SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska
Column - Commentary

Cabins and boats and all that poppycock!


November 04, 2019
Monday PM

Ketchikan, Alaska -
A week doesn't seem to go by without someone asking me why I don't have a boat.

I guess they feel that since this is Ketchikan that everyone should have a boat. It makes sense. We are a water community and boats make it easier to get places where there are no roads. It is also possible to get places where there are fewer people, which seems to be a thing (see below).

Maybe it is that weird human trait that says "I have a boat, everyone else should have a boat too".

Kind of like how married couples are always encouraging their unmarried friends to get married.

Some folks say the married folks are just trying to share the joy they feel. Others say they just want the single folks to stop having more fun than they (the married ones) are having.

But I digress.

Anyway, I have a standard answer - to the boat question - that goes along the lines of "My family has sunk more boats than you will ever own" and that usually stops the conversation.

This, of course, may or may not be specifically true. Some people have indeed owned a lot of boats. But my family has sunk quite a few over the years. Often we have managed to raise them back up. So we can have the pleasure of sinking them again. It's a Kiffer thing.

And since I have successfully abandoned ship a few times I guess I just don't want to further tempt the odds. Whether you are leaving a boat that is sinking in the middle of the night  in a local harbor or you are exiting a burning boat in the middle of the Gulf of Alaska, it is not - I repeat - not a good thing.

You always imagine that you are going to handle it with the stoic aplomb of one of those English ship captains: All ruddy cheeked, professional, hyper competent cheery-o and stiff upper lip. Captain of the Titanic standing at the wheel, ready to go down with his ship, yadda, yadda, yadda.

Instead you are scrambling onto a freezing wet deck in your torn underwear and stubbing your toes on every possible blunt object. You are careening around wildly, trying desperately to get off the only thing (the boat) that is actually keeping you from the "angry sea"  because you are afraid YOU ARE GOING TO DIE.

You are completely mentally bollixed and you are managing to forget every possible thing that could make your survival more pleasant or even more likely.

Then you are floating around, freezing in a crowded little skiff  or (barely) inflatable, wondering just when the Coast Guard will arrive and if they have any hot soup because you forgot to bring anything either remotely edible or warm.

Yes, I can hear you say "you don't have to leave the harbor, the boat can stay tied to the dock!" Sure it would be safer that way and if you have had to abandon ship, it wouldn't be all that hard to get to shore. Well, my family has sunk boats at the dock too. Running with your bare feet over those metal grates on the wooden docks is not a pleasant thing.

So me and boats are just not a good fit. Especially since it seems like boats need a lot of care and feeding. They need to be pumped out, they need to be painted, they need their bottoms scraped, they need engine work.

And then, unless you are foolish enough to tie yourself to the sea in some commercial manner (been there done, done that, have the emotional/economic scar tissue), then you only HAVE go out when you want to.

Unfortunately, it has been my experience that "time enough to go out" and "weather nice enough to go out" only seem to intersect about six days in any given year. So you are spending a lot of time - and upkeep - for about a week of pleasure. So it goes.

Speaking of "upkeep," I get asked about cabins a lot too.

As if living in a small Alaskan city or village isn't remote enough, there are those who feel a need to get even further away from whatever it is they need to get away from. Fair enough, I get that being off even a remarkably small "grid" can help to "free the soul." And there are times when the six-minute commute to work on Tongass Avenue is unbearable. And so, people think that living in a remote cabin on your own wits is a good, relaxing thing.

And it would be relaxing, if you weren't spending all your down time fixing what needs to be fixed.

How do I know this is what people with cabins do? From Facebook, of course.

During the summer, I get to vicariously enjoy "Green Acres: Alaska Style" by reading  and seeing selfies of the exploits of my friends who have nearby cabins, or palatial summer homes in tony suburbs like Meyers Chuck.

Do I read about people putting their feet up and enjoying the relaxing, lazy summer days in the woods?

No, I read about people reshingling the roof, or rebuilding the generator, or - God forbid - mucking out the septic system.  It would seem that a three-day weekend at the cabin involves two hours of travel and 70 hours of maintenance. Need I say more?

In general, it seems that people who like boats and cabins are people who like to tinker. People who have  a couple of hours of free time and say "hey, what a great chance to completely rebuild that diesel engine."

I salute those people.

They are the great do-it-yourselfers who get things done and build great countries, one remote water system at a time. I know a lot of these people. Quite a few of them are in my family. They really don't understand the idea of idleness because they always have to be tinkering or fiddling with "something."

That is not me.

I get plenty of stimulation during the 40-hour work week. To me, time off, has to be time off. I don't want to replace a crankshaft. I don't want to refinish a floor in a room that I only use a four times a year. And I certainly don't want to spend any
"down" working on a sewage system or repairing a century old water line that is frozen over most of the year.

I. Just. Want. To. Relax.

And I can do that on my couch, in front of my television or with a good book, with a beverage in my hand.

I do not have to copper paint my couch.

I do not have to repair my couch's septic system.

I do not have to worry that my couch may sink.

I do not "have" to do anything.

Some people say that folks who have boats and cabins are the "haves."

I'll say.

They are the one who always have something to do.




On the Web:

More Columns by Dave Kiffer

Historical Feature Stories by Dave Kiffer


Notice: Publication Fee Required
Dave Kiffer ©2019
All rights reserved.

Contact Dave at

Dave Kiffer is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.

Representations of fact and opinions in comments posted are solely those of the individual posters and
do not represent the opinions of Sitnews.

Submit A Letter to SitNews

Contact the Editor

SitNews ©2019
Stories In The News
Ketchikan, Alaska

 Articles & photographs that appear in SitNews are protected by copyright and may not be reprinted without written permission from and payment of any required fees to the proper sources.

E-mail your news & photos to

Photographers choosing to submit photographs for publication to SitNews are in doing so granting their permission for publication and for archiving. SitNews does not sell photographs. All requests for purchasing a photograph will be emailed to the photographer.