by: Khloé Meitz
***This article, as well as many other great stories by Khloe can be found at her blog - thetryitall.wordpress.com
he Spree was the kind of boat you had to defend more so than flaunt. She was sporty, the way a rusted out WWII jeep might be, and noble in the same manner: garnering respect because she was
an old-timer and pity because she wasn’t wearing it too well. There were soft spots in her deck, in her hull, and in her ceiling; she leaked whenever it rained, seemed to maintain buoyancy through sheer willpower and peeled paint like a bad habit.
And I was her captain.
It was a job I had desired – yearned for in a jealous pit of my stomach – from the first day I knew that it existed. I had never expressly asked for it because that seemed dangerously presumptive and I had travelled all the way from New York to Alaska to be a kayak guide, not a homeless person. I had my guide job, someone else had the captaining job, and that, it had seemed, was that.
But I had loved working the boat and had done the bothersome chores on board whenever I could, and in time it paid off.
It was a job I had desired – yearned for in a jealous pit of my stomach – from the first day I knew that it existed.
I drove that boat six days a week. Every morning I would rise with the sun and walk through the colorful part of town where the jewelry stores and gift shops were lined up side by side: the part that – like a music box – glistened, twirled, and put on a show when there were people there to watch. My feet would take me past the empty cruise-ship berths - due to be filled within a few hours - and finally to the docks where I squelched, slipping on the slick, wooden boards, into the marina.
In the mist, hundreds of fishing boats were stoic shadows of white, or blue or green. I passed them quietly, nodding in rhythm to their slow bobbing and subtle creaking, painfully aware of the men who lay sleeping in their bows. But I rarely saw those men on these early mornings, and I doubt many of them knew I walked by their beds every day as I began my morning chores.
Just under fifty feet long and void of any heavy equipment, the Spree could be easily operated and maintained by one person. However, since two was a tidy, useful number to have when underway, the boat’s owner typically joined me.
The Sea Spree waiting on the docks at Thomas Basin in Ketchikan, Alaska
Together we completed a mental checklist: fill up the cooking and drinking water; light the stove; turn on the radios and start the engine.
That old girl’s heart and stomach, was a big caterpillar diesel that rattled her bones and shivered her timbers. It would roar to life with a shudder and a cough of exhaust and then settle into a steady rumble. As with most boats, it was a sound far more comforting than silence.
Often, we were the first boat out of the marina in the morning and, very often, one of the last to come back home.
We would shimmy our way out of our shallow berth, peek our bow around a pillar of rocks, and then skirt as quickly as we could in our pre-coffee, cold-engine haze into the channel.
I learned the lyrics to more John Denver songs on that boat than I had known existed.
ometimes it was really just us, out there: The grey sky, the black rocks, the green trees, and the sun, all framed up nicely along the bow railing by which I charted our course. Sometimes we came
out of the marina and found ourselves in the course of the morning cruise ship, and we would pass to the flash of a hundred tourists snapping photos of their first-ever, moving, breathing Alaskans.
Either way, the owner and I would motor along the waterways – the ones he knew like a lover, and I knew like, perhaps, a good friend – and we would drink coffee and share donuts and talk. And when silence and sound both had defeated us, we sang John Denver.
I learned the lyrics to more John Denver songs on that boat than I had known existed. This Old Guitar; Calypso; Matthew; Back Home Again. I’m not sure I’ll ever hear him and not be immediately transported back to my summer in Ketchikan, Alaska, and my life as “Betty,” captain of the Sea Spree.
This is the part of the song where you look at her and she goes ‘ooh!’ and it’s terribly romantic.”
“Betty,” he would say, calling me by the name he’d inexplicably chosen for me. “when he says ‘…my lovely lady…’, this is the part of the song where you look at her and she goes ‘ooh!’ and it’s terribly romantic.”
I would watch him from where I sat behind the wheel as he mimed strumming a guitar and then, without a hitch, swooning.
It wasn’t a bad way to spend half of my summer. In fact, I liked it a great deal more than being a kayak guide. I dealt with customers less, and in an entirely different capacity, and spent a great deal of time by myself on a boat in the middle of a quiet, sunny bay.
I had time to reflect, to grow as a person, to watch the world in silence and sunlight as it rolled on by around me, completely oblivious to the girl and her boat where they bobbed in the bay: Betty and the Spree.