In March I was working for Hugo Schmolck Plumbing and Heating. The shop was on
the waterfront, near where Tongass Marine still is. Hugo had a contract to cover some outside
piping at Standard Oil Company. The plant, except for storage tanks on the hill by the
highway, had recently been destroyed by fire.
On March 23, Bob Tucker and I were working up on the hill overlooking the plant
when we heard a loud explosion. Gas boats explosions were common in those days before
most converted to diesel engines. Fire sirens coming from town began whining. We went
down the hill to the fuel dock and asked what happened.
“The Nohusit blew up,” someone said.
“Oh, no.” I knew the Jordan family. A Ketchikan Fire Department truck arrived.
Marilyn, her two children and another woman were being helped into a pickup truck. Skip,
was frantically fighting the fire in his boat. He was unhurt and had been standing on the
dock at the time of the explosion. Company employees began pouring water on the fire.
Not until later did I learn what had happened. I first met Wilhelm (Skip) Jordan when
he was working for the city as a temporary policeman directing traffic around the construction
site where Ketchikan’s famous tunnel was being built.
Skip Jordan had immigrated to the United States from Norway as a young man. Like
many of his Nordic brethren, Skip had a dose of salt water in his veins. Discharged from
the navy, Skip wanted two things, to marry Marilyn, his sweetheart, a cook and school
teacher from Iowa, and go fishing in Alaska. A tall, intense and impatient man, he took
the first step by wining his girl’s hand in marriage.
Newlyweds Skip and Marilyn Jordan arrived at Wrangell, Alaska, on April Fool’s
Day,1946. Their first troller was the 31-foot double-ended Mom. They had a rough time
earning enough to stay trolling and had to fish inside waters because of the size of their boat.
Like many other would-be fishermen, they adjusted, came to love the life, and were willing
to sacrifice. Eventually they worked their way up to a larger boat, the Salty. After they
sold this boat to Clell Bacon, Skip quit fishing for a time and worked for the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service. After two children were born, they got the chance to buy the 45-foot
yacht, Nohusit, that had been converted to a troller.
They had already filled the gas tanks that morning at Standard Oil, ran the bilge blower
and were ready to shove off. Skip untied the stern line and waited by the bow for
Marilyn to start the engine. Marilyn and three-year old Eric, were in the wheelhouse, which
was above the engine room. Karen, one and one half, was in the galley. and Mrs. William
Durham, another fisherman’s wife was sitting at the galley table.
When Marilyn hit the starter a tremendous explosion blew pieces of wood everywhere.
The door to the engine room blew open and flames shot to the ceiling. Marilyn searched
frantically for Eric, then heard a whimper coming from the back of the engine room. She
reached through fire and jerked her badly burned son to safety. Skip dashed in and grabbed
Karen. Mrs. Durham was blown out the side door onto the dock, and badly injured.
After everyone was off, the Nohusit was cut loose by oil dock employees, since it was a
fire hazard and everyone expected the tanks would blow at any time. Everything the family
owned was on board. Skip enlisted help from the Coast Guard Base next door and a fisherman
with an outboard skiff to tow the burned out hull to Pennock Island.
A “Jordan Fund” collected $2,000 for food, clothing and enough furniture for the
Jordan’s to set up house keeping. Skip rebuilt the boat and re-powered her with a four-
cylinder GMC diesel engine, and in 1954, was fishing again.
By mid-May, 1953, the salmon bug was biting me hard. At first I pacified myself by
fishing Mountain Point on weekends, and an occasional evening. Now that I knew the
motor mooching technique I caught my share of salmon.
I’d became acquainted with Laurel “Buckshot” Woolery, who owned the schooner
Atlas. The Atlas was a legendary little schooner previously owned by John Munson, one of
Ketchikan’s top halibut fishermen.
Buckshot was a heavy set, powerful man, with a pleasing, friendly manner and well
liked by everyone who knew and did business with him. He was a familiar figure amongst
the trolling fleet because he and his wife, Irene, and their children, had bought salmon on
a buying scows at Gedney Harbor and other places.
During the salmon season he came to town once a week to deliver iced salmon and halibut
he’d bought at his buying scow at Port Protection, or his other scows. His oldest
daughter, Marian, usually accompanied her father or these trips to town.
Buckshot’s Trading Post became known far and wide, and was well stocked with clothing,
fishing gear, groceries and most items any logger, fisherman, homesteader or someone
cruising by in a pleasure boat, needed.
Close to Port Protection is Point Baker, a small community of mostly hand trollers
and people who disliked living in town. Most residents fished from small boats, known as
“puddle jumpers,” or Point Baker boats.
I was intrigued by what I heard about this community on the north end of Prince of
Wales Island. Buckshot’s brother, Pete, who had helped build the trading post, and now
lived in town, was a good source of information about Buckshot’s Trading Post.
One day Buckshot came into the shop for some plumbing supplies and I quizzed him
how king salmon fishing was around his place. He described both the location and fishing
so enthusiastically, I seriously considered going. He said he thought I could do okay. He
mentioned that he had an empty cabin for rent. I told him I’d take it. Work was slow, so I
quit and began getting ready to go fishing.
Going to sea, for me, has never been a time of suffering and trauma, although leaving
family behind has weighed heavily, if only momentarily, on my conscience. I bolster my
courage by thinking what adventures might lie ahead.
“To be a sailor is a fine thing, and to become an Alaskan sailor doubles both the hazards
and rewards. There is a kindred condition between land and sea, forming a double element
here. One cannot sail the sea without considering the land, if only for the fact that the bottom’s too close to the top in so many places. Land and sea together shape our lives in a grimly beautiful counterpoint. In its curious likeness to the sea this wild land is filled with constant change and movement. The moodiness that lies over it is a thing of tumult, even in calm. I have stood in a breathless calm, spellbound, listening to the strange, high, soft sound of wind rushing through the upper levels of the air; an evocative sound, the very voice of the firmament.”
It was over 100 miles to Port Protection. First I had to cruise up Clarence Straits.
Between Niblack Hollow and Lyman Anchorage the strait is about two miles wide.
encountered a family of three Sitka blacktail deer bravely swimming west towards Prince of
Wales. Curious to see how they would act when they finally reached shore I slowed down
and followed behind, much to their concern. I’m sure they never appreciated having this
noisy, strange object on their watery trail. As they reached the rocky beach I expected to see
them stagger out of the water and stand trembling and weary before heading for the forest.
Was I disappointed. They shook the water off their hollow hair coats like a dog, then
bounded up the beach and into the trees as if they had only been in the water for a short
Later I learned that usually when deer are found swimming it’s because a carnivorous
predator, either bear or wolf, was getting uncomfortably close to their heels. Twice I have
witnessed brown bear on Chicagof and Baranof Islands actually swimming in the wake of
The weather, for a change, was beautiful. I enjoyed cruising up the straits and through
Kashevarof Passage. Since I’d left town late and my boat was slow I didn’t expect to make
it to Port Protection in one day. Looking at the chart I decided Salmon Bay would be a
good place to anchor. I stopped and cooked dinner while drifting off Lake Bay. It was a
beautiful evening, dead calm with only a high overcast. Mergansers and mallards were flying
and feeding along the rocky shore. With the engine shut off, their muttering voices
reached me over the calm water.
Suddenly a humpbacked whale rose out of the water nearby and blew several times
before tossing its tail high and diving. I was surrounded by nature and loved it.
It was nearly dark and the tide happened to be high as I motored slowly to the head of
Salmon Bay. I let down a lead on my sport rod to check the depth, then dropped anchor
in 25 feet of water. Since I expected to be up and away in four hours, at daylight, this
would allow the tide to go out without my boat going aground, or so I thought!
I heated some water in my teakettle to make a cup of cocoa and wash my face before
turning in. I’d just bought a new blue enameled wash pan. When I tossed the water overboard
the pan slipped from my soapy hand and promptly disappeared. Oh, well, I thought,
I’ll never see that wash pan again. I’d have to replace it at Buckshot’s Trading Post. It was a
cold night, so I slept in my long johns. My head had no more than hit the pillow than I
Sometime during the night some small sound jarred me awake. I listened intently.
There, I heard it again, a rasping sound. Like some animal was raking the hull with its claws.
I sat up in my cramped bunk and pointed the flashlight out the port window above my
bunk. I didn’t see anything, not even the expected water! That was curious. By opening
the window I should have been able to almost reach my arm out and touch the water.
Without leaving my bunk, I pointed the light out the starboard window and nearly collapsed
of a heart attack. Close by the window was a great black blob that shouldn’t have
been there. It appeared to be a black rock. A bluish object, with a white spot about the size
of a postage stamp on it was lying on the rock.
The blue object turned out to be my lost wash pan. The white postage-stamp-sized
object was the price tag! How could this be? The anchor must have dragged and my boat
was aground. I shifted my weight in my bunk. Normally the boat would have responded
by wiggling back. Not this time. It was solid. Cautiously I slid the port window open and
pointed the flashlight down, expecting to see water. There was water all right but it was a
long, long ways down! Finally the situation sank into my sleepy noggin. My boat was
aground on the side of a rock! Worse yet, I was lying on the side of the boat away from the
rock! This startling fact nearly gave me a heart attack. If I got out of my bunk would the
boat tip upside down, or be more stable against the rock? A rash of goose bumps began
crawling up and down my backbone.
The stars had disappeared and a light rain was falling. Since the boat was already
aground there was no hurry deciding what to do. I sat there, half in and half out of my bag.
The possibilities were definitely uncheerful. 1) By moving my weight around, the boat
could slide or topple sideways and the cabin land upside down in the water with me inside.
2) I could sit where I was for another six or so hours until the tide came back in. Not an
option. 3) I could crawl out of my sleeping bag, around the engine, and try to do something.
I feared if I put one extra ounce of weight on the outboard side of the bunk it might
be enough to cause the boat to tip over. Likewise, if I placed additional weight forward, it
could also unbalance the boat’s precarious perch.
Having decided on option number three, I crawled slowly out of the sleeping bag
and slithered across the front of the engine to the starboard window. I didn’t dare move fore
and aft because I had no idea what, if anything, was under either end of the boat.
I slid the starboard window open and retrieved my wash pan, placing my hand against
the rock to prove it wasn’t an illusion. It was real all right, cold and wet and slimy. The
sides rose up past the window at an angle of 45 degrees, which was quite disconcerting,
because this gave me the impression that my boat was resting on an angle where it could
easily slide off. I stuck one arm and my head out the window and pointed the flash light
aft. The stern stuck out from the rock about eight feet with obvious nothing but air underneath.
I twisted the other way and saw the bow was sticking out about the same distance
with nothing under it either. Evidently the boat had swung around and ended up on the
side of this submerged rock at high tide. It was one o’clock. All this had happened in only
three hours? I remembered how rapidly the Diamond T had raised out of the water. The
tides in Southeast Alaska move rapidly.
I’d never crawled through one of the tiny windows before. After thinking about the situation
I began to contemplate if my skinny little body (I only weighed 140 pounds at the
time) could squeeze through the opening. Suddenly I became paranoid and desperate to
escape being imprisoned in a boat that, at any moment might roll over or slide into the
I tossed clothing, boots and rain coat out the window and began squirming through
face down, twisting from side to side, expecting the boat to slip endways off the rock at any
moment, with me half in and half outside. Once my head and shoulders were finally out,
my face was pressed against the rock and I had to bend backwards to continue sliding out.
But the space between the rock and boat was too narrow, and the rock angled too steeply
upwards. Unable to continue, I squirmed back inside, turned onto my back and tried
again. Upside down, my body could bend upwards in the narrow space between the boat
and the rock.
There were some anxious moments when the back button on the flap of my long john
underwear hung up on the window ledge, but I lunged and sheared off the button. I slithered
outside like a seal and landed on my now naked butt against the cold, slippery, slimy
wet rock. Barefooted, I couldn’t get solid footing on the rock without putting pressure
against the side of the boat, pressure that might tip it over. I thoroughly cursed the builder
for not providing a toe deck around the cabin.
I flashed the light around. The boat’s keel was resting on a narrow shelf only a few feet
wide and six feet long. The scraping noise that had awakened me had been the rock against
the turn of the bilge as the boat settled onto its rocky perch. Any effort to dress or pull on
my boots caused me to slide into the dangerous position formed by the hull and rock. Cold
rain quickly soaked through my long johns and I began shivering. Standing on that miserable
rock for hours, until the tide came in and floated the boat, was unthinkable. Any
movement that caused the boat to tip off the rock, especially with me inside, was equally
unthinkable. I didn’t have insurance, and it would have been a long ways to swim to shore.
Lashed on the cabin roof was 20 fathoms of spare anchor line. I untied the line,
secured one end to the hand rail, then hurled the coil over the top of the rock. Digging in
with toe and finger nails, flashlight in my mouth, I scrambled up the rock. Once on top
I discovered that it was an isolated rock surrounded by water. I lassoed the top of the rock,
tested to see if it would hold, slid back beside the boat, took out all the slack possible, then
tied the end to the hand rail.
Then I did the only reasonable thing I could think of; tossed my clothes back inside,
squirmed through the window, cranked the engine and let it idle until the cabin was stifling
hot, shed my long johns, draped them over the engine to dry and slid back into bed
When I awoke the rain had stopped, Chinook was peacefully afloat and the top of the
rock was nearly covered, as if nothing had happened. Had it been only a dream? No, there
was my line around the rock. I retrieved it, hauled anchor and headed for Point Colpoys.
This was one example that the Lord had his hand on my shoulder. There have been
many, many more.
As I cruised through the reefs off Point Colpoys the sun broke through a hole in the
clouds with a blaze of orange over towards Wrangell. The snow-covered peaks of the Coast
Range were beautiful. I said a prayer of thanks that I still had my boat, my kids still had a
father, and asked for good luck at Point Baker. If an adventurous summer was what I wanted,
I was getting off to a great start.
As I turned into Point Baker, four skiffs were trolling off the point. One was an old
Indian woman who was rowing a little double-ended canoe. Her trolling rig was a short pole
holding a hand line over the side. The entrance is a narrow slit between high black cliffs,
barely wide enough for the wings of a float plane to pass between. Point Baker is a small
harbor, shaped like a leg of venison. Mark Lewis’ store, post office, buying station and oil
dock were to starboard. A few mooring floats were in front of the store. A steep wooden
ramp led upward to several cabins and houses built along the top of a steep, rocky
Two power trollers, the Naiad and big double-ended Alta E were tied to the dock.8 The
Naiad was a 34-footer owned by Bob and Ballard Hadman. The Alta E was owned by Bob
Hadman’s folks. Formerly from Craig, the Hadmans had moved to Ketchikan in 1945 so
their two boys could attend school.
Ballad Hadman had recently became a celebrity around Ketchikan because her new
book, As the Sailor Loves the Sea9 had recently been released by Harper & Sons. According
to Emery Tobin, publisher of The Alaska Sportsman, Ballad’s book promised to become a
New York Times best-seller. He sold me a copy, and said the Sportsman intended to stock
copies. The hardbound book retailed for $3, including shipping. I took the book home and
read it. Reading this book, the second ever published about salmon trolling (the first was
Beth Eberhart’s, A crew of two, 1946) made me even more determined to get a power troller.
Several articles had been published about Ballad in the Ketchikan Daily News.
I went over to visit but they were not aboard. Later the Hadman’s became good
friends. Ballad become an inspiration and her encouragement probably resulted in me considering becoming a writer.
Across the harbor several houses were perched on stilts over the tidal beach. One did-
n’t have to pay taxes on such a site. A couple of privately-owed floats and several cabins,
partially hidden by brush, were behind the steep beach. A narrow, rocky channel, actually a
short cut, known as the “back chuck” led southwest towards Port Protection. It didn’t
appear inviting because of extensive kelp beds and rocks waiting to destroy a keel, especially
after my experience of the night before. I’d entered Baker only to look around. I was anxious
to get to Port Protection which was to be home for a while.
Port Protection, compared to Point Baker’s tiny harbor, is a huge place, large enough
for ships to anchor. Heavily forested mountains rose on the east and south sides. As I
rounded a small island to enter Wooden Wheel Cove, Buckshot’s Trading Post came into
view. I stopped the boat and drifted, looking over the beautiful surroundings. I knew the
cabin on the left side belonged to Babe and Toots Adams, who were working at the Trading
Post, a gift shop in Ketchikan. (Yes, Ketchikan did have gift shops prior to the cruise ship
and ferry era)
Two more cabins and one building on pilings, a shrimp processing plant and crab cannery,
were near Buckshot’s Trading Post.
The water was clear, mirror smooth and reflected the surrounding green forest of Sitka
spruce and red cedar. An occasional herring flipped along the kelp beds and reminded me
to set my net. Beach crows cawed and flitted impatiently, harassing two Bald eagles
perched in a tall snag. The eagles ignored the crows and calmly surveyed the harbor. I
thought Wooden Wheel Cove the most beautiful little harbor I’d seen. With the log cabin
perched on a rocky bluff at the head, blue wood smoke coming from the chimney, a few
boats moored to a float in front of the building, the scene was picture post card Alaska.
The Woolery family were originally from Wisconsin and had moved to Ketchikan several
years previous to my arrival. Buckshot was fond of boats and had owned several small
trollers, but hadn’t made any money. In the late 1940s, anxious to live away from town, he
accepted the job of buying salmon on a scow at Gedney Harbor. This occupied the family
for three months ever summer for several seasons. A few of those seasons were some of the
best salmon years ever. Others failed to produce a profit for either buyers or fishermen. The
family built a good reputation with the troll fleet because they were honest and fair in their
dealings. Eventually their fish buying expanded to several locations beside Gedney Harbor.
Buckshot purchased land at in Wooden Wheel Cove along the eastern shore of Port
Protection and began building a log store and home. His brother Pete helped part of the
time. Wooden Wheel Cove received its name after an early day boat owner lost his propel-
lor then, beached his boat, carved a new one from wood and made it to town.
A foundation of creosote pilings, set in concrete, was built to support the front part of
the store, which protruded over tidal shoreline. Large spruce trees, some 150 feet in length,
were fell. Many came from the property.
The log building measured 66 by 34-feet. Construction took several years, and
improvements to the property was an ongoing process. The location had been chosen
because it was on a rocky shoreline adjacent to deep water, where mooring floats were
installed. Living quarters for the family were eventually finished upstairs. The negative side
of the location was that everything needed for the store and surrounding buildings, including
soil and fertilizer for a garden spot, had to be carried up a ramp.
I tied up to Buckshot’s float. Two trollers, the Chance, owned by Dave Harrison of
Ketchikan, and a small, numbered boat, were moored nearby. A small fish house where
boxes of iced fish were kept was alongside the float. The Atlas wasn’t there.
The Trading Post was a large log structure. Some logs were over two feet in diameter.
The ends of each log had been gaily painted like targets, with red, white. and blue circles.
The drone of a diesel generating plant came from behind the building. Several windows
were across the front.
The interior was a true country store, with long, wooden counters on each side.
Shelves, stacked with merchandise, were along the walls. The enormous amount of merchandise was truly astonishing A showcase containing Buckshot’s collection (he was a junk
collector) of marine artifacts, bottles, old fishing gear, miner’s lamps, whale teeth and etc.
was in the center. Shelves along the other side were stacked with every imaginable kind of
supplies, from rubber boots to tennis shoes and clothing. Old fashioned wash boards, galvanized
buckets and tubs, coils of halibut line, boxes of Mustad halibut and salmon hooks,
Superior and other brands of salmon spoons, wooden kegs, flag poles, fish cleaning knives,
five gallon gasoline cans, copper paint, Bag Balm (used on fisherman’s hands) tar, pitch,
oakum, square boat nails, copper tacks, canvas, mosquito screening, Pacific Coast Pilots,
charts and other marine books were either on shelves or stacked on the floor. Outdoor
clothing, including Frisco jeans, hickory shirts, gray and green woolen Woolrich “halibut”
jackets (with double layers over the shoulders and back) Carhart coats and pants, woolen
boot socks, rubber and leather boots, gloves, southwester rain hats and oilskins, were available.
Later I found out that Buckshot ran the Atlas to Seattle once a year, loaded it full of
supplies, reducing shipping costs by steamer and airplane, and managed to keep his prices
Irene Woolery and two small girls were sitting around a huge wood stove, a converted
oil drum, at the rear of the store.
“You must be Mr. Caldwell,” Irene said, smiling. “We’ve been expecting you. This is
Clarie and Lauren. Marian, our oldest daughter, is on the Atlas with her dad. They went to
“Call me Frank. Everyone else does. I’m impressed by your store.”
“Well, we try to please. Not easy, keeping a store out here though.”
Irene Woolery was a slender, good-looking woman about 35 years of age. The girls
were grade school age.
“We cleaned out the cabin for you. There’s a little wood for the stove but you’ll have
to cut your own after that’s gone. We’ll lend you our saw and axe. The rent is $15 a month.
Drinking water is on the float.”
“That sounds great.”
“As for fish prices, we pay five cents under Ketchikan.”
Irene and the girls led the way up a steep path behind the store to a one-room frame
cabin. It contained a wood cook stove, oil lamp, bunk with cotton mattress, table and
chairs. A few pots and pans and a skillet were under the sink.
“This will be great, “ I said. “My wife and sons may come for a short visit.”
“Oh, how old are they?”
“About the age of these two girls.”
“It’ll be fun showing them around,” Lauren said. Obviously these kids didn’t have
We returned to the store. Dave Harrison had came up from his boat. I’d met him at
Leo’s Harbor Hardware. He was a nice guy. He’d told me that he was one of the survivors
of the terrible 1938 Coronation Island hurricane. The wind had came over the mountains
in the form of a williwaw, a high velocity downdraft that can reach velocities of several hundred
miles per hour, and sank 11 boats. Dave had swam ashore and began walking along
the beach to see if anyone else had made it to land. He’d found “Lapp” Sam Anderson lying
face down, as though dead, at the edge of the surf. His clothing in rags, cut by coral and
Dave had grabbed his collar and towed him away from the tide. Sam came to and
began vomiting seawater. His hands and arms were cut and bleeding from sharp barnacles
where he had clutched rocks to avoid being sucked back into the sea in the undertow.
Several years later a second hurricane sank six more trollers who were running for harbor.
Coronation Island was not far southwest of Point Baker. It had also been the location
of one of Southeast Alaska’s worst marine tragedies. On the night of September 20,
1908, the south-bound three-masted bark, Star of Bengal, loaded with 52,000 cases of
canned salmon and hundreds of Chinese cannery workers, was being towed out Sumner
Straits by two tugs when a storm forced the tugs to cut their tow lines. Unable to get up
sail, the vessel went aground and wrecked in China Cove, just north of Helm Point.
Onehundred-eleven, mostly Chinese, lost their lives.
“So, you’re going to make your fortune at Point Baker, are you?” Dave said.
“Going to try.”
“Well, I wouldn’t fish here for anything. I’m on my way to Cape Pole.”
“What’s wrong with Point Baker?”
“You’ll see. The tide runs like hell and rocks and reefs lie just off the point. Terrible
place. More lead lost here than anywhere I know. Of course you kelpers don’t know what
losing lead is.”
I hauled my few possessions up to the cabin, shopped at the store and got ready to start
fishing early in the morning. I was excited with prospects of fishing famous Point Baker.
Watch for the next chapter!
New chapters around the 15th of each month!