The sun is hot in Wrangell and Aurora is moored closer to the ramp than Black Bear, the only other sailboat. Every time Black Bear’s skipper walks past he stops to chat, dropping a few how-to’s on living.
Steve ‘s a liveaboard and liveaboards seem to fall into two groups. There are the ones who are happy alone all the time and then the ones who migrate into port and become completely gregarious. Steve is one of the latter.
He used to be a truck driver in the lower 48. Seems he put a lot of thought into retirement. Figured a small boat, his social security check, and an annual dose of Alaska’s reverse income tax was all he needed. He chose Craig, the tiny town on the west coast of Prince of Wales Island that he liked for the same reasons we did: its library and its slow pace. Actually, Steve has turned indolence into a high art.
When he’s going someplace, Steve never travels at more than three knots. Flows with the currents. Keeps a permanent reef in his mainsail so it doesn’t pick up too much wind. May do a couple of miles a day and then drop the hook. If he likes a place, he just hangs out.
He’s just come from Port Protection at the north tip of Prince of Wales and makes a real case for it. Then he throws his groceries into the boat and rides the tide out toward the Wrangell Narrows.
The next day we head west out of Wrangell, the only boat out on the watery expanse. Until we spy Black Bear’s mast off in the distance. We hail Steve on the radio and congratulate him for doing the distance we’d cover in an hour or so. He’s happy we’re bound for Port Protection.
As we round red buoy after Point Baker, the last one before Port Protection, we hear a sluggish snort off our beam. As we turn our heads in the direction of the noise, a barnacled fin languidly rises straight up and then falls. It’s the size of our staysail! Our engine has roused one huge whale from his sleep! We bear off quickly but it doesn’t matter. The leviathan just lies there. Indolent. We name him Steve.
Port Protection’s state dock has a row of sad looking boats on the far side. We have the near side to ourselves. The hot sun on deck invites indolence and the chance to finish a book. Rather than explore we stay moored to our dock island and watch the sun play on the wooden trollers, not a one of them coming or going. That Port Protection has a fuel dock with brand new pumps is a surprise. Only tiny vessels stop; their owners fill red plastic fuel cans with ordinary gasoline for their outboards. The variety is picturesque: A cat boat with an old brown sail and a stylish cut to its transom. An aluminum canoe. A Lund rowboat. These all leave on the falling tide, pushing themselves over the reef that dries at low.