Afterward, Mattson and Folkerts turned on the Noreen Kay's VHF radio to hail Angoon and schedule the safety seminar.
The radio crackled with conversation. A boat had just struck a whale — or the leviathan struck the boat — in Icy Straits, and she was taking on water faster than her pumps could remove it.
Folkerts remembered that dozens of humpbacks had breached alongside the Noreen Kay and her Jet Skis all day yesterday; one had it in for a boater. Folkerts and Mattson unrolled a chart on the galley table to gauge the distance to the crippled boat. Coast Guard Station Sitka, about 120 miles to the Southwest was holding its chopper at the ready for a rescue. Boating Safety 101 class would be delayed while the chopper and Noreen Kay stood by.
"No single cause stands out as the reason for Alaska's high boating death toll," Folkerts said, not necessarily referring to the whale collision, "but the death toll is high enough to keep us very concerned."
A commercial fisher eventually loaned the stricken vessel a spare pump, and the boat made it to port for repairs under its own power.
A humpback whale with a Moby Dick complex trumped tricky tides, treacherous reefs and fickle weather. It's all part of the charm of Alaska's desolate beauty. Tricky tides challenged Folkerts' crew next, ripping out of Angoon's inlet so fast that whitewaterlike turbulence rumpled the bay. Only the Jet Skis were nimble enough to safely approach Angoon's seaplane dock, so Folkerts' crew left Noreen Kay at Whalers Cove. At Angoon inlet, a red harbor buoy bobbed under the weight of four barking sea lions. Beyond them stood a white cross curiously erected on top of a nearby rock island.
The seaplane dock was empty, save another small monument of stacked rocks and a bundle of flowers at one corner. A few villagers ambled to the docks and a couple of men and a boy boarded a fishing boat and tinkered with the outboard, preparing to take a shot at a giant halibut that frequents these waters.
Soon, young Tlingit boys and girls wandered down the steep ramp. Noreen began yanking brand-new Stearns life jackets out of a duffle and gave them out. Stearns had donated them to assist in the mission.
The boy on the fishing boat stepped over wearing a tattered and loose-fitting life jacket that offered scant safety. The boy said nothing, but Noreen reached deep into the bag, past the brightly colored kids' life jackets, and pulled out a man's jacket with three secure buckles.
"That's yours, son," Noreen said, handing it over. The best thank-you was how quickly he buckled it on. Minutes later, the anglers shoved off into the swift current.
Soon, more than a dozen kids clustered around, eyeing the colorful life jackets. Maybe it was the bright colors or the prospect of becoming the owner of something brand new, not handed down, that sparked their eagerness, but unlike the spoiled resistance of warm-water teenage boaters from the lower 48 states, these kids couldn't wait to get into new life jackets.
Ask any Alaskan if they know someone who died in a boat accident, and you'll likely get a reaction. Angoon resident Sugar ("Just Sugar," she said) eyed a neighbor at the question and raised her closed hand. She popped up fingers, counting.
"One, two, three," she hesitated looking at the neighbor for affirmation "four...."
Then she pointed to the stone stack monument at the corner of the dock "...five."
A beloved neighbor, teacher and coach had disappeared one evening after boarding a boat. Hours of searching turned up debris from his rig but not him. Some thought he was jarred from his fishing boat when it drifted or motored against a navigation marker or piling. The tide would have taken him out.
"It was the third time he'd fallen out of his boat over the years," Sugar said. "Did you see that white cross out on Kenasnow Rock?" She waved in the direction of the cross near the seals.
"Four people died there. Their boat overturned in sight of the town but nobody could get to them in time."
The "Five-Minute Rule" again.