Gold Rush Dream

German shapes boat to sail Yukon dream

Work took many hours over two summers

By April Busch

If the mountains looked down onto the Lake Bennett train station last Saturday, they must have experienced a century-old case of deja vu.
White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad Steam Engine Number 40 pulled through thick white billows into the station as a camp-weathered man in overalls left his lakeside canvas wall tent. After six weeks work over two summers, David Dirk made final preparations for the maiden voyage of his small boat, handtooled for his journey to Dawson City in the Yukon.
“I keep telling him all of the good claims have already been staked,” said John Bush, White Pass superintendent of operations, with a laugh. “But he insists on going.”
About 80 steam engine passengers and Chilkoot Trail hikers cheered Dirk’s push-off just after noon, beneath high overcast skies. Volunteers clambered to grab hold of the boat and help carry it about 15 feet to the water’s edge, where it will soak for up to a week. The original boats, made with fresh wet wood, didn’t need to swell to resist water.
As a modern day argonaut, he isn’t waiting for the thaw and his food is stored in plastic barrels. But in his own parallel of the goldrush, 31-year-old David Dirk is living on the banks of Bennett, cooking on an old metal box stove and building a boat from frame to sail that will carry him and his ton of goods 547 miles to the Klondike.
Dirk wanted to camp at Bennett, as it was the main springboard for the water portion of the Klondike trail, but couldn’t get permission from Parks Canada to stay on national land. He approached White Pass about camping on their railway easement.
“I was excited about the idea,” Bush said. “Other than to line the pockets of our stockholders, the White Pass experience is about the opportunity to understand our past.”
Bush is pleased with how Dirk’s project enhances the gold rush image for visitors. With the wall tent, Dirk building his own boat and Locomotive 40, we get a little window into our past to help us learn who we are, Bush said.
“His camp is a reasonable replication of the 1890s,” Parks Canada interpreter Rob Scoble said. “Only, about five feet away from his wall tent would be another outfit, with their tent and goods stacked around them.”
Dirk, who journied down the Yukon eight years ago on a log raft, began building the rowboat last summer.
“I started it last year,” Dirk said. “But it took a long time to organize everything; to get the lumber, to get permission to do it, to set up camp and all that.”
He stored the boat in Skagway for the Winter while he flew home to Frankfurt, Germany. He returned June 21 of this year to complete the boat, which he will christen Chamain after writer Jack London’s second wife.
Like many people, he was drawn to this area through the tales of London and the romantic history of the Klondike Gold Rush. Last summer he visited the Jack London Museum and the wharves London worked at in Oakland, Calif. Disappointed that he was unable to recognize Oakland from London’s descriptions, he returned to the Yukon River with anticipation.

“There are curves in the lakes and banks, where things happen in London’s books, that he describes in such intricate detail, that I know where they happened when I pass by,” Dirk said, his eyes shining with exhilarated expectancy.
But he sees a stampeder re-enactment as a vehicle for fulfilling his main motivation for the trip, which is to be outdoors.
“Everyone that hikes the trail, in their own way, does their own re-enactment,” Scoble said.
Inspired by the rugged demands London felt, Dirk is attempting to replicate as much of the original rushers experience as he can. He’s camping much like the gold seekers and is building the boat from local pine, with a cross-cut saw, plane, hammer, nails and assorted other hand tools. He used oakum or hemp fiber between the boards and heated pitch to seal the seams.
The skills he honed teaching woodworking and good old trial and error have helped him figure out a design from turn-of-the-century photos. While he has never built a boat before, Dirk does have several years’ professional sailing experience crossing the Atlantic and working on private yachts in the Caribbean.
“But boat building is like modeling a sculpture,” Dirk said. “You have to build a shape. It’s a very high skill in woodworking. I didn’t know how much work it would be. I just started, and then I knew it was a lot of work.”
With bear repellant and technological advancements, it might appear that Dirk has it easy. But not all of the differences between his journey and the stampeders are advantageous.
While the original stampeders had to cut and mill all of their wood, Dirk had his shipped up on the White Pass from a sawmill near Lake Labarge (the surrounding area is now protected Canadian national parkland). But the 1890s boat builders had each other and learned knowledge. Dirk has basically been inventing and improvising alone as he goes along.
“I talked to some boat builders about how to begin, and everyday hikers and train passengers come by and give me advice,” Dirk said. “Unfortunately none of them have been professional boat builders.”
The boat design is the simplest to build, with a flat bottom and a pointed bow.
“I wanted to build authentically. The only way to do that was by examining photos,” he explained as he leafed through his collection of more than 200 gold rush eight-by-tens purchased from the Yukon Archives’ collection for about three Canadian dollars apiece. “Once you have some knowledge and practical experience you look at a photo and don’t just see boats, but notice how they put all of it together: where things are, how high, what (they’re) used for.”
To illustrate his point Dirk took out a picture of some moored boats and began to point out different, small details that could go unnoticed.
Univ. of Washington photo, courtesy Yukon Archives

Boat builders at Bennett, 1898.

His eyes suddenly focused in as he examined it intently and then widened in surprise, “See these oarlocks, this is exactly what I mean.” He explained the technical advantages of the particular oarlock design.
“That is smart,” he said. “And exactly how I’ll to do it tomorrow. Good.”
The boat is the culmination of two years of planning for the trip and studying pictures.
White Pass passenger Jack Follmer from Palm Desert, Calif., said it was great to assist the launch. “I wouldn’t want to tackle what he’s going to do, but (his boat) is probably better than what the original stampeders had. She looks good.”
“It’s a great feeling to have the boat in the water now,” Dirk said. “The next exciting thing will be to put the number on her and set sail.”
Each stampeder was required to paint a number from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police on the bow. As they passed by, RCMP posts would record their number.
Dirk will find out the number of the last stampeder and paint the next number on his boat, continuing the century-old legacy.

Fast ferry RFPs sent out after Gov. Knowles vetos remaining Juneau Access EIS funding

Sitka ferry to be on line by 2003

By Dimitra Lavrakas

Hard on the heels of his funding veto for completion of the Environmental Impact Statement for a Juneau-Skagway road, Gov. Tony Knowles attended the signing on July 13 the Request for Proposals for a fast ferry linking Sitka and Juneau.
Knowles vetoed the $1.5 million for the EIS on June 30. It was his only spending veto of the 2000 legislative session.
“The people of Alaska asked for a ferry system that could transport them at convenient hours on a daily basis, with the same level of safety that we have always expected from our ferries,” Knowles said. “We intend to deliver such a system by developing a new fleet of vessels which can meet the communities’ needs and free ourselves from the tyranny of the tides. No longer will the schedule for the entire ferry system be dictated by the stage of the tide in Sergius Narrows.”
When asked to comment on the “tyranny of the tides,” Sitka Mayor Stan Filler said, “I can’t even say it – tyranny of the tides.
“Seems like just a couple of years ago we were here talking about the Southeast Transportation Plan,” he said. “And we had to get it signed because we had a plan. Now, it’s going to come to realization. I think the cool part about this whole thing people fail to realize is that when we put the ferry system together 40 years ago, it was so we could get back and forth – it was our highway system in Southeastern Alaska...We haven’t been able to do that on a regular basis, now we’re going to be able to hook up Sitka with Juneau, but we’ll also be able to stop in Angoon and Hoonah.”
The new system will unite the people of Southeast, which is really one big neighborhood, he said. He applauded the Governor’s leadership on the issue and complemented the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities and the Alaska Marine Highway System for its hard work.
“There’s been a lot of bumps in the road...I’m delighted to see this RFP finally released,” said Juneau Mayor Dennis Egan. “The Sitka shuttle concept originated at the request of the Southeast Conference and the Southeast Conference of Mayors, and we believe that all Alaskans traveling in the Southeast will benefit.”
Egan said it was important to impress on Alaska residents in other parts of the state that the AMHS is “our highway, and is part of the national highway system.”
The RFP calls for a catamaran hull design, diesel power, and water jet propulsion, with a capacity for 35 cars and 250 passengers, and an operating speed of 32 knots. Currently, AMHS ferries run at 14-17 knots, said Bob Doll, ADT&PF Southeast Regional director and former AMHS director.
A recent test of a similarly-designed vessel last fall proved that such a vessel could navigate the swift Narrows currents that other ferries must cross on a slack tide. The shuttle will make the trip from Juneau to Sitka in less than five hours and return the same day – down from the present nine hours travel time. It is expected the ferry will begin service the summer of 2003.
Knowles said the new ferry system AMHS intends to implement will become “ one of the premier ferry systems in the world.”
From a personal standpoint, Knowles wondered if the schedule would change to daytime hours to allow Alaska students to travel from one town to another for athletic and other extracurricular events. Doll assured him it would.
This first ferry’s budget stands at $31.8 million, and 90 percent will be paid for by the federal government.
There are eight qualified shipyards in the United States that can build such a ferry, Doll said. None are in Alaska.
Doll said the contact should be awarded early in 2001.
The plan presented by DOT/PF to the Legislature last session called for three fast ferries, that last one for Juneau to Skagway. It was planned to be completed by 2003. However, the legislative body did not approve funding and the new date has not been set.
“Generally, I would say ferry number two could be available nine months after ferry number one, and ferry number three six months after that,” said Doll, in an interview from Juneau. “What the Legislature’s reluctance has done has not only required us to include an extended bid evaluation process in the RFP, but also caused a delay in delivery of the first ship. There is always potential for an accelerated delivery of ferries two and three, but that depends on the Legislature.
“We think it (fast ferry system) makes good financial sense, and I think we’ve convinced Sen. Torgerson of that. Now we need to convince the rest of the Legislature.”
Torgerson, R-Kasilof and Senate Finance Committee co-chair, had severe reservations about the fast ferry idea last session.

RCCL announces new ways to clean up its act

By Dimitra Lavrakas

“Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. and Celebrity has changed in our business in the last year, and a lot has changed in the industry” said Celebrity Cruises and RCCL’s president Jack Williams in a meeting in Skagway on Tuesday. “We can’t get up and tell you how great we are, we have to build our reputation on our actions.”
Their actions, Williams said, include introducing two new ships to the Alaska market next year that will operate with gas turbine engines that will reduce emissions 80-90 percent.
He also displayed a container of gray water that had been purified by a reverse osmosis process. It’s this treated water that Williams said the ship releases outside of the Inside Passage.
Passing it around, Mayor John Mielke held it up to the light, sniffed it and then took a swallow. It’s this treated water that Williams said the ship releases outside of the Inside Passage.
On this trip, Williams said the company is benefiting from its financial support in the communities they visit.
He announced this in the Recreation Center with the new gym floor in place, paid for by the city’s sales tax. But RCCL money will be used for the basketball court/skate park improvements, weight equipment and a weight room, said City Manager Bob Ward.
Williams also outlined a new business that RCCL and Celebrity will begin, Royal Celebrity Tours, to take cruise ship passengers overland by bus up to Denali from ports north of Skagway.
There are plans for an Environmental Awareness Day, like the two in Juneau recently, to be held in Skagway on Aug. 2 on the Vision of the Seas, said Nancy Wheatley, senior vice president for safety and environment. Exact times will be announced. The day will include a tour of waste processing equipment on board and an outline of the cruise line’s plans for further waste. That presentation will have to take place after the tour, said Wheatley, “It’s too noisy down in the engine room.

Tank farm remediation derailed
Jewell concerned about soil quality and quantity

By April Busch

Haines Terminal and Highway is speeding through soil remediation at the old White Pass tank farm. To complete the project they have tough negotiations ahead with the owner of Jewell Gardens, Charlotte Jewell, who leases the property from the city.
Jewell faces costly summer season interruptions, questionable soil viability and compensation for landscape aesthetics and integrity, including several 100-year-old trees and a long rock-retaining wall that will be sacrificed to the remediation project.
Haines Terminal, which signed an agreement with state and federal agencies stipulating project completion by 2001, wanted to redo the garden site that Jewell leases from the city, earlier this spring, said Tom King, Haines Terminal consultant and former White Pass president.
“In my opinion (King) has talked very cooperatively,” Jewell said. “But in reality I have not seen a lot of that cooperation. They have done nothing for me yet, except provide fresh water- well into my planting.
“(King) has known that I’ve had contaminated water here for three years and it wasn’t until I actually got a lawyer that I got fresh water,” Jewell said.
“They’re destroying this valley as far as I’m concerned,” Jewell said of Haines Terminal's parent company, Russel Metals. Until 1997 RM also retained White Pass, which owns five local sites under Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation monitoring or remediation.

“I didn’t want to get a lawyer," Jewell added. "People from the city and the state told me, ‘Get yourself a lawyer.’ As soon as I called a lawyer the whole thing became easier for me.”
Before she hired a lawyer she said she was pressured to allow the remediation this year. Jewell, who has only owned the gardens for three years, couldn’t afford to miss an entire growing and tour season. She still has to deal with trucks driving around and dumping huge loads of rock during her garden tours. After talking to them recently, they are more conscientious when groups come through, she said.
Along with noise and planting interruptions, she is concerned that her garden, which is one of the oldest production garden sites in the state, could not thrive on the depth and quality of soil she sees being returned to remediated sites.
Remediated soil quality should not be a concern, said Sally Schlichting, DEC site remediation program head.
The department ranked the project as a high priority because of petroleum contamination to ground water – a drinking water source for Skagway. The migration to ground water is the highest concern to the DEC, more than ingestion or vapors. The most extreme remediation is necessary for sites that threaten water quality. Even in high concentration areas, vegetables uptake very little petroleum compound, Schlichting said.
“Most of the contamination (in the garden) is lateral, below five feet and the soil itself here, I don’t think, has much contamination,” Jewell said.
Jewell conceded that remediation contractors, Hamilton Construction, are digging to a depth of 12 feet in places, sifting out rocks, churning the soil every week to ensure it’s oxygenated. But she doesn’t believe enough soil is being returned to the sites to allow much beside a lawn to grow, she said.
“What they’re doing here is devastating,” Jewell said. “All I’m trying to do is save one little spot. They’re not going to fill this back in with rocks if I can help it. They’re taking out rocks and dirt, and just putting back rocks.”
King said, “Where it’s required we’re returning all of the original soil to bring it up to the necessary level.”
Even if all of the soil is returned, Jewell is concerned she won’t be adequately compensated to return the garden to its current state. She said she was offered a pittance of what it has taken to build the garden to where it is now.
“I’m going to have to fight for every cent I get here,” Jewell said. “I’m up against the big guns. They can afford all of the lawyers they want. I am real concerned about my legal fees, but I’m going to fight for it and I’m going to be real particular about how they put it back.”
Haines Terminal is required to use a process called active bioremediation to decontaminate the site.
“There is a pretty large volume of contaminated soil (at the tank farm) and the contamination is pretty extensive,” Schlichting said.
All of the soil has to be removed from the toxic 80 acres. The rocks, which don’t hold high concentrations of petroleum, can be returned while the soil is spread two-feet thick on liners. Every week the soil is tilled and monitored. Aerating the soil provides oxygen and nutrients to the organisms that break down toxins.
“This kind of soil remediation can take a long time,” Schlichting said. “But they’d like to get it done very quickly.”
Rapid remediation doesn’t work well for all types of contamination, Schlichting said. “But they’ve been moving right along and it’s been working quite well for this site.”
The DEC doesn’t have any time requirements for when the tank farm has to be completed, but Schlichting said Haines Terminal would be far ahead of schedule.
King expects that all 80 acres of the Haines Terminal property in need of remediation will be done by July, other than the final stage of soil purification and the 15 acres dedicated as a biocell for that process.
The remaining contaminated land, owned by Carol and Lee Allen Nelson and the city, will be finished after negotiations.