Mount Edgecumbe

Carol and I are here in Alaska to participate in the Alaska Sacred Harp Convention, and we have been singing every day, and we attended a “singing school,” pretty much as you’d expect. But our gracious host Kari also arranged for those attending the convention to go on a whale watch trip. Over the course of an hour and three quarters on the water, we saw more than twenty humpback whales — and the scenery was spectacular as well. I particularly enjoyed looking at Mt. Edgecumbe, a long-extinct volcano. At this season Mt. Edgecumbe is snow-clad from it summit about halfway down to the sea, making it look like something out of a classic Japanese woodblock print, only more dramatic.

Travelers’ story

Waiting for the bus to Portland, Maine, I turned to the man and woman standing near by and said, This is the place you pick up the bus to Portland, right? They said it was; and that they were going to Portland, then getting on another bus to go to Bangor, and from there heading on down the coast. They both had eastern New England accents, so I asked them if they were heading back home.

Well, they said, not exactly. They were from Alaska, living in a small town near Juneau.They had been sailing a 34 foot sloop, a live-aboard, but it sank.

It sank? I said.

Well, it was sunk. They had been sailing in among a pod of humpback whales. The whales were all around them, and some of them were breaching, coming completely up out of the water and crashing back down. Usually when the whales started doing that, they moved their boat farther away. But a big bull humpback came up right where their boat was. Drove the keel up through the boat. The whale almost tipped them over, the whale rolled over, they were on its belly, they almost capsized, they could see the flukes up in the air next to the boat, the whale rolled back, so at least they didn’t tip over. The whale was feeling a little stunned, they said.

They had enough time to send off a mayday call. The Coast Guard picked up the call and relayed it to a fishing vessel that was nearer to them. The boat sank in about five minutes. She had just enough time to grab her credit cards and driver’s license, and then they were in the water. Fortunately, the fishing vessel came within ten minutes of the time the boat sank, because the water was cold, in the forties.

So you lost everything? I said. Yup, they said cheerfully, but we’re alive. And you know, he said, it’s hard to see everything go down like that, but then you feel — lighter. Well, I said, you’ll be dining out on that story for the next twenty years. They laughed. We already have, they said, we told some of the Tlinglit in our village, and even they were impressed. They’re water people, and they could relate to us.

I said goodbye to them in Portland. They’re going to sell a house they own beyond Bangor, and buy another boat, and head back to Alaska.