Paul Corbin came to Alaska many years ago to commercially fish for salmon. The lifestyle suited him and he had many boats, caught many fish, raised a family and maintained a wilderness homestead in a remote area of southeast Alaska that would become Lisianski Inlet Lodge. Here is his story, enjoy!
The Blue Light
The SE Alaskan winters are often long with lots of rain and snow. There are days when the boat harbors freeze over and even some of the fjords that lead in from the sea. Nothing moves. No boats or planes. Everything is still and silent. There are no distant sounds of traffic or rumble of freight trains like it is in the cities. If you step outside, all you will hear is the crunch of your boot in the snow. The fishermen who live aboard their boats do the best they can to stay warm. If you are lucky enough to have shore power at the dock and a good oil stove in the galley its not to bad but the lifestyle is not for everyone. Those that try it beware!!!
At night when you are lying in your bunk you can hear the small fan running that helps the fire pot in the stove generate some heat. It's sort of like a miniature blast furnace. The fisherman can also hear the rat-rigging slapping away against the mast directly above his head. Bang, bang, bang, all night long while the wind whistles through the stays playing all sorts of tunes that seem to be messages from hell. The boat lurches against the dock and tugs frantically at its mooring lines and the ice up in the rigging keeps crashing down from time to time on the snow covered decks. The empty whiskey bottle rolls back and forth on the boat's galley floor while you try and get some sleep. At times you get up from the bunk and check the stove to make sure the fire is still going and pour yourself a cup of two-day old boiled coffee and light up a cigarette. Another long night in the boat harbor. The fisherman thinks, "I wish to hell it would hurry up and be daylight". Winters in SE Alaska are long and hard, especially if you are living in the small space of a fishing boat, like my friend Jack did for many years.
During the daylight hours he might read a book or tie up some fishing leaders. One winter he looked out the pilot house window and saw about six inches of snow on the dock. There were no footprints anywhere and he turned back to reading his book and lit up one more cigarette and waited. It won't be long now Jack thought, just a couple more hours and then the blue light will come on. Everyday he waited for the blue light to come on which is near the top of the ramp that leads up from the docks. Finally he saw the blue light, a neon 'open' sign in the local liquor store. He put on a coat, picked up his hat, opened the pilot house door and stepped out on the dock. The snow was deeper than he thought. Snow was falling much heavier now and his footprints were fast disappearing as he walked up the ramp toward the lonely blue light that shone out in the cold mist. I have to be careful not to slip and fall he thought as he slowly made his way up the ramp. Finally, he reached the door of the liquor store and stood for a moment to brush the snow off his coat and hat. When he walked into the small room the clerk looked up and said, “You look like a snowman Jack, It's one hell of a storm out there, what can I get you?” “I guess I'll need a bottle of Jim Beam and a six pac of coke”, Jack replied. “You bought the last bottle of Beam last night Jack. I'm sorry about that but we haven't had a plane from town for at least two weeks and the fact is I'm running short on everything". "I have a couple of bottles of Wild Turkey left, It's not that bad really.” The fisherman thought abit and said, "I'll take the two bottles then.” One never really knew when the next airplane from town would make it out and it might be best to have that extra bottle just in case. When Jack left the store he saw that the snow was coming down even harder. By this time it was almost dark again and the blue light glowed across the boardwalk making the snow a beautiful sparkling blue color. The wind had come up again and as he walked back towards his boat he noticed that the docks were rocking from side to side, making it difficult for him to keep his balance. Suddenly, one of the bottles slipped out of the paper bag he carried. As he tried to grab and save the bottle from falling in the water he slipped and fell hard on the edge of the dock. While Struggling to hold on to the edge of the dock and get back on his feet, he slipped again on the dock and fell into the water.
The water was icy cold. He set the saved bottle of Wild Turkey carefully up on the dock. At least it didn't break, he thought. The level of the dock was about two feet above the water and when he tried to pull himself up he quickly fell back in. Alaskan waters are cold and as Jack tried to pull himself up to the safety of the dock he could only lift himself a little ways out of the cold freezing water when he would fall back in again. His clothes and heavy coat were soaked and his rubber boots were filled with water. He rested and then tried to lift himself up on the dock once again. Suddenly he felt very tired. The water didn't seem so cold now and as he turned his head up he could see the blue light. It sort of looked pretty all by itself with the snow coming down. He thought about a Christmas he had spent years ago when he was a little boy.
The next day brought clear cold skys and calm still water. The harbor master found two bottles of Wild Turkey standing straight up like popcicles in the snow.