A year after moving to Kodiak my customer called asking for a rebuild of the main engine in his combination crabber/salmon tender. He said the engine had just failed in a remote area west of Kodiak.
The boat was tied to the dock in Port Moller, which is really almost no port at all. The parts for the job arrived in Kodiak from Seattle two days later. I then chartered a plane for the $1200 one-way flight to Port Moller. Having never flown over a steaming volcano before, I was spellbound as we looked down into the crater, where tendrils of steam boiled upward from the black lava and the contrasting freshly fallen snow that lay nearby.
Upon arrival I followed the skipper down the metal ladder into the engine room. He showed me the oil dipstick which kept blowing out of its place in the oil pan. Flying dipsticks are sometimes a sign of piston failure. After poking around and looking at the engine crankcase vent hose, I found it kinked-over and blocked. It took ten minutes to troubleshoot the engine and straighten the kinked vent hose. The engine then operated perfectly.
The skipper refused to believe it was a false alarm, so we untied from the dock and headed into a storm for an 8 hour test run. He ran it hard through the rough seas. I began to get sea-sick, until I went out on the back deck and nearly got washed overboard. I realized afterward the sea sickness was gone, miraculously cured by intense fright.
When we returned, other fishermen had heard a mechanic was available and three other boats were lined up at the dock. I worked well over 24 hours continuously, climbing from one boat to the next until getting them all back out fishing.
After a few hours sleep it was to the landing strip to take another chartered plane home. A fragile looking Cessna aircraft sat by the windy strip, tied down to avoid its departure without the pilot. One blue wing and one red seemed a clever color scheme. A young boy appearing to be about sixteen years young waited nearby. Probably another passenger, I thought, or someone just watching the plane while the pilot went to the bushes.
I asked the young fellow if he’d seen the pilot, and he told me he was the pilot and that it was time to go. Furthermore, he said I was the only passenger. When asked where the survival suits were in the plane (after take-off). He explained, “I don’t carry them because the water’s so cold in the Shelikof Strait, a suit wouldn’t help anyway.”
“Great color scheme.” I ventured next. He laughed and said “The previous pilot had been fired last week after crashing the plane.” They had an extra red wing off of another plane wreck, so they made one good plane from the two wrecks.
After take-off we circled over the western shore of the strait to gain altitude. It took quite awhile for the single-engine craft to climb to its ceiling of 14,000 feet. It was comforting to have altitude heading across the water.
When asked if he’d ever had trouble on the crossing, he confessed this was his first. At that point I was all out of small talk, and soon we landed safely in Kodiak.
A Sample Of Ben’s Course: Solving Fastener and Fitting Problems In The Field