Looking for the "Suq'a"

An Outdoor View

"Older" people, a club in which I'm a member in good standing, like to talk about the past. One reason we do this is because we've forgotten most of the bad times, but still remember the good. Another reason is that some things really were better "back when." Still another is that the older we get, the more good times there are to remember.


I was remembering good times last Saturday when my wife, Sue, and I drove to Whittier. She had never been to "The Gateway to Western Prince William Sound" and wanted to see it. I, on the other hand, had been there many times.

Between 1995, when my friend Doug Green bought a 34-foot cabin cruiser, and 2005, when Doug died, I spent a lot of time in Whittier.  The "Suq'a," Doug's 20-year-old Tollycraft, was well past its prime, so keeping it afloat and running took a lot of time and effort. Whenever weather allowed, we painted. Keeping water out, both saltwater and rain, was an endless and vainly fought battle. The engines, a pair of over-the-hill Chrysler 318s, constantly clamored for attention.

But all that dirty, sweaty work wasn't what I was remembering Saturday. Instead, I was recalling how much fun it was back then, when the only way to get to Whittier was on a train that took you through a mountain. When you came out the other side, you were in an exotic place, on the edge of what to us was unexplored wilderness.

When the boat needed work that required taking it out of the water, we propped it up on barrels. It was like a treasure hunt, scavenging around town for enough barrels and planks to keep it from falling over during wind storms and earthquakes. We slept and ate most of our meals aboard. The Harbormaster's restroom was our bathroom. Doug and I liked the same music -- blues, jazz, reggae and rock-and-roll -- and always had it playing. When we felt like "eating out," we'd walk across the parking lot to Barb's Buffalo Burgers, where Barb would fill us up with burgers and fries, and fill us in on the latest Whittier happenings.

Going out on the sound was our reward for the work we did on the boat. We'd spend five or six days at a time on the water. We'd sometimes spend an entire day without seeing another boat. The fishing, once we figured out where and how to do it, was phenomenal. Those trips rank among the best times of my life.

I'd seen the "Suq'a" in the Whittier Small Boat Harbor three or four years ago, and wanted to see it again. Sue and I walked the docks, looking for it. We didn't find it, so we stopped by the Harbormaster's office to see if it was still around. They said it was "around," but didn't know where. Doug's son, who had inherited the boat, had sold it, they said.

We checked the town's huge parking lot, built to accommodate the increase in boating that occurred after the tunnel was widened to allow vehicles to drive through it. This lot, packed solid with boats, vehicles and trailers, didn't exist in the 1990s. We parked free back then, within easy walking distance of the harbor. Now, boaters pay $12 a day to park a quarter-mile from the harbor. The "Suq'a" wasn't there either.

I'd about given up on finding it. I was driving toward the Begich Towers, where most Whittier-ites dwell, when we spotted it, perched on barrels among a clutch of other boats.  We parked the car and walked over. The fly bridge and side windows were covered with plywood, probably to keep out rain and snowmelt, a reassuring sign that its new owner cared. I ran my hand down its hull, remembering all the hours I'd spent under it, scraping, sanding and painting. As glad as I was to see the old girl, I was more glad I wouldn't be down there again.

It's funny, but I have a fondness for the "Suq'a" now that I never felt "back then," when she was so demanding. I guess memory loss isn't always such a bad thing.

Les Palmer can be reached at les.palmer@rocketmail.com.