The second to last day of our first trip Tom asked if I’d like to accompany him in his boat to go into the towns of Point Baker and Port Protection. Being nineteen and not experienced enough to be nervous about getting into boats with strangers, I obliged. He was running in to get fuel and food for himself and thought I’d like to see what these “real Alaskan communities” were like. We climbed into his fiberglass boat that looked as though it was thirty years old. Not to mention the seating was certainly not original to the boat when it left the manufacturer. He pulled a pistol out of his sweatpants and laid it up on the dash. I immediately began to wonder what kind of characters we’d run into in these “real” communities.
We went to the post office where the lady behind the counter, whom he was apparently well acquainted with, handed him stacks on stacks of lewd magazines and everything else he threw in the trash. She was kind but had the look of someone who had aged beyond seventy although you wouldn’t be surprised to find out in actuality she was fifteen or twenty years younger.
We stopped for a cup of coffee in Port Protection at the Cafe/General Store/Community Center where Tom struck up a conversation with a local. They talked about how a regional law enforcement officer had come through the day before. Through this interaction, I learned that law enforcement was carried out across communities and regions. One officer to a handful of places scattered about amongst the islands, more like a game warden than a policeman, which seems like the more appropriate way to think about it. Apparently, someone had gotten into a scuffle with someone else in town and came up missing. I couldn’t think of a better example of the modern day Wild West.
There are no roads because there’s nowhere to put roads. It’s a Seatown where the only way to get around is on wooden walkways and boat. Each town may be home to 30 or 40 people. The idea began to dawn on me that if anyone found themselves on the wrong end of a disagreement in these communities it wouldn’t be difficult for them to disappear. Tie a cinderblock to someone’s foot and the crabs and various other sea critters would do all of the work before anyone realized that someone was missing. I began to realize just why Tom would carry a gun with him when he went into town.
But that wasn’t the most remarkable thing about my trip into “town” with Tom. On the way to and from our trip, we saw some of the most incredible sights. It’s one that still sticks with me today. Twice we came upon pods of breaching humpback whales.
Riding along in Tom’s “skiff” we saw mists of water spew out about a hundred yards on our starboard side.
“Yep. There’s some whales over there. Get your camera ready,” Tom said.
I was fortunate enough to capture two whales breaching and then holding their tails vertical out of the water before slapping them down onto the surface. Tom postulated that they were being playful with each other.
I was awestruck by the incredible display of these massive creatures and how close they were. No binoculars needed. I then began to think about the vessel we were traveling in and a little nervousness set in.
I then acknowledged that we had been gone for some time and that Dad would be concerned, but assured Tom not to worry because I got excellent footage of the whales on my video camera.