This story was inspired by the many abandoned canneries and ghost towns we visited on our travels to and within Alaska.
The fog swirls on the bow of the boat as we pass through the narrow entrance to the harbor. The familiar cannery lights float into view. The fog softens the edges of the buildings and mutes the sound of the men and machinery taking in the last of the harvest. The smell of salmon cooking and smoking is thick on the fog. It feels good to be home.
Returning with the last of the catch. We have a full boat of salmon. The deck is almost awash with the weight of them. Emma Jean sputters and coughs but otherwise keeps to her dull thump, thump, thump as we make our way across the harbor. She is not a pretty boat, needing a coat of paint, but she has kept us well. Through storms and fog she has brought us home with another load of ocean gold. She continues to move along making nary a wake to disturb the seabirds resting from the storm ranging outside the harbor.
I can now hear the rattle of rigging from the other long liners. The fishing boats look sad huddled together against the dock. This fishing season’s been hard on these sturdy vessels. The winds were relentless and the fog never seemed to lift except occasionally for a few hours late in the day.
The season’s been tough on the men too. My first mate, Jimmy is huddled in a great lump of wool sweaters. His extended foot is missing its rubber boot. Jimmy never seems to take those boots off, so seeing him in deep slumber without his boot surprises me.
We are getting a little closer, the lights on the other boats and on the cannery are brighter, but still seem a long way away. The lights bopping in and out of the fog draw us near, like a moth to the flame. I know it’s the fog playing tricks as it draws us home.
The first light of day is starting to play on the trees around the harbor. A small gust of wind soon pushes the fog ashore obscuring the light. A small boy in an anchored boat gives us a wave as we quietly ghost by the stern. He looks confused as we move in and out of the fog. A man, probably his father by the similar look and build comes on deck at the boys bidding. I can see him staining to see us better, but the fog resists his efforts. They disappear in the fog only to reemerge a moment later, only now the father has found a glass and is looking us over hard.
A moment later the VHF radio crackles to life. The man was hailing us. I think it is odd but move to pick up the receiver to answer them back. “Hello, vessel calling. This is the Emma Jean, over”. The reply comes back “Good morning, this is the sailing sloop True North, we were a little surprised to see you coming in, with the storm and all”. It had been bad to be sure; worse than usual but to be polite, I said “Yep, the storms real bad and you’d best stay anchored up in this cozy harbor. If you want you can come over to the cannery later and visit, you’d be welcome. Bring your boy, I’m sure he’d enjoy looking around and stretching his feet.” The next reply was just plain odd, “Did you say cannery, over”. “I sure did, in fact I’m taking a load of fish we caught last night there now”, I said. The transmission started to fail, odd seeing we were so close, but I could have sworn the man said, “But the cannery has been shut down for 50 years, there’s nothing left but ….”. I never did make out the last bit.
The fog swirls on the bow of the boat as we pass through the narrow entrance to the harbor.
Written by Shawn