People around here often offer up definitions as to what makes someone a "real Alaskan."
Some of my favorites have been: "A real Alaskan clears his roof with a snowblower," or "A real Alaskan is never without a roll of duct tape."
Another definition I'm fond of proffers that a real Alaskan doesn't slow down or stop to take a look at a moose on the side of the road. But I think that definition stops just a little short.
More accurately, it should read, "A real Alaskan doesn't slow down to look at a moose alongside the road, but heaven help you if you're following a real Alaskan who spots a boat for sale parked on the shoulder."
A real Alaskan will not only slow down, but might even slam on the brakes in the middle of Sterling Highway or some other such busy highway to get a good, long look at the gleaming or rusting watercraft, usually mounted on some old rickety boat trailer.
What is it about these attention grabbers?
I can appreciate that the novelty of seeing a moose wears off after a year or two living here. I've even heard some seasoned veteran Alaskans describe the largest of the deer family as little more than a traffic hazard.
And, after commuting through the long darkness of winter days, squinting at every rock and culvert opening to discern whether it's a threat to the front end of my little truck, I've almost come to agree that there's not much cute about a moose on the side of the road. (Admittedly, I still do steal a glance, though.)
But what about those boats for sale?
Why is it that nearly every sorry guys male Alaska driver feels he has to stomp on that horizontal foot pedal, pushing it through the floorboard, just because some other poor slob has had to put his old boat up for sale.
Is it the first time he's seen a boat parked alongside the road? Certainly not if you're talkin' about a favored spot at Sterling Highway and Mackey Lake Road. I'm not sure there's ever been a day when there wasn't a boat parked there.
Could it be he thinks this is the last boat that will ever be for sale on the Kenai Peninsula? I doubt it. I bet there'll be one left even after we've all run out of fossil fuels with which to power the outboard.
Does he believe this is finally the one boat for sale he can actually afford? This is the one that will enable him to become the "Great Kenai River Fishing Guide" who can rake in enough dough in the summer to spend the long winter in some far off tropical land.
Think about it. What could be further from the truth?
More likely, the guy selling the craft has realized that a boat is nothing more than a hole in the water in which to pour all one's money.
The purchase of the boat, in fact, may be the least expensive part of the transaction.
Then you have to buy a registration a few if you're planning to guide. You'll need personal flotation devices life jackets and a type 4 throwable device; a fire extinguisher if the boat has an enclosed engine compartment; visual distress signal devices such as flags, flares and distress lights; and sound signalling devices.
You also will need what may become the most expensive and most time consuming piece of equipment navigation lights that actually work.
I've crewed or sailed on a good number of boats over time and save a few exceptions, like the smart fleet of the Kenai Fjords Tours company or the USS Missouri battleship, I don't recall ever being on a boat whose entire complement of navigation lights worked all the time. If the little red and green port and starboard lights were working, the running light wasn't. As soon as I climbed the mast to fix the running light, the anchor light went out.
Then there are all the doodads and ropes that every skipper wants to carry on his stealthy craft. Somehow, you just never can have enough rope on a boat.
And, of course, all these expenses come before salt and water take their toll on the stuff that was in good shape when you bought the boat.
Consider these things the next time you see a boat for sale on the side of the road.
Perhaps it would be best to give the boat the same attention you've learned to give the moose: none.
Phil Hermanek is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion.
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