blatant disregard of their orders came when I was told to ‘stand down’ in my attempt to rescue a fisherman who had crashed into a deadhead (sunken log) in Chatham Straight. His vessel had been totally destroyed and sunk but he was able to reach a rock outcropping near the shore line. To reach him was almost impossible. Any attempt with my skiff would surely put both of us on that cluster of rocks. Soooo, I pulled the emergency life raft off my big boat and lowered it into my skiff. I then drove the skiff upwind from the rock and the fisherman. When I inflated the life raft, it took off like a kite in the strong winds. I was finally able to use the wind and the current and allowed it to drift toward the rock. The fisherman was able to crawl inside and I then towed him back to my eighty-five foot vessel. The fisherman I saved became a good friend. His family and fellow fishermen applauded my rescue. Later in the week, twenty minutes from arrival at the dock, my vessel was boarded by a 20 year old acne faced E-2 seaman from Topeka Kansas and two other snot nosed coasties. They inspected my vessel and I was issued five tickets for safety violations; including one for not having an operable life raft in place. That was the cork blower!
I took the offensive and used whatever public forum was available (including the VHF and SSB airwaves) and began slamming the USCG, US Forest Service and a host of other US agencies that locked down the State of Alaska. I was very careful to not include the rank-in-file coasties; those that risked their lives everyday saving people. I targeted the upper echelon; those dopes that sat in the warm cushy offices and wrote rules and regulations for their drones to enforce. I attacked all the politicians, the big multi-nationals, and the cops that enforced their doctrines. I was finally threatened with arrest or worse if I didn’t pipe down or leave the state. I quieted my rants, put all my boats and real estate on the market, and began ALASKA BE DAMNED. A year later, with everything sold, I took my partially finished manuscript back to the lower 48 and hibernated for a year; finishing the first draft of ABD (originally 260,000 words).
Suddenly the night turned a bright orange-white as the flare Ben shot off hung just over the barge. After a few moments it was dark again, until Tom turned the spotlight back on. Meg’s eyes followed the spotlight as she moved the Ancient Mariner forward of the barge. Ben aimed the light at the waterline of the anchored barge and the towline became visible. He shined from the top of the barge to where it entered the water. Then he then pointed the light high on the logs above the barge deck. Silhouetted in the light was the figure of a man. He was flashing a small light so they could see it from the Ancient Mariner.
Since completing ALASKA BE DAMNED, I have moved several times and have always compared my current location to that of Alaska. I will often reread the novel to re-experience the beauty and grandeur of that great territory.