Lessons from Port Graham


Port Graham has been all southwest wind and rain since this morning, confirming the decision to stay. After breakfast I got the dinghy over the side for an extended row and a few short walks, and out of those activities came two lessons.

Lesson One: Bear Spray works, even on humans.

I’m carrying bear spray for trips ashore in remote parts of Alaska. For those who don’t know, let me say that 1) black and brown bears are the dominant species up here and one should expect to find them outside of areas of dense human population; i.e. almost *everywhere* in this thinly populated state; 2) an increasingly recommended form of protection against bears is bear spray, essentially pepper spray in a hair spray sized bottle.

I decided to test my bear spray while ashore today. I’ve not seen anything but otters since arrival, but better to be safe…

Once on the beach, I put my back to the wind, popped the safety, pressed the trigger, and WHAMO! Out came a 30 foot stream of what appeared to be rust-orange spray paint. If graffiti had been my mission, I’d have been golden.

Some tiny amount of this spray paint got caught in the backwind created by my turned body and bit me in the eyes and nose something fierce. Immediately I had a sneezing fit of vast proportions and watery eyes I was afraid to touch. It was as though I’d stuck my head into a vat of powdered wasabi.

Briefly I thought I might need to call for help. Then I remembered. Ain’t nobody here but me.

Lesson Two: A 25 foot rise of tide rises quickly.

On my row I beached several times for a hike, a walk of maybe 20 minutes. It was flood tide, and a biggie, so I pulled the dinghy many feet up the shoreline. The water was alway right up to the dinghy when I returned.

Big tides are the rule up here. I’ve been watching them these many months in Homer. But I’ve never had the experience up close. For example, it had never occurred to me that to rise 25 feet in a tide cycle (about 6 hours) means the average rise per hour is … 4+ FEET! More, actually, during the middle parts as the distribution of rise is weighted toward the middle third.

So, practically speaking, if you stand at the tide line during a flood, the water will be over your boot tops in fifteen minutes. Tide comes in so fast, you can watch if flow in over the low beaches like a river. I got to where I’d pull the dinghy up and if I got back too early, I’d just wait (not too long) for the tide to float it.

Port Graham is a pretty place, but lonely on a gray, wet day. The otters, rafted together in the middle of the bay after their morning feed, quietly dispersed as I approached for a chat. The guillemots too. Wind is rising. Best to put the dinghy away and prepare for tomorrow.


2 Comments on “Lessons from Port Graham

  1. Pepper spray is a unique defense weapon is it not? Incapacitates both recipient and sender. Pepper spray works the same way your dad did, when he’d yell: “You kids play nice in there, or NOBODY gets dessert!”

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