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Ode To Oso Pete

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Ode To Oso Pete

Postby tacorajim » Sat Mar 21, 2009 1:29 pm

Ode to Oso Pete
By Jim Shannon

Our fourth winter living aboard from San Pedro to Pelican was finally over. The old 60-foot Lynn Dee resembled a floating greenhouse with that stick-frame Visqueen cover stretched from stem to stern. She was a novel sight alright, this long floating apartment wearing a plastic cocoon, but she’d kept my wife and me and our three sons warm and dry. Now this early Spring of 1976, we knew that to ever build that dream house on our waterfront lot in Pelican, we had to go fishing soon. Put this boat on the grid. Tear off that cover.

As I stepped from boat to float to ponder this project, something caught my eye. The troller across from mine was rolling some, yet the harbor was flat as steel. Looking up, I couldn’t believe what I thought I saw. Perched on the crosstree astraddle the mast of the Oso was old Pete. He had wintered aboard alongside our float, but we didn’t visit that much. Pete was 82 years old. He kept to himself.

Climbed THAT RIGGING? The rusty old stays had that look they do when prickly strands can eat your hands. My first reaction was to holler up to come down and let me change that mast light. But afraid any distraction might break his concentration, I froze, hoping he wouldn’t see me. Soon he slithered gradually down the wobbly, mossy rungs. Grip after grip with each knobby fist and muscled forearm, he lowered himself past the blaying pins onto the caprail.

It was awkward scolding Oso Pete, implying apologetically that he’s too old to be up there. His blue eyes twinkled beneath white wiry eyebrows. This baby-like toothless smile broadened. It looked like I’d embarrassed him. Then he lowered his head and confessed he went up there and forgot to take the new bulb with him. He thanked me for offering to go back up, but said he still liked to climb. I couldn’t bear to watch, didn’t know CPR, so I strolled up the ramp.

Many years later and two borders south (or is Ilwaco east?), I told this story to my friend Bob on the Defense as we reminisced our wild days in thriving old Pelican. He said my concern for Oso Pete’s stability was probably wasted. Pete had spent his youth aloft on brigs and barks from Frisco to Shanghai, then up and down the coast swinging from the yardarms of lumber schooners in the early 1900s.

Bob then filled me in on the rest of Oso Pete’s summer. Pete took the Oso from Pelican down the Straits and south off the coast of Chichagof Island to fulfill his last wish. He would visit White Sulfur Hot Springs one last time. While the anchorage at the head of Bertha Bay offered protection from most blows, the water covers jagged reefs and shallow pinnacles. But if you knew what you were doing and had the place to yourself you could drop the hook on short scope and take a skiff ashore.

The Forest Service rangers maintained a closed-in shelter around this concrete basin of two pools heated naturally to about 105 degrees. I rarely lasted an hour when I was there. Who knows when Pete had enough of this steamy sulfur, but when he did he dressed and headed down the rocky path to launch his skiff.

Beyond the slanting shadows of towering firs, Pete could see Oso’s crosstree, mast and trolling poles wallowing skyward at a weird angle. She’d sunk in two fathoms. His old folks home. His life’s lump sum was submerged. But lucky for him a group of locals from Pelican soon arrived. Arrangements were made to get help. A diver with Hookah gear and drums came out from Pelican the next day. Several volunteers managed to raise the Oso and tow her back to town. Folks pitched in, and within a few days the Oso was back running just in time to set a few skates of halibut gear across Lisianski Inlet.

Thirty summers later I took my little Tacora eighty miles off Cape Disappointment chasing albacore. No sight of land for days. Aside from lingering brilliance, there was no weather to speak of. So one fish here, one there on a long line. Big tides gushing twice a day from the mouth of the mighty Columbia River served a live buffet of anchovies, sardines and crill. The Tacora’s wake of feathered jigs was no competition.


This lazy afternoon, when about all you could catch was a sunburn, a tweety-bird landed forward. It flitted from fore-stay to cleat and back again checking out the fo’c’sle skylight. Little miss canary seemed curious, and was welcome to ride along. I remembered trolling salmon in the 60's having one come aboard now and then off Point Arena not so far offshore, or off the Channel Islands jigging Bonita in November. But always within an hour birdie either flew away, or rolled over dead. A theory among old salts was that these were land birds. And when one got old or ill, it followed its instinct offshore to find its final resting place. But this little bird flew off to the west, reappeared a short while later, then turned belly up on the skylight reminding me what Bob told me about Oso Pete’s last voyage.

Rather than pay winter moorage in Pelican again, Pete anchored on the outside of Chichagof. You are unlikely, even in your youth, to survive a winter of freezing southeasters without visits from a boat or float plane. Had he been twenty years younger his IFQs might have funded him a cabin instead of a cozy berth in the Sitka Pioneer Home. But they found him inside the hot springs on the concrete deck beside the pool, face up. His eyes were wide open, staring aloft at bare wooden trusses. No masts. No manilla halyards swinging in the breeze. No rusty cable stays.
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Re: Ode To Oso Pete

Postby Einar » Sat Nov 06, 2010 4:54 pm

I enjoyed this story very much. I have fond memories of my dad chatting with Oso Pete, leaning on the rail by the steambath or at the top of the ramp from the floats. I thought I saw him in later years in Sitka, hanging out at the Pioneer Bar. But I'm likely remembering someone else. Memories change over time. I am lucky to have met so many interesting older fishermen when I was a kid.

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Re: Ode To Oso Pete

Postby John Murray » Sun Nov 07, 2010 12:28 pm

Einar, yes you could have seen Oso many a time at the P-bar.He had his corner to the right of front door.Many times you'd see him with his little glass and a pretty girl or three around the booth.The girls seemed really engaged with him.It would be cool if one of those girls chimed in and filled us in on the"happening" around Oso's corner.
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