Dooley Visits Alaska

When Kit died early in 1996, Dooley was left adrift.  They’d been a couple for a long time.  By this time we did not always correspond via letter.  I’m grateful to have the letters now so that I can use them as a journey through the past but it was also fun to ring up New Zealand once in a while for a chat.  On a certain day early in June we got a phone call from Dooley.  “I’ve decided to have myself a little adventure”.  He sounded like he was considering leaving the shire and knew that people would talk about him afterward.  

But his plan was to fly to the U.S., specifically Alaska, visit us and then fly on to the U.K. to visit his brother and other relatives.  We couldn’t have been more delighted.  Well, unless of course Leda had been ready to go sailing.  She wasn’t.  I was still up to my eyeballs in boat projects trying to get her done.

I don’t want to sound like I am bragging.  But Ginny and I like to show off Alaska, and when we get a visitor here during the summer, we do what we can to roll out the red carpet.  We try to do that during the winter as well, but it isn’t as easy.  Our house is a half mile walk from the road.  It’s true, you cannot drive to our house.  It is a walk through the rain forest.  The house is on piling, over the water and you can fish in front of the house or sit and watch the wildlife.  You can’t drive to our city either.  You have to arrive by air or by sea.  We are about five minutes in any direction from wilderness.  And it is quite beautiful.  Not as warm as Tauranga, but it has its charms.

I no longer remember the exact sequence of events, nor am I sure how long Dooley stayed with us.  I know that when he got in he was tired and had lost his Mastercard.  Fifteen or so hours flying from Auckland and then the trip up the west coast to Juneau.  A long day for sure.  Probably near 24-hours of airports and flights.  So we got him rested up and got him a new credit card.  We had remote control 12-meter yachts that we raced in front of the house.  We went fishing, we attended a wedding while he was here.  We would have gone to see the glacier, spawning salmon and the sights.  We drove out the road one evening looking for bears and Dooley got to chase a porcupine through the brush while trying to get a photo of it.  I don’t know if we found him a bear or not.  And without a doubt we visited Leda.  

Dooley with his catch

Dooley was an avid fisherman.  Not as in travel the world and catch marlin, but as in lets catch something for dinner.  He stalked kingfish from his yard in Tauranga.  So he was pretty happy with catching both a salmon and a halibut.  We got busy cooking them up for dinner.  Dooley claimed to not have much appetite, which was worrisome in view of his having recently lost Kit.  But a feast was planned, friends were invited over and fish was cooked.  The salmon was grilled and we used our super secret recipe on the halibut.  It is cut into bite size pieces, rolled in melted butter and then in crushed Ritz crackers.  It’s placed in the oven at 400-degrees on a cookie sheet for about five minutes or until the fish pulls apart.  Done.

Dooley protested as he filled his plate, a small piece of salmon and two or three bites of the halibut.  Nothing else, “I’ll be lucky to finish this”.  We served him first.  Before we could get the rest of the crew dished up, Dooley was back in line like Oliver Twist.  “I think I better have a little more, mine seems to have disappeared!”  We always get a laugh out of that story.  But nobody can resist halibut cooked with the above method.  And grilled salmon speaks for itself.  

It was a couple of days before we finally got down to the harbor to visit Leda.  I can’t know what Dooley was feeling.  I obviously wanted  for Dooley to approve of the work that was being done, so I was a bit nervous despite the fact that he had been getting regular updates and piles of photos.  

Russ and Dooley enjoying a beer in Leda’s cockpit, July 1996

It was interesting.  After we climbed on board we sat in the cockpit and had a beer.  I kept waiting for Dooley’s reaction.  We finished our beers and got into the whiskey.  It was a little early in the day, but it seemed appropriate.  I think we put a pretty good dent in it too, before Dooley finally said, “I guess I ought to have a look around”.  Dooley climbed below and started feeling timbers and looking things over.  He started to speak and being prepared for the moment, I brought out a tape recorder so that I might have a record of what he had to say.  It made him nervous and he shut up.  This went on for a few minutes, every time I started the recorder Dooley stopped talking.  It finally dawned on me that this moment was not about me and what I wanted.  It was about Dooley.  I needed to sit back and let this happen.  He was traveling in time, back to when he was still young and the world was full of possibilities.

Fifty years is a long time in a man’s life.  He worked his way through the boat, finding tool marks he had left and things he had created with his hands.  He talked about his brother, Sandy.  He talked about Kit and their life when they were young, raising kids, water skiing to Mayor Island and the plans they had.  He talked about tools that were used and what mistakes had been made.

I’m not really sure how long we were there, most of an afternoon.  We finally retreated back to the cockpit for another round and got to spend some time talking about what was next for Leda. 

I still wish I had that tape recording.  Although my philosophy on this kind of thing is that it is better to live in the moment and actually experience what is happening around you than to miss the moment because you were focused on recording it.

  I often fail to take photographs.  The idea being that I would rather be part of what is happening than to change myself into an observer by looking through a camera.  Science (or someone involved in scientific research) has concluded that the cell phone generation is not recording memories because of the belief that all they need is a photo, but they are not retaining the memory of the event.  Recording the event in a photo fools the brain into thinking the memory has been stored when in fact it has not been imprinted.  When the brain uses its filing system to retrieve the memory, the file system is blank.  Something to think about.  Regardless I am a proponent of living in the moment.  Don’t be an observer in your own life.  It’s called “Mindfulness” these days.  I call it “living”.  

Dooley at work in Leda’s bilge, cleaning up debris from bulkhead removal

Over the next number of days, Dooley and I got down to the harbor to get some work done.  We finished tearing out the bulkheads.  There is a deli near the harbor that makes great sandwiches.  I left Dooley to work and went to get sandwiches.  I’d asked him what he wanted and he protested that American’s don’t know how to make a proper sandwich.  They load them up with too many things.  So, I told him I would just get two of whatever I was buying and he could take off the stuff he didn’t want.  My favorite sandwich there is a number ten with the works plus onions.  Or in other words corned beef, lettuce, tomato, mayo, mustard and onions.   Dooley ate the entire sandwich.  I was gratified the following day when I asked him what he might like for lunch and he replied “Can we have another one of those sandwiches?” 

Dooley taking a break from work in Leda’s unfinished cockpit

We worked on the toe rails, getting them ready to go back on.  We talked about sail plans, rigging, and gear.  We talked.  We had fun.  Dooley appreciated having a project to do.  He’d spent his life being busy and liked having tools in his hands.

Dooley working on a section of toe railing

I’m sure we must have visited the shop in which I worked.  We would have looked over the mast.  I’m reasonably sure it was in the yard outside the shop where I worked by this time.  It might not have had paint on it yet.  It was eventually time to put him on a plane and on his way to England.  Of course we would have loved to have gotten out sailing but I’m glad to have had some help on the project from the master.

  Next:  Free At Last

Previous:  A 1949 New Zealand Penny