I heard the other day that the Sitka Ranger is being sold. For those who don't know, this is a sixty seven foot (more or less) boat that we used sometimes when we monitored the South Baranof and West Chichagof-Yakobi Wildernesses in Southeast Alaska. (A diesel boat to get to the wilderness..? Well, the ocean is State of Alaska property and not in wilderness..a whole different topic there).
There were good things and bad things about working off the Ranger. First, the good: sitting on the back deck in the glorious and unexpected sun as we motored over the glassy waters of Chatham Strait, dolphins playing in our wake, waterfalls streaming down the cliffs. Rising at three am to help Steve pilot the boat around Cape Ommaney. Warmth and respite from the endless rain.
It wasn't always great: imagine being cooped up for ten days with people you don't necessarily like. Dripping clothes, snoring, mercuric captains. Still, the boat had a history. A fleet of them used to squire rangers around back in the day, a mobile office for when decision makers actually went to the field. Back in the days of the fifty year contracts, timber crews used it exensively.
But costs went up, office duties lured rangers away, timber cutting ground to a standstill. We found it more cost-effective to fly or rent water taxis, and it seemed more in keeping with wilderness to approach campers in kayaks, rather than noisy skiffs. The demand for trips declined. The Forest decided to sell.
Even though there were days when I would have gladly swum back to Sitka to get off the boat, I find myself a little sad. I arrived in Sitka in 2002, with no place to live and in a downpour. I wondered if I had made a huge mistake.
Then I left on a ten day circumnavigation of Baranof Island on the Sitka Ranger. It was sun-drenched, each bay more beautiful than the one before. From the rail I watched fog gradually pull back to reveal walls of stone reaching for the sky, thick green forest and snowy peaks. I knew I had made the right decision.
So motor on, Sitka Ranger. I hope someone buys you who will take you out again to those bays that nobody ever quite forgets.