Showdown At Izenbek Bay

 

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At thirteen years of age,
He was already a seasoned hand.
He’d been told, years before,
‘You WILL act like a man!’

Seining Alaska’s Bering Sea,
Was a wild and woolly time,
To be any place else on earth,
He wouldn’t have given a dime.

Long hard days and damn short nights,
Skimpy meals caught on the fly,
In the rare calm, or wind and rain,
There was never a question why.

Driving hard to make it pay,
Though the fishing was pretty poor,
He wouldn’t have traded places with anyone,
Who made their living ashore.

The boats were small and crude,
By the standards of today.
But living rough and primitive,
Was the normal, accepted way.

When a hand swelled too big to use,
He didn’t think it was cause for alarm.
Cause he didn’t know the ominous meaning,
Of the red streak, inching up his arm.

But his father caught it, because the boy,
Was only working at half-speed.
A race to find a doctor,
Was the obvious, immediate need.

A poultice of raw potatoes,
Was all there was to hold the poison down.
And they headed for their cannery,
Hundreds of miles from any town.

Down out of Moffet Lagoon they came,
Threading the sand flats of Izembek Bay,
And through the gap in the sand bar,
Where the bones of the sailing ship,’ Courtney Ford’, still lay.

Well the seas were breaking clear across,
As they bucked out
of that hole.
But they had to get to the cannery,
No turning back from that goal.

The seine skiff and the end skiff,
Were towing in tandem right behind.
Their sole means of livelihood,
They’d doubled up on the lines.

It seemed they’d made it through unscathed,
When those tow lines parted with a crack!
And as the skiffs sheared for the beach,
The skipper started circling back.

They came along-side the seine skiff,
And his dad timed his jump aboard.
He had to work them out of the breakers,
Before they blew ashore.

It seemed he was almost clear,
When a wave reared up like a solid wall.
Building higher and higher as on it came,
It hit that skiff like Niagara Falls!

The wave broke and the skiff disappeared,
Beneath tons of water and flying foam!
The kid, watching aghast, just knew,
His dad was never going home!

The roaring wind and water,
Completely drowned out every sound.
So much water had gone over him,
The kid just knew his dad had drowned.

But as the wave went surging past,
There stood his dad in that sunken boat,
Up to his chest in water,
In a skiff just barely afloat.

But as he disappeared beneath,
Each successive incoming wave,
It seemed more certain all the time,
That sandbar would be his grave!

The other skiff had broken away,
The backwash was pushing it off-shore.
The seine was a spreading, writhing mass,
It looked a death-trap for sure!

Each time his father showed between the waves,
He seemed to be getting farther away.
The kid realized they weren’t going back,
They were running for the safety of the bay!

He raced up to the flying bridge,
Screaming, “You’ve got to turn around!
Dad’s sunk, you’ve gotta go back,
Or I know he’s going to drown!”

The skipper just ignored him,
As he screamed, “Turn around! Turn around!”
But he might as well been down on deck,
Not making any sound!

He looked back at his dad,
And knew what must be done!
His dad would never just stand by,
And he was his father’s son!

Now there’s no fancy philosophizing,
When you’re out there over the edge.
You do whatever you have to do,
When you’ve taken the manhood pledge!

He jumped below and grabbed his rifle,
And scrambled back up on top.
One way or another,
Their retreat just had to stop!

“Turn this boat around,
Or, by God, I’ll shoot you dead!”
Or something to that affect,
Were the words that kid said.

Braced in the corner of the flying bridge,
With his rifle held straight and true,
There wasn’t a quiver or a doubt,
He’d do what he had to do.

One look at that kid’s face,
It was clear he was ready for desperate deeds.
Saving his father was his resolve,
No matter what the need.

The skipper spun the boat around,
His spell of fear was broken.
They drove that boat into the surf,
No other words need spoken.

With a skillful steady hand,
They eased in through those breaking swells,
And when the combers hit that boat,
She was tossed like an empty shell!

She’d rear up on a swell and hang,
Right over the man in the sunken skiff.
Then she’d drop with a sickening plunge,
He’d wonder how she’d ever miss!

Then he’d be looking up at his dad,
As his dad looked down on him.
The beach was closing fast,
The situation looked mighty grim.

But the kid had a line tied off,
And was standing by to throw.
He had to do it right,
There’d be no second chance to go!

The poultice was long gone,
He’d ripped it out of his way!
But if using that hand was painful,
Later he couldn’t say.

He could just see the skiff, seine, and his dad,
All tangled in the surf,
And knew if they hit the beach,
They were all done on this earth!

Well, the kid gave the line a heave.
His dad quickly had it tied,
And as they dropped off in the trough,
He came rolling over the side.

The skipper eased the boat around,
Into the on-coming seas.
Sometimes she’d drop off so hard,
It would drive you to your knees!

They slowly worked that sunken skiff,
Toward the calm inside the bar.
But suddenly she rolled up-side down,
That few hundred yards was just too far.

The skipper said, “Cut her loose!
We’ll figure our next move down the road.
We’ve got to find a doctor,
It’s way past time to go.”

The seine was rolled up in the surf,
Completely out of reach.
But they retrieved their second skiff,
And headed down the beach.

Dad said, “Thanks for coming back,
I didn’t think you heard my voice.”
The skipper grinned, looked at the kid,
And said, “I really didn’t have a choice!”

Later Dad said, “I saw that boat turn around,
And you with your rifle on the bridge.
You probably shouldn’t have done that…
But I’m mighty glad you did!”

Well, I know that kid very well,
And I don’t doubt to this day,
That he’d have pulled the trigger,
If he hadn’t gotten his way.

Now this little story I’ve just told,
Is the plain unvarnished truth.
And that rifle still hangs on my wall at home,
If you want to see the proof!

David Densmore Dec. 22, 2002


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