Del Norte People: Remembering boat that went the wrong way

By Chuck Blackburn October 13, 2011 05:32 pm

As we grow older I think that we look at our life’s experiences a little differently than in our younger years.

I have had a chance to reflect more on the unbelieveable experiences of coming out west in 1946 with my father, Wes Blackburn. He had such an impact on me in teaching me about living, surviving, working and having good moral values.

I wrote my book, “Kneebockers,” to honor my father and what he did for me. He died on Easter Sunday morning in 1976 of a heart attack.

To start this story, I would like to reflect back to 1949, our first summer on the Klamath River. We ended up staying all summer at Shorty’s Camp. My younger brother Wes Jr. had come out to be with us for a short time.

Dad was quite a hunter but he also loved fishing, particularly ocean fishing for salmon and rock fish. He purchased a 16-foot ocean boat with a covered front deck and an inboard well for the outboard motor.

We woke up one morning and Dad said, “Boys, we are going ocean fishing up at False Klamath Cove near Wilson Creek.” We loaded all our stuff, including life jackets, and away we went for another adventure.

We arrived at Wilson Creek and pulled off from Highway 101 into a parking lot where Wilson Creek entered the ocean. We unloaded the heavy boat and pulled it down the beach toward the water. We were going to launch it just south of numerous big rocks and it seemed to me that the breakers were pretty rough. Dad assured us that we would do fine. Dad laid out the plan: He would run the motor as soon as the water was deep enough. Wes Jr. would sit forward of Dad.

We pushed off from the beach and Dad started rowing and then told me to start the motor. I was turned partly away from the ocean ahead and as I turned toward Dad, all I saw was a breaker. “Pour the coal to her, son,” said Dad. We hit the breaker and made it, only to confront a second and a third. We took on some water but were OK. Dad said, “We made it, boys, and good job with the motor, son.”

We made it to the cove south of Wagon Park and started jigging for rock fish. We started catching fish immediately and Dad was in seventh heaven.

Wes Jr. and I both got seasick but we weathered the storm. We loaded our fish sack with rockfish and Dad was entirely content. We had to land in the cove below an old road where we could reload the boat back on the truck and trailer. Another day with my father.

After Dad retired as a structural steelworker and welder, he fished the ocean a lot in his 16-foot  boat. He would fish for salmon or rockfish with his hand gurdy with its tiny cable line and lead ball. He loved the ocean. One day he shared with me that he had bought a 26-foot lifeboat out of Portland, Ore., and it was being shipped down by truck.

He truly wanted to become a commercial fisherman. The boat arrived and he had a location where he could park his house trailer and work on the boat. It was a 26-foot double-ender and we gutted the inside. He got ahold of an iron rail from the old Hobbs Wall Railroad and welded it as an extra strong keel for the boat. He said, “If I run into Castle Rock, the boat will win the battle.”

He bought a new Albin two-cylinder diesel for power and extended a shaft out of a rear seal to a new bronze propeller.

We put several coats of fiberglass all over the boat and built a deck, wheelhouse and gaffing hatch to work from while fishing and a rear hatch for ice and caught fish. On each side of the deck were cut three skuppers to let water run back overboard. This boat was really built for a one-man operation. We then painted the boat, which Dad named “Sea Otter.”

It was time to take the maiden voyage. We hauled it to the boat ramp and lowered it into the water. I could sense Dad’s excitement as we got ready to push from the dock. He climbed aboard and started the diesel. It purred like a little kitten and Dad said, “Push off son, we’re going fishing.” I climbed aboard and we headed out into the harbor.

Dad said, “Here we go, son,” as he turned the steering wheel to the right, but then the boat went left. He then turned the wheel left and it went right. He turned to me and smiled and said, “Well, son, I guess I got the chaindrive to the rudder backward. We both laughed. Dad said that he would fix the problem later. He never did.

We went toward the lighthouse and made several tacks north and south and caught several salmon. I got a little seasick, but I was not going to let this spoil Dad’s day.

He was in the gaffing hatch and it had its own steering wheel, throttle and forward and reverse gear shift. We headed into the old harbor and Dad was getting ready to back into the rear buoy and anchor when I asked him, “Dad, which way do you have to turn the wheel in order to back in this way?” “Well, son,” he said, “we’re going to have to see which way it goes.”

We laughed and we gave each other a father-and-son hug. The boat that went the wrong way was born.